Parents of Mentally Ill Children Have a Long and Difficult Journey

I’ve long been a fan of the Rudyard Kipling poem, “If.”

If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

I can relate to this verse. I’m sure all parents of mentally ill children can. Often the greatest challenge we face is not going stark raving mad ourselves.
Being the parent of a bipolar child is painfully tough. There's coming to terms with your child's mental illness, the expenses, and facing the stigma. More on my parenting blog.If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting…
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…

Being the parent of a bipolar child has not made me popular. My child has been passed over for parties and had his own invitations declined. Other parents who only know my child by the stories they hear from their own kids are quick to label him as a bad seed. And if he’s a bad seed, surely he must come from bad parents.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…

We all have high hopes for our kids. When your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, it’s hard to come to terms with the impact of the diagnosis on those hopes. Should you continue to worry about paying for college, or just focus on getting him through high school?

If you can …watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools…

Undoubtedly, the hardest part of parenting any child is the hurt we suffer when they suffer. Our children tend to suffer more, and there are few (if any) rewards to soothe their suffering.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss…

I try not to think of all the prescriptions I’ve filled in the past five years. Particularly the ones I refill—at full market price—only to have the psychiatrist a day later agree they are not working and here, try this instead, and no, it’s not available as a generic. And it may not work either. But let’s hope for the best.

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you…

People fear what they don’t understand. Many people don’t understand mental illness. Some of them are closer than you think—friends and family members you never expected to do or say hurtful things.

Kipling’s words paint a disheartening portrait of the world—not unlike the world we face daily as parents. But at the end, he offers this as inspiration—if you can survive all this adversity,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it

helpingWhich perfectly describes those moments when we are proud of our kids…when we feel like we’re doing right by them…when we haven’t lost our temper or cried in front of them…you know, the good days.

I wish all of us more of those.

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159 Responses to Parents of Mentally Ill Children Have a Long and Difficult Journey

  1. Shirley says:

    Hi I tell myself daily that my family is not the only one, but I still feel like we are all alone. Tonight with tears in my eyes, I hate feeling self pity. Three years ago, my 16 year old daughter was diagnosed with autism, schizophrenia, paranoia, odd just to name a few. It’s so hard. People just don’t get this is real. I have other children. The oldest two are angry and the youngest who is 8 is afraid. She has been in the hospital at least 6 times this year. The longest time being almost a month. She is very violent towards me and others. You name it. She has done it. Florida sucks when it comes down to mental illness. I love her so much. My children wants their sister. We don’t have a relationship with her and don’t know how. Now she goes into the hospital, they don’t even keep her 72 hours. All I hear now is the medication can only do so much. She needs long term treatment. But where do I turn to with low income. NOWHERE! Even though some days are harder than others, I continue to keep the faith. Believe In Gods word and remember Matthew 15:21-26

  2. amber says:

    Wow Shirley… I lived in Fla so I feel ur pain. My son has aspergers n anxiety disorder as well as panic attacks. It too had been a very very long road.. My son turned 18 and has 2 mistermeaners.. and still a junior in high school.. he got a domestic violence n for breaking our van door.. he hit his step father in the head… he spent 18 program hrs in jail Kansas has an 18 hr hold time on all DV cases as well as he could not come home for 72 hours.. he truely is a mess right now.. he is so so worried and I hope the courts see that yes he has done wrong and hope he stays out of jail it his 1 st ever time getting into trouble at this point he has no money n we r trying to get him on social securiety they want him to do a yr long diversion

  3. Anne says:

    To all three of you my heart goes out to you. It is soothing to know I am not alone. I am so sorry for your suffering. The most painful kind of suffering is watching your child struggle while feeling unable to prevent it or stop it. It is isolating to have a child with mental illness because as a culture we don’t have a common language or recognized treatment paths for each brand of illness.

    Right now my 15 year old is upstairs lying in bed. She suffered bullying, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and physical abuse at the hands of other students for 5 years in a row. She developed social anxiety and depression. We have almost lost her to a suicide attempt.

    We have done all the right things. We even moved twice so she could have a fresh start at great cost to the family and her siblings.

    I have had to quit multiple jobs and my husband took a medical necessity leave to help. But he doesn’t understand her behavior either and gets mad at her. He tells me it is manipulation and choice. I have to intercede between the two of them and this causes great strain.

    If I think too far ahead I become paralyzed. I have to try to take care of myself and my other children and husband while functioning according to what is best for my mentally ill daughter one day at a time.

    Sometimes I watch reality tv and eat whole bags of chips or a tub of ice cream. Sometimes I drink too much wine and listen to jazz and read vapid magazines. Sometimes I rail at God and ask him to take me or give me cancer instead of continued suffering for my daughter. Sometimes I am driving and see myself driving the car off an embankment. I remember my mother died at 65 and think death would be such a nice BREAK.

    Don’t worry, I’m okay. Really okay. I am the glue in the family and I will keep being the glue.

    I have to accept I am not responsible for my daughter’s mental illness, and there is only so much I can do.

    I have asked her principal to hold her place in school and asked for work to be sent home. She won’t do it. But my husband is freaking out.

    We are waiting to hear today if she is eligible for a one to two month intensive treatment center program. But there is a three month wait list. Obviously there are a lot of kids with similar problems. I don’t know if she can hang on that long.

    What happens to her sophomore year? Will she repeat? Will she struggle like this her whole life? I am still enraged with I think of the kids who hurt her and suffer no consequences. I want them to feel what they caused.

    I do know she inherited the propensity for mental illness. It’s on both sides of the family. She was a worrier from the time she was little. Couldn’t handle the drop off preschool with mommy education lunches upstairs. She would’ve been down the stairs from me. She couldn’t handle it and I paid extra and worked more at the co-op so she could stay. The other mothers hated me. Then in kinder she used to run out the door and down into the parking lot to find me.

    My other daughter was also bullied and took years to put herself back together. She is doing very well, despite being moved after starting her senior year. My oldest son was born atoxic. Suffered brain damage at birth, underwent two heart surgeries, had myocardial infarction, seizures, a crippling learning disability, and ocular migraines that made him pass out. His learning disability looks like low level aspergers.

    My husband and I want to hit people with healthy kids who complain about their kid not getting enough play time on the soccer field.

    Sorry to rant, just hitting a low point and never had the guts to throw my family stuff out there like this. I just didn’t want to feel so alone this morning.

    Thanks for “listening.” I’m going to go for a walk and will pray for you guys.


  4. Shelley says:

    I just found this post and have to say I’m glad I found it. My daughter is 21 this year and had many many issues since she was 16. Maybe 15. It’s a very long story, but has been filled with pain, anger, insanity, hopelessness,a vicious cycle.

    Trust me Anne I understand your frustration. I am still not sure what will happen with us. I live in Texas and they are treated as an adult at 17 here. She is an only child and I have never been married. We had a wonderful life now it is something so different. I never ever ends. There is no help here unless your loaded. She wants help, she does not want help. It has truly taken it’s toll on me.
    Anyway, I heard you Anne. Nobody in our lives wants to listen or help, and I don’y wanna talk about it anymore. People want the “quick fix” So I truly understand just getting the anxiety off your chest. This never ends. I feel medication (and trust me I was always against meds.) is our only help. She won’t go. She says yes then she changes her mind.

  5. Kat says:

    My daughter is 9 yrs old and i just had to put her in a treatment program yesterday because now her disability has rolled over into the school. As her mom , i feel i have failed her. Between her father my ex sexually assaulting her and a person who was suppose to be my friend abusing her as well(she has legal guardienship while i was trying to divorce him and keep my other two children safe) I am now facing losing a good man and losing my family and friends becasue they cant handle this. I have been fighting for her since she was 3 yrs old. Delaware doesnt care all they want to do is put her in counseling over and over which after 6 months to a yr they write her off. i dont know how much more I can take before I lose it. Sad part is thier father and the woman who abused her got off with a slap on the wrist. I sometimes wonder if my 9 yr old has the thoughts going in her head, why mommy? why didnt you protect me? I am mentally tired. Tired of people blaming me, tired of no one listening, tired that i keep getting abandon, just tired of it all.My 11 yr old and 15 yr old look at me and ask why, they love her but its taking a toll on them because they see me this way and they cant help.

  6. Anne says:

    Dear Shelley,
    Thank you for responding. It helps me feel a little less alone to know there are parents like you all over the country feeling stuck like me. I once wrote a grant for an organization that helps parents of kids with disabilities. I am a classroom teacher and mental illness is classified as a disability. It is called Parents Helping Parents. They connect parents with advocates whose job it is to help you find the right help for your kid. The service is free. The advocate works with the school or other agency to help you get what you need. If your daughter did not graduate from high school yet, then she still has a right to a free education and the state is legally obliged to provide it for her; whatever that looks like. It’s worth a call. Parents Helping Parents. Maybe google it and see if there is a national branch or a branch in your state. It could take all the work out of whatever steps you may have to take. I wish you well. I wish you peace. Keep telling yourself you are doing the best you can.

    Tell me what happens!


  7. Natasha says:

    I am so relieved to know that we are not suffering alone. It is with tears in my eyes &
    A heavy heart that I have stumbled upon your stories of suffering and it is somewhat comforting to know that there are others out there going through this tremendously stressful experience, despite being resourceful people. Our 18 year old was diagnosed it’s borderline personality disorder and has disconnected from the family and opted to live in a refuge, after the mental health system failed him. We feel like failures and it is such an overwhelming feeling of shame and disappointment that comes
    With trying to explain mental illness to other people. Thank you all for sharing your stories, as it is really comforting to know that we are not alone. It feels like it most of the time!

  8. Misty sutton says:

    Our 16 year daughter was diagnosed manic depressive know as bipolar a month ago after ending up in a mental hospital for 17 days Life has been a real struggle. She is defiant,rebellious, violent and down right cruel. Everyday our life’s our sabotaged and we have 2 other children the oldest 17 & a senior (we can’t even enjoy her senior year) another daughter who just turned 8 who is scared in her home. Life is a real struggle beyond the words I could type. It’s heartbreaking to read all these comments of struggles other families face but it let’s me know we are not alone. I wish we could afford a treatment facility for her I don’t think she is making it in our home. She hates me & her dad. She won’t understand the importance of her medicine and refuses to take it till we get a friend or family member to come encourage her to take it.
    We do have a crisis therapy helping us but it’s not what all she needs. We are trying to stay stress-free but it’s a struggle when you are dealing with a teenager who isaid beyond defiant screaming I hate you & she screams she doesn’t want to live with us. She blames everything on us and accepts no responsibility for her own choices and actions. It is always someone else’s fault or our fault. I have looked up residential treatment but of course we can’t afford any of them and are insurance doesn’t cover them.
    Thanks for sharing your stories it does inspire me to keep trying to stay positive and stress free

  9. Cheryl says:

    I have come across this site as I am looking up any way to try and cope with what I am going through. My 18 year old has been diagnosed with drug induced psychosis this last spring and the first time in the hospital no one would let me know where he was because he did not want them to talk to us and because he is 18 I had to wait until he said it was ok for the doctors to talk to us. What they dont understand is yes he is 18 but mentally he is not. We have had 3 hospital stays the last one after he cut his arm after getting mad at me for asking him if he took his medicine. This time he wanted me to stay with him at the hospital and it killed me to have to leave him there but I know after 180 stitches he needed to be there. He came home and it seemed things were going better but we started to notice some behaviors again and like some of you above his step dad thinks a lot of it is him manipulating me. He walked out MOnday night and we finally heard from him today and he told us to leave him alone he doesnt need medicine he is dependent (I think he meant independent) and that he has money 900 from a job that he just quit so I dont think he realizes that will not last long and that if we try to contact him he will hurt us and to leave him alone. I have never felt so hopeless I have another son that has a chronic medical condition severe hemophilia with an inhibitor and sometimes that feels crazy it is the most expensive medical condition in the us and his medicine costs 1.8 million a year which how does anyone even think that is ok to charge that much he gets 2 teaspoons injected every other day but with out and the inhibitor this medicine is needed to save his life. With all that this mental disorder with my son is harder to deal with I do not know what is going on in his head I just want to help him but how he wont take his medicine he thinks hes ok but hes not I feel so helpless and I dont know what I will do if he does hurt himself or someone and I didnt do something but I cant even find him
    thanks for posting your struggles it does make you feel you are not alone I cant sleep its 4 am I have to get up in 2 hours with a seven yr old and try to function at work when I have no idea where my other son is and out of my 4 boys he was my sweetest most caring sensitive one that its hard for anyone that knows him to understand what is going on

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