This week, Impulsive Irene came to visit. As many of you may know, having a mental illness doesn’t include just one symptom but a myriad of co-existing symptoms and diagnoses. So, while Manic Marge may be predominantly present one day, Anxious Annie, Impulsive Irene and Depressed Debbie may be lurking around the corner, ready to make their presence known at any moment.
About a week ago, I saw a Facebook post on Impulsive Irene’s account that said if she got 99 likes and 99 comments, she would get a new kitten. I sort of chuckled to myself, thinking, “Where does she come up with this stuff? She knows she can’t really get a new kitten, doesn’t she?” The thought quickly left my mind as I rushed to remind Irene that she’s not allowed to be on Facebook because she’s impulsive and makes irrational, thoughtless comments that can get her in trouble.
As if my reminder would instantly banish her from Facebook, I went about my business, work, life, etc… Then, a week later, like a memory out of a warped dream, Chloe comes bounding into the laundry room, shouting excitedly, “You have to get me a new kitten!” “What?!” I ask. “No I don’t. What are you talking about?”
“I got 108 likes and 101 comments! I get a new kitten,” she exclaims. “Well that was your post not mine. I had nothing to do with that,” I try to reason with her. Undeterred, she goes running off to Jeff to tell him the same thing, to which he responds, “We’re not getting a kitten, Chloe. We don’t need another animal in this house!”
That ended that conversation, so we thought. The same evening, Irene comes into my room to tell me she’s going to go hang out with a friend for a bit. “Ok,” I say. 10 minutes later, she calls me from her room downstairs. “Come here,” she says. “Where are you?” I say, puzzled. “I’m in my room. Come here.” I thought she was with a friend, I think to myself. I head downstairs and enter her room. From behind a pillow she pulls out a little fuzzy gray kitten. “Oh Chloe, where did you get that!?” I ask, bewildered. “A cat rescue house I found on Facebook.” “Ugh,” I say. “Your father is not going to be happy!”
Needless-to-say, daddy was quite angry. However, we did end up keeping the flea-infested kitten that had a grape-sized abscess on its chin. $98 and a vet visit later, Athena the kitten is flea and abscess-free and quite happy with Chloe and our other furry house friends.
Managing a mentally ill youth or loved one can definitely leave you drained of all of your patience and energy. I often feel like I’m running around in circles just to keep up with Chloe and all her “personalities” that come with her illness.
Below are a few tips that have helped me parent and manage Chloe over the years:
- Accept your loved one for who they are. They can’t change. You can’t change. You can only change the way you respond.
- Try to keep a sense of humor. While their behavior can be frustrating and seem manipulative, at their core, they want to be loved, just like everyone else.
- Remain calm. When you get upset, it triggers your loved one to get upset, too. When tempers flare, it’s difficult to think rationally and say things with an open mind and heart.
- Use empathy and listening to discover what they need or to help solve problems.
- Recognize that it’s not your fault, it’s not their fault, it is an illness that they need help managing.