My Son Has a Mental Illness. He Also Has So Much More.


Lately, it seems like my youngest son is slipping away from us, one episode at a time. There are moments, hours and even days when things are good. Just last week, he was able to travel for Thanksgiving, see our family and have so much fun with his cousin. It was wonderful. It was a breath of fresh air, and it was short lived.

By the time we transitioned back home, he was out of touch again. Pacing, irritated, throwing things around the room, totally melting down for reasons none of us can really understand. My son has a bipolar diagnosis, an anxiety disorder diagnosis and a panic disorder diagnosis. My 10-year-old son, my sweet boy…

My child has a mental illness, and no one really knows what to do.

We have tried medication after medication, the first line of defense in stabilizing mood dysfunction. We saw some relief, here and there but nothing consistent. After a particularly scary hospital stay, due to liver and thyroid side effects, it’s clear the cure might be worse than the illness. We have been in family therapy, to understand how we all can help. I have read every single book I can get my hands on.

I have sat down with seven, (yes count them, seven) psychiatrists to date. After reviewing three years worth of information in his case file, they all have the same response: He’s complicated. It’s going to take time. Let’s try a different medicine.

Just a decade ago, this diagnosis didn’t even exist for children. It’s unfamiliar. It’s new, and sometimes, it seems like my son’s treatment resembles a bunch of doctors throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

My child has a mental illness.

No one, not the doctors, not the therapists, not the social workers, not even his mother, no one really knows what to do.

Every day, I wake up and put together a rigid schedule for him. It helps him to relax, if he knows exactly what to expect. It includes exercise, time in nature, hands-on sensory activities, and if it’s a good day, a little bit of reading and math. If it’s a bad day, we do the best we can to get through. Every day, I try to figure it out — what works, what sets him off, what causes the meltdowns, what precipitates mood swings and what helps him relax.

Sometimes, I think I see a pattern. Sometimes, it all seems like a jumbled mess of chaos. Sometimes, I want to curl up in a ball and cry. Sometimes, I look at him and glimpse his smile, his sweet disposition, his love and joy for life itself. I want it all back. I want it back so badly my heart physically hurts sometimes.

So I research. I call the next doctor. I find the next therapy. I set up another day to be therapeutic for his needs. I try to remember I only have to worry about today, not tomorrow and certainly not his adult life. I pray, more fiercely than ever before, deep, choking, momma prayers, echoing those of all the women who have gone before me and placed their children back in the hands of their Creator.

My child has a mental illness.

The only thing I know to do is take the next step, do the next thing and more than anything else, remind myself over and over again: There is a plan. There is a purpose. There is a design in all of this.

My son is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is not the sum of his diagnoses or some sort of puzzle challenge to master. He is a child.

He loves animals and the outdoors. He is wicked smart and creative. He has a soft heart and generous nature. He is sarcastic and funny, well beyond what is typical for his age. He is wonderful, just as he is.

Today, I want to embrace this truth. My son has a mental illness, yes, but he has so much more. And he has me.

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