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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.

190 thoughts on “Parents of Mentally Ill Children Have a Long and Difficult Journey”

  1. As a mom with a daughter who has an eating disorder, I feel like I’m losing it. Her anger and anxiety makes it hard for me to be supportive. We fight all the time and her lack of progress is totally my fault. She is in treatment but I feel like I should be getting some help too. I’ll be much better at helping and supporting her if I knew how to handle my own sadness over all of this. Are there any blog sites specifically for parents of kids with eating disorders?

  2. Nance, I know there’s such a blog on Healthy Place – http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/eatingdisorderrecovery/ – you might want to check it out. I can completely relate to your comment of “anger and anxiety makes it hard for me to be supportive.” But I disagree that her lack of progress is your fault. We do what we can. We’re not perfect. And at some point, the responsibility for her health (mental AND physical) is going to be hers alone. Just as my son’s will eventally be his. Hang in there, please get some kind of help (even if it’s just a friend to vent to) and don’t blame yourself.

  3. We have a severely mentally ill 17 year old adopted daughter that has been in a theraputic facility for a year. We can’t bring her home (she’s a danger to herself and to us). She can no longer stay at the facility she’s at. We’ve managed to keep her out of the criminal system-barely. And so far she has no drug additions. Both will probably change as soon as she leaves the facility she’s in. There are NO decent housing resources out there for young adults with mental illness. I have no idea what we are going to do and am horrified that no matter what we do the future is going to be a disaster. Not the scenario I invisioned when we decided to parent.

  4. Wow. I like this. I have a severely mentally ill daughter. She is almost 22. She has been in and out of multiple facilities since she was 14. It has been hell for me and certainly hell for her. I truly wish I had never admitted her to the first place. She knows the system, knows how to stay in the hospitals, and has been very institutionalized. All doctors have “known whats best” even if they are doing something different than the last doctor who “knows whats best.” At this point I try and stay as far away from any facility as possible, only getting involved if my daughter has already tried her own solutions. Therefore, by the time I get involved, I am yelling at another doctor and crying yet again. They all think I am crazy I am sure. Actually I am a highly functioning person; the one they do not see. I try not to be codependent, not to allow myself to be manipulated, but I know my daughter differently than all the docs who focus on what is bad not what is good. A couple of the doctors have been good. Most do not know alot about endocrine disorders or anything else but throwing medication at her, which hasn’t been alot of help. I try not to let my resentments get the best of me. I have friends who I can vent at. I try to love the other kids and not just focus on the sick one (or two, actually as my step son is in treatment). Being the parent of a chronically ill child has its own set of illnesses. Prayers and good thoughts to all of you who suffer with your children. It is very frustrating. Don’t forget to do good things for yourself. And don’t let them get you down.

  5. Thanks Roberta,

    It helps knowing there are others out there. I’m sorry you have these challenges too. Does your daughter still live at home? If not, when did she leave? I’m coming to realize we will just have to set up her living situation (provide the caregiver, rent the lodging) etc and hope she can keep it together. She can’t come home. She is too much of a danger. I grapple with balance every day. Astounding that there is such a black hole for adequate transitional services for this age group.

  6. I LOVED this blog. This echos what I’ve felt for years now in working with, living through, and dealing with my daughter’s depression. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Sara. I wish none of us could relate to any of this, but I suppose it’s at least a comfort to know there are others out there…

  7. Hi Angela,

    I’m sorry for your pain.

    This is the first place ever where I’ve seen my own thoughts laid out in print. I live in British Columbia, Canada and have been given all the services. My 13 year old son is given to the doctors and experts who deal with the most challenging and complex patients. I work as a psychiatric nurse, kids as young as 17 are sent to my adult ward, no longer considered a child. Their dedicated, tearful families come in, frantic, alone and lost just as we all are.

    Finally last week my son had moved on to high school (special needs). An end to the 8 years of watching him at the school across the street from my house, watching him wander around the school yard by himself, no friends because he is too different. I no longer have to witness his pain during the day – it has moved farther away down the street, and the school may no longer be a source of extreme heartbreak for me.

    But my son continues to use his 10 year old sister and I as his whipping boys. He is too cognitively impaired and mentally ill for behaviour therapy. His Dad is exhausted from being his primary caregiver.

    He went after his sister yesterday in a physically threatening manner. He is of non-violent nature, so at least he didn’t make contact, but his little sister couldn’t sleep because everytime she closed her eyes she saw him lunging at her. He was upset because he couldn’t find his lunch money and accused her of stealing it (again) – she is too frightened to go anywhere near him.

    It has been suggested that I start a support group for parents such as myself. But I am too ill myself from this trauma at home and trying to help this family hold it together.

  8. Hello , what can I do ? My older son is 19 And living back at home .
    He is ADHD and conduct disorder . No medical insurance now .
    He is worse than ever . Searing the f word .he. Has been aressted
    many times underage. My 16 year old is suicidAl and was hospitalized
    6 months ago. He is bullied all the time from older brother.
    We need to kick him out. How? HD just won’t leave . It is
    a nightmare almost everyday. Ihate it I hate it

  9. Thank you for your words…the crulety and suffering , no words exist to accuratly discribe it ones heart breaking , then the isolation and no f ing answers nor solutions
    at best a diagnosis…schizoaffectiv, ocp ocd bpd…then what…
    Im a single mother of a 24 year old son with mental illness physical illness addiction and one arrest..With no other family, just me him and my daughter..
    I cry , taking comfert in that Im not suffering alone… Thank you

  10. I’m embarrassed and ashamed to put this in print, but I came home tonight hating my 13 year old son. He”s very ill, but I’ve taken so many verbal and emotional beatings. All my life energy and every last shred of strength and will has gone in to trying to help him, help him to be happy, and he continues to hate me and his 10 year old sister, who loves him dearly. Everything I and anyone else has tried to do has been sabataged, as if he is too ill to want to take himself out of the miserable hell of his life. I’m worried my husband will be in an early grave also giving his life energy to him. Myself and the entire community dance to his tune, and he can never be happy, only miserable.

    I came home tonight thinking of myself as only have one child. We can’t go anywhere nor can we have anyone over. We live in a divided household – my husband caring for our son, myself for my daughter, as well as we can in this nazi prison-like camp I thought was our home. My son, constantly hurling insults, delusions at my 10 year old daughter and I, how we’ve tried to kill him, knock him unconscious etc.

    I long for the day I am no longer legally responsible for him, but my husband could never leave his ill son – to choose between his ill son or his wife and daughter – what a dilemma I hope he will never have to go through. When my son turns 18/19, I will no longer be willing to live in this torturous life. I’m 47 1/2, my husband and I have been together over 30 years. In that context, 5 – 6 years will be here sooner than I know it. I want so much for my son to stop hating me and let me make him a part of our lives. I’ve given up my physcial and mental health for him – we all have and suffer through this torture coming from my son’s tortured mind. I suffer bipolar depression, and it won’t get better under these conditions.

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