The faces of mental illness

I thought long and hard about whether or not I was going to write this specific blog. Ultimately I decided that if I can help one family, or one child, feel like they aren’t alone it would be worth it.

This is my daughter, Emily. She is 13 and she suffers from mental illness.

Emily during our family Christmas at the hotel during her weekend pass.

I have kept quiet about this for a long time out of embarrassment for myself and for her. I am starting to realize that maybe that is part of the problem with the mental health system.

My husbands grandmother, Violet, became mentally ill in the 1950s. She suffered from what we now know as combat related PTSD. She was a veteran of the front lines of WWII where she served as a nurse. She was locked away in an asylum until her death in the 80’s.

I would show you a photo of her, but I can’t.

They don’t exist.

The family was so ashamed of her that they had her committed and pretended like she didn’t exist and got rid of all photographs. Nobody will talk about her. It’s a shame because WWII combat veterans, especially of the female variety, should be talked about.

I was thinking about Violet’s tragic life the other day and I wondered if I am not somewhat guilty of the same behaviors.

You see, one day in late September of this year, we were forced to involuntarily commit Emily to a mental health  hospital. We called the equivalent of the “men in white coats” and she was forced into a vehicle and driven 3 hours away.

She is still there. We don’t know when she’s coming home yet.

Since Emily left, I have dodged questions and kept it to myself with the exception of a few people I knew I could trust. I told myself I was doing it for her privacy, but was that really true?

The conclusion I came to was: partially. I was embarrassed for her, and honestly a little embarrassed by her so I quietly sent her to treatment and just stopped talking about her. I now think that’s the worst thing I could possibly have done.

Over the last few years, our lives with Emily have been brutal. Fits of rage, violence, and destruction rapidly turning into hysterical crying. Neighbors have called the police because she’s been out in the front yard screaming for help because we wouldn’t let her go to a friends house. She’s committed self harm like cutting and burning herself and made countless threats of suicide. She’s seen and heard things that aren’t there.  She has done things with seemingly no remorse.

By the time she was admitted, I was truly scared of coming home to find my daughter had acted on her threats.

I was scared OF her, too.

We have been reported to CPS three times that I know of. Not due to negligence on our part as parents, but due to Emily’s behaviors. I guess the right way to say that is that EMILY has been reported three times.  The reports were more of a formality and I was told each time before they were filed. Luckily, we have never been contacted. It’s been assumed that we are doing everything we can and we are thankful for that.

I am tired of being embarrassed. I have been embarrassed for so long that I alienated a support system that could have likely helped the situation. I was proud and refused to admit that things were beyond what I could handle.

I failed my daughter there. My pride lead to more suffering for her. I spent a long time refusing to take her to therapy or have her medicated. I believed in my own, proud mind, that as her mother I could deal with it.

There is nothing more painful than having to accept that you are not capable of helping your child. If you’ve never had to hand your child over to strangers because you could no longer protect and help them, I pray you never have to. It’s the single most painful thing I have ever felt. Talk about failure and fear – that’s it. 

At the end of the day we suffer the effects of her illness, but imagine being her. She’s probably confused, scared, and feeling trapped in her own head.

One thing I will say is that general advice doesn’t help. It’s one of the reasons I don’t tell anyone – I am SO damn sick of hearing it.  Emily is not simply a “defiant” child. She is sick. I cannot “fix” her with more discipline or attention. I get everything from “beat her” to “you don’t pay enough attention to her”. All of it is bullshit. 

I WISH people would stop saying those things to me. I’m not going to beat my child and she sure the hell doesn’t lack attention. I don’t know why everyone tries to minimize the issue. Some of her issues are behavioral, some are genetic, and others are just really shitty luck. 

If it was really that fucking simple I would have cured her long ago, don’t you think?

The reality is we face a problem many parents of a mentally ill child – or family member face: the professionals don’t know exactly what is going on. At this point they’ve thrown around everything from ADHD to bipolar, depression, and personality disorders. The latter is the scariest for me because it means that other than adaptive and behavioral therapy there isn’t much we can do for her.

I’m done worrying about judgement from others. Judge away. I am doing the best I can.

The next time you see a child throwing a fit in a store and start judging the parent, I want you to think about this blog.

My daughter looks completely normal on the outside. She’s beautiful and articulate. But there is a war inside of her head that I, as a parent, cannot fight for her. If I could, I would. There is a war you cannot see.

When you judge her without knowing the whole story, you make things worse. She feels it, I feel it.

When your children notice she has some quirks and refuse to be friends with her, or bully her, they make it worse. Teach them better.

I’m not going to hide her away anymore. I am not going to pretend like she doesn’t exist just because she isn’t here. I am now choosing to stand up and address the issue and elicit support for those out there with mental illness. They are people. They are my daughter.

She will not be another Violet.



  1. Don’t fear personality disorders as things that can’t be treated. There is a lot of stigma around them, but research is showing more and more that with tailored programs like DBT and proper meds there is hope. The medical system today still often fails women like Violet was failed. Emily will need a strong advocateto get the right help, and it’s good to know she has one in you. I’ve had exposure to that system on behalf of someone else, and I’ve seen the ones who don’t have anyone at their side to speak for them. It’s even more heartbreaking than for those who do have someone. Stay strong, both of you, ad much hope for the help you both deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment and the encouragement. I have been very impressed with the DBT therapy she has had so far! It is definitely a godsend for the mental health community because you are absolutely correct in everything you have said! Sometimes it feels as if they (the professionals) are just guessing, don’t believe you, or are trivializing the symptoms.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this 💜💜 it takes strength to talk about this, to deal with this. You are so strong, and are doing amazing with and for her!
    We love and support you, Em!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This. This this This! I feel for her, and you, but mostly for her because I fight my own daily battle of the monsters inside my head. My parents just ignored it, they did the best they could, but they just chalked it up to me being a teenager and let it go. Good for you and Mark for sending her to a place to get her help. That is a giant step in the right direction and it’s a hard one.
    Love you guys 🖤🖤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hang in there! I am a 48 yr old woman who had severe eating disorders and mental illness and hospitalisation from the age of 12..I am now happy, healthy and free of mental illness and eating disorders . There is hope for your daughter. My life saver was a full genetic testing, detecting certain mutations in genes that can be treated.
    Sending love and prayers to your daughter 💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your post. I had a brother who fought mental illness from age 14 until his death at age 27, my brother would be 68 years old now, but he will always be 27. Today there are much better options for treating mental health issues etc. it is very difficult to see a loved one struggling like this and heartbreaking. My prayers are with you and your family❤️


  6. I was your daughter at age 14 I was diagnosed with sever type 2 bipolar. Went on every drug under the moon and struggled with the side effects. I’m so thankful for this blog and the amazing strength it takes for you to write. If you need support or someone to talk to who can give you insight to her side of the ewuation please feel free to reach out to me. I have sat down with many family members since becoming an adult to discuss the ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster that being mentally ill is. There is not really a cure but there are amazing coping mechanisms and finding her niche in life is so important. For me having an area to channel the extreme energy you get when manic was key to me dealing with the first half of the ewuation so I learned to see and start a million projects that never get done but I’m not lashing out or melting down anymore. I send you all the prayers in the world and positive thoughts. Please let us know if you need anything!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My heart breaks for you, your daughter and your family,along with the millions who suffer from a mental illness and their loved ones.
    Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. I get to often share mine and spend time with families and individuals teaching them how to live better lives by what I’ve learned through my experience with bipolar disorder.
    These illness are fucking monsters. Everyone should get to know that. Should have to k ow that and cut all of us some slack.
    My heart and prayers go out to you, my courageous friend who I just met.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Emily is a wonderful person inside and out. She is an absolute pleasure to be around and talk to. You certainly have raised a very smart and strong young woman. Her mental illness is not a reflection of you or of her. It is just like any other chronic illness. Nobody is at fault. I know for a FACT that if anyone could learn to cope with these specific illnesses, it would be Em.

    I feel at times there are more people on earth with some type of mental illness than there are without. It is much more common than anyone wants to admit. People see suicide as a selfish act and can’t fathom the mental illness behind it. Is if having a mental illness isn’t lonely enough, now people refuse to recognize it as a real problem.

    Anyway, you have always done the best you can with her. I know this from personal experience. You are an beautiful, strong and amazing mother. The is lucky to have you.

    Oh and tell Emily I’d love to have another of her egg shell pies!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Amanda,
    I have such a mix of emotions after reading this post and having enjoyed Emily while you were here: sorrow and grief, but also great admiration that you and Emily have shared your story. There is great hope for your journey, your perseverance, your courage….cheering you on! Merre

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Merre. You were very kind to her. The necklace meant a lot to her. Small gestures really help her build her self worth and she holds them close.

      She had left the necklace in the vehicle when we dropped her off because she couldn’t take it back with her. You bet your life I crawled and dug through that wreckage and found it for her after the accident.

      Thank you again for your kindness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s