Mental Illness is nasty enough when it touches our lives; it can be embarrassing, frightening, hurtful, expensive.... the list is miles long. But when it touches our children- oh mama! When our children have to endure the pain (nevermind the stigma and all else) we can come close to losing our shit. Having been raised by wolves myself, I know even the most detached mother is devastated by a wounded child who needs psychological help. (Many stories of my own childhood are in draft; to be published when the time is right.)
Many parents have come to me with questions about the care of their children. Nobody asks me for advice on potty training or manners but when scary issues arise my phone rings. Mammas call me when the baby has a high fever or there's a weird rash. They also call with worries like anxiety, eating disorders, panic attacks, hearing voices, phobias, and things that go bump in the night. I'm still amazed by what parents try to hide, cover up, and wish away. I'm saddened by their embarassment when they tell me that "something terrible is wrong".
More disturbing is the advice that they've received before they reach out to someone specifically prepared to field mental health questions. The number of parents who have been told they should pray more, try harder, and feed their kids a better diet is astounding. Diet is important, spiritual warfare is real, and lots of moms and dads do, seriously, need to get a grip on their own issues.
But it breaks my heart that shame enters the picture. Just because a child has symptoms related to his or her precious little head instead of, say, the knee or pancreas we often go radio silent. We don't want to mention it to the pediatrician for fear of being judged as a parent, or -worse our kid being judged. We certainly don't compare notes with other mothers on the playground. Sadly, even when we DO go to the doctor our questions often remain unanswered. While the occasional brave guardian will champion the cause for a child with mental illness most often symptoms go untreated for far too long.
So here is the challenge. We have to come out from under the table, the covers, the bar, and the workplace. We may have self medicated, self diagnosed, or covered up our own issues. Adults often function highly with coping mechanisms that are applauded by those around us. Everyone at the office appreciates the workaholic. Overachievers and compulsive workers/students/church members are rewarded and lauded. Some of us just find creative ways to deal with our stuff.
Our children must not be expected to do the same.
That is NOT to say that all children with mental health diagnoses inherited or learned them from Mom and Pop. They didn't; not all of them. But most of you reading this blog came here because of your own issues. You didn't come here because little Johnny wont eat his Skittles unless they are first sorted by color. (Although that is a perfectly fucking awesome way to eat Skittles, M&M's, and Reeses Pieces.) You weren't directed here by a Mental Health Professional. The Academy of Pediatrics does not have a link to girlinjams on their website. You are here because you stumbled on someone who has pain that resounds with your own. Well, Mommy- I feel your pain here too.
I understand that sometimes we do teach our kids poor coping mechanisms. We do pass on shitty genes that predispose them to depression along with heart disease and diabetes. But sometimes things just go wrong. We have got to get out of our own way and take care of the business of taking care of the children. (AND the elderly, middle aged, young, and everything in between).
When you know something is wrong, you KNOW. Maybe the pediatrician won't be as worried as you. The ER may dismiss you and say "give it time". The child psychiatrist will most probably have a waiting list that is months long. Persist. When a parent knows that a child is not right he or she is right. Without diminishing the role of fathers, I will even say- a mother KNOWS.
So when your baby (of any age) tells you "I am so sad inside/scared all the time/afraid that maybe something isn't right", please hear them. And if they say, "I need to tell you something but I'm afraid" then do more. Drop everything. Stop what you are doing, put aside your own preconceptions, fears, armchair diagnoses and listen. Hear them well.
Then do anything you have to until they have the help they need. Their life may depend on it.