Illness can be isolating, whether it is our own or in the family. The world narrows. Mental illness is no different and is sometimes harder to explain.
When my kids were 14 and 12, I decided they were old enough to stay home without a parent for short periods of time. What freedom it was to sometimes go out for coffee with a friend, or browse through a shop for an hour! Because we homeschooled, we had a LOT of together time. I looked forward to transitioning into a stage where my kids were more independent.
But when they were 16 and 14, the situation had completely changed. My younger son was in the throes of deep suicidal depression, with frequent episodes of self-harm. We never left him home alone, nor did we place the burden of supervision on his older brother if we could possibly avoid it. My world narrowed again.
I was so lonely sometimes.
Many parents struggle with the isolation that comes from having a child who needs special care. It’s not unique to the mental illness situation. But there are unique challenges. It’s hard to find a “babysitter” for a teenager. It’s hard to explain why you brought your kid to the coffee shop when you manage to meet a friend, even if he’s at the next table with a book. It’s hard to disappear from your life for weeks at a time because of a crisis.
If invitations are declined often enough, they slow to a trickle and dry up. I’s disheartening to be going through a painful parenting journey and also have to be the one who keeps up communication with friends. It may be natural, but it can also leave you feeling unloved.
For some parents, the illness can be so disruptive that they don’t want to have anyone over to their own home either. They can’t bring their kid to the coffee shop. Even family gatherings are fraught with chaos. Social media, far from being a blessing to connect us, can make us feel even more isolated. Posts and and pictures of other people’s “normal” lives leave us feeling like we’re locked inside, looking out to a world that is passing us by. The loneliness can be stifling.
What can help?
1) Support groups can be a lifesaver. These can be online forums, but groups that meet in person are more effective for combating isolation and helping members with challenges. Some resources to find a group are Hope for Hurting Parents, NAMI, and Al-Anon. Local Offices for Mental Health may also have groups.
2) Even though it takes so much effort, find ways to see your friends. Even a half-hour meet-up (while your kid is at an appointment maybe?) can boost your sense of connectedness.
3) It may feel old-fashioned, but email and letters combat loneliness better than social media. Don’t be afraid to write some and ask your friends to write back. They are your friends, they love you, and if you tell them your circumstances make you lonely and getting an email or letter helps, many will respond. Be careful, though, not to take it personally when someone doesn’t respond. They may just be terrible correspondents. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
4) Remember that the Lover of your soul is always with you. Here are some verses to assure you of God’s presence:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.”
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”