22 Parents Who Knew Just What to Say to Turn Their Partner’s Hard Day Around

On days when parenting a child with special needs seems particularly difficult, a shoulder to cry on may be necessary. Sometimes, though, all you need are the right words.

We asked our Mighty readers to tell us one thing their partners have said to them that helped them get through a rough day. The moments shared were inspiring, loving and thoughtful.

Take a look:

Kate Sytsma
Submitted by Kate Sytsma
Laurie Wood Arnold
Submitted by Laurie Wood Arnold
April Straughn Van Patten
Submitted by April Straughn Van Patten
Submitted by Jamie Datka Doyle
Submitted by Jamie Datka Doyle
Submitted by Jean Thomas
Submitted by Jean Thomas
Tracy Lyons Spencer
Submitted by Tracy Lyons Spencer
Submitted by Erin Flahaven Stuart
Submitted by Erin Flahaven Stuart
Jasmine Mostrom
Submitted by Jasmine Mostrom
Submitted by Kelly Kutscher
Submitted by Kelly Kutscher
Submitted by Maryanne Murray
Submitted by Maryanne Murray
Submitted by Melissa Cote
Submitted by Melissa Cote
Submitted by Trish Palko
Submitted by Trish Palko
Submitted by Trish Palko1
Submitted by Jessica Leroux
Leidy Jesse Garcia
Submitted by Leidy Jesse Garcia
Submitted by Amy Holler-Bender
Submitted by Amy Holler-Bender
Jennifer Steele
Submitted by Jennifer Steele
Lauren Casper
Submitted by Lauren Casper
Mary Trask
Submitted by Mary Trask
Angela Brotherton
Submitted by Angela Brotherton
Tala Rifai
Submitted by Tala Rifai
Patricia Anderson Campbell
Submitted by Patricia Anderson Campbell
Diana Delgado
Submitted by Diana Delgado

*Some answers have been shortened and edited.

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Why We Need to View Mental Illness the Way We View a Broken Arm

Our daughter was finally breathing rhythmically, asleep beside me as we lay on the floor of the emergency ward. Several layers of hospital blanket did little to soften the concrete. Vanessa had finally found a merciful exhaustion, after hours of struggling with the panic attacks that had brought her here.

It was Vanessa’s worst episode and her first hospitalization since she was diagnosed three years ago with mental illness — depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

We’d been assigned to the “Psych Interview Room,” possibly the only relatively quiet place in the busy, perennially overcrowded emergency ward at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia. The space was perhaps two closets in size, with chairs but no bed, so the floor was the only option for Vanessa to find rest.

My phone was buzzing — another supposedly urgent email or text about an election campaign that seemed so distant. My voicemail full, soon my phone too would sleep, battery exhausted. It was Oct. 21, less than four weeks from the Nov. 15 election day, yet the race was not on our minds this hour.

With Vanessa asleep, my mind wandered to the times my wife and I had brought her to this emergency ward over her 23 years — the worst was a broken arm from falling off her bike. I contemplated how less-stressful a broken arm is — the X-ray shows everything, treatment is routine and predictable, the prognosis not mired with uncertainty. We laughed with her as we signed her cast. This hospital visit was nothing like that.

Every hour or so, another doctor or nurse would come in to ask new questions, as they tried to determine how Vanessa’s three-year-old diagnosis had culminated in so severe an attack. Before dawn, they sent Vanessa home, as the anxiety crisis had passed. But within hours, we were back, Vanessa’s symptoms even worse. This time, they would admit her to hospital. For the first time (sadly, not the last), Vanessa was “committed” under the Mental Health Act — her stay was now involuntary, though she wasn’t fighting it.

Three years earlier, Vanessa had joined the 1 in 5 Canadians who will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.

Following her 2011 diagnosis, Vanessa had responded to treatment. Stabilized, she’d completed some courses at Douglas College (she was now studying psychology) and had begun to work at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) with troubled teens facing some of the same challenges she’d faced. We had seen her bright smile return. Of course, everyone knows that a diagnosis of mental illness is not something to talk about. It’s something to keep secret, perhaps particularly if your family is in public life.

Eighteen months after her diagnosis, June 2013, Vanessa felt well enough to join her mother and me at Ride Don’t Hide, a CMHA bicycle ride for mental health. A reporter recognized me after the ride and asked about the event. As I was answering, Vanessa stepped out from behind me to speak.

“He’s not telling you everything. He’s here… because of me.”

Thus began the journey. Vanessa had concluded that the only way to end the stigma of mental illness was to talk about it. She hadn’t discussed her decision with her parents, but looking back, we realize that her decision was a turning point in her recovery. Her friends could now understand what she’d been going through. She could talk about it.

And talk about it she did. She blogged, she did interviews, she spoke out about mental illness as though it were just another type of illness (which, of course, it is). She argued that the biggest barrier to effective treatment for those with mental illness was the stigma.

Ride dont hide 2014 Vanessa Richard Anna Rosa mother

A year later, my wife, Anna Rosa, and I attended Ride Don’t Hide 2014 with her, and she was all smiles. But in the months that followed, the crippling depression came back, and by October, she was struggling anew; by month-end she would be in Sherbrooke Centre, RCH’s psychiatric ward.

November — the last two weeks of the election race — and our family was struggling under enormous and crippling stress that had nothing to do with politics. We learned how hard mental illness can be on any family; I still can’t imagine what this struggle would be like for a patient alone, without family support.

We were learning a new set of acronyms for a spectrum of illnesses and a range of treatment options. We would learn the Sherbrooke Centre rules for “earning” privileges on the ward, like wearing one’s own clothes (instead of hospital pajamas) or getting access to one’s phone. As she stabilized more, Vanessa was granted short leaves to step out onto the streets for sushi with visiting friends.

And we would learn the contrasts — some of the other patients on the ward told us about how some families respond to mental illness, how secrets must be kept. Since her friends knew about her illness, Vanessa was getting visitors; other patients were alone. We would come to lament the way society views this disease.

After three weeks in hospital, Vanessa returned home. Though she suffered some setbacks in the stressful Christmas season, they were not as severe as before, and life settled down for a relatively quiet Christmas break.

Through all this, because of Vanessa’s blogs and interviews about mental illness, we received countless emails, letters and notes, from people we know and from complete strangers. People who describe the struggles a loved one — daughter, son, spouse, parent — has gone through, typically in silence. People who admitted that they themselves have a mental illness they’ve kept hidden for years because of the stigma. Reporters, CEOs, professionals, single moms. Hundreds of people who expressed their thanks to our daughter for speaking up about the stigma, for tackling it head-on.

We want to express our own thanks. Thanks to all who understood. My apologies for the hundreds of emails and congratulatory notes and best wishes to which I/we haven’t been able to respond. They lifted us from unimaginable depths, the most stressful time in the life of our family. Thank you. And thanks especially to Vanessa and her siblings.

I pray that society will one day eliminate the stigma of mental illness, so those who suffer won’t do so alone, so those who need treatment will get it, so employers will understand and accommodate, so families and friends and loved ones will know how to support someone who is simply ill.

A person shouldn’t suffer alone, in silence, for fear of being ostracized. We don’t ostracize someone with a broken arm; we sign her cast.

This column first appeared in the Tri-Cities NOW.

vanessa and Dad

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7 Dating Tips for Parents of Children With Special Needs

Dear High School Cross Country Runner #9

Dear high school cross country runner #9 in the red uniform,

Mateo - cross country You don’t know my name, and I don’t know yours. I don’t even know what high school you represent because I didn’t recognize your uniform. But I will never forget your unexpected act of compassion at that cross country meet in October when you competed against my son.

I’d positioned myself in an isolated spot on the course. You see, my son, Mateo, always runs a lot faster when he can hear someone cheering. Isn’t that true of all of us? Our family spreads out as widely as possible so we can cheer for him throughout the race. I waited for him on a long, quiet stretch of the course in the woods about 400 yards from the finish line. The fastest runners had already finished, and the remaining competitors were pretty spread out.

As soon as I saw Mateo turn the corner, I started cheering for him. It’s pretty easy to recognize his unusual running form even at a distance. I rang my cowbell like the crazy mom that I am – as loudly and wildly as possible. My encouragement had the same effect as always – he ran a little faster and pushed himself a little harder, all with a broad grin on his face. He was having a great race.

Mateo was still at a distance, but you were approaching me. As you neared, in full stride, you yelled to me, “Tell Mateo to catch up with me!” Just as you ran by me, you added, “No, tell him to pass me. I’m #9!” You kept going and left me completely stunned.

Well, I did as you suggested. I shouted for Mateo to catch you. He put it in high gear because he had a target – your red #9 jersey – in his line of vision. I watched as he passed at least a dozen other runners on that long stretch to catch up with you. When you and Mateo took that last corner before the finish line, he was on your heels. I don’t know if he ever passed you. I didn’t see him finish that day, but he his dad, sister and grandmother met him at the finish line. I was so overwhelmed by your act of kindness and encouragement that I sat down in the grass beside the course and cried for several minutes before congratulating Mateo for an awesome race.

You are an amazing young man to encourage another runner in the way you did. I will never forget you.  Thank you.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Wayne Brady Sets Out to End Stigma Surrounding Men and Mental Illness

Wayne Brady is speaking out about a personal subject to battle the stigma that surrounds men with mental illness.

Last November, the comedian spoke out about his ongoing depression. Now, he’s joined a campaign, launched in part by the organization Bring Change 2 Mind, called #StrongerThanStigma.

The rate of suicide among men has been three to four times that of women over the past 30 years, according to the campaign’s website. Men are just as vulnerable to mental health problems as women, but traditionally they’re more reluctant to seek help for fear of appearing weak. That’s why #StrongerThanStigma aims to raise awareness and encourage an increase in dialogue about the subject.

I really wish I would have spoken out earlier,” Brady says in the video below. “There is nothing like being able to shine a light on those secrets.”

Listen to Brady discuss depression and the stigma surrounding mental illness in the video below: 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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I Didn’t Know This About My Son When I First Met Him

I didn’t know it when I first met him.

They took him over to the corner. I tried to see, but they were blocking my view. I opened my mouth, nothing came out. A hand on my shoulder gently guided my head back onto the damp pillow. “You’re not finished yet, one more push, good girl,” someone reminded me. “Is he OK?” I panted. “Ten fingers, ten little toes, he’s perfect,” someone answered from the crowded corner.

“Hey, Mommy, there’s someone here to meet you.” I opened my heavy eyes, trying to focus on the blanket in her arms. “You passed out, sweetheart, you lost a little bit of blood, darling, so we had to give you a transfusion. You’ll feel better once you eat.” She bent down to reveal his button nose and pink skin.”Oh, OK.” I tried to sit up. “I’m going to pop baby in here and get you some tea and toast,” she gently placed him into the plastic cot beside my bed.

I watched him. I tried to pull the cot closer; I couldn’t. I leaned over trying to get a proper view of him. She came back. “Darling, we will be moving you to the ward later. Here eat some of this. He’s beautiful.” She smiled as she poured my tea. “I haven’t met him yet,” I blurted out. “What weight is he?” “9 pounds even, big boy,”she winked. Smiling, I began to eat.

Visitors came, and visitors went. He slept the whole day, sucking on his thumb. I tried to sleep, to no avail. His first night on this earth, he whimpered. I gently shimmed myself over to the edge of my bed, letting my legs fall off the side. Finally, he was ready to meet me. I nervously picked him up. “Hi.” I felt my eyes sting. He blinked. “Hi, I’m your Mammy.” I smiled, kissing his soft forehead. “Are you hungry?” I grabbed a bottle. He guzzled it, burped and placed his thumb back into his mouth. I laughed as I placed him on the bed and changed his nappy. He slept the whole time, as I recall, he slept right up until the next morning.

“The doctor will be here around 11 a.m.,to give baby the once over, and then you and your bundle can finally go home.” She smiled. After three days in the hospital, this was music to my ears. I began to pack, checking the baby and the clock every few minutes.

“Has he been sleeping like this since he was born?” The doctor stood at the foot of my bed. I nodded. He took the baby in his arms, smiled at him, handed him to me and asked me to strip him. I did. The baby didn’t whimper. His eyes still shut, the doctor checked his reflexes and hips. “Funny little fellow, not a word out of you.” He handed him back to me. I began to dress him.”OK, Mom, you can go home. He’s perfect. Enjoy him,” and off he went, investigating other newborns on the ward.

A first-time mom, I was nervous about leaving the hospital. I knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant that I would be responsible for this baby, me and only me. I quickly adapted, loving him was so easy, caring for him was simple, providing for him was definitely the hardest.

Three weeks before my 21st birthday, I spent one week in hospital with my now 3-month-old baby. He had what appeared to be meningitis. I was scrubbed down, masked and covered from head to toe before I could see him. I’d never known real fear before that day, but fear and I would become old friends in time.

Three days passed when they finally told me my baby actually had a viral infection. Experience would teach me that, when doctors tell you it’s a “viral infection,” the truth is they have no clue. They treated my baby with different types of antibiotics, and luckily one of them worked.

By the time my 22nd birthday rolled on by, my toddler was toddling. He was a handful! Talking and walking all by the age of 1. I was convinced I had a special, gifted child on my hands. I was right but not in the way I imagined.

He was 18 months old when we began our first steps on the road to a diagnosis. I honestly thought he was just having a hearing issue. I was determined to get him grommets or hearing aids, whatever he needed. I was willing to fight tooth and nail to get it.

In the five years that followed I was called “over-anxious,” “ridiculous” and “overreacting.” Oh, and my favorite line: “Every child is different.”  I sat listening to that same doctor who met my baby five years previous. He was telling me and my now husband that “there’s nothing we can do, there is no cure. Take him home and love him. I’m so sorry.” My child was terminally ill, battling a condition that takes him bit by bit until there’s nothing left. That doctor stood by our side, encouraged us to look outside Ireland for hope, companionship and support. He sat at his desk on many occasions printing off articles from around the globe, trying to shine a light of hope for us. He always made time for us — always. He’s since retired but can be found around the hospital corridors or at the end of a phone line. He was and is a huge support to us then and now.

I didn’t know it when I first met him, but my baby, my son would be my teacher. He would bring me into a secret world, a world where everyone is loved, everyone has gifts and everyone is equal. He would show me all the abilities in a world full of disabilities.


He lit a fire in me I never knew was there. He gives me strength, hope and unconditional love — I guess I was right all those years ago; I do indeed have a gifted, special boy.

So when you read this and you wonder how I’m so strong, it’s all him, it’s all my boy, Ethan, and I am lucky and privileged to be his mommy.


For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

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