Monday, 25 April 2016

Parenting with Chronic Illness

Today's Mombies Unite post from Kim is a window into the often silent world of living with chronic pain. She reminds us to be kind to each other and to ourselves and to support one another since we never know what battles (visible or invisible) someone else may facing.

Meet Kim. A Work At Home Mom of three boys, ages 2, 5, and 7, Kim homeschools her oldest (first grade) and tries to grow her inner artist for at least a few hours a week. Kim suffers from fibromyalgia (fibro) and depression (MDD/A). She and her husband are high school sweethearts and have been married almost nine years. In her “pre-kids-working-world,” she worked as an Educational Assistant and now she sometimes sells her art! Kim's family is in transition (they just moved from Canada to Florida) so she's currently taking a break but you can check out her art on Facebook or on Etsy.

Parenting with Chronic Illness

As a sufferer of two unseen illness I could discuss at length how difficult it is to live and cope and function on a day-to-day basis. Today however, I will share briefly what it is like to be a parent of chronic illness.

Fibromyalgia inhibits my physical ability to engage with my children: I do not usually play with them at the park, or go for bike rides, or let them climb on me as if I am an apparatus. With three small boys, let me tell you- this is not an easy task. Some days, mommy sits on the couch and engages only the bare minimum because her body is hurting, and that is just the way it is. In the midst of a fibro flare (when my condition worsens), I will often have a bath during the nap/quiet time or as soon as my husband is home. Occasionally, we will have to cancel the day’s activity because I am unable to do much more than get dressed. I will often be dreading making supper, putting off climbing the stairs, and simply not getting dressed all day due to overwhelming fatigue or pain. It is hard to explain to both old and young humans how I am feeling and what I need in order to cope with the pain. Sometimes I don't even know how to express those things to myself.

On the days when I am feeling well, I try to make up for the days when I wasn't. I try to go for a walk, or teach my boys how to play baseball, and absolutely do as much snuggling and tickling as possible. I bake and clean like a madwoman, partially to make up for my days of virtual inactivity, and partially to prove (to myself and others) that I am not lazy. Because I’m not lazy: in fact on bad days it is a considerable effort for me just to hold a child on my lap, pick up my crying toddler, or dump a boiling pot of pasta water.

My anxiety and depression also affect my parenting. For example, one day, I couldn't find my keys and I ended up screaming and panicking and crying. My kids were terrified of me for the rest of the day and I wanted to hide in my bed in shame and self-loathing (the keys were missing for less than 20 minutes). I am constantly saying to myself that I am a bad mother; that I am worthless; that I can't do anything; I am just a lazy blob. I have been working on my self-deprecating talk for years and it will always be a battle for me. Something I am learning is to be conscious of speaking to myself that way (out loud) when my boys are around. I don't want to hide my depression, but I also don't want them to take on my symptoms as they grow up either. It is a hard balance.

My oldest two (ages 5 and 7) both know I have fibromyalgia and depression/anxiety. They both know that some days are better than others for our whole family because of it. They are helpful and encouraging and understanding. I often feel guilty for that reason- it is a big burden for kids so little to take on. I’m sure they get tired of me saying, "No honey, mom’s legs hurt" and "Maybe we can try again tomorrow". They get tired of all the doctor and physiotherapy and massage appointments. They wish they could go to the park more often or that I could play trains on the floor. And you know what? I wish those things too.

My husband is amazing. He comes home early if he can or if I need him to, he makes dinner a few days a week and does most the house cleaning and laundry (even though he just finished a PhD, you go, honey!). He gently explains to the boys why mommy isn't sitting at the table for supper (again) and allows me to go to some of those appointments I mentioned, alone. When I am in a fit of self-loathing or guilt, he encourages me and also tells me to cut it out. He is a great support.

You know who else is a great support? Christ. Paul's letter to the Philippians tells us that we "can do all things through Christ who gives us strength". 1 Corinthians 10:4 projects Christ as a rock to draw strength from.  In Matthew 11, Jesus tells his heavy-laden followers to come to Him and bring him their burdens. So, dragging my aching body and sore head out of bed I try to recognize my own achievements (even the little ones) and to rely on my family (but mostly my Saviour) for the strength to finish the day.

And as a WAH Mombie with chronic pain and chronic mental health issues, I need you to understand when fibro-fog (cognitive difficulty) causes me to forget our play-date or I use the incorrect word for what I’m trying to articulate. I need patience when I cancel plans for seemingly no reason (read: pain or fatigue), or can’t bring a snack over like you know I want to. I’m someone that doesn’t want to hear my condition is less important than another’s, or even nonexistent (yes, this has happened). Instead ask questions so you better understand what my days are like and how you can be a support for me. I get it- there are worse things in the world, worse situations in the world than my condition, but that doesn’t mean that what I go through is easy, or less significant: it’s just different. And, please, tell me how I can be a support to you because we all need extra love sometimes, and, in some seasons, some of us more than others.

Let’s support each other; mental illness, or chronic illness, or no illness at all.

Here are a few helpful links with infographics courtesy of Kim if you want to read further on any of these conditions:

Have you struggled with a condition that wasn't immediately apparent or that others have dismissed? 
Show some encouragement to Kim in the comments below and why not give her words a share?

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