If you’ve been following my blog then you know that my life is full of normal family issues, plus the added not-so-normal issues that come with having a child with mental illness. I love my daughter, I wish I could help her more, I wish she didn’t have to struggle they way she does sometimes, but mostly I wish she didn’t have a mental illness.
Most well-adjust people realize that when you become a parent, there is a sudden switch turned on in your brain to love, protect, & provide for your child. It’s primal, innate, and you can’t ignore it. It’s what tells you whether a crying baby is hungry or tired, needs a diaper change or has a gas bubble. It never goes away, it just adjusts to your child’s changing needs as they get older. Most people do anything in their power to make sure they are the best parent they can be and ensure their child is prepared to become an adult. It’s your job to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV).
When you have a child with a fairly severe form of mental illness, you can do all the right things and still end up feeling like you’re failing. Some days, you just don’t know what to do. Take all the parenting books, advice from friends and family, and even some of the suggestions of doctors and toss it out the window. None of it will apply. You have to research and ask questions and advocate and get familiar with trial and error and make your own plan. In my case, you have to tell 3 different doctors that they’re wrong and keep looking for answers, get the right testing, get the right diagnosis- only to realize that things have gotten so bad that you have to have your child admitted to the state mental health hospital because everything you’ve done on an outpatient level isn’t effective. You know that despite your best efforts nothing outside of intensive inpatient treatment will benefit your 13 year-old daughter at that moment. So you make the hardest decision of your life and send her 80 miles away because you can’t help her anymore, you can’t protect her from herself, and you can’t provide what she needs.
Six months go by and great progress has been made. It’s like having a new child- literally 180* turn around. She’s happy, she’s smiling, cooperative, insightful, kind, loving, and has gained knowledge about herself. She has learned a bag full of “tricks” to be able to function outside the hospital. She gets to come home EXACTLY six months after her admission. As a parent you’re just so thankful to have her home, to have some sense of normalcy, and to have her feel better. Things are great and everyone is getting along and life is feeling right for the first time in a long time. Then the honeymoon ends.
Everyone has good days and bad days, and if they don’t they’re not normal. But recently I’m starting to realize that we’re (as a family) back to walking on eggshells and worrying about how to phrase even the simplest of words. The ups and downs have been more frequent and the bad days are starting to resemble life before hospitalization. I can tell when she’s letting her illness take over and speak for her and when she’s being a typical 14 year-old kid- most of the time. Then there are days when I just don’t know what to do anymore. I feel like maybe I’m dropping the ball somewhere, maybe I’m expecting to much, maybe I’m not expecting enough, or maybe her illness is evolving.
There are no easy answer when dealing with mental illness, especially when it comes to children and adolescents. Even more when it’s your child. I wish I could take it all away from her. She puts on a face of fearlessness and bravery, but she’s fragile and can be easily broken. I’ve cried so many tears over the last 18 months I don’t think I have any left, even when a good cry would really be nice. I worry about her future. I worry if she’ll be able to “adult” normally. I worry what will happen when I can’t make sure she takes her meds everyday or that she’s taking care of herself appropriately. Even when she makes me angry or upset because she’s said or done something to intentionally upset her sisters or mouths off to my husband, I keep telling myself silently that it’s going to be o.k. I remind myself that she can be kind and caring, compassionate and tender, my child yet a stranger.
I’ll never give up. I’ll always be pushing for more resources, more education, more awareness, and more strength. I’ll, WE, will get through the changes and the bad days. We’ll continue to celebrate small victories and learn from our setbacks. I’ll remember that this is my purpose her one earth. We’ll see the blessing in anything and everything, even the things that seem like they may break us.
I’m trying harder to “Let go, and let God”. I know that whatever I cannot handle only makes my trust in Him stronger and my faith even fuller. Even when I just don’t know what to do, He does.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11