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A Letter to My Parents, From Your Child With a Mental Illness

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You think because you raised me you know me. This isn’t necessarily true. I’d like to use this time to let you see the real me. It will help you gain a better understanding of why I’m so different than others. Hopefully this will explain my behavior to you.

I know you wish things were different, but that will never, ever be the case. You have to accept I think differently than you do. Part of this will make sense to you. Part of it won’t. Some of this will sound like excuses for my behavior. Know that my so-called “excuses” are based on my life living with a mental illness.

You have your own goals for me. Going to school, working, getting married, having a family. These are your goals for me and not the goals I have for myself. Please don’t compare me to my sibling. My goals are simple: take meds, shower, go to therapy. Even those simple tasks are sometimes too much. You might think I have a behavior problem. I don’t — I have a brain problem. I have chemicals in my brain that don’t fire correctly. These faulty chemical imbalances is part of what caused my mental illness.

If I was born with a different brain, my life would be different. But having a different brain is not an option. There are short periods when I feel “normal.” But most of the time my brain makes me anxious, paranoid, moody and causes me to procrastinate.

I know I have caused so much destruction in our relationship. Often when I push you away, those are the moments I need you most. Please don’t give up on me. I don’t need you to solve my problems. Just help me find the help I need. If I tell you I want to start seeing a therapist, help me find one right away.  Even something as simple as calling to get a doctor’s appointment can feel overwhelming to me.

Looking back, I may have showed signs of my mental illness when I was younger. When my illness started as a child, I knew I was different from everyone else. While I recognized the demons early on, I lacked the vocabulary to tell anyone. Like all kids, when I was young I used to think there were monsters under my bed.

But the monsters weren’t under my bed. They were inside of my brain. Mental illness affects everything in my life. It’s an everyday battle to fight with the demons in my brain. It takes a lot of energy to do basic things you take for granted.

You have seen my behavior change so much. I know it’s confusing and hard to
understand. Medication helps with the worst of my illness, but it doesn’t cure me.
But then there are side effects. Terrible side effects that can change the way our bodies function. If I start a new medication and gain weight or can’t get out of bed, it’s not my fault. Please don’t be hard on me. I’m just trying to find the right combination of medicine to help me live my best life. Putting up with medication side effects is part of my “job” having a mental illness.

I’m sure you are frustrated with my moods and behavior. But when you yell at me, you feed my illness. My brain has to expend extra energy fighting with you. I start to look at myself as a burden and a failure. Unfortunately, my mental illness is more dependable than anything else in my life. It is always there. It always will be there.

There are a few things you (and other parents) can do if you want to help me:

1. Find out if there is a history of mental illness in our family. This will greatly help my doctors diagnose and treat me.

2. As long as I’m OK with it, please be open about my illness. When you tell others that I’m OK, or that I’m “just tired,” it feels like you are ashamed of me. Having a mental illness, I belong to a club that no one wants to be a member of.

3. Support me as much as you can. When most people turn 18, their parents’ job
is done. More than likely, I will need to be parented well past 18. Any extra help you can give me would be great.

4. Find support for yourselves. There may not be a support group for families nearby, but there are many support pages on social media.

5. Most importantly, never stop learning about my condition. Read as much as you can about my illness, treatment, types of therapy and other ways to help me.

I hope that you will eventually see that I’m just trying to survive my illness. Hopefully this letter gives you some perspective into my life. Please accept me for the person I am.


Your child with a mental illness

Originally published: February 20, 2016
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