The Sandwich Generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. I’m in that sandwich right now. And it’s a mental illness sandwich. I had always known that there was something “different” about myself and in 2006, I experienced my first psychotic break and hospitalization. At the time I was 32 years old and a mother to an 11 year old boy and a 9 year old girl. As I began my descent into my own world of madness, I didn’t realize that I was taking them for a ride with me. I was still functioning as a parent for the most part, although my son was struggling with his own mental health demons. This struggle created an estrangement with him that exists to this day.
Bouncing in and out of therapies, hospitals, and numerous medical appointments found me struggling to keep up with the tasks related to parenting. I was still providing the basics of life for my daughter, but I wasn’t seeing the impact my illness was having on her developing brain. She was barely hanging on as I worked to achieve stability and I barely noticed.
Fast forward a few years and I am now managing my illness. I still struggle with my mental health, and other than my family it is my main priority. I work hard to attend my mental health appointments and have taken the many many therapies offered to me. I have improved and gained a lot of skills to help me manage the symptoms of Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder….but at what price?
My mother began struggling with her own mental health issues a few years ago and relied upon me to help guide her through the system. Using my own experiences, I was able to steer her towards getting the proper treatment she needed to begin her own recovery. This involved attending a lot of her mental health appointments with her, and getting her a new family doctor that would work closely with her mental health team to ensure all her needs were getting met. I also provided a lot of emotional support during this time and I admit….it took me away from my own mental health needs and the needs of my daughter.
This puts us to where we are today. I’ve applied for and am waiting to attend an intensive treatment program (in-hospital) that will assist me in dealing with both addictions and mental health. My mom is stable, but awaiting treatment for a seniors program that will help her regain some of her cognitive skills that were impaired by the mental health stressors, and my daughter is just beginning her descent into this hell. Her knowing that I was going to be attending an in-hospital treatment again seemed to have triggered an extreme episode of anxiety and depression in her, and she’s struggling to hang on. Mix that in with the normal angst of being a teenager and it’s a recipe for disaster if left unatttended.
I feel like my whole life revolves around mental illness. I’m sick, my mother’s sick and now my daughter is exhibiting signs of the same illness. I’m thankful that I was the one who “broke the cycle of silence”, but sometimes I feel like I’ve opened up a can of worms that I don’t know what to do with now. I’m stuck in the middle and it feels like the only way this three generations of women can move forward is if I find it within myself to keep going towards recovery. Keep learning new skills and teaching them to my mom and daughter. Keep helping them get the services they need in order to cope with their illnesses, yet trying to keep myself on an even keel and be strong for everyone.
Can I get an order of fries with that sandwich?