From what I’ve seen, there are no hot meals when your child has an illness people cannot see — no one offers to do laundry. There are no flowers and no balloons. The kids at school don’t make “get well soon” cards to let them know they are missed. People can understand what they can see. They cannot understand what is invisible.
It was my baby, my little girl, fighting for her life. Now I was truly alone after her father and I had split, and he was not really on board with her illness at that time. That’s the thing about mental disorders — you can’t see them. So when after a year of incorrect diagnoses of depression, of health insurance telling us they couldn’t help beyond 30 minutes a week of therapy — she finally did it. My 10-year-tried to kill herself. Luckily, I had already swapped her door knob with one that did not lock — my instincts told me she might try something dangerous in the future, but what could I do? I was able to get to her before it was too late. She was hospitalized, my fifth grade child sent to stay overnight away from her own mother so she could be safe. “How could this be happening?” I remember thinking to myself. I cried and cried and my little guy wondered if Mommy was hurt so I gathered my wits and did my best to be brave.
It is easy to see children can and do die every day from illnesses, so it is easy to sympathize with these parents. When you are told your child has juvenile bipolar disorder, it seems mind-baffling because they are so young.
So, instead of asking how they can help you or your child, they ask, “Are you sure?” They make suggestions for how to parent your child because it is clearly a discipline issue. If you make the mistake of mentioning medicine, they ask, “Is that really necessary?” People forget that mental illness is just as deadly. That this very thing causes adults and yes, even children, to die by suicide every day. Because no child would do that unless they were sick — but it isn’t a sickness people can see. This was the most upsetting thing of all — my poor baby could have died and people were acting like it was nothing.
What happened? Well, I, my ex and her grandparents visited my daughter in the hospital where she received no cards from her friends, just homework from school. She also learned an excellent new vocabulary of curse words. And when she came home crying after returning to school after being out for a month and no one wanted to speak to her anymore because “she might try to kill them,” I held her in my arms and let her cry. Then I called her school and reamed them out about letting the children say such things to her.
Slowly, it is getting better as we learn different coping strategies, we adjust her medicines to better levels, we learn how to help her calm down.
But every day, I wonder — is today going to be the day that she has a relapse? Will it be fatal this time? Will the “sickness” come back, and will anyone understand her struggles if it does?
The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – tell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system that could help your child? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.