A Life I never Imagined

By December 3, 2018Story

By: Rebecca G.

Having a child with a mental illness, at times, can be like silent drowning. You can’t scream for help, you can’t splash, you can barely breathe. You are just there struggling to keep your head from going under and hoping someone will see you on time. When people look at you things seem calm and quiet. They don’t see the magnitude of the struggle going on beneath the surface.

You get really good at pretending things are ok. Most people don’t see through the fake smile and the ambiguous “I’m fine.” They don’t see you are deflecting conversation about typical kid things because your kid is anything but typical. You learn to be quiet with most people. They can’t see and can’t understand the weight you carry, nor do they want to. We carry enormous amounts of guilt, shame, anxiety, loneliness, and only God knows the worry we feel. Not only do we take on our own feelings, but we also carry our child’s as well. We take on all the emotions they can’t express and deal with in the form of their extreme meltdowns, suicidal and homicidal talk and actions, dangerous impulses, and verbal and physical abuse.
We see our children’s darkest places and we are right there to reach in and fight like hell to pull them out. Every. Single. Day. Each time we come out with a new battle scar. We are blamed and judged for their behaviors and for the very steps we take to correct that.

I can only imagine the anguish my beautiful boy goes through. I know he doesn’t want this. I see it in his words to me. He looks to me and asks why no one can help him. I see it when my back is against his bedroom door and he quietly cries over and over “I can’t do this” or “why?” I see it as he’s standing there screaming with a knife in his hand poking it to his chest threatening his existence. I see it on the way to the hospital as tears stream down his face while he verbally and physically attacks me and yet begs me “Please don’t do this to me.” I see it in his screams every time l let the officers take him from me. I see it in the panic on his face as he realizes his arms and legs are bound to a stretcher. I see it In the blisters on his feet from trying to wriggle out of the restraints. I see it in his hand as he reaches and pleads silently for me to take him instead of letting him go into the ambulance. I see it as his body shakes while he cries alone in a corner. I see it in the shame on his face as his chin quivers and he can’t say a single word to me because he feels he doesn’t deserve love. I see it when he wraps his arms around my neck and I hold him close and we cry together. This child is my heart beating outside my chest.

Let these words I wrote sink in. As uncomfortable as it is to read, this is our reality. He is the face of mental health. He is eight years old. Eight. He did not ask for this. We grieve a life we thought we would have. Yet we move forward. We will make something beautiful out of the life we were given. I will keep fighting for my son. A friend once told me you can take a situation and either let it define and destroy you or you can choose to learn from it and move forward. This disability will not define or destroy us. We have endured too much and have worked too hard for that. Better days will come. Until then I choose to keep moving us forward even when the current is trying to push back and take us under.



  • Elizabeth P says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful, heartbreaking perspective as a parent of a child who lives with mental illness. One day at a time, my friend. Take care of yourself, too. As you share your story, my hope is that you meet your peeps so you feel more supported.

  • Julie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and may God continue on strengthening you. You have help me see I’m not alone. One day i will share my story of my son and I. God is still working on me.

  • Hilary says:

    Thank you for sharing this. You, your words and your son are important.

  • Gretchen says:

    Your words bring me back to a very difficult time. Mental illness is so devastating to a family. I too am a parent of a child with mental illness. Suicide Attempts. Hospitalizations. Cocktails of medications without any relief or improvement. By chance one day, we found Dr. Lisa Pan. She is a researcher physician at the University of Pittsburgh. She has been studying suicide, depression and other mental illnesses and has found that metabolic deficiencies in the central nervous system can be the cause. My son is healthy today because of her discovery. I know the frustration of hearing people give you endless unsolicited suggestions on how to “fix” your child but perhaps she can help. https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/08/22/Pittsburgh-researchers-may-have-found-cure-for-some-untreatable-depression/stories/201608220015 We live in New York but we took our son to see Dr. Pan. You are not alone.

  • sean says:

    Only the names are different. The stories are strangely the same. The tears, the cries for help seemingly in vain, but by sharing these stories we form an invisible bond, a link with all the countless others who suffer this nightmare on a daily basis. As I write this, my daughter is in jail, for yet another violation of a court order to stay away from her nine-year old son whose father was granted sole custody three years ago because she was constantly incarcerated for DUI or restraining orders. Her mother and sister want nothing to do with her. Without me she would be homeless on the streets, falling deeper into a world of addicts, criminals and other outcasts of society. The numbers are growing as I write this. We are accused, as parents, of coddling, enabling. We hear from those who don’t understand that we should simply let go, give up, let them figure it out for themselves. But they have never been where we have been. They turn the other way because they don’t know what to do, so they prefer not to see it. It makes their comfortable lives begin to feel less comfortable. We’re only beginning to suspect the link between alcohol and mental illness. For those of us who are still holding on, refusing to let them go, we pray science will find a new drug that will bring them back to life before it is too late. Bipolar is an insidious disease, infecting everyone around it, drawing them in to share the misery. When combined with alcohol and incarceration, it could be lethal.

Leave a Reply