As part of our 20K in April challenge, we’re sharing stories, with permission, from our community every day from 13th to 30th April. All are true accounts of the reality of a random group of parents in our community. Some are professionals, others full time carers. Some have been battling for years, others are new to this dance of accessing services, navigating school, coping with shame, guilt and judgment, and keeping their child alive while trying to work, look after their other children, have a relationship, have a life. All of them deserve, like their children, to be heard and helped.
At the age of 7 our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and although we questioned autism we were told she did not meet the criteria and some of the difficulties we were experiencing was as a result of deep rooted childhood trauma.
By the age of 13, A had become even more withdrawn, she found friendships difficult and would often come home from school crying or would become so angry that her outbursts at times were difficult to manage. CAMHs initially refused a referral to the Autism services and continued to question our parenting style, by this time A was receiving some support to deal with her childhood trauma, however CAHMs reported that much of A’s difficulties were as a result of conflict at home.
February 2019 and life became quite unbearable for all of us, A was withdrawing even more and at this point I insisted she was referred for an assessment for Autism, it was like a breath of fresh air, the Dr we saw explained how girls mask and there was no doubt that A was autistic. We initially felt this diagnosis would help us to understand A better, how wrong were we. A plummeted into the depths of despair, school was far too much for her and so I decided to take time out of work to care for her, she would spend days rocking in the foetal position not knowing what was wrong or how she felt. CAMHs put A on anti-depressants and said she was of low mood and this would help, however this was not the case, her mood became so low it was hard to motivate her and we felt the medication was making things worse. September 2019, year 10 for A, it started out quite well, however by Christmas A had begun to self-harm, she was refusing to eat and then BANG! She disclosed to a school friend she had a plan to end her life.
This was probably one of the loneliest times for us as a family, CAMHs continued to question my parenting, they said that A felt like this because there was always conflict at home, even when I explained to them that she was being violent towards us, me more than her dad, that the risk taking behaviour on the internet was difficult to manage, her continuous lying, stealing, running away and self-injurious behaviour was hard to manage and life in general was really hard for us, CAMHs didn’t seem to be listening. A ran away several times, leaving notes for us telling us that she loved us but she didn’t want to be a burden to us and not to look for her as it would be too late.
By January 2020, I was at a complete loss, I felt a failure as a parent, life at home was just unbearable and I didn’t know what to do for the best, all of my knowledge and understanding of mental health, Autism, ADHD didn’t seem to be helping. A ran away again, leaving a note and by this point I felt I couldn’t cope anymore and so made that dreaded call to first response and told them that I couldn’t cope with her. Finally, I felt someone had listened, but why did it need to get to this point, we as a family needed support, we didn’t need to be told how wrong we were. We were offered support from the intensive support team, and things did improve slightly, we took a step down and they helped us as a family begin to see what was important, A had 2 nights a week in a residential setting to give us all some breathing space and allowed her time to explore more intensive therapy with CAHMs regarding her early childhood trauma.
April 2020, I knew the support was coming to an end, although we didn’t feel at all confident about managing this by ourselves and we were still unsure of what was going on for A, we were told that funding didn’t allow this to continue past the 12 weeks. Can you put a time scale on mental health difficulties? NO. Can you put a time limit on the amount of support a family needs? NO. We were desperate, we didn’t know what to do, where to go for help, who was listening to us, yes there was still support for A from CAMHs but there was no one to support me and my husband. This is when I came across Parenting Mental Health Facebook group,
PMH gave me the strength to carry on, the Facebook group was a platform to share concerns without the judgement we had faced from CAHMs, it was a safe space where I could vent, talk, learn and engage with others that just GOT IT. By June 2020 I had engaged with the Dove program, thanks to PMH and with the support and understanding of like-minded people, learning that I too needed to care for myself, that I was important was probably the best thing that has happened. I have made lifelong friendships via the group and I can honestly say PMH probably saved our family.
Parenting a child with mental health difficulties is one of the hardest and loneliest things I have ever done, on top of these difficulties our daughter is also neuro-diverse and this alone brings its own challenges. Without the love, support and understanding of PMH I don’t think we would be together as a family, parents need support too, they do not need to be judged, they are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. I have undoubtedly berated myself and felt that I have made very poor decisions in the past, but every now again when those doubts creep in, I hear the voices of my PMH community and Suzanne remind me that I am doing OK, that I was doing my best and I will continue to do my best, but I can’t do this without support, love and understanding and without self-care.
Parenting Mental Health is a support network that can and does save families, it is my go to place when life is hard, our daughter still has a long way to go, her mental health has taken a turn for the worse over the last few weeks, but one thing I do know is that mental health is a curve, we can go up and down, it can go round in circles and backwards and forwards. I take the small wins, we celebrate them in silence and we are here, we are together and we will continue to fight for the support not only for our daughter but for us as a family. More importantly, we will continue to fight for other families, I truly believe that PMH has saved us and has saved me, I am stronger, more resilient, I am not alone, I am in a good place mentally and physically and I feel PMH is just what parents need.
If you would like to donate to the 20K challenge, you can do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/suzanne-alderson
If you’d like to sign up and fundraise as part of the 20K Challenge in April for Parenting Mental Health, you can do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/PMH-Sphinx20KChallenge