The battle to get my son into the mental health system seems like it lasted years. Because…it lasted years. From trying to manage his panic attacks and anxiety with books, online strategies, Dr. Google, school counselors, psychologists and waitlists up the wazoo (yes, wazoo), we fought for over 4 years.
He fought for four years. And, there’s guilt there – but I’ll get to that.
I learned a ton. I still need to learn a ton. But, I’m constantly asked why I’m so public about the process and why I share as much as I do.
Why? Because…how else can we create change? How can we force people to pay attention to the mental health epidemic (yes, EPIDEMIC) that is waging war on our kids? How else can I force the difficult conversations that I know need to happen?
I’ve always been authentic and true and brutally honest in my writing, so why would I start sugar-coating something as important as childhood mental illness?
The day my child was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and depression will be forever engrained in my soul.
Here’s what I actually felt:
1. Relief. We’d been battling for so long and the relief was visible from my son when he heard his diagnosis. When he heard the words, he exhaled deeply and his little shoulders, that had held so much tension and stress for so long, relaxed just a little. His relief is my relief.
I was relieved not only for him, but because having a diagnosis gets him “in the system” and finally, finally, we were going to get the help and care he needs. Relief was a strong emotion, but not the strongest.
2. Sorrow/Anguish/Sadness. I group these words together because they relay the overall grief undertone of my reaction. I felt sad. Sad for my child. Sad for what he’s had to endure. Sad for the years he’s battled and won but that had caused his little body to shut down and let depression in. I began grieving the moments he didn’t have because anxiety held reign on his brain for so many years.
3. Dread. I was filled with dread. 100% dread. I wasn’t terrified for the medication the psychiatrist wanted to put him on. I was filled with dread for my son because I know the hard work real counseling involves. I know how draining it can be and I was so scared of the things that were to come for him. I wasn’t wrong to dread this. It’s been really hard. And, to be honest, being in the middle of it now, it hasn’t gotten better. I dread the sessions every week because I hate putting my son in a place so raw and scary for him.
And yes, I know they need to uncover and heal and dig in to the sensitive areas, but I can still dread it. I can dread walking into the room after his session and seeing his little face exhausted and sad. I’m allowed to dread that. You never, ever want to see your child suffer. And yes…I realize…short term pain, long term gain. I can still dread those moments. And I do. 100%.
4. Guilt. If I had pushed earlier. If I had not yelled at him on this day. If I had just a little more patience. If I had protected him a little better. If, if, if. Those if’s are going to get you. Hard. While I realize I’ve been a pretty okay Mom, there’s always the guilt of “maybe if I had _________, we wouldn’t be here”. For years my child battled. For years he suffered. And I wasn’t able to help him the way a Mom should help. Guilt. It’s a real bitch.
5. Anger. My son and I often talk about how much we hate anxiety and depression. We hate it. It takes control and we haven’t learned to tame it just yet. We hate it. So, when my kiddo was diagnosed, I was pissed at anxiety. I was pissed that these were the cards he was dealt because mental illness sucks and why, oh why, did my son have to get it?! Why him?
He’s a rockstar. Smart, kind, caring, sensitive. So I was pissed that this had to happen to him. That he had to battle the way he does. I was pissed because I knew the stigma associated to this and I was pissed because NO ONE was talking about it. NO. ONE.
So, what does one do when they’re pissed off and angry at a thing they have no control over? They create change. They ban together, with one another (mom and son), and go public. A decision made in the vehicle after diagnosis. A decision made because my child was relieved and overjoyed with being diagnosed.
My emotions were NOT his. I don’t think he truly knew the work he had to do to “get better” and I think that now, after some of that work has taken place, he may not be so thrilled with the diagnosis…but, I still believe his #1 emotion would be relief.
My #1 emotion? I couldn’t possibly say. All I knew was that I was going to have to be stronger than ever before…and I wasn’t at all wrong. If I thought panic attacks were hard…they aren’t anything compared to healing and working through the “stuff” my child needs to work through.
To all of you out there reading this and who have a child with mental illness, I guess I write this to say to you: embrace your emotions. Use them to fuel change. Use them to support, advocate and persevere through healing. Because this road is treacherous and you’re going to need any and all emotions to get you through.
They key? Any negative ones? You MUST turn them to fuel for change and you must somehow find the positive. You must. For yourself. For your child. For your family. They all need you.
We’ve funnelled our emotions into a campaign to raise funds for raising awareness for childhood mental illness. My son will help allocate the money raised and present it to organizations he believes are doing great work in the area of childhood mental illness. If you’ve yet to donate, please consider doing so. We’d be forever grateful. If you have donated already…THANK YOU!
Please continue to talk about this. It’s more important than you could possibly know.