A Message To Parents Of People With Mental Health Problems

In life, people like to blame people for things that happen, regardless of whether or not it was the person’s fault. If there is nobody to blame, things that happen are random and don’t make sense, so really we blame people to make the world tidy. When I was younger I lost my banana scented gel pen (it was a tough time in my life but I think I am just about getting over it), and in my head it was incomprehensible that the pen was just lost. I didn’t think at all about the fact its loss was probably the result of many little events, dropping it somewhere, someone spotting it and tidying it away, a gust of wind blowing it off a table under a chair, that was too much to think about, so instead who did I blame? My cuddly monkey, a culprit who made a lot more sense than some complex chain of events I couldn’t figure out. It was the perfect story, my cuddly monkey was clearly having jungle withdrawal symptoms living with me in Bristol, in my eyes he had heard the call of the wild and hankered after the scent of his favourite food in his homeland. I assumed he must not like the invisible bananas and cups of tea I provided (let it be known I did pretend to feed him and in my eyes this thievery was not an act of desperation out of hunger, I am not a monster who starves cuddly monkeys thank you very much), and that the taking of my pen was for nostalgic scent purposes. Obviously, my monkey did not really steal my banana pen (I am 99% sure he didn’t anyway…), and it was silly to jump to that conclusion before the idea that the pen was just lost, but like I said, people like to blame people to make the world simple. 

Unfortunately, this desire to blame often happens when someone gets diagnosed with mental health problems. After the initial surprise has worn off and people have time to really think, they always look for someone to blame. They start wondering why someone is ill, what could have caused it, and often, especially in young adults or children, the conclusion will be that it must have been something to do with the parents. Even professionals say it sometimes. My mum used to work in a school and one day a nurse came in to talk about how to spot eating disorders in pupils. One of the possible causes for eating disorders listed in her presentation was “Troubled upbringing/home life”, which naturally upset my mum and had her worrying more than usual that the past decade of madness in our household has been because she failed as a parent. To her and to all parents I therefore want to say this:

If your child has been diagnosed with mental health problems, that does not mean that it is all your fault or that you have done anything wrong. 

Your child does not have anorexia simply because you tried a lot of different diets when they were growing up. Your child does not have OCD rituals around washing because you insisted they washed their hands before meals. Your child is not depressed because you didn’t hug them enough and they don’t cut their bodies just because you didn’t give lessons in self acceptance over breakfast. Maybe you did all of those things, maybe you did none of them, but either way they are not the reason your child is ill. Many people with eating disorders grew up in houses that promoted a healthy relationship with food just as many people without eating disorders grew up in houses with parents who ran weight loss classes at the local leisure centre. The complexities of mental health problems are not as simple as A causes B, they are often frighteningly random, they don’t make sense enough to have someone to blame at all, and sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. 

Like all illnesses, mental health problems do not discriminate. Depression doesn’t go door to door and interview the parents to see how well they have brought their child up before it attacks. If depression is going to happen, it will just charge in and make itself known, it will not peer through a window, notice that you have a lovely home with a matching three piece suite and freshly plumped cushions and walk away to find someone whose mum didn’t cut the crust off their sandwiches. 

Now I will admit, upbringing can have an impact on a child’s development and mental health, if you locked your child in a basement and beat them with a wet slipper every morning, that may have played a part in their low self esteem, but generally things are not that clear cut and the reasons are so numerous and so bound up in random life nonsense anyway that you can never pin point a cause. You can list a thousand reasons why I have mental health problems, a history of mental illness in the family, certain events, loss of loved ones, broken hearts, a desire to control a world whose unpredictability frightened me, being the geek with glasses, you can say anything and even then you could not grasp the reason why, because all of those potential influences are glued together with a million invisible things that nobody will ever know or understand. It is rare that an illness can be pinned down to one thing, just as you can’t entirely blame a cancer on the fact someone smokes, when it comes to any illness, it is too complicated to be anyone’s fault. If someone watches a man on a bus stop raise his arm and stop the bus they could conclude that the stopping of the bus was caused by the arm lifting into the air. Okay it may look like that on the surface and make sense as a neat tidy story, but it takes no account whatsoever of all the other knots in that chain of events stopping the bus. For example the driver had his eyes open to see the arm, his brain recognising it as a symbol for “stop” (and hopefully not “Heil Hitler”), someone else having already pressed the button, a foot had to go on the brakes and various cogs and things in the mechanics of the bus played a part too. Blaming someone for causing a mental health problem is like blaming that man for stopping the bus without thinking of all the other things that come into play. 

If you are a parent and your offspring has mental health problems, I beg you, please do not blame yourself and assume you must have done a bad job in raising the baby you dreamed would grow up to have a perfect life, that is unlike the one you see in reality. In life, shit just happens and there is very little you can do about it. Your role as a parent is not to stop the bad things from happening, to wrap them in cotton wool so that the monsters don’t get in. Monsters do not give two hoots about cotton wool. Don’t blame yourself for things that were not your fault and that you cannot change (for even if you could blame someone, talking about whose fault something is will never resolve the situation), instead do what you can with what you have. Love and support your child even when those monsters get in and help them fight those assholes until they flee the house rather than checking the locks and wondering how the hell they got in in the first place. Nobody can raise someone to not have mental health problems and that is  not a necessary requirement of a parent. Mental illnesses suck, but nobody can stop them, your only job is to offer love and support regardless of what is going on. That is what a good parent is, so relax, if you are doing that, then you are doing everything. 

Take care everyone x

Parents

I’m Scared I Killed Victoria Wood – The Problem With Having OCD And An Inflated Sense Of Responsibility

In the past few months, an unusually high number of well known celebrities (well known in the UK at least), have died. It feels like every other day that I go onto Facebook and find new pictures of the recently deceased posted by friends in mourning. I understand that people die all the time, people who go unreported, people nobody mourns on Facebook because they weren’t “well known”, were just a nameless number in some horrendous incident in a different country that people care far less about because they don’t relate to it as much. I understand that all these celebrity deaths are not in fact a rise in the number of people dying overall, but still I can’t help but feel something has changed, something to cause it, and that that something is me.

When people have OCD there are various things that drive them in their rituals. Some simply carry them out until they “feel right”, whatever that “right” feeling is, but many, myself included, carry them out because they are fearful of what will happen if they don’t, that not carrying the tasks out is not just distressing but dangerous to either themselves or the people around them. Whenever I talk to professionals about this (professional people in the world of psychiatry I mean, not general professionals like professional penguin keepers who I feel would be less interested in my mental health problems), they call it having “an inflated sense of responsibility” a common symptom of OCD.
This symptom is pretty self explanatory from the name of it, but basically it makes sufferers feel as if their simple actions, like opening a door, are far more significant than they are, can control the world in irrational ways, that individually they have some great power which can cause events and impact the world. It can feel like tiny daily tasks have a ripple effect out onto the universe, like sitting down in a chair incorrectly will cause a totally unrelated event to happen elsewhere, such as an earthquake or tsunami. Of course when something “bad” happens that the sufferer wrongly blames themselves for, they are just connecting two totally separate things that coincidentally happened around the same time, but still it can be and is really frightening.

This sense of inflated responsibility is one of the reasons why OCD tends to get a lot worse for people when they are in stressful situations, things with a debatable outcome that they desperately want to have some control over or impact in favour of a positive result. In a way it is a comforting thought to think that you can influence things as if by “magical thinking”, even “sane” people without OCD do it all the time, like when musicians might wear their “lucky pants” with the aim of ensuring a good performance. The problem is that with OCD, this responsibility never seems to correspond to good events or making positive things happen, you can’t tap a door knob and “cause” yourself to win the lottery or anything, even to the irrational OCD, that idea is just silly. Instead, this power people feel they have can only do evil and not good, which when you think about it is quite possibly the worst superpower to feel you have of all time. I think I would rather feel I had powers like spiderman with the ability to spout webs all over the place, and I don’t even like spiders. Or close fitting lycra suits.

I remember sitting in the exam hall at school during my maths GCSE 8 years ago and being in a massive dilemma, a dilemma caused by this inflated sense of responsibility and not just a dilemma everyone faces when they are sitting before a maths paper.
In my world of OCD I had, and continue to have, both lucky and unlucky numbers, and for one of the questions early on, the answer was one of the unluckiest numbers to exist in my eyes. I can’t even write it here because it scares me, so I am just going to pretend the answer was “X” for the purpose of this post because that is what you are supposed to do in maths when you can’t write the number (cheers for that algebra). I knew 100% that the answer was X, I had checked it and rechecked it multiple times but still I could not write it down. I feared that if I wrote “X”, that my parents would die. I knew that in terms of maths, to write anything else would be wrong and I wouldn’t get the mark, but that seemed like a far preferable outcome to losing my loved ones. You might be wondering why I had this sense of a dilemma when obviously if the choice was ever “lose a mark or kill your parents” everyone would lose the mark, but whilst fearing this, I knew it was “just” my OCD freaking me out. My psychologist at the time was always telling me to challenge the OCD, to go against it because only then could you prove that all it spouted was lies. I wanted to do as she said, ignore the OCD and write “X” anyway because writing numbers doesn’t really have the ability to kill your parents, but I was too terrified, so in the end I had to write the wrong answer on purpose. This dilemma came up several times during the course of the exam (a surprising amount of my “unlucky numbers” came up in the 2008 GCSE maths paper), and every time I purposefully wrote the wrong answer. It was infuriating and I wanted to scream, but annoyingly that is something you are not allowed to do in a GCSE exam, as “no screaming” is in fact the rule just after “no mobile phones”, so I just sat there being controlled by this inflated sense of responsibility and importance I felt my maths answers had.

This influx of celebrity deaths has triggered me so much that I genuinely feel the need to apologise to everyone reading this for murdering these famous people of whom so many people are fans and are upset about. Nevertheless, I wanted to try and find some kind of positive or useful outcome from this trigger which is why I am writing about it to hopefully explain a bit more about this aspect of OCD. Now I guess the task is to just try and not let this impact my rituals more than it already has…I am just scared as to who my actions could hurt next.

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(Just incase you don’t get it, the picture above is literally an inflated “sense of responsibility”…this probably doesn’t need any explaining and is nowhere near as clever as I think it is but just wanted to point it out because I was pretty proud of that little pun…It’s hilarious…no?…Ok never mind I will leave now so you can get back on with your day)