This past week, my family had an emergency of sorts that surrounded my son. He struggles with an anxiety disorder and depression and without going into gory details, he hit rock bottom this week and we had to watch him struggle and sink. In a word, it was heartbreaking. In many ways, my mind and emotions are still reeling from it.
It’s bad enough that I struggle, but to watch my son face some of the challenges that I face? It’s almost more than I can bear. I feel guilty, despondent. It’s funny how when someone you love faces something difficult, it almost hurts worse than when you yourself face it. Especially if that someone is your child.
Struggles with mental health are nothing new for him. Early on, he struggled with anxiety to an extreme. It had to do over being able to fall asleep. Something we all may struggle with at one time or another, but for him it was intensely magnified. He would pace the floor and cry and just couldn’t be consoled. That’s how we knew he needed more help than we could give. That’s when we reached out and got help from a professional.
It was hard. Getting him help for this area of life. Even though I am open and honest about my mental illness, it’s different with my son. He’s more vulnerable and I feel like I need to protect him. But if we just left him to drown in his anxiety was that really the right thing to do?
And the funny thing is, if it was any other childhood disease I wouldn’t bat at eye at getting him whatever medical help he needed. If he was diabetic, of course we’d put him on insulin. And I know better than to question if mental illness is a biological illness. I believe firmly, it’s a disorder of the body as much as anything else, but still the shame, the fear, they haunt me.
Fast forward to present day and he’s still struggling, and we as his family have been on this roller coaster ride with him and it’s been heart wrenching. I wish there was something we could give and it would immediately do the trick, but treating a mental disease is so different from treating other diseases. It’s so trial and error. And my son is the victim of all that wreaks havoc in a person’s life when they have to just bear up under their struggles while medications and dosages are adjusted.
The worst part? I don’t feel at times that I can be honest about this struggle our family faces. I want to protect him. Want to protect us. If my child had cancer, I would reach out and ask for prayer and get all of that and more. Why am I trying to go it alone in this? It’s in a word, stigma. There is still so much that surrounds this unknown part of a person’s health. I know stigma still exists, and so sometimes I am tempted to keep my mouth shut, rather than reach out and share.
But I know ours isn’t the only family that struggles with a child who has a mental disorder, so for all of our sakes, I decided to post on this this week. I asked my son for permission. I checked it with my husband. When they gave me the go ahead, I took a deep breath and dove in to write this. It’s because I want us to band together as families and not hide our struggles in the dark. Let’s break the stigma and get our little ones the help they need. Let’s be there for them and for one another. We are stronger when we stand together. Amen.