Friday, October 8, 2010

An Illness that Hides

Recently, I’ve had in depth conversations with everyday people in my life. Some were students in my fitness class, others in my church and even today my hygienist during a check up. What was awakening about these conversations was that each of them have experienced mental illness in a loved one.

Today, after discussing People magazine’s article about teen suicides, my hygienist shared with me that her husband committed suicide a few years back. She explained that he had some type of mood disorder. He was never officially diagnosed, but she believes he was bipolar. One day, after deciding to stop his medication, because he was feeling good and thought that he didn’t need to take it anymore, he went out to the garage and hung himself. She explained that there was no warning, he wasn’t acting different or giving stuff away. It was just an impulsive act.

Two weeks ago, a student in my class shared that her mother was bipolar and hung herself when she was only 8 years old. Another woman who takes my class on a regular basis has a son that is bipolar and she hasn’t seen him for several years. He decided to stop his medication because he felt good, then he left his wife and children to live a life on the streets. To this day, she said that she watches the news for stories of a man found fitting the description of her son.

In my church, I’ve met three women with children suffering from mental illness similar to my son’s. Several are doing good, currently under treatment and taking medication, while another is lost since he’s stopped his medication after starting college.

What strikes me today, as I think about all these stories, is how they seem to be everywhere. It seems odd that the doctor’s talk about how rare these illnesses are, yet I’m continuously surprised by another familiar person sharing their once hidden story.

I don’t know if it’s the phenomenon where once you drive a particular car, it seems everyone has one, but regardless, I’m convinced that mental illness is everywhere and I’m surprised on how well it hides itself. I’m also surprised that with so many people having first hand experiences with it that it still has a stigma.

Another thing that struck me, was how common it was for those suffering with mental illness to stop taking their medication because they felt they didn’t need it anymore. It makes my stomach ache just thinking about the consequences of those actions.

I don’t know what lies ahead for my son, but I hope to teach him today the importance of staying on his medication. It’s right up there with the importance of staying off drugs and alcohol.

I hope that we can all learn from each other as we raise our children to become thriving adults. I hope that the stigma of mental illness vanishes, allowing those who’ve lived through it to teach those of us that are still on this journey.

Nothing is learned from being hidden. We need to open up and help one another.


  1. You are so right! My daughter stopping her medication has been one of my biggest fears since she was diagnosed as bipolar. We have told her from the very beginning that if she stops taking her medicine then she will die. She doesn't need the details of how that could happen at her age right now, but hopefully that will cement into her brain the importance of staying on it. And we have felt very blessed to find so much support from places we least expect it. We have tried to be very open about what we are going through while still respecting her privacy. It is a balancing act, but like we have said to her and to others, this is a part of who she is. It does NOT define her, but it is a part of her.

  2. Boy, I can relate to your comment that this is a balancing act, it's so hard trying to be open for understanding yet, maintain their privacy for protection. It's a very hard line to walk.

  3. My DH suffers from depression and anxiety, and if he doesn't take his Paxil, he's UNBEARABLE! He used to try to control it on his own with exercise, but we find that's not enough. I understand his aversion to meds, but I think he has FINALLY realized how much his lack of medication affects everyone else.

    I don't have any idea how to reinforce the idea of how important these drugs are for our kids, but the examples you gave are really chilling. I will for sure, start stressing the importance NOW! Thanks for the wakeup call.

    I agree, once you start opening up about bipolar, people are very sympathetic and LOTS of people have known someone with mental illness.

  4. I'll even take stories where the others DON'T find out, but it'd be cooler (I think) if they do.

  5. First of all I want to say I just happened on this blog while researching the benefits of massage for a child with bipolar. Now 20 minutes later I sit here with tears down my face. My son is 9 years old and we have been on this journey since he was 3. It has been a roller coaster of no one wanting to give him a bipolar dx to no one knowing what meds to put him on. He is currently on!
    This last blog scares the crap out of me. For a few reasons. One, I'm not even sure his meds help him, so how can I say keep taking them. Two, I worry after everything I've done to help my son is he going to be one of those stories you mentioned. I know I can't control that I shouldn't worry, but how can I not.
    So far every one of your blogs I have read has happened in my house. It is surprising that if it affects so many how come there isn't more "knowledge" with the doctors to help us?
    Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. I wish I would have thought of this. I can see how it helps you cope and in turn helps others cope.

  6. Hi Anonymous!
    I’m so glad you found this site. Keeping check back, I already have a post in mind about using massage for kids with mood disorders. I had the privilege of getting some training on some techniques and have used them in varies moments with great success!

    I can understand you being scared after this post, I think we all are when we hear stories like this. I still have hope that all the love and support we pour into our kids may make a difference. If not in the future, I know it is today and that means a lot!