Being a Mother and a Carer

Differentiating between being a mother and carer of someone living with mental ill-health is difficult.

I have muddled through years with ebbs and flows, having had periods where things have gone well for a time, followed by periods of darkness, anger and destruction.

As a single mum of three – two sons and a daughter – things were tough. I did what I needed to do to support my family and was probably a bit Sergeant Majorish as I didn’t have a lot of time. I was too busy in a tangible way trying to survive, working to put food on the table and to pay the bills.

My daughter has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, however it took years to get a diagnosis.

I started to notice my daughter was having issues with anxiety when she was in Year 10. Some mornings she would wake up in tears not wanting to go to school. This culminated in a severe panic attack in Year 10, which traumatised her. She ended up not completing year 11 and 12, instead doing a childcare certificate. She liked it but as a big girl the kids really honed in on this and she didn’t finish. She then pursued a pathway to university, completing a bridging course as a mature student. She did exceptionally well, got into uni, and had a fabulous tutor who was very respectful of her circumstances and gave her a lot of leeway in terms of submitting assignments and so on. She had a semester where she got high distinctions and the tutor asked to use her work as an example for other students, and then she’d have a semester where she failed everything and couldn’t do the exams or get to class.

Over the years my daughter has seen numerous doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. She has held a number of casual jobs, but also battled with her BPD, agoraphobia, panic attacks, her weight, as well as the treatment by others in the workplace. She has been on medication however that resulted in periods of self-harm. In consultation with one psych, we were told that ‘some people can be medicated, and some people can’t’, and so she is no longer on medication. Things would go well for a time, but then we would have days where she would get angry about anything.

Building a Future with MIFWA

I first heard about MIFWA at the end of 2019 through word of mouth.

I’d been getting increasingly frustrated with everything. For example, on several occasions I had spoken with the triage nurse for help, and each time they would tell me to bring my daughter in. I struggled to comprehend how they could not understand how my daughter was agoraphobic and could not leave the house.

I broke down in tears one day and called MIFWA after hearing about them from someone else who had a daughter with BPD. Sam was the first person I spoke to at MIFWA – and it was heartening to finally speak to someone who understood.

Not long after I met up with Sam who put me on to the Building a Future program with MIFWA, a program designed to assist family, friends and carers in maintaining their own wellness and supporting the recovery of their loved one. Initially I worried about how I was going to be able to do the program from home (it was different from usual because it was held over Zoom as opposed to face to face because of COVID-19), however I bit the bullet and told my daughter what I was planning on doing. I was pleasantly surprised by my daughter’s reaction. She was very receptive and teared up, telling me she had been wanting me to do something like this for years.

The Building a Future program was immensely helpful. Free and simple to join, it has given me lots of practical information and understanding, including communication techniques as well as how to separate the condition from the person. It has also been great to meet people who understand what I am going through and can empathise – even if it has purely been online. The program has been such a positive experience for me and my daughter. She has loved hearing about what I have learned during each session.

We are not mutually exclusive. We do everything together.

I’ve used the Building a Future program to introduce my daughter to new possibilities after being inspired by the opportunities available. What personally resonated with me was hearing from Sam’s daughter, Hayley, who shared her lived experience story. It provided me with an enormous amount of hope from a carer perspective. I relayed Hayley’s story to my daughter and how I was inspired by it and had a sense of the light at the end of the tunnel. Together we joined one of Hayley’s sessions on Chime, and from that she ended up completing a four-week CHIME program online on her own. She loved doing it and has now gone on to complete the face to face Wellways to Work program. She has had some rough weeks in thinking she wouldn’t make it to the program, however each time she does she comes home with a bounce in her step and I am seeing incremental changes.

My daughter has just turned 28, and we are not out of the woods however I am committed to supporting her as she has responded well through doing these courses through MIFWA. She has been stimulated to think about things, it has opened a lot of opportunities and possibilities, and she is growing.

I accept she will have experiences along the way that will make her take a step back but hopefully through those experiences she will build resiliency, and honestly, I think my daughter is incredibly resilient to be the person she is after all she has gone through. Once the world opens for her she will go leaps and bounds.

It’s all about getting the balance right.

As a carer, it’s all about getting the balance right – and that sense of balance can be hard to come by, for if you push things too far, be it for yourself or the person you’re caring from, things can become undone.

Today I acknowledge I am entitled to the time to do things for myself. I put on a lot of weight over the years because of stress and a lack of exercise, however this year I have made a lot of changes and lost 19 kilos. These days I love getting up early for a walk along the river or heading outdoors with friends for a bushwalk. I get a lot out of it. I am also grateful to my small but strong circle of friends who I trust and who support me.

I believe the more we support and encourage people to face what they are going through and to learn and educate themselves about mental illness it will help to lessen stigma around people and their circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to bring people together and to highlight mental health within the wider community, and yes, it is sad it has taken something like this to do it, but let’s piggyback off of it and use it to make a difference!

Taking place over 12 consecutive weeks, Building a Future aims to increase the capacity of families, carers and friends to care effectively for themselves, other family members and their relative living with mental illness. Our next program commences on Tuesday 16 February 2021 for 12 weeks until 4 May 2021. Click here to learn more.

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