I feel compelled to share this story, which few know about my family and me. The reason I am sharing it now is because there is a mama out there hurting today. A mama who is going through what I went through and feels alone. Friends of friends reached out to me hoping I would have advice for this mama, and if I have experienced this and other mamas have too, then I think it is fair to say many are and instead of staying quiet and experiencing this in isolation, let’s be brave and share our voices together.
NOTE: I believe in the power of stories to help us understand, connect, and heal. I do this in vulnerability and courage, trusting that if we can each dare share our experiences we will not only help ourselves, but we will support and unite with our sisters.
There has been a lot of talk about mental health in this country in the last few weeks. When we talk about mental health we usually talk of adults, grown and able to make their own decisions and seek the assistance they need. Very rarely do we hear about or talk about mental illness in children.
Nearly three years ago, I was the mother that had to admit my 9-year-old child to a psychiatric hospital for the first time. We were living in the daily torment of violent meltdowns. Anger, pain, and confusion found its way out of my beautiful child by way of violence towards herself and others. I knew she was in pain and something was wrong, but I had absolutely no idea what it was or how to help her. The care we had sought to that point was, as often happens with mental health care, disjointed and sporadic.
I remember saying to myself, “It is only 2 hours a day that this is happening. That is less than 10% of a day. She is a perfect child for 90% of the day, we can deal with the other 10%.” I needed help. She needed help, yet I felt isolated and helpless.
It wasn’t until after confiding in a very dear friend what was going on, risking the shame and vulnerability in verbalizing it to another, that I got the help I was searching for. She looked at me and said, “This isn’t normal. She needs to be seen and possibly admitted to help her stabilize.”
“Admitted? What does that even mean? Like I leave her somewhere? Alone? I could never do that. She is only a child and I am her mother.”
Literally the day after my friend said this to me, my sweet girl, in the middle of breakdown, tried to open the door of our car, while she and her dad were driving on the freeway to pick me up from a conference. John looked at me defeated when he finally arrived. I knew we couldn’t keep living this way. We all needed help. So, that same day, we admitted our daughter to the hospital, because just as some hearts, lungs and legs need help, her mind was so very sick and needed additional care from doctors to heal.
I can remember that day very vividly. I have never been so sad or felt like more of a failure in all my life. The shame was overwhelming. What I could offer my child was not enough to even help her thrive, but quite literally, it was not enough to keep her safe. What kind of mother was I? Those were some very dark days for my family and me, but as often happens, the light comes after the dark.
Giving up my pride and asking for help for her was the very best decision at the time. Admitting her to the hospital and then subsequently driving her 4 hours a day to treatment for the next two months, was a godsend. It changed her life. It changed my life. She was given the proper care and medicine she needed, and John and I were given the tools to better understand and help her not only with her illness, but help her flourish.
It was in that darkest moment that we began to see light. We began to see and create a plan for her. A plan that I am happy to report has kept her out of the hospital for about 2 years.
So mama, you are not alone. I stand with you in the pain. The ache. The hurt. You have not failed, because you continue to fight for your child. What kind of mother are you? You are a warrior. Failure only comes when you give up, and of course, you would never do that. You are not doing that now. You are doing everything in your power to help your child thrive. You are brave, courageous, and loved.