He was very irritable, and seemed to now hate things he once previously loved. He wanted to sell his favorite iPod because it was no longer fun and he refused to talk to me. He also seemed to be stuck on a negative thought pattern about a game he couldn’t have. As he grumbled with complaints, he would say, “I just want to die!”
It wasn’t a serious threat, it was just his way of expressing how much he hated everything in the moment. I spoke softly to him, asking him if he wanted to see his doctor and I explained that what he was experiencing was unhealthy thoughts and that this was a sign of his brain not working right. This was his illness.
I tried to use this moment as a teaching one, to help him better recognize his illness in the moment and know that what he was feeling was only a temporary feeling and that it too would pass. I ended up walking him around the mall, showing him how he can sometimes change his mood just by distracting himself. Sure enough, in a short time, he was smiling ear-to-ear and continued to feel good for the rest of the weekend.
I’m not sure how much sinks in when I talk to him, but I recognize that I have a small window of opportunity where I can coach him through these tough days. In a matter of years, he’ll be living on his own, starting his own life. I feel a great responsibility to teach him how to not only recognize his illness, but how to cope with it and help himself get better.
Like a mother who wants to make sure her child can feed and clothe themselves, I NEED to know that my son can take care of his mental health before he moves on.
If there’s one blessing we have as parents in raising young kids with mental illness, it’s being able to help our kids while they’re still under our care. I hear stories of young adults who have their first bipolar episode while away at college, or while at their new job, in a new city away from home. It must be such a burden for those parents who aren’t able to care for their children who due to their illness can’t care for themselves.
The hidden blessing I have is the opportunity to care for my son and in the process, teach him how to care for himself. Having the ability to drive him to his therapist, whether he likes it or not, teaches him the importance of therapy. In addition, getting blood draws, seeing his psychiatrist, taking medication and seeking support all teach him how to manage his illness. Then during the rough times, I hope to guide him out and show him the pitfalls along the way so that when he’s on his own, he’ll know what to look for and how to avoid harm.
I know that there are no guarantees, but I am grateful regardless that I have this precious time with my son to help prepare him for a beautiful life, even if it is a life filled with ups and downs.