How to Keep it Together When Your Child is in a Mental Health Crisis
I cried far too much today.
I cried because I have a sweet little ten-year-old boy who needs me to be a lot stronger than I am.
I cried because I can't seem to give him what he needs, get him what he needs.
I cried because he told us he's sad all the time, he can't make his brain shut off, he feels weird and out of place in this world, and he wishes he could be more like his brothers.
I cried harder still when he saw me crying and reassured me that he was going to get better.
After an early morning of panic-induced rage and tears, we made our way to the children's hospital ER. We have very limited health coverage in Ontario until we get our provincial health cards next month. But the hospital is covered and has a good crisis team. Things were better, I thought to myself as we were driving. Things were better after we moved. He was happier. He smiled more. He slept better. He left his room. He went outside. Shame on me for believing it could have been that easy. Shame on me for not staying on top of things. And the tears fell again.
Things have been steadily going downhill for the last three weeks or so. I haven't wanted to admit it. I've wanted to keep believing that a geographical cure did the trick; a later school start time, a new neighbourhood to discover, a family more relaxed and happier than we've been in ages.
But mental illness isn't fooled by a new postal code. It knows exactly where to find you.
I know this. And I feel stupid for losing sight of that. I let my guard down and, in turn, I let my son down.
Depression. Anxiety. Sleep deprivation. A referral to the anxiety and mood disorders clinic. Wait time: 6-8 months. Keep seeing his psychologist, get a pediatrician.
Medication is something to strongly consider at this point, as his symptoms are so pronounced, the psychiatrist on call said today. More tears. I never wanted my son to be medicated, but I also don't want him to keep feeling like this. You're doing everything else. Maybe he just needs a little more help.
All those judgments I've heard from people ran through my head: Parents are too quick to medicate. Medication screws them up even more. People who don't want to actually fix the problem turn to medication. It's clearly something going on at home. He's just not eating the right foods/getting enough exercise/needs more structure/needs more discipline. Why aren't you thinking of the side effects?
Oh, we are thinking of the side effects. They worry me immensely. Know what else worries me? That our child is miserable most of the time. That he hates himself for being so different and out of control. That he's going through life with mountains of stress and sorrow on his shoulders every day. That he's tried everything that has been asked of him and felt more and more discouraged each time it hasn't worked. That he believes he will never find peace or happiness again. That things can get worse -- a lot worse -- if we don't do everything we can to help him now.
There's something everybody who doesn't have a mentally ill child needs to understand: that unless you have a mentally ill child you do not understand.
You can sympathize, empathize, try to imagine what you would do if you were there, but you do not and will not know because you're not there. And I envy you for it. I envy that safe space you stand in that allows you to scrutinize the lives of other families and decide whether or not you agree with their decisions -- their often very difficult, very painful decisions. I was there, once upon a time, thinking I would never be here. Things look very different when you're here.
And I'm so not trying to be a giant bitch about it. I don't have all the answers, and I don't pretend to have them: ever. Like most parents with a mentally ill child, I question myself enough for everyone. We don't need more questioning. What we need is understanding. We need support. We need hugs. We need breaks. We need people to love us as we are. We need people to know that we're trying very, very hard and that our son's best interests are behind every decision we make. We need people to believe in him as much as we do.
When he saw me crying after talking to the doctor today, he got up and gave me a hug. "It's going to be okay, Mom."
I laughed and said, "I think I'm supposed to be supporting you, kiddo."
"I think we're supposed to be supporting each other," he replied with a little smile. "That's what family does."
He's a superhero, that one. His cape might be a little tattered at the moment, but I can't wait to watch him fly again.
It's coming. I can feel it.