Dear Mom and Dad,
I have waited a long time to write this. High school, college, my first job, my first apartment.
Your firstborn is finally an adult.
We’ve addressed the issues before. Usually at the kitchen table, or as you stand in my doorway while I cry in my bedroom. I have yelled. I have called you assholes, terrible parents.
I blamed you for fucking me up.
You did fuck me up.
I am an adult now, so it isn’t your job to parent me any more. To teach me acceptance of self. To tell me I am beautiful; perfect the way I am. To tell me I deserve only the best. To tell me that guy who broke my heart is crazy for letting me get away. To tell me I am a catch. A good person. A talented artist. A fountain of possibility. A woman with an amazing life ahead of her.
You weren’t there for me when I was bullied in middle school and high school. You wrote it off as “being a kid” or “well, that’s high school,” but I was a kid. I was in high school. That’s all I knew. I didn’t have your hindsight.
When I found the note in the garbage during science class, the one that was written about me by two girls in the class, you weren’t the ones who held me and told me it would be okay.
You didn’t acknowledge the pain that I felt when I read those words – ‘she’s such a stupid bitch. I wish she’d just like jump off a cliff.’
You told me they were being stupid and childish. You told me to brush it off.
You found the suicide note that I penned at 11 years old. You were going through my stuff. I was so mad at you. You sent me to therapy, and we never spoke of it again.
When I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, you didn’t help me shoulder the burden. You didn’t cry with me. You didn’t buy any books on the topic. You didn’t do the Walk for Mental Health charity 5k that I KNOW happened several years ago.
Why didn’t you do that?
When I overdosed in college and you came to pick me up, you silently drove me home to your house, two hours away, where I stayed the entire weekend to “get away from everything.” On Sunday night, you asked if I was okay.
I’m okay. Two days ago I tried to kill myself, again, but you know, sure, okay, I’m fine.
And then you put me on a bus back to school.
And we never spoke of that weekend again.
I stayed in therapy.
When I gained all of that weight, because of the PCOS, and I was sad, miserable, and feeling less than worthy of anything, you bribed me with a new car to lose 20 lbs. You didn’t tell me I was pretty. You didn’t tell me size was just a number. You didn’t tell me to go out and have fun with my friends, to not care about what I looked like, to know that it was the inside the counted the most.
You told me you’d buy me a car, and when I starved myself for two months, you handed me the keys.
You never told me it would get better.
But then there was your second child.
I know now that parents have favorites. Do you love all three of us? Of course you do. If something were to happen to any one of us, would it break you? I would hope. But when all three of your kids stand in front of you, you know who your favorite is.
He is your favorite child.
He grew up bubbly, fun, surrounded by friends. Smart, adorable, well-behaved. Charming.
I hated him from the beginning. Remember the time I spilled hot soup on him when he was three? Remember the time I yanked a huge chunk of hair out of his head when he was seven?
I was, undoubtedly, your angry child.
But somewhere along the path of growing up, he became my favorite too. When you guys didn’t care about my broken heart, he did.
When I needed help with stats, he always knew the answers.
When I was in my darkest moments, fearing the end, I remembered that while I idolized him more than he looked up to me, I had a little brother to take care of.
He encouraged me when you didn’t. He took me seriously when you brushed me off. He laughed at my jokes. He asked to spend time with me. He got to know me beyond being his sister and your daughter.
All the while, he shined. Confident, secure, compassionate; he encompassed everything you’d look for in another human being. He made for great company.
He is gay.
You didn’t bribe him to change. You didn’t encourage him to shy away from his friends because he was getting used to his new skin. You just didn’t.
He was still beautiful. He was still talented. He was still smart. No matter what he “was” – he was still your son. My brother. And you loved him for exactly who he was, exactly who he is, just as you did before, just as you always will.
The acceptance was instant. It was non-negotiable.
He was surrounded by your love – the same love I lacked when it came to my yearning for your acceptance. Your non-negotiable support.
I resented you. I resented him.
In the wake of the recent suicides within the LBGQT community, I am so thankful that my little brother was one of the few who was enveloped in love and support from the very beginning.
That he became so much more that could define him other than his orientation.
That his life was so filled with possibility, he never wanted it to end.
You did not grace me with an abundance of love at the times I needed it the most. Perhaps it was because I was your first – your oldest – your first “go” at all things parenting. Perhaps you had no idea what to do, so you chose to do nothing. I know that as a child, I was different. I had different needs. As an adult, I can understand that. And I can empathize.
But thank you for being exactly the type of parents my little brother needed.
If you had been different, if things had been different…well, I don’t know how to even write the words that follow. I can’t write them.
All I know is that I am grateful for him – the one person that in my darkest hour will tell me, “Caroline…it gets better.”
My little brother.
High school was not good to me.
I was the girl people didn’t want to be around. I was too “weird” for the goth crew, but too “goth” for everyone else. I had the dyed black hair and dark clothing, but I stuck to mostly satin, lace, and velvet skirts and long dresses. I was “Romanti-Goth” where the rest of the goth crew was “Manson-Goth,” and the rest of the school wasn’t goth at all.
The Columbine Massacre had just happened and was fresh on everyone’s mind. In my school, your average goth was popular enough to get through, and they had each other. I, on the other hand, was alone.
I vividly remember the day someone spit at my feet while I was walking through the halls. Yeah, it was like that.
It didn’t help that I didn’t have the high school mentality. I wouldn’t say I was above it, I just wasn’t into it. I was a mentally-ill loner who enjoyed role-play games and people older than me. I wasn’t into dating around, parties, or the latest group of girly giggles.
Even my boyfriend was eight years older. My husband, who was my next boyfriend, is six years older. Your average teenager repulsed me, so high school was hell. It wasn’t something I enjoyed; it was something I struggled to survive.
My mental health issues became obvious in high school. Most of that time is a blur, but I do remember going and seeing my guidance counselor, looking for a push in the right direction.
Luckily, a licensed therapist was in the school every Thursday for cases like mine. I only saw her seven times at school before I had to start therapy at her at her office, but that was enough to know she was the one. She was the one I could spill my guts to, the one who would be there for me. She gave me her cell phone number in case of emergencies. She saw in me what no one else at the time saw – I was special and in need of help.
At the time, diagnoses like “bipolar” were thrown around, but they never fit. The only thing she knew for sure was that I was getting lost inside my head, and our sessions were my only chance to get help.
There was one other key figure in my high school survival. We’ll call her Mrs. M.
She was my 9th grade English teacher (and then later, 10th grade Journalism 1 and 12th grade Brit Lit). Right away, we clicked. She was the type of teacher to give me a passing grade when I accidentally answered the quiz question with the key event in Chapter 4 and not Chapter 3, when the whole point of the quiz was to determine whether I’d read up to Chapter 3 or not. I had, in fact, finished the book. Yeah, I was one of those English students. And she was one of those teachers. She spent the four years of my high school life doing her damnedest to make sure I made it through and survived. She was always there for me, no matter the problem.
When I was in 9th grade, I made my first website – it was filled with my dark, depressive poetry and even darker thoughts. My mom somehow came across it and had a cow. She immediately sent the link to Mrs. M for her thoughts on it. In true Mrs. M fashion, she informed me and my mom that it was very well-written. How much I needed help was obvious without the site. Why did it surprise my mom? I’ll always wonder.
Shortly after starting my blog, I went back to the school to visit Mrs. M. I wanted to fill her in on my life and my family. I was also excited to say the words that burst out of me. “I’m writing!” I knew she, of all people, would be proud of me.
I knew she, of all people, would look past the darker times and see the beauty of my written word.
When I was 15, my childhood best friend tried to kill herself.
My family had moved away two years before, so I wasn’t there. I wasn’t the one in school who she told that she’d swallowed all the Tylenol. I wasn’t there to watch her life fall apart and hold her hand through it all. I wasn’t there to see her slow descent into that darkness.
But the truth is, I knew.
I knew from her letters, from the sporadic phone calls. I knew from other people’s letters. I had been waiting for that phone call telling me she’d done it. Honestly, I’d been afraid no one would call me. I was afraid to send her a Christmas card in case something had already happened.
But when it finally happened, she was okay.
She had her stomach pumped and was admitted to an in-patient adolescent psych facility. She came out with dyed black hair, a teen bipolar diagnosis, and a cigarette habit.
She came out unrecognizable.
The next summer, I went to stay with her for a week, as I had the summer before. It was different. It was scary. Everything was just a little bit off. I sat in the waiting room of her psychiatrist’s office while she went for a check-in.
At the end of the week, her mother took me aside and asked if she’d been acting weird. I kind of shrugged and half laughed, but her mother asked again, telling me she was serious. That was when I realized something I hadn’t quite gotten before.
I was supposed to be watching her.
She stayed with me for a week after that. We went to the boardwalk. She flirted with the 20-year old ride attendant, and skipped down the boardwalk singing American Pie at the top of her lungs. She listened to the Beatles constantly, flipping the cassette of Abby Road over in the player whenever it ended, the music running all night long.
I was afraid. I was sad. I wasn’t strong enough to keep her from slipping out of control.
After that summer, there weren’t any more letters. I got a Christmas card from her a few years later, but I didn’t answer it. I didn’t call on her birthday anymore.
I’ve never really forgiven myself for that. If I could see her again, I would tell her I’m sorry, that I wish I could have been there for her, that I wish I had known how to be present and accepting of everything she was going through.
But I was 15.
I taught high school for 5 years, and if 15 year old me had been in one of my classes? I would have hugged her. I would tell her that it was a lot to handle. I would tell her that it wasn’t her responsibility to keep someone else from slipping.
I would tell her that it wasn’t her fault.
I guess I’m just not ready to tell myself that yet.
I hear that all the time. There is no simple answer. But answering it is the focus of my daily life. Every day. The real answer is Gabriel’s not OK. Gabriel is Bipolar. His moods shift. Daily. Weekly. Yearly. He is never OK. I spend my days like a detective trying to sniff out any small clue of a mood change, charting, taking notes, observing him. Worrying about him.
He spent 10 months of the last 12 (literally, not figuratively) suicidal, dangerous, aggressive, and explosive. His meds are controlling that a little, but he is manic right now. Which is dangerous in other ways. And his meds aren’t holding that in. They aren’t ‘stabilizing’ him like they are supposed to. And without going into a tirade about doctors, I don’t have a ‘handle’ on this the way I PROMISED myself I would last October. And last May. And last July. You get the point.
The fact that mania seeps out now means that Gabriel is hyper (he isn’t normally at all), he is giddy, inappropriate (laughing, jokes, rude comments, butt jokes, pulling his pants down in front of a friend during a play date, etc), and more likely to jump off the roof (or trick his brothers into doing it) than anything else. Which is, in some ways, better than the dangerous depressive side. However, as October comes to a close, so will the mania, and the bipolar depression will replace my giddy-inappropriate child with one who hates the world. Who hates me. Who hates his brothers. One who is so negative and dangerous that he threatens to take knives to school and kill people. That kid is hard to live with. That kid is hard to keep safe. That kid threatens my sanity and the safety of my other two children.
We have to put him on another medication. A stronger medication. And although our ‘nurse practitioner’ is willing to give him a new medicine now, (they want to put him on Lamictal), my next appointment with his actual doctor, a real psychiatrist, isn’t until November 24.
Yes, the day before Thanksgiving.
Why wait? Because Lamictal has a 1 in 1000 chance of a deadly side effect. A deadly rash that may just start itself in the depth of my son’s mouth where I am less likely to see it. Less likely to be able to get him the immediate medical attention required. That scares me.
And scares my husband. So much so, that he refuses to give our son this drug until we see our psychiatrist. Who we can see the day before Thanksgiving.
So, I will bake pies early this year. And spend the that glorious Wednesday afternoon admiring the artwork on the walls of Children’s Hospital, nervously wondering if I will be rushing Gabriel to the ER with a rash on Thanksgiving day, and trying to hold down all those bites of pie I shoved in my throat in the anticipation of this moment where we are forced to make, yet another, hard decision about our son’s care.
But I have no choice. So we wait.
But the cycling won’t wait.
Depression is nipping at his heels and I am not sure we can out run it.
I don’t remember when reporting of suspected abuse and threat assessments (e.g., suicide risk identifications) became mandatory for educators and counselors. It was before I became a parent, I know that much, and it dawned on me a long time ago that there were probably plenty of reports that resulted from misunderstandings.
About a month ago, while we were in the middle of Princess’ most troubling days, while we struggled to identify and treat her emerging bipolar tendencies, our son, Hoss, ran away from his school and was brought back by the county police. It’s been a long time since he ran away like that, but it brought back memories of the tough times before he was diagnosed with his mood disorder.
One of these elopement incidents was the final thing that sent him to the psychiatric hospital back in the day, and that he’d gone all of last school year without ever feeling the need to escape like that made me feel like we’d made serious progress. Last month’s bolting was not as serious as what we used to see, but he did leave the property.
When the police officer brought him back to the school, they said he’d expressed that he’d wanted to die. As a result, despite the assurances of the school staff with whom Hoss has a history (principal, counselor, psychologist) that he was not actually a danger to himself or others, the police informed us that they would be taking him to the ER for a psychiatric consult. I was told that I would not be allowed to go along until I had spoken with the Mobile Crisis Team.
I spent time with the MCT explaining all of the steps I go through to care for my children and myself (outpatient therapies for the children, family therapy with a social worker with whom all of the family members are comfortable, open lines of communication with the schools, medication monitoring all around) with a response that roughly translated to:
“Okay. That’s exactly what we were going to recommend, so keep on keeping on.”
My husband went to the ER to stay with Hoss, and the evaluation indicated that Hoss’ “I wish someone would just kill me,” was not actually a cry for help, but rather a misstated outburst that is not all that unusual for a nine-year-old boy with ADHD. During the next therapy session, Hoss got an opportunity to talk about how upset he was that he’d been forced to go to the ER when he’d wanted to stay with his sister and I.
While Princess was in the day hospital program a few weeks ago in preparation for the transition back to school (now that we’ve gotten her medication properly titrated), she spoke of her brother’s boundary issues, and how he’s gotten in trouble the weekend before for not keeping his hands to himself.
Part of that boundary crossing included trying to tickle her all over, and missing her stomach by hitting a bit further south. Because we are working with Hoss on respecting personal space as well as just plain leaving his sister alone sometimes, he had to process what he’d done and he had consequences for not acting as he was supposed to.
Princess accepted his apology, since he’d properly identified what he’d done wrong and what he should have done instead. I didn’t hear about the incident until days later, since it happened while I was out of the house and it was no longer on everyone’s mind by the time I got home that evening.
However, the hospital reported the incident to the county, who interviewed all three of my children.
The end result of the interviews (from the point of view of the police and social worker) was that there was no criminal activity or additional cause for concern.
The end result from the point of view of my children was slightly different- Princess feels bad that she got her brother in trouble, Hoss is irritated and slightly grossed out that he “…had to look at pictures of private parts! Even girl ones!” and Little Joe doesn’t understand why he had to answer a whole bunch of questions about body parts and our family and stuff.
I know that mandatory reporting has resulted in abuse being caught before more damage can be done. I know that conducting threat assessments in elementary school may mean that we have fewer young children reacting to their stress by harming or killing themselves.
I understand this, and of course I want those bad things prevented.
I’m just struggling with how this has put me under a microscope when, according to the mental health and educational professionals who know me and my family, I’m one of the good guys
I admitted my 10 year old son to a psychiatric hospital Wednesday night.
My son is mentally ill.
For years, I have apologized to people for who my son is. His behaviors or quirks were something that were spoken about quietly, like they were something to be embarrassed of – Like WE were embarrassed of him.
For years, I have defended myself, made excuses for a multitude of things – his medications, the therapies he receives, the fight for Special Education services, the way I choose to parent and discipline him.
Today, all of this stops. My son D is who he is. My job as his mom is to provide the best care for him that I can, to the best of my knowledge. I am not a sheep – being blindly led by psychiatrists and therapists. I do my research, and I am well educated about his associated Alphabet Soup diagnoses. He HAS to have medicine to function. I don’t let the staff at his school run over me at his Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. I am on staff at his school, plus I know the laws regarding special education.
D got the shitty end of the deal when it came to genetics. See, I understand the raging in his mind, and the lows where all you want to do is hide from the world in a closet. I have Bipolar Disorder, Type 1. So does his birth father. I am compliant on my medications. It took me 8 years to finally get it right. There were times I almost lost everything – my family, my job, my mind. I am grateful for those who stuck with me through the good times and the really dark, ugly times.
Everyone knows at least one person who suffers from mental illness. One in FOUR people in America suffer from some sort of mental illness. Yet, there still is a stigma.
Today, for my D and me – this WILL STOP. No longer will I apologize for his behavior to strangers in public because he is on overload or having a meltdown. I will no longer listen to people tell me that my child is on too much medicine. I will not let people tell me I baby him when I choose to talk him down from a rage rather than “spank that ass.” I will keep fighting for his equal treatment at school. He has a mental illness, but he is a bright, smart boy. I will love my child for who he is, not for what others think he should be. I will not listen to negative ex-husbands telling me that I am doing it wrong, when he is only with D four days a month and only is “Dad” when he wants to be.
Today the stigma will stop. Follow me on my and my family’s journey.