I find myself here again.
Actually, I find myself here in this place more often than not.
This year has been rough. Months of worry and fear.
And then………hope steps in. Something changes and there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The rollercoaster is slowing, coming to the end of the ride………and then……suddenly…….the rollercoaster drops, twisting and turning, gaining speed as it twists and turns and spins us in all directions, leaving us to wonder which way is up and when it will end.
I have been riding this rollercoaster for years now. How I wish I could exit. But I can’t.
Loving someone who suffers from mental illnesses—depression, bi-polar, mood disorder, panic disorder, ADD, addiction—keeps a person on the rollercoaster of emotion and events. Unpredictable. Incomprehensible.
My oldest son suffers from mental illnesses.
And I have come to realize that he will never have the life I dreamed for him when he was born, instead I have adjusted my expectations and have accepted that life is and will be more difficult for him. He is funny, big-hearted, intelligent, thoughtful, impulsive, inquisitive, adventurous, fearless, creative and opinionated. I love my son, unconditionally.
And sometimes I love him too much. His mental illness holds me hostage….the worry of what might happen if I am not here when he needs me, if I don’t give him a place to live, if I make him stand on his own two feet, keeps me on the rollercoaster…….and yet, I cannot continue to enable him.
I am lost. I have no idea what is right and what is wrong when it comes to helping. At what point am I enabling him to stay stuck where he is now? When do I stop helping and let him find his own way?
The thing is, his brain doesn’t work the way mine does, or his father’s does, or even his brother’s does. The world is different through his eyes. Normal is different in his mind.
Society tells us all what “normal” is. And those who suffer from any mental illness do not fit the societal definition of “normal”. And that leads to being judged, condemned, misunderstood, and feared……….which leads those who suffer to feel isolated and alone. And those who love them are left feeling helpless and isolated, judged by those who have never ridden the rollercoaster.
I love my son! And I cannot change his world for him. I cannot fix this for him. I cannot make his brain work the way society says it should. All I can do is love him……and try to find help for him in a world that doesn’t want to recognize or help those who truly need it.
This year the rollercoaster went into hyper-drive……sending our family whirling into the dark, twisting world of those lost to addiction and mental illnesses.
There are days, weeks and even months when I have no idea where my son is………I live each day in fear. Where is he? Who is he with? How is he eating? Where is he sleeping? Is this the day that the doorbell rings or the phone rings and he is asking for help? Or I am told he is in jail? Or the hospital? Or worse, gone forever?
And then he is home, getting help and I see glimpses of my baby………and then he is gone again………….
This is difficult to share with my closest family and friends and even more difficult to share with the world. I grew up in a time when family matters stayed behind closed doors and in the family. We didn’t talk about them. EVER!
But I think THAT is part of the problem in our society. We don’t talk about mental health illnesses unless something tragic happens…….and then it is only to judge the individual and the parents.
We need to start the conversation NOW!
We need to stop judging those individuals and the ones who love them. When a child has an uncontrollable outburst, instead of judging and telling the parents “you need to send him to military school” or “you need to spank him more”, we should offer understanding, a hug….anything that helps rather than isolates. (yes, we heard those often and sadly, my son heard those words from “well-meaning friends”, too.)
We as a society need to talk about mental health issues rather than ignore them, hoping they will just disappear. I don’t know how to get it started, or what the answers are, but I know that it has to start……..NOW…………TODAY.
I have met some people over these past few months who have touched my heart. Out of the blue and without knowing my struggles this year, these brave individuals have shared with me their personal struggles with mental health illnesses and with addiction. I believe that God brought them into my life to let me know I am not alone, my family is not alone and my son is not alone……….that this is something many others struggle with.
My hope is that by sharing this now, I can help someone else as well. And maybe by sharing, others will have more compassion toward my son and toward the many others who also suffer. Maybe the conversation will get started and help will be more affordable and more accessible to all who suffer some kind of mental illness……..We need to start talking and start taking action to get affordable mental health care, with doctors who can really help, who know what they are doing……instead of the doctors that now work with the low income population who don’t care about those individuals and judge them instead of truly helping them.
So, I am starting the conversation now. I am no longer hiding from the reality that is my world. I am asking everyone to join me in this conversation because alone I cannot change our society, but together we can really make a difference…..for my son and for all who suffer and all who love them.
I pray every single day for my son.
I pray every single day that help comes, that compassion is found, that understanding for all who suffer is found, that the stigma is abolished and in its place is compassion, understanding and help.
I pray every single day that my son will find his own way in this world.
I pray every single day that my son will be okay when my husband and I are no longer here, that someone will be there for him, that someone will love him.
And I pray every single day that the conversation gets started and keeps going………while I just breathe…….