Staring down at my beautiful new son I am filled with love, so much love. I practically imagine his whole life in front of me. How wonderful his life is going to be and how happy we all will be together. I’m not sure if everyone feels this way when they first see their newborn baby or if it’s just me. I don’t care though; I have a son and I am on cloud nine! Little do I know what is in store for me and how hard my life is about to get. I wish me today could warn theme back then. Buckle up because here we go…
I always thought my son was special, I just didn’t know how special. I think all parents would agree you never want anything to be wrong with your child. You want to always keep them healthy and safe and you do all you can to accomplish that. I did everything I could to keep him healthy, safe, and thriving. Sometimes though, there are things that are just out of your control. It isn’t anyone’s fault. (My son has given his permission and blessing for this post)
First of all, I want to say writing this has been very difficult. This is the first time that I am truly talking about this publicly as I always try to respect my son’s privacy. I also feel like we need to break down the barriers surrounding mental illness and make it something we can talk about. So, I decided to make this sacrifice in hopes it will help at least one person in the situation.
My son was always kind of demanding and he threw tantrums frequently. After he was asked to leave his second preschool, I knew I had to get some help. What was wrong with my toddler? I thought for a while this is what it is like to have a boy. They get hurt, break things, and have a lot of energy, right? I’ll never forget the day in his psychologist’s office when I was told, “I think your son has bipolar disorder.” I of course am in shock – he is only three years old – how can you know that?
I felt punched in the gut. So many questions…What does this mean? What do we do? I had no idea what was coming, and I wasn’t ready. All I was thinking about was how to protect my son and how to help him. I wasn’t thinking about my own health or taking care of myself. My husband and I decided we didn’t want to put him on medication if we didn’t need to, instead we went ahead and kept him in therapy.
Then one day he comes up to me with a knife and says he wants to kill himself. A piece inside of me starts to die at that moment and I didn’t realize at the time how I would never be the same again and neither would he. I decided not to hospitalize my toddler.
The anxiety of not knowing what would happen to him in my absence was too overwhelming. Instead, we opted for medicine. Looking back, I’m still not sure what the right decision could have been. If you ask my son, it wasn’t the medication. He will go on to always resent the fact that his childhood is a haze because he was always on some kind of drug.
I don’t know if I can put into words the years of struggle that will follow this, but I will try. What I do know is that watching your child suffer like I have watched my son suffer, is the most excruciating feeling in the world. He ends up going through countless assessments, many different psychiatrists and therapists for years. He was unable to handle a regular classroom, so he began kindergarten in special education with other emotionally disturbed children. That whole experience is a whole different story.
For me, this time period is filled with working full-time and getting him to his appointments. This means keeping track of side effects, symptoms, past medications. In fact, in order to keep it all straight, I had a huge binder.
The tantrums that my son experienced were the worst I have ever seen. He would completely demolish his bedroom, even turning his mattress on its side. Often, I would have to get behind him and hold him down to get him to come out of his rage. This would result in me accidentally getting hurt often, not to mention the amount of energy it would take to hold him. I might have forgotten to mention, from the moment my son was born he was a large child. His whole life he has been bigger than everyone and looked older than he was – which didn’t help the situation. Currently, he is 6 ft. 8 in. tall! These moments add up and begin to take a toll on my emotional and physical health.
To add insult to injury the mental health professionals would change his diagnosis all the time. I think that was hard because you want to put a name to it. But we were told that wasn’t important. It was more important to “treat the symptoms.” That left me feeling very alone and lost. I didn’t know who to look to for support or what to Google on the internet. Was I making the right decisions for my son? That question still lingers to this day and continues with my younger son as well.
Raising a child with a mental illness is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have made so many mistakes and learned so much. What I learned most is how strong I am and how strong he can be. I think all that he and I have been through together has solidified the bond that we made that very first day we laid eyes on each other. He knows I will do anything for him. I have proven that over and over by fighting for his rights and advocating for his education. I have had to make very, very hard heartbreaking decisions that he may never forgive me for. However, I know he knows that they were made out of love and the fierce protection that I will always have for him.
There is such a stigma on mental illness that for a long time I was afraid to talk about my son’s illness. I can’t tell you how alone I felt. I didn’t know about social media until he was already mostly grown. Not to mention the fact that I am very protective of his privacy. I will say though, that he had a handful of therapists that were my saving grace. They helped me be a better mom and reminded me how I was doing an awesome job. Those kinds of talks are what kept me going.
Anyone with fibromyalgia knows how bad symptoms get when you don’t manage your stress. It could be that the years of stress my body went through left me susceptible to fibromyalgia. I didn’t ask for help enough and I didn’t use coping mechanisms to protect myself. Often, I was blamed for his behaviors. I was told my parenting was to blame. Believe me, I didn’t need anyone making me feel guilty. I already felt like a horrible mother, in way over my head. Overwhelmed and exhausted. I don’t blame my son; I blame myself for not taking better care of myself while trying to take care of him. If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be this:
“Take time to take care of yourself. Be consistent in your discipline and your love for your son and yourself. Forgive him for what he does and forgive yourself because you are doing a great job! “
I am opening up about this because I know I’m not the only one that has gone through this. No one wants to feel alone. I also think it is a really good lesson in how we need to prioritize self-care when caring for others. If your child becomes ill with a physical illness, you reach out for support. When your child becomes ill with a mental illness society tends to tell you to keep that to yourself. That is ridiculous and we need to change it. Conversations like this are how we do that. I am proud of my son! It is not his fault that he has a mental illness and in fact, because of his illness, he is a stronger, more insightful person than I could have hoped for. I encourage you to share in the comments if you have gone through parenting a child with mental illness.
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