I’m the parent who wrote When nobody knows your sorrow: On parenting a child with mental illness. When I wrote it, I wasn’t expecting to reach the tens of thousands of readers it ultimately reached. I was floored and humbled to say the least. It was both painful as well as comforting to discover that there were so many people out there who had similar experiences and, despite the anonymity with which I wrote my deepest feelings, I knew I was not alone. I read the comments of those who were experiencing something similar with a heavy heart and was uplifted by those comments of encouragement and sympathy. And love.
As anyone who is a parent to a child suffering from mental illness knows, things can change dramatically (either positively or negatively) within a ridiculously short period of time, or they can take years. The unpredictability of this disease is what makes us parents feel helpless and frustrated and at a complete loss as to what to do. Most of the time, it’s a waiting game. Waiting for the new meds to start working, for the psychiatrist to make a breakthrough, for your child to find their balance in a world that has been shaking violently beneath their feet for way too long. And you become so used to this one-step-forward-two-steps-back way of life that when things start moving more forward than backwards you’re really not prepared for it.
So, something wondrous happened in our lives. It was something we’d talked about during this last year but we were approaching it so carefully, with baby steps and pauses and patience and wariness and trepidation and a healthy dose of fear. But the day finally came when my child and his/her mental healthcare provider came to the miraculous decision that medication was no longer needed.
To be honest, a part of me was almost hoping that day would never come. It sounds cruel and not very maternal and even a little crazy, but my reasons for feeling that way are rooted in the intense love I have for my child. There I was sitting in the office with my spouse and child, secretly and silently hoping that he/she could stay on a low dose of meds indefinitely. Those pills were tiny little white miracles that kept the monsters at bay, kept the tears away, kept the self loathing to a minimum. They were the Holy Grail of meds. And I was not going to give those beauties up at the drop of a hat. But the doctor was all smiles and confidence. “He/she doesn’t need them anymore.”
Those words were simultaneously music to my ears and the last thing I wanted to hear.
So we listened, questioned, voiced our fears and ultimately we couldn’t help but agree that we were finally here, at that monumental moment, and that following through with the terrifying step of letting go of that life raft that had been keeping everyone afloat was an integral and important part of the process. It’s not easy; believe me. It requires an unfathomable degree of trust — trust in our doctor to know when the timing was right, trust in our child to clue us in if life without meds suddenly becomes too difficult to manage, trust in ourselves as parents that we were (and still are) doing what is in our child’s best interests. And that trust doesn’t come easily. It reminds me of free-falling backwards and trusting that the person standing behind you is ready and prepared to catch you before you crash to the floor.
Ultimately, it’s about faith; faith in the medical system, faith in a child’s ability to be a warrior against their disease, faith in ourselves as parents, and the blind belief that God is watching out for your family. And weren’t we lucky to even have that option, the option of letting go of that raft because our child was strong enough, happy enough, stable enough to say that he/she was ready to stand on their own two feet without losing balance?
The feeling when we left the office was indescribable. I actually had to pick up a few things in the supermarket and took my child with me. In the middle of the most mundane job of picking apples and deciding between lettuce or bok choy, it hit me how amazing it was to be in that moment. Where our discussion centered on something so simple and almost ridiculous as food preferences. I managed to hold back my tears, but it wasn’t easy. We shopped and stopped for coffee on the way home and to someone peeking into that hour of our lives, it would seem boring and uneventful.
But that is what we’d all been wishing for, for the longest time ever. For those simple uneventful moments when the most important decisions to be made were whether to put lettuce or bok choy in our cart.
The worrying will probably never ever end. There will always be that niggling twitch somewhere in the back of my mind that will keep a close watch for any and all changes, and to others it might seem like a burden to carry that worry for the rest of your life. But someone very close and special to me reminded me that as with most things in life, it’s all about perspective.
And from where I stand, things are, finally, looking pretty good.