Having a child with mental illness can be a bit like watching a tree

When I get up each morning, I have a ritual. I feed the cat and then I go and look at my tree while the kettle boils. It’s a minute or so’s contemplation about how I’m feeling and the day ahead.

The tree isn’t actually mine, but it feels like it is. A majestic oak, it sits in farmland that surrounds my house. Some mornings, I gasp at the beauty of the sky behind it that outlines its branches in the most wonderful misty pink hues from the rising sun.

Recently, it’s been rainy and grey so I’ve looked at the tree and wished for brighter days. I haven’t got that immediate wow, and (sorry tree!) I’ve not really appreciated it as much as I should. I’ve found myself looking at it for less time each day.

Today, I realised that I won’t see those rosy views of the tree for some time. It’s nearly summer in the UK, and as we head towards the longest day, the sun is rising earlier than I am. So when I come and see the tree, the sun is already relatively high, blowing out the sky behind.

Grey clouds had covered the changing position of the sun. For the past couple of days, I thought maybe it was because I was up a bit later? But it struck me today, that I am watching a change in nature itself.

And today, I have noticed for the first time in a long time how it is growing, how it is alive. It is more green than I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it was green before, but I was so focussed on the whole view and why it wasn’t picture perfect that I’d missed that.

Having a child with a mental illness can be a bit like watching the tree.

You wonder at them, amazed at how perfect they are. You can’t conceive of it ever changing.

And then the season changes, the illness hits.

You can stop looking at the beauty in the child themselves, as you focus on understanding and fighting the greyness around them. You start wondering when the sun is going to come back. You stop looking for the beauty within them because all you can see is grey, now and into the future.

But as you look at the grey skies and grumble at the lack of sun, changes are afoot. They may be small, but in the darkness, they’re still growing, they’re learning to adapt to their surroundings, their season.

And when the season changes again and the light shines on them, they will be different. Like a tree, they will have adapted to the world around them. They will have grown in their own way.

Our challenge is to notice the beauty in our children when they aren’t bathed in a rosy hue, when they’re mired in greyness and we can’t believe the season will ever change.

The keys to this are to forget the big picture; that everyone else’s child is evergreen ( they’re not!) that a season of greyness means there’s no future ( it doesn’t!)

And take heart from nature and know that there is a time for everything to grow and thrive. While your little tree is waiting for that time, there’s still beauty, there’s still wonder. 

Finally, consider that have the power to make the sunshine come out. Appreciate the good in your children. Praise the things they do well, rather than focussing on the things they do wrong. Believe that the seasons will change.

Smile more. Hug lots. Love hard.

I believe, because we’ve seen the seasons change and growth happen with my daughter. It’s so great to see that changes are happening with so many of you here too.

And if today you’re wondering when it will be your summer, I am here to tell you it is on its way. But in the meantime, appreciate the beauty you have today. Perfectly imperfect. But beautiful nonetheless.

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