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.
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.