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.