My son is mentally ill.

Hard words to say out loud…

I’ve known this in my head for a while.  It took my heart a bit longer to get on board.

When a mentally ill child is young, his behaviors are labeled as cute, funny, quirky.

When he gets older, it’s not so cute.  It becomes uncomfortable, then painful.

This isn’t the life I signed up for.  I’ve heard people say that, and it sounds so shallow, so trite.  But, deep down, don’t I feel the same way?  After all, who in their right mind would sign up for this?

I went from being the person who grew up in the safe little bubble, who wanted a cushy life with one perfect little girl, to the drained and exhausted mom with children who needed everything I had to give, and then some.  Still, I thought I had it under control.  I’m all about control, and I was doing just fine, thank you.

And then came Ian.

I dared say, out loud, that I was completely in love with Ian, even before his adoption was finalized.  Risky stuff, for sure. 

Ian was the one who challenged me at every turn, each challenge becoming more intense.

Ian was the one to whom I could say, “I love you completely” even after he’d just planted his fist in my face.

Ian turned my world upside-down.

I’m a research freak.  It’s how I cope.

Even with all of that knowledge, I held onto that hope, the hope that I could change him…that I could fix him with love.

No one else could do that, but this was different!  This was my child, and my love!

At this point, the disease has won.
Ian is in a psychiatric hospital.

Who says that about their seven-year-old child?

He’s been there for 10 days now, and it just hit me:

My son is mentally ill. 

The tears came.  I pushed them back.  I’m good at that.  I dive into my kids’ lives so that I can shut the door on my own.

This time, though, I couldn’t keep them back.  They marched in and took charge, leaving me a sobbing, blubbering mess.

My son is mentally ill.  Tears and that recurring thought took over and there was nothing I could do about it.

Then fear stepped in. 

First, the stigma: if I were to tell people that my son was in the hospital with cancer, there would be sadness and compassion and sympathy.  If I said that my son was in there with so many layers of mental illness that the numerous doctors he’s seen haven’t even been able to put a name to it yet, the reaction would be very different.

Next, is the fear of the future:
How will I deal with his rages
as he gets bigger and stronger? 

How many times will he go to a mental hospital? 

How will this affect his siblings? 

Will he end up in a group home? 

Will he seriously hurt me when he’s older? 

What does his future look like?

How will we survive this?  

I don’t have those answers, but I’m learning.
I’m learning to take things one minute at a time. 

I’m learning that this isn’t my fault, that his behaviors aren’t the result of my poor parenting skills.

I’m learning that he didn’t bring this on himself and that he deserves as much compassion and love as the child lying in a hospital bed with any physical disease.
My heart is breaking for my little boy, but I look for the good things:
On some level, he loves me,
completely and unconditionally.

On all levels, I love him the same way.

I can separate the sweet boy from the behaviors,
no matter how awful they may be.

I am so blessed to be Ian’s mom.

One response to “Denise”

  1. Cat says:

    Hi – I’m not sure how recently you wrote this, but I just found this website through People magazine and am starting to read the stories. Yours is one of the first one I read, because it looked similar to my story. While you have a son who is 7, and I have a daughter who is 17, your feelings are exactly like mine. I grew up in a middle class, mostly normal, household and had no idea what I signed up for when my firstborn came along. The last 17 years have been such a roller coaster (and still are) that I sometimes want to throw in the towel, but each and every time, I come to the realization that I will not do that because I love her more than life itself. She has bipolar and borderline personality, showing signs since she was young, but you are doing all you can do and by supporting him and being there for him, it’s exactly what you should do. I know what you mean when you say you just want to research and fix it – I spend so much time thinking, reading, worrying, researching, etc. – and yet have been told by my daughter numerous times “you don’t care about me”, even though I’d do anything to help her get better. You are right – you didn’t do anything to bring this on, he didn’t do anything wrong, and hopefully with all the attention mental illness is receiving lately, it won’t be a shameful thing to talk about anymore. I have always felt like people have pulled away from me, or not included me in things, because I have a daughter who is mentally ill, and it has hurt. If you haven’t been through it, you have no idea what it’s like. I hope your son will be okay and get the help he needs, and also that YOU will also be okay 🙂

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