This past year the Hospital for Sick Children, or Sick Kids as it is commonly known, has released a series of ads. These ads are meant to show the strength and indomitable spirit of children, as well as their families, who live with serious illnesses. The most recent ad shares, in a raw and powerful manner, the journeys of mothers of sick children.
If you haven’t already viewed the ad you can see the it here…..
I will admit to having a love/hate relationship with the ad. I love the ad because it shows the invisible lives of caregivers. Most of us are programmed to put on that brave face that you see at the end of the ad. The one where we walk into the room ready to take on the world and move mountains to make sure our kid is okay. There is intense pressure on parents, in particular mothers, to present that face to the rest of the world.
For me, what I hate about the ad is that it shows the world what I look like when the world isn’t watching. I am someone who is pretty private about my emotional breakdowns. I like the world to think that I have it all under control, which is of course a big fat lie. But I digress. As far as the world is concerned, it doesn’t matter what life will throw at me, I can handle it.
But this ad totally hits the mark. I have sobbed in the shower. I have beaten a steering wheel. I once shredded a pillow at three in the morning. I kicked a wall so hard (I am a soccer player) that there was serious concern I had fractured my foot. In the moment it was either turn my anger and frustration on some inanimate object or cause some form of bodily harm. The wall and the pillow lost those decisions.
And then there was the suicidal ideation. When Matthew was about seven I really began to wish I could go to bed and simply not wake up. I had no real desire to die. I just didn’t want to live this sleep-deprived roller-coaster of pain and isolation any more. The idea of checking out became pretty darn appealing. Matthew was really sick and in a great deal of pain and nothing I could do made it better. Nothing health professionals did made it better. I just had to watch him suffer pain he did not understand and did not have the ability to identify to those who might help. The suicidal ideation moments were, in fact, more frightening than the moments I share above because the pain had moved so deeply within me that it could not be released in any way. It simply threatened to eat me alive. It robbed me of hope. Life seemed to be a hamster wheel of thankless caregiving duties and shared suffering between my son and I. Tomorrow promised to be the same as today and I had no sense the hamster wheel would stop turning. Ever. The only thing that kept me going those years was the fact that I had three children, and a husband, who desperately needed me to be okay. Which is why you never saw the broken Laura (I find it difficult to share this even now). To show that part of me to the world was unthinkable. And, to be brutally honest, the world let me know on no uncertain terms that it wasn’t particularly interested in seeing a broken Laura. I was expected to be fine. The world made it clear that it had better things to do than to help an overwhelmed caregiver.
And so I am grateful for this ad. Caregiving is often presented as the great spiritual journey of growth and learning. Caregiving is often portrayed as a rare opportunity to give humbly of yourself to someone who is very vulnerable. And, yes, it is all that. But a lot of the times it also really sucks. The caregiver is the one who spends all day, every day, watching someone they love suffer. As a mother I am programmed to protect my child with every fibre of my being and it threatened to destroy my soul when I could not.
Until we understand that the story of caregiving includes these moments that are rarely shared with the our larger community I am worried that many caregivers will continue to suffer alone, in silence. I am worried our communities will continue to believe caregivers are fine, because the larger world needs them to be fine. Part of helping caregivers is ensuring these stories, and I am pretty sure they are fairly common, start becoming part of the communal narrative of caregiving.