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Mom and Dad, this one's for you: Dealing with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

“I felt terrible. There honestly was nothing I could do to help the situation because I myself was trying to make sense of the world around me,” said Elise Arango.

RICHMOND, Texas — Being a parent can be tough, as a parent’s emotional needs are often placed on the back burner. But throw in a pandemic, and it just got a whole lot tougher.

Fort Bend County moms Katie Higgins and Elise Arango know that all too well. The two are the best of friends and business partners who own Vintage Hope Boutique in Richmond. They share a lot in common, including each having a son with autism.

“So, we’ve gotten to be really, close. Life is hard,” Higgins said through laughter.

Between them, they also have three daughters. Juggling work, marriage, special needs parenting, life was a balancing act before, and then COVID-19 came along and threw them for a loop.

“I struggled big time. There’s just no other way to say it,” Higgins said.

The change in routine was beyond hard for their sons. Higgins' son Michael stopped speaking for two weeks, regressing to his non-verbal toddler years.

“He’s 8 years old. Like, we worked for five years, five solid years to get him to a point where he could have a conversation," Higgins said.

It was hard on Arango’s son Nathan, too, who refused to even ride in a car.

“I felt terrible,” Arango said. “There honestly was nothing I could do to help the situation, because I myself was trying to make sense of the world around me.”

Two moms were trying to be strong for their families while emotionally crumbling themselves. It’s not an uncommon story.

KHOU 11 mental health and wellness expert Bill Prasad compares healthy parenting to what you hear from a flight attendant on a plane: put your mask on first.

“Moms and dads have got to take care of themselves first,” Prasad said. “Parents have to remember that they are modeling what it’s like to handle anxiety.”

Which includes knowing when to ask for help, something Higgins and Arango have both been getting from a counselor.

“Everything was too big. I didn’t recognize the world around me, and I desperately needed help to start processing my feelings and my thoughts,” Arango said.

Counseling helped them realize even though so many of us are apart right now, we are struggling together.

“The entire world right now is living in a world that we do not recognize,” Higgins said. “The entire world!”

These friends hope sharing their struggles helps others in the same boat.

“We just want people to know that they are not alone,” Arango said.

If you could use a little help, there are free resources listed here.