“Our daughter suffers from mental illness. It’s taken me almost four years to write those words. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. I am, however, sad, exhausted, and a little bit angry. I’m sad, devastated actually, to have watched all she’s gone through and we are exhausted as a family. I’m also angry that she’s suffered — and will continue to suffer her whole life — to feel ‘normal,’ as she explains it. To feel ‘like my friends feel. To just be happy in a moment.’
At 16, she can better articulate how she’s feeling. It’s been a very long road to get here. When she was little, we used to think she was just particular. Everything had to be in order — her room, her toys — she was the boss of every playdate. When plans changed or something unexpected happened, we’d watch her panic turn into intense anger. She was a ‘glass half empty’ kind of child; capricious. She seemed weighed down by something we couldn’t see.
The younger years were manageable. It wasn’t until the end of middle school that things became difficult — impossible really. She started becoming disobedient. She changed friend groups suddenly and became interested in boys. Those things by themselves are pretty common as children become teenagers, I know. But her anger eventually turned to rage and her sadness would leave her in bed for days at a time.
We got her a therapist. They said she had anxiety and depression. We thought therapy would be enough. As the years went by, she acted out in ways that made me fearful — for her safety and for our ability to parent her. She started sneaking out of the house, sneaking people in. We got a security system and armed most of the windows. Her little brother, she discovered, didn’t have one on his, so she snuck out of his room one night, leaving his window cracked open while he slept. It was ten below zero that night.
Then, she’d be gone for days at a time. She failed a class in high school and frequently skipped class altogether to go who knows where. She started engaging in dangerous behavior and hanging out with people we didn’t know. She punched holes in walls. She took swings at us. We tried everything. We pulled her out of school and put her in a partial hospitalization program where’d she received therapy part of the day and school the other. We started her on medication. We called the police when she didn’t come home, filing her as a missing person.
That’s the thing about mental illness. It’s so nuanced. It wasn’t like we could point to something we could see and say, ‘Ahh, that’s IT. Now we know how to treat her.’ She was diagnosed with other illnesses. We tried different therapists, different medications. She was spiraling out of control and there was nothing any of us could do to save her. Her illness seeped into every single piece of our lives — our other kids, our marriage, our jobs. We barely slept, worried the alarm would go off again and we’d be left wondering where she’d gone.
We finally made the decision to put her into a residential treatment center where she’d live for a period of time under 24-hour supervision. She’d have individual and group therapy. She’d go to school. She’d sleep there and eat her meals there. It was the first time she was ever out of the care of her family. I sobbed for weeks before she left. We couldn’t tell her what we’d planned because we knew she’d leave and not come back. It was the worst moment of my life telling her what we were doing as we drove there — that our number one job as parents was to keep her safe and we could no longer do that at home. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She told me she’d never forgive me. I felt like I’d failed her.
No one knows what to say. There were rumors. I knew people were talking. It’s not like having a child in the hospital with the flu or a broken bone. There were no lasagnas brought by concerned friends. We had a few people we could confide in — our lifelines. No one knows what to say. It’s lonely and terrifying. There’s still so much stigma around mental illness and even after four years of therapists, doctors, psychiatrists, and family therapy we still barely understood how to best support her. It is all-encompassing.
She spent nine months there. Nine months away from us. We visited her as much as they allowed and started bringing her home on weekends. She got better, then she got worse, which her therapist said would happen. She finally turned a corner. I believe she finally gave herself over to the process. We finally got a diagnosis I’d believed all along. She’s on the right medication and can use the skills she’s learned when she needs them. She’s done more work on herself than most of us will ever do in our lifetimes.
It’s hard to say what will happen in the future. I wish I could say things will only look up from here but that’s probably not the case. She will have to advocate for herself for the rest of her life. I believe she’ll always be on medication to manage her illness, and she’ll be judged for doing so. I hope when she’s my age mental illness won’t be something people still feel the need to keep secret. She’s the strongest person I know.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julie Scagell. You can follow her journey on Facebook at Julie Scagell, Writer. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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