“AM I LOSING MY MIND?”
Before you tweet another psychiatrist joke, consider whether it would seem funny to the more than thirteen million Americans who live with serious mental illness—or to the families who worry about them daily. Real mental illness is little like the cartoon stereotype of the man on the couch thinking he’s a toaster. It means the agony of never being sure when to believe your own mind. It means the despair of constantly feeling miserable for no reason. And for the rest of the household, it means living with awareness that someone you love may start raving and swinging out of the blue—and that calling 911 could bring you a responder who’s inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.
Severe cases aside, over fifty million adults in the U. S. have some impairment to their reasoning abilities or emotional control. And when life gets stressful, just about everyone has moments when they fear “losing it” temporarily or permanently. For parents, that worry is compounded by the stress of being responsible for children’s constant needs—and by fears of being unfit to meet those needs.
The Top 10 List for Holding Yourself (and Your Family) Together
- Don’t say, “You’re driving me crazy,” or “You’ll drive me to drink.” Not only does this abdicate personal responsibility for your behavior, but children tend to take it literally—and blame themselves for whatever goes wrong.
- Save a chunk of “me time” every day or two for recharging your batteries. Children prefer a calm, rational parent to one who’s stressed out from staying on call 24/7.
- Allow kids their own free time: with other channels for releasing their energy, they won’t be constantly pushing your buttons with restlessness.
- Make it an ongoing family project to provide healthy nutrition, sleep, and physical activity for everyone.
- Divide household chores fairly (anyone old enough to walk can at least pick up after themselves), and let everyone make their own decisions on the “hows” and “whens” of their share. Micromanaging others (and dealing with their resulting resentment) is as stressful as demanding too much of yourself.
- When faced with any sort of ongoing challenge, save all the energy you can for coping with it: pare other commitments to the bare minimum.
- Use confident language (“I believe in you, you can handle this”) when speaking to your children and
- Encourage everyone to talk freely about their concerns and worries, and set an example of doing so yourself (considering age-appropriateness of difficult topics, of course). Bottled-up feelings will only come out through more harmful channels.
- Don’t confuse healthy openness about your feelings with license to spew tactless words. The idea that it’s healthy to vent anger in the most obvious (and hurtful) ways is long disproven: that approach is more likely to create a long-term toxic habit.
- If you suspect that you have an actual mental illness—even a minor one—consult a doctor. Whatever the problem, professional help will best equip you (and your children) to cope with it and build a happier home.