The very long road to okay.

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This post is going to be very personal and open you up to a part of my family that I have felt too much shame to speak of. It has been years in the making so please excuse the length. I’m not even going to proofread this because, if I do, I won’t post it. But that’s why I am doing it. The shame is holding me back and it is a lie. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I am going to open a giant can of worms: parenting a child with a serious psychiatric illness. Yes, the child I am writing about knows and is on board. She thinks people should be aware and quit treating mental illness as everything but what it is: chronic and debilitating.

Over 22 years ago, I gave birth to the most amazing child. I remember physically seeing the world differently the day she was born. I vowed to be the best parent to her that I could be. I was going to research everything. I was going to be thoughtful in every aspect of being a Mom. I was going to get it right. In a lot of ways I did and in an equal number of ways I didn’t. What I know today is the biggest mistake I ever made was not listening to my intuition. It is there for a reason. It is there to warn us when something is wrong. This incredible child was beautiful, brilliant, slept well, ate well, laughed and was generally wonderful. We were off to a great start.

When she began puberty, things began to really change. She had always been headstrong but headstrong was turning into wreckless and adversarial. She began to have insomnia. She was failing in school. Things were not okay. I began to research. Because this was my first time to raise a child, I wasn’t confident in my abilities. I was sure all those older parents knew better than I even about my own child. I was assured it was just puberty. I was told to give her more vitamins or to spray her pillow with lavender or to begin homeschooling her because a better school environment would cure everything. I listened. I did everything I was told. Things weren’t better. All of these veteran parents had given me all the solutions so I blamed myself.

If I weren’t a terrible mother….If I knew more about raising children…..If I read another book….Maybe I could find the answers. The shame I felt for being her mother and not having the ability to make things better was so tremendous. It was debilitating. Piled on top was the shame I was feeling for spending so much energy on what might be wrong with my eldest, I wasn’t fully there for my younger two daughters. I regularly mentally flogged myself for failing all three of them.

We came to a fork in the road. A place where I had to choose whether all of those people were right or if that niggling voice in my head knew something was really wrong. I began researching therapists and she hated all of them. She would run circles around them and challenge their knowledge. This was not going well. I was so tired.

Friends and family blamed my permissive parenting. Others blamed homeschooling. Still others blamed my lack of leading a fully organic lifestyle. Obviously, I was doing everything wrong. 

I eventually came across Dialectical Behavior Therapy and my eldest was diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. I cried because this dragon finally had a name. In my exhausted state, I convinced myself we could slay any dragon that had a name. Names were powerful.

It wasn’t that easy. Sure, the dragon had a name but this dragon was a liar and a cheater. This dragon would steal my daughter from my arms.

The lowest point of my entire parenting journey was the day my daughter had to be hospitalized. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t will things to be better. She was on a fast downward spiral and I knew I couldn’t keep her safe. The hospital was horrible. I almost walked out with her. I won’t go down the road of how ridiculously bad mental care facilities in the USA are, but, trust me, when I tell you that you wouldn’t put your child there unless you had no other choice. I can’t tell you how horrible I felt. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t make it better. Piled on to this was the litany of supposed friends who either quit speaking to me or only spoke to me to tell me what a bad decision I was making. I had *two* friends left and that didn’t even include my spouse. 

In that low point as I sobbed for my baby because she was hurting so deeply, I had never felt more calm because I knew I had listened to my intuition and I knew as bad as this was, she was safe and I was….at the very least….now on the right track. I would move heaven and earth to help my daughters and some days it felt as though I had.

Borderline is very difficult to treat. The medicines are mediocre at best. They either made her feel tired or nauseous or fuzzy-headed. She no longer felt her muse and couldn’t paint or write songs. Taking the meds was a fight because she wanted to feel okay but that wasn’t happening. We also went through periods where she felt okay on the meds so her illness would lie to her and tell her she no longer needed them.

She quit taking her meds. She decided she was going to just will herself to not have borderline. She would just decide she didn’t have it. She was now an adult and there was nothing I could do but beg her to think this through.

We began a slow downhill spiral that spanned several years. She wasn’t going to go back to the meds. She was going to be fine but she couldn’t finish her classes and she couldn’t focus. She had trouble holding down a job. She moved out of our home because she no longer wanted me to give her advice. She was angry with me. Angry I hadn’t done more. Angry I hadn’t fixed it. I always fixed everything so why not this. I was angry for the very same reasons. Why couldn’t I fix this?

We reached a new low the day I received a call that my eldest had swallowed a bottle of pills and was hospitalized. My mind was racing. How could I not have known she was suicidal? How could I not have seen the signs? The horrible truth is there were no signs. She wanted to see what would happen if she swallowed the bottle of pills. This couldn’t be happening. It was too horrible for words. How would we know if she was going to attempt something like this again? How could we stop such a dangerous whim? I forced the issue to have her hospitalized. I was terrified for her. She was livid with me. That dragon was telling her lies again. That dragon was telling her she could just pretend she was okay.

I hate that Borderline dragon. I feel a deep anger for all it has stolen from my daughter. It has taken years away from her. It has hurt her relationships with friends and family. It harmed her ability to do well in school or easily hold down a job. Borderline is an abusive bastard.

She has now reached a place where she has decided that she needs the medication. She reached her own low that let her know there was no turning back and there was no willing the borderline to go away. I am thrilled to say she is doing okay now.

It is funny, when my eldest was a baby, I wanted everything for her. I wanted her to go to the best schools and have an Ivy education and take on the world. I loved her more than life so I wanted the best for her. It took a long time to realize sometimes okay is the best.

Through all of these years, I learned the simplest but most important virtue of being a parent: I learned to be content and peaceful when things were just okay. I don’t know if things will always be okay, so I hold on to the good days for everything I have.

Listen to your inner voice if it is telling you something is really wrong. Intuition exists for a reason. Feel peace and contentment when your children are just okay. Let go of guilt and shame. They will find their way to better than okay if they want it.

If you have a friend who is walking a similar journey, check in on them. Don’t turn your back when they need their village the most.

I hope this post is helpful to someone out there.

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36 responses »

  1. Bless you for sharing this! Perhaps it will inspire others to open up about their own challenging journeys, or give them strength to believe their power of parental intuition. Love and light to you and yours.

  2. “Listen to your inner voice if it is telling you something is really wrong.” So wise. We need more discussion around serious mental health issues. Thank you for sharing your family’s story.

  3. I too battle the dragon with my oldest who is now 18 years old. I would love to talk to you about your journey. We have had two attempted suicides and two stays in the hospital. She seems to be in a good place and takes her medication faithfully.

    • I would love to talk more. I am glad your daughter takes her meds faithfully. That seemed to be one of our biggest hurdles. It is a horrible disease.

  4. So brave of you and your daughter to speak up; it’s the only way to beat the shame and change perceptions. I have a few friends with whom I’ll be sharing your courageous post – I think it will help them in their parenting struggles.

    If you ever want to read of a mother with similar battles (not a parenting guide book) read “A Lethal Inheritance” by Victoria Costello. Everyone’s situation is unique but I found hope in her story. Again, your honesty is profound.

  5. Every family flies with dragons in one form or another. Speaking out makes it easier for others to follow your lead. These conversations need to be had. It is way past time for people to put away misplaced shame and be a part of finding solutions. For what it’s worth, anyone that bailed when times got rough didn’t deserve you.

  6. Thank you Stacia. I did know of some of your struggles. We have similar struggles with our oldest including a 6 week stay in a mental health facility. I often want to speak about them with a certain group which I know would lend support but because he is not a part of that group I hold back. One of the unfortunate things is if he had been younger, he probably would have qualified. He is doing much better now but of my biggest guilt is that I had to give up on him to make him see he needed help. It’s been a long hard road with a very narrow roadway and cliffs on both sides.

    • Yes, those are precarious cliffs to maneuver around. I am so glad he is doing better. It is hard to have to let them go so they can see they need help. That is an excruciating decision to have to make.

  7. I am so proud of you mom! Your love , helplessness and all that you are doing is expressed in such raw honest emotions! I can not begin to imagine your pain… I am not sure I could have handled it, the way you have!! May life always be okay for you all! I pray for peace in your life.

  8. Thank you for hitting the ‘publish’ button on this, Stacia. I came so close, so many times, to hospitalizing my son. I was very, very fortunate to scrape by with other options and he is doing much better now. I hope he stays better, but I’m always waiting for that other shoe to drop, you know?

    Your courage in speaking out and the obvious love you have for all of your kids serve as models for other families. For sure, you have my respect and admiration. ❤

    • Thank you, Corin. I appreciate it. I am so glad there were other options, for your son, other than hospitalization. There are almost no decent hospitals that are affordable in the USA.

  9. Hugs to you, my friend. You have never been a horrible mother. The dragons we face in life put up a fierce battle. It is scary and intimidating and, yes, sometimes we retreat to safety so we can regroup – but that doesn’t make us bad parents. We do the best we can in our raising our children – and you just made the journey easier for others by opening up this conversation. Thank you for your brave honesty.

  10. Hugs to you, my friend. You have never been a horrible mother. The dragons we face in life put up a fierce battle. It is scary and intimidating and, yes, sometimes we retreat to safety so we can regroup – but that doesn’t make us bad parents. We do the best we can in our raising our children – and you just made the journey easier for others by opening up this conversation. Thank you for your brave honesty.

  11. Heart-wrenching, Stacia. Thanks for sharing your family’s difficult journey. I wish you and your daughter(s) peace and hope that your honesty helps other families who are struggling to cope with mental illness. I know those difficulties well as the daughter of a bipolar mom. Hugs to all of you.

  12. My mom faced the dragon herself. I was always worried that she would embarrass me as a child and then as an adult. She was too ashamed to get help and as a child, I could only helplessly watch. As an adult, I could only pray. Nothing ever convinced her that it was okay to admit that something was not right and to get help because she would rather deal with destroyed relationships (five marriages and total estrangement from her mother and siblings) than to voice to anyone that she was one of “those” people and suffered from mental illness. I would travel to visit my mom out of obligation, always fearing what I might see and whether or not I would have to protect my child from her behavior. My mom suffered during her life because to someone born in the forties, it was a huge personal shame to admit to mental illness and it has gotten only marginally better for people now. We need to change this! It is not a character flaw, but a medical condition and only when we as a society accept it as such will we address the horrible medical system that treats mental illness that remains terrible because the masses are not speaking out about care in mental health facilities.

  13. Stacia,

    Your daughter is so very lucky to have such a dedicated and brave mother! Mental illness is so difficult to talk about and I can’t thank you and your daughter enough for sharing this with us–we all need to know more about and understand mental illness. Your story is so poignant and beautiful.

    If there is one thing that rang true for me is your advice on trusting one’s intuition even if it means not trusting the professionals.This is so very true. I have one son who had several serious illnesses in his life–meningitis, cancer, life-threatening food allergies. My intuition, on more than one trip to the ER, forced me to reject the doctor’s judgement–the original strep throat diagnosis really was spinal meningitis. Intuition is to be trusted for sure and thank you for showing us why it is so important to trust our intuition!

    I’m so happy to hear you and your daughter are at the lovely destination of “okay”. “Okay” is a great place to be when you’ve experienced being way too far from “okay”!

    Thank you again Stacia for wanting to share this personal and beautiful story with us.

  14. a mutual friend posted this on facebook. I have had a similar road but have been more open about it, I guess. My middle child was the one who broke first though – at age 8 he was suicidal and by age 10 he had a half dozen diagnoses and was on 3 meds – which helped him. He was first in the gifted program and then in special ed. Working full time and going through a separation w my second husband, and also having a preschooler – i was exhausted. and THAT was when my oldest hit puberty hard and started just being super mean to everyone all the time. We tried a therapist who she loved but she also lied to and manipulated. She was hospitalized but only for 5 days, and came out w no meds. We found a med doc who recommended another therapist who recommended another med doc, but nothing helped. She moved out to live w a bf across the country when she hit 18, moved back and was ok for a while – she also has fibromyalgia, so when she tried to go back to school full time while working, she got really sick and completely lost it. Bottle of pills, ambulance, 5 days in the hospital, and the borderline diagnosis. She hated me SO MUCH – but she hated mostly everyone, but i still took it personally. I started homeschooling the boys because they were doing awfully in school, and she resented the time I spent with them. Finally after some awful stuff she moved in with my mom 3 states away. That was so rough finally my mom’s bf paid her rent so she’d move out. She’s seeing an older man now, and hasnt spoken to me in over a year. We are coming up that way this week and she wont even see her brothers. Its so heartbreaking and I’m so exhausted. My 19 yo still cant get a job, and failed out of community college. I’m putting my 11 yo back in school this year . . .

    its such a hard journey. its so hard to see other people beaming with pride over their kids achievements and basking in the close, happy relationships they have. It IS hard to really tell people – no one wants to hear all that. and its so hard not to beat myself up, esp when she clearly blames me for everything.

    virtual hugs . . .

  15. Thank you so much for writing this! I’m in the beginning stages of this parenting journey, and it’s so easy to blame myself. I also hear others blame me for too much of this or too little of that. I’ve learned to stop listening to them; now I need to learn to stop listening to my own criticisms. Please keep sharing. More people need to be aware!

  16. I hear you, babe. We’ve been there, although a teeny bit luckier, as ours was able to hold down a job and is now (at age 22) even able to concentrate on her studies. The best therapist we had pointed out that you really have to wait until age 25 or 26, when what she termed the “hormonal storm of adolescence” dies down, to see what you’ve got. I too felt relieved to have a name for it, horrible though it was, and also derived comfort from Al-Anon’s 3 C’s: didn’t cause it, can’t control it, can’t cure it. As you know, they have to take responsible for what is going on. It is so hard. Feel free to email me, any time.

  17. Thank you for sharing. Our family has faced the same situation. I can relate so well to your feelings as a mother. Sharing can be so therapeutic and we need to make others aware of mental illness .

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