When You Feel Unable to Help in Your Child's Mental Illness Recovery


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I try to be mindful as I drive, let thoughts come and go as they please, but I’m not always successful. So tears tend to hit while I’m driving. When I am alone with my thoughts, the reality of what is ahead grabs me and yanks until the knot pulls so tight it can never be undone. And that reality is the fact that this is my new normal. One moment walking happily along, feeling like all is on the right track, the next being smacked in the face with the fact that things are very, very not OK. Suicide, overdose, death from anorexia—these all are unfortunately not impossible ends to my son’s story.

But so is recovery.

Recovery is not an impossible end to his story.

And that is my new normal: the fact that one feels just as likely as the other. Or if not just as likely, they are all as much out of my control.

So, I really try to hold onto the hope of recovery, especially in the midst of a relapse, but sometimes I feel like there is nothing I can do to influence the outcome. I used to think there was, but I’m beginning to think there is nothing I can do to make it better, the only real influence I have is to make it worse.

And that, more than anything, terrifies me. How am I making it worse? How am I coddling? How am I enabling? How am I helicoptering?

What is the line between any of those and compassion when faced with your child in agony?

My child, a heartbreakingly depressed young man trying to hold on. And trying to move forward.

Yesterday I came home from one of these driving episodes crying, distraught over this relapse, this new normal of ours. I collapsed on my husband’s chest and sobbed, “I can’t do this.”

He looked at me and said “Yes. You can.”

My initial response was a snort acknowledging the cold comfort of the truth. Then I let my thoughts wander for a minute and remembered a recent phone call with a friend.

Of course, we can do this, we are already doing it, she reminded me. And we have been doing it for some time now.

This is our new normal. This working and fighting for recovery. For wellness. For peace.

And she is right. We are doing this. We have been doing this for almost four years. We can keep on doing this.

I can do this with my friends who are in the same boat (or at least a similar one) with me. I can do this with my friends who have been there all along. I can do this with my new friends who have come my way because of this journey. I can do this with my husband of over 25 years. It doesn’t matter if we aren’t on the same page. Sometimes just reading the same book is enough.

I want a different normal back. Of course, this is where the friction lies. This is where I get caught up over and over again. This is what saps my energy.

Instead of fighting for recovery I am fighting against what is.

Intellectually, I know this is senseless, but my emotions won’t be won over by petty things like facts.

So, I go back to my DBT workbook again.  I review, redo, reevaluate the handouts on radical acceptance, and say to myself, “our son has a serious mental health disorder that could lead to his death.”

Take a breath. Figure out what to do with that.

And I remind myself again that this acceptance doesn’t mean I am OK with it. Doesn’t mean I am happy about it. It just means this is what my life is at the moment. This is part of what my life is. This is the reality I have to work with.

It doesn’t mean anything, it is just my current reality. So, I start again. I start again reviewing my skills, my supports. I start again practicing skills that build my resilience. I start again, practicing skills to take care of myself, to keep myself well. I start again, learning boundaries, emotional regulation and effectiveness. I start again, researching ways forward that we haven’t thought of before.

I start again.

And again.

And again.

I can do this.  I am doing this.  I will continue to do this.

As messy and inelegant and as hard as it is, I can do it because my child is worth the fight. Because my family is worth the fight. Because I am fightworthy, even when I can’t do this.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic.

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