There are days (yesterday) when I wake up and know it’s not going to be a great day. Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before. (I didn’t.) Maybe I opened my work email and found lots more stuff than I felt equipped to deal with. (Yes.) Or maybe it was the foot of snow predicted to fall. (No. I like work-at-home snow days.) Whatever the issue of the moment, anxiety appears, everything seems worse than it really is, and I start responding to everything in a way that I normally would not. I am anxious and more easily frustrated.
I feel it in my stomach and my head. I am not thinking clearly, or as kindly. If two things need my attention at the same time, I have a hard time prioritizing. Instead of two small issues, they become huge deals where I can’t decide which one needs to be addressed first. My head spins and I respond with my anxiety and not my heart.
That’s not how I like to work. It feels alien to me. Out of character.
And then I woke up today and, as I looked out at the beautiful, pure white snow, clear blue sky, and glowing sun, I realized that I felt better. More like myself. The anxiousness and crabbiness had subsided. In about 24 hours I went from being an anxiety-ridden, slightly depressed version of myself to myself again. That’s when I realized how my kids must feel.
All. The. Time.
It made my heart hurt knowing that they were so not themselves so often. But having that “off” day helped me have more compassion. More empathy. Thinking about it this way helps me understand that I really don’t understand. Because one day of what I call pretty bad anxiety and agitation is nothing compared to waking up every morning and feeling that way. But it also helped me see that the pain I feel for my children is no less than the pain they feel. It’s just different.
Pain is pain.
No parent wants to see or know their child is unhappy, not functioning well in the world, and without places to go and people to see. It is heartbreaking.
Mental illness is heartbreaking.
It is a dream-crushing disease that wrecks lives. Those who are tormented with it not only struggle with their own inner turmoil, but have to deal with the outside world’s sometimes unkind and unsympathetic comments, as well. And those of us who love people who struggle with mental illness agonize for them. We may not be the ones who can’t do, can’t be, and can’t live, but we are the ones who cry for those who can’t do, be and live.
For me, having an occasional bad day means knowing that the next day will look brighter. When I am in the middle of depression and anxiety, I know tomorrow may be better. I have hope. People with mental illness see things differently. One bad day is just one bad day in a long string of many, many bad days. Hope slowly gets chipped away and only despair is left. And no one should be despondent and hopeless.
So when I pray for my kids, for their mental illnesses and hopelessness, I pray for their hearts first. I pray that they look up and seek God. I pray that they regain their hope. I pray that they find something in the darkness that keeps them going.
I tell them that God hears us all.
And through all of my tears and prayers and the tears and prayers of others, things may not change a whole lot for my kids. They may still wake up tomorrow with anxiety and depression. But knowing God hears me helps me wake up every morning and see them through His eyes. And that brings empathy and keeps my love for them strong. Because no one hurts more for children than their parents.
Pain is pain.