"Our family's journey with mental health" by Christine Johnson (CatholicMom.com) Copyright 2018 Christine Johnson. All rights reserved.[/caption] Note: I asked my daughter to write this article with me, since it deals with her anxiety. We've written our parts of the story and woven them together to give you both a mother's perspective on discovering your child has a mental illness as well the child's own perspective. I've made the decision to simply use my daughter's initials rather than her name. Read Part 1 of Our Family's Journey with Mental Health first.
CJ: Good progress was made in the first few months. Over the summer, our psychologist (a mother of two boys who are slightly younger than my own children) has limited hours. We didn't go in to see her, but wound up needing to make appointments again that fall. School and a boyfriend (and the breaking up with said boyfriend) made her sophomore year of high school pretty crazy. And I was learning to read my daughter's emotions better, too. With that, I often asked her what she wanted me to do, because sometimes – okay, oftentimes – there was nothing I could do to help. I have to say that one of the worst feelings is the one that comes about from being completely unable to help your child overcome a problem. I've learned that there's nothing I can do to fix her anxiety, aside from bringing her to someone who can help her. But I've also learned to be a better listener along the way. When my daughter comes to me to discuss her emotions, I tune all the way in. This spring, something new happened. As we were preparing to wrap up her junior year of high school, my daughter came to me and said that she felt like she needed to talk to her therapist about starting medication for her anxiety. Coping mechanisms weren't doing as much as they once did, and it seemed to be time to explore new avenues. While we had kind of chalked it up to Seasonal Affective Disorder, it wasn't really lifting much with the increase of light and warmth as we moved into spring. I had no problem with her wanting to get more help. However, I was concerned that this would mean that we'd need a new therapist, since only a psychiatrist can prescribe medications. Thankfully, our family doctor has acted as the go-between for getting a prescription. We've been able to keep the same therapist! AM: I had my own worries about medication. Would it somehow create a fake happiness and make me unable to feel pain? Would it change who I am entirely? Would I become addicted to it? Questions swirled in my mind, and often gave me more anxiety than the idea of continuing without medication. But something was off, so I asked my therapist. To my surprise, she acted very cool about it, and gently explained that it was nothing to be afraid of. “When you have a mental illness, the chemicals in your brain are unbalanced. All that medication is going to do is neutralize them so you can make use of the techniques we’ve learned,” she told me. To this day, I breathe a sigh of relief when I remember that. CJ: Beginning a prescription for something like Prozac can be nerve-wracking. A lot of drugs for mild depression and anxiety can cause suicidal thoughts to crop up in teens. The risks associated with these medications are much greater for teens than they are for adults. And so we were all worried about the possibility that mild depression and anxiety would become full-blown depression and suicidal thoughts. We acquired the prescription and began to watch for unwanted symptoms. AM: It didn’t take long before I started taking Prozac in a very low dosage. It took a few weeks, but I found myself more willing to hang out with friends, start conversations with them, and do things I love. I felt like myself, just a little less isolated. While my life isn’t perfect, the meds have given me myself back just enough that I want to keep going. I still have to work hard for things I want, and push outside of my comfort zone, but I’m happy to do it. And all the while, I’ve had my wonderful family holding my hand, or at least walking beside me while I go on this journey. I still have bad days, bad weeks, and setbacks. I still cry and have panic attacks for seemingly nothing. Progress isn’t a straight line. There are a lot of switchbacks. There are a lot of U-turns, and then wondering how you started going the opposite way of your goal. But with the right resources and support, it’s been bearable. And I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. CJ: Though medication isn't a magic pill that makes everything fine right away, I've been noticing that my daughter has had more consistent good moods since we started. She's less prone to sitting alone, more likely to call a friend and instigate an activity. She is even planning a birthday party for a dozen of her closest friends! There are still days when I can tell she's feeling down or anxious, but I have noticed a bit of an improvement overall. My girl is more herself again, and her anxious days seem to be fewer and farther between than they were before. We’re still near the beginning of this journey, but I feel hopeful. And I feel grateful for her therapist and our family doctor working with us so well. We have a great team of professionals to help us navigate these unfamiliar waters.
If your child (or you!) are suffering from anxiety or depression, please seek professional help. Prayer can be a help up to a point, but chemical imbalances aren’t fixed with prayer alone. Many insurance plans cover some kind of mental therapy, and if you’re in need and your insurance doesn’t, a good therapist should be able to work with you. It’s important not to neglect your health – physical or mental. If you’re not sure where to start, speak to your family physician for a referral.
Copyright 2018 Christine Johnson