Updated: Jan 1
May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and PA Parent and Family Alliance wants to continue to celebrate the parents and families that have raised or are raising children with social, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges. This month serves as a reminder for parents and children to ensure that their mental health remains a priority. Many articles we see when scrolling through the internet or social media are negative and focus on problems rather than positivity. We wanted to break that up and raise awareness this May by talking to someone who has a mental health challenge and was raised by parents that have not only helped immensely but also given her an amazing childhood.
Abigail was born into a family with a younger sister who has autism and a father with bipolar disorder. Due to the genetic nature of many mental health difficulties she was also diagnosed with anxiety and depression as a young child and bipolar disorder as a young adult. Internally and externally things proved to be hard, and sometimes dark for Abigail. She knew, logically, that sometimes her sister required more attention than she but still it was natural to feel some jealousy. It was tough for her parents to balance ensuring that both of their daughters were taken care of, but they did it. And Abigail wants to say thank you.
First, she would like to thank her mother. A mother who never once made her feel "crazy" for feeling the feelings she had and thinking the thoughts she thought. A mother who had a million people pulling her different directions but always made the time to check in with Abigail, drive her to therapy, and spend sleepless nights researching ways to help her child. Their bond and mutual respect, that even in her adult years is unbreakable, has remained a steady force in Abigail’s life. Her mother’s love is so beautiful and unconditional that Abigail knows what kind of respect and understanding she deserves especially when dealing with her mental health challenges. To this day she finds immense comfort in giving her mom a call during her good times and her bad times. Nobody can calm her down through a panic attack like her mom; when she can hear that her mom has picked up on the other side of the call a sense of relief and calmness course through her body.
Secondly, she would like to thank her sister. A sister who has a mental health challenge of her own that sometimes makes it hard for them to connect. Growing up and moving through life both dealing with their own internal struggles caused some waves, and sometimes some full out tsunamis. But as Abigail reflects back on her childhood, and even their relationship now, she can’t help but smirk. "That’s what sisters are for; one second we can be at each other’s throat and the next, we’re laughing at something our dad said." From lining their Webkinz up and pretending to be teachers, to putting on elaborate song and dance performances for their parents, her sister made her childhood better.
Finally, she wants to thank her father. A dad who has to fight day in and day out with his own mental health challenges, as well as be there for his daughters and wife. She wants to thank him for showing her that a diagnosis does not define the person you are. Through adversity he has remained a role model to his daughters. One of her best childhood memories is of her and her dad going to Denny’s where her dad knew the manager. They would go so often that it became “their spot” and while the pancakes were sweet, the memories were sweeter. She has watched her father struggle and can remember some incredibly dark days for him. Being able to see someone she admires so much battle through the dark days and rejoice in the light of the good ones has given Abigail a sense of hope that she too can get through her tough days.
As much as Abigail has learned from him, he has learned from her. Once thinking the idea of meditating to help with the daily struggles of bipolar disorder was not for him, after much convincing from Abigail he has found that it is a moment of calmness and serenity in his often-chaotic days. Allowing Abigail to share her experiences with their shared mental health challenges and compare how they cope with certain elements has allowed them to grow closer. Abigail wants to remind parents that even though you are supposed to teach your children things, learning from them makes them feel heard and valued.
A childhood full of so many mental health hurdles could have been a very dark childhood. Thankfully this is not what Abigail remembers in the slightest. Trips to Grandma’s house and watching football with her dad, pretending to know what is going on are just two of her countless fond memories. It is the people in her life that validated her mental health challenge and allowed her to be herself.
While a thank you is definitely in order for Abigail’s parents, they were not perfect, and that is okay. No parent is the “perfect parent” no matter what you see on social media. Raising a child is hard, let alone a child with a social, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenge. Her childhood came with ups and downs like everybody else’s. What Abigail is thankful for is having two parents who sometimes made mistakes, but never made her feel like what she was going through wasn’t valid. Abigail’s biggest advice for parents is to, no matter how busy and chaotic life gets, remember to listen to your child. You will make mistakes, your child will be upset with you sometimes but if you continue to hear them and be there for them when they need you, your relationship will flourish.
So, from Abigail, and all of us at PA Parent and Family Alliance; thank you. Thank you for meticulously raising our future generations and taking the time to promote awareness of their mental health challenges. Stigma in the United States has existed since its creation but it's parents and families who educate and advocate for themselves that make these stigmas begin to go away. Take this month to celebrate the amazing job you are doing raising your child/children, and always check in the people in your life to make sure they’re doing okay.
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**names have been changed**