Who cares for the carer? It’s a good question. Raising children with mental health issues, it’s not often something we think about. All our efforts go into parenting and dealing with the daily issues or stresses associated with mental health conditions. We are usually the last person we think about, if we consider ourselves at all.
Why is that? Do you tell yourself you don’t have the time or the money? Does it make you feel guilty doing something positive for yourself while your child is struggling? Whatever the reason, it’s a faulty way of thinking that we can change.
We are the rock for our kids, we need to be the strongest we can be. At some point that rock is going to crack without regular self care. When I first began learning to take time for myself amidst the chaos of daily life, it was suggested I make a Safety Plan. It’s simply a list of things to do when life is not going so well and I’m feeling really stressed with Jessie.
When the brain is acutely stressed we can’t think clearly. The idea of the safety plan is to give some written direction and respite in those occasions of extreme crisis. It takes you away from the potentially unsafe situation and allows you time out to calm down. In turn it is hoped that the risk of harm to yourself or others (physically, emotionally or mentally) is greatly reduced.
My daughter read my articles last week about her early onset bipolar. She told me how she was glad that she went through that really violent time when she was younger. Her reasoning was that she is only getting bigger and could have really hurt someone if she was an older teen or an adult. Even at 12 her strength in her rages was overpowering. De-escalation before it gets to that point is a skill Jessie now has and uses. As we use our Safety Plans and learn to de-escalate, it eventually starts to have a flow on effect.
The simplicity of the Plan is what makes it so effective. If you are no calmer after the doing the first thing on your list, you go to the next, etc, etc. If you get to the end of your list and you’re still feeling wound up, start from the top and work your way down your list again. Do this as many times as you need.
Make your Plan personal for you. Remember it is NOT for goal setting, Don’t add going for a jog if it’s something you think you should do, but never do. Don’t leave out having a cigarette if you’re a smoker. This is about indulgence! Anything that could cause us to feel like we’ve failed at something is categorically forbidden!!
Include activities that are practical and doable in any moment. Add between 10-15 activities. Choose things to do that you enjoy and that will have a calming effect. Keep it on the fridge or somewhere where you can’t miss it as a chaotic mind is likely to forget you even have it. This I know from experience!
As time moves forward you can alter your plan to add new hobbies or delete old ones. My Safety Plan is still in use, although I now call it my Self-Care Plan as I feel safer now with less volatile and distressing times. I have so much more confidence in myself as a parent than I’ve had in preceding years. I must admit it could do with an update. You will find that the more you use your plan, it will become second nature and will not require as much consultation. Still, it’s a handy tool to always have.
To give an idea of what a Safety Plan can look like, this is my original list;
- sit on my balcony and have a cigarette
- make a cup of tea, sit outside and be grateful for my garden
- do some work in my garden
- smile and think of things I’m grateful for
- sit on my bed and do a quick meditation
- read over my Tuning Into Teens course books
- call Mum
- play HayDay
- write in my journal
- contact a friend
- call Parenting Line 1300 1300 52
- call Lifeline 13 11 14
Smiling and feeling grateful has an amazing effect on mood. It really does make you feel more positive. Try it, and if your mood doesn’t lift, smile for longer, be grateful for something smaller (could be as simple as being grateful the sun is shining).
So, who cares for the carer? The answer is you.