Parenting while coping with a disability
Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (2), p. 13
For the last two years, it feels like I’ve been living in a pressure cooker in which someone has forgotten to turn off the heat. During this time, myfamily – my child and I – has suffered enormously as a result of economic and social restructuring in the Ministries of Health, Human Resources, Education, and Children & Family Development. As each ministry implements graduated system-wide reductions, we lose one after another of the essential resources that allowed us to cope with the pressures of poverty and mental illness.
Physically, I am exhausted and in pain. My stressrelated symptoms include migraines, an enlarged thyroid, stomach problems, and muscle tension causing joint pain . . . the list goes on. The doctors can find no other cause – it’s all due to accumulated stressors. Primarily, this is the result of trying to mitigate the impact of the cuts so my child has as happy and healthy a childhood as can be under the circumstances. The government may be achieving their financial goals; however, they come at great personal cost to families coping with a disability. Like many others, I am unable to alter my financial situation and so am forced into a desperate struggle to cope with one stressor after another.
For example, in 2002, we lost 10% of our already marginal income, along with other health and social benefits. I now have only limited access to massage, physiotherapy or a chiropractor to help me cope with the increased muscle tension I have due to stress. I have lost access to the respite care funds that allowed me to take breaks and parent better as a result of feeling rested and able to cope better.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) talks about providing community and family resources. Realistically, however, they have cut funding to community resources, and few people coping with mental illness have family support. I have an average, dysfunctional family, with other members coping with mental illness and addiction, and who do not have the physical or emotional resources to assist us. The stigma and challenge of coping with a mental disorder make it difficult to develop and sustain relationships. The few friends I have are also living in poverty and are coping with their own issues: two different friends each have family members coping with cancer. We are all subject to the stress of service cuts and poverty and are all functioning at the limit of our own resources. Over the long term, this is debilitating and inhibits our ability to participate in our community.
The cuts that are occurring across all four ministries affect every area of our family life and our entire community on the east side of Vancouver. Our school-aged children are constantly under threat of losing Ministry of Education and MCFD-funded resource people and other things such as hot lunches and after-school programs. I have no idea what the long-term impact of the current cuts will be and I am very concerned about the upcoming cuts in welfare benefits to single parents. Many of the parents who have not yet found work suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues including depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress, or other barriers which have prevented them from working. As programs close and our resources become limited, so do our options. People are and will continue to become more and more desperate.
Personally, I have access to all the resources currently available, am well educated, have strong personal resources, and a network of fairly healthy people. If I am feeling overwhelmed, I often wonder how others are coping and what will happen to families not connected to any resources. My gut feeling tells me that just like the untended pressure cooker, this situation is not going to improve on its own.
I realize that people working in mental health and many other social services know what is required to restore services and reduce the pressure. Unfortunately, we are all subject to this bizarre experiment that prioritizes the economy over the well-being of the people the economy serves. Sadly, I also know what happens to the contents of an untended pressure cooker, and I wish someone would have the courage to do something before someone else gets hurt as a result of the desperation and despair that has been created by the current lack of funding and services – and by the apparent lack of concern to do anything about it.
About the Author
Virginia is a writer, parent and mental healh consumer who lives in Vancouver