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I was so focused on one child that I missed the signs of mental illness in the other

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The day of my first therapy appointment was the day I first said, “I think my daughter probably has OCD.

It was a footnote for a larger conversation. Who lives in the house with me? How are our relationships? What are the important dynamics to know before entering a therapeutic relationship?

I had spent the last five minutes talking to Ellie about my oldest daughter: her health, her learning disabilities, her anxiety and her depression. The youngest had none of these problems. She was in good health, advanced in her studies, and showed no signs of her sister’s instability.

Most of my limited reserve of attention and energy was focused on stabilizing the big girl so that she could participate in school, social and family activities. Little didn’t need so much attention. She was still so cold. She was doing fine.

I told myself that, although it was becoming clearer and clearer, it was not. Having a child with mental health issues was hard enough – having two could break me.

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Out of nowhere, she became inflexible.

My daughter (I don’t use my children’s names in my stories, and actually I usually write about my older daughter, but from now on in this one I’ll try to refer only to my younger daughter, to avoid confusion) has always been incredibly brilliant. We often say that we don’t remember her first words because it seems like she has been speaking in full sentences since birth.

As a baby and toddler she was the most relaxed child I have ever met. She hardly ever cried. She was the kind of kid who would run errands with you all day, take a nap in the car and was an absolute pleasure to be with you. She played with other children, idolized her sister, and had an amazing imagination.

This cold, fluid attitude started to change when she was around preschool. Suddenly things had to be done a certain way.

When I left the house, I had to do all the goodbye things in the right order (“Beep, wave, blow a kiss, lower your window but wait”, and don’t ask me why we are going down the window afterwards. having done all of these other things or what we expect; it doesn’t make sense).

If I messed up, I could see her face crumble as she stood on the porch, sobbing and waving goodbye.

When we were playing with his toy figures, we had to follow his vision (even though it wasn’t articulate enough to communicate that vision), otherwise there would be a collapse. If I took her to a place she had been to before, she would have to walk through the door in the same order as last time and sit in the same chair in the waiting room. You get the picture.

You can’t exactly explain to a three-year-old that no matter what order you walk through the door, the experience, once inside, won’t be affected. It terrified her when things changed. So most of the time we did things as “well” as possible, in an attempt to save her anxiety and our eardrums. (Often even that didn’t help, but we did our best.)

The stunning began a few years later.

As the schools moved away, we noticed other behaviors that concerned us.

She was using her tablet to do her homework and she started to sniffle. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff-sniff-snort. Soon she was sniffling from the moment she woke up in the morning to the time she fell asleep at night – even when she was in bed falling asleep, sounds were drifting down the hallway.

Then there was the rubbing of the fingers and toes. I can’t even describe this one clearly, but it was another stimulation that started off slowly and quickly picked up to the point that she couldn’t finish a single sentence without stopping to sniff or rub. And then she would have to start the whole sentence over again.

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I have a lot of compassion. I recognize how difficult it is to live with mental illness. I even have my own stimuli, which developed when I was in preschool and ignites when my anxiety is high.

But these behaviors were difficult to manage, even for me.

In the end, it was she who asked for help.

One night I was lying next to her at bedtime and my beautiful, sweet seven year old daughter said to me, “Mom, sometimes I want to kill myself.

Words won’t capture the feeling I had at the time. I never received a punch in the stomach, but I imagine that is how I would feel. All the color has flowed out of the room, the blood in my brain has pooled somewhere in another dimension.

And yet I responded as if she hadn’t said the scariest thing a parent could hear. I kept my voice clear and calm, with some concern.

Don’t minimize. Don’t ignore it. Show you care. Let him know the seriousness of his words. Don’t discourage her from opening up to you like that.

“Honey, why are you saying that?” It’s a pretty serious thing to say.

Meanwhile, my heart was pounding so hard that she could surely hear it from her place next to my shoulder.

“Well don’t kill me,” she said. Thank God. “I just want to stop doing these things.”

The finger stuff, she explained. And the things on the toes, which I guess didn’t even realize she was doing, but that made sense when I thought about how she would change as she spoke, rubbed her fingers, sniffed. and starting his sentences over and over again.

She wanted to stop, but she didn’t know how. It’s a familiar story.

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The next day, she had an appointment with a therapist.

I’m going to take a quick interlude here and acknowledge how incredibly lucky we are to live in a place where there are child therapists, and we were able to make an appointment so quickly, and we were able to get her to go. due to our flexible working conditions, and that we didn’t have to worry about where the money would come from for these appointments, and that we had insurance that would reimburse us for part of the costs. More on that in a different story, but what a parody that not everyone has these privileges.

It is the same but different.

Learning to help my oldest daughter was difficult. It required breaking out of my ingrained patterns of behavior, taking the time to empathize before huffing a joint, and giving her the space to feel heard.

With my younger daughter the same skills were in order, but because she processes her emotions in such a different way, and probably also because I use so much energy on her older sister, these skills are more difficult to use. ‘access for me.

I often feel like I’m learning to make my way into another treatment community, developing a whole new way to help someone I love more than life itself live a full life. and healthy.

And sometimes that’s too much.

It’s overwhelming to schedule all the dates, and even to take a step back and take a deep breath and not give in to a scolding when I realize that she is bleeding yet again from the scabs that she opens. and continually reopens on his arms and legs.

I walk through the open water, struggling to catch my breath as more and more pebbles are added to my pockets.

But all of this swimming is making me stronger, and although my swim is not perfect, I will continue as best I can. Because, as overwhelming as it can be to be the parent of multiple children with all of their needs and peculiarities, it’s also my job to help them navigate this confusing world.

And that thought is what keeps me afloat.

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Nikki Kay is a New England writer, educator and mental health advocate. She writes on the intersection of mental health and parenting with a focus on recovery from trauma. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @NikkiKayAuthor

This article originally appeared on Invisible Illness. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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