Friday, August 16, 2013

Letting Go & Holding On

Earlier this year I was asked to write an article for a small parenting magazine sharing my experience as a mother raising a child with mental illness. I was torn as to whether or not to do it, first because I’m not a writer and something about writing for a magazine felt a little too fancy for my skills and also I was afraid of negative feedback. But after some prayer and thoughtful consideration with my husband, I decided to do it because deep down, I feel like God can use our story to help others. Here is what I wrote:

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Letting Go & Holding On
By Anonymous Mom

I never thought motherhood would look like this. I’m sure most moms would nod their head in agreement, but I really thought I was prepared. I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” from cover to cover along with any other book I could get my hands on. I talked to new moms and very experienced moms. I was going into motherhood with my eyes wide open, but nothing prepared me for raising a child with mental illness.

What started as mild symptoms and strong-willed behavior turned into violent rages and thoughts of suicide—from a child who was only 7 years old. We watched our once joyful son turn inward and cry out for help because the “bad side” of his brain was taking over the “good side.” And like a horror movie, I’ve held my son as he tried to take cover from visions of monsters that terrorized him and rapid mood swings that made him feel out of control. How does a mother prepare for this? 

As my son’s illness took over, we watched his life crumble. He was no longer invited to birthday parties, and the friends he did have vanished as the mothers got wind that he was seeing a psychiatrist. As one of his best friends explained, “I can no longer play with you because my mommy said you might hurt me someday!” As you can imagine, this crushed him. How does a mother’s love mend this wound?

As a family, we learned for the first time about the stigma associated with mental illness. What those mothers didn’t understand is that those with mental illness are statistically more likely to become a victim than to hurt others. We have witnessed this first-hand with the bullying our son has faced.

As a mother, I faced my own stigma. I’m the “evil mother” who medicates her child. I know that the other mothers judge me and assume that I’m a bad parent. They also assume that changing his diet, giving him fish oil or eliminating video games would heal his symptoms, but we tried all that and then some. Just as a parent chooses to medicate their child for a heart problem, we chose to medicate our son for a brain problem. 

This decision has saved our son’s life. After only a short time on a bipolar medication, our son felt joy for the first time in years. Everyone who knew him could see the change. It was like a weight was lifted off him and the child we lost so many years ago returned. 

Unfortunately this progress doesn’t make it any easier on us. We know that medications have side effects and we’re constantly weighing the risks versus the rewards. How does a mother do this?

In addition to judgments I also face ridicule for my son’s symptoms, which are often misunderstood as being behaviors of a bad kid. There have been many times when my son’s illness triggered impulsive behavior that to the outside world looked unruly. As a result, I get rude looks or hear whispers under the breath from those who have no idea of what we’re dealing with or how hard we’re trying to help our son. If people only knew how much their glaring eyes hurt me. It honestly feels like being kicked when I’m already down. How does a mother cope with that?

Our son’s illness is not cured. It will be a lifelong battle and maintaining his stability is a fragile balancing act. Simple events like a school dance or a family outing can result in unspeakable symptoms. We find our lives becoming very isolated; instead of after school sports and play dates, we spend our time in regular therapy sessions. Our attempts to create fun family experiences often end with tears and regrets. These events leave my husband and me feeling overwhelmed and defeated, not to mention the impact they have on our younger children.

This is not the life we envisioned for our dear son or our family. I never imagined that there would be so much pain and that I would watch those I love suffer daily. In response, I’m learning to parent in new ways and to love even bigger. I’m learning to let go of all expectations, and as a result I’m finding joy in the small things.

Achievements that may appear insignificant to others are victories to us, such as the time our son wore blue jeans for the first time in 5 years. It was a triumph over sensory issues that made it hard for him to fit in with his peers. 

Then there was the family dinner where we were surrounded by our children’s giggles and great conversations. Tears of joy rolled off my face as I clung to a moment that I never wanted to end. Those are the moments that get me through the tough times.

Just this month our youngest son was also diagnosed with a mental illness. Though it has shattered our hearts, we’re holding onto our belief that God will get us through this as well. I truly believe that God can take this bad stuff and make something good out of it. 

But before I can experience the good, I have to let go of my former visions of motherhood and embrace what lies before me. As I look at my two boys, I see depression and anxiety, but I also see their amazing courage and resilience. In my third child, who is free of illness, I’ve witnessed remarkable forgiveness and compassion. In my husband, I’ve witnessed strength and dedication when many men would have left. Though heartbreak surrounds me, I see love at its finest. How could a mother not embrace that!

So I’ve chosen to let go of all expectations and hold onto hope that one day my children will thrive and we’ll look back on this time and see something remarkable, even if it’s something I never imagined.



17 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you shared that article with your readers. It is so well said. I am so proud of you and my son for the family you are raising. We all have challenges, and you have both met it with beauty, patience, and glorious love. Those are three fantastic boys you are raising.

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  2. Your article gave me chills! Thanks for sharing it!

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  3. Beautiful article Mama Bear. You have such an amazing and inspiring family! I love reading your blog and the notes from your Stanford visit were very interesting. Keep on writing and inspiring. I truly believe the stigmas associated with mental illness will surely go away with the help of incredible people like you.

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  4. Thank you for saying so eloquently what so many of us are feeling and experiencing. I sent this to some friends and family to help them understand what we have been dealing with over the years.

    And Mama Bear, you most certainly are a writer!
    Betsy

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    1. That’s awesome Betsy, I love that you shared this with your family and friends, there’s something special in feeling connected to other moms who "get" what I am going through. You have always been one of those moms to me. Thank you!

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  5. What do you mean you're not a writer!? Your writing is clear and from the heart. Lovely article. I hope you get some good feedback from the magazine--and you already know how to handle the bad feedback: ignore it and go on.

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    1. Ahh, thanks Heather. Great advice too, thankfully I only received good feedback so far, even heard from some families struggling on their own. It makes my day to know that some how, some way, our experience is helping others feel not alone.

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  6. (crying) The article is beautiful and real. I was very touched to see a mother's honest and raw perspective on having a child with mental illness. It makes me want to call my momma or go give her a big hug right now. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Ahhhh.... so glad it moved you. And yes, give your mama a hug, we can never get enough of them : )

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  7. Yes!!! That is it: "see love at its finest." Not only you, but those who are privileged to know your story. And that is something that lasts forever.

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  8. Raising children is hard. No one denies that! But no one even thinks about what it's like to raise a child with a mental illness. Unless they have one! Or love someone who does enough to stick around through it with them. I love your blog because it helps me feel less isolated. I can't talk about this stuff with the people I see every day (outside of family), so my late-night visits to blogs and support groups help keep my sane. Especially now, during summer! Oh, I love having my kids home during the summer. But man is this summer turning out to be more difficult than the ones that came before! Thank you for sharing your article. I agree with the others that you are a writer. That's one of the reasons I love your blog. Some people write flowery things, but good writing is really about expressing your feelings in a way other people understand and relate to. You do that with every post. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you Dawn for being a part of our community, I agree that summers can be very hard, I’m glad we can go through it together.

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  9. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your story. I feel like I have found someone I can relate with. I started to blog last week. It was something I have wanted to so for sometime but didn't have the courage. Thank you for inspiring me.

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    1. So glad to hear you were inspired to blog, I hope it helps you the way it has helped me!

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