Featured Topics

Mental Illness: A Mother’s Heartfelt Struggle – “I Want My Casserole”

I Want My Casserole

It is a funny thing when you have a child who is mentally ill.  If your kid had cancer you would get hugs and casseroles and offers to carpool.  When your child suffers from mental illness and lands in the psych ward, again, there are no Hallmark cards or Bundt cakes.  Talking about mental illness makes people feel uncomfortable.  They wonder to themselves, even if they don’t say it, what did she do to her kid to make her want cut herself over and over again.  You can see it in those micro flashes of emotions.  You know those emotions that erupt onto your face, even for the briefest of moments, before you put your game face back on.  You see it.  They blame the Parents and that makes things convenient, because we, the parents of a mentally ill kid, blame ourselves.  It’s nice to have everyone on the same page. 

I Want My Casserole

It is a funny thing when you have a child who is mentally ill.  If your kid had cancer you would get hugs and casseroles and offers to carpool.  When your child suffers from mental illness and lands in the psych ward, again, there are no Hallmark cards or Bundt cakes.  Talking about mental illness makes people feel uncomfortable.  They wonder to themselves, even if they don’t say it, what did she do to her kid to make her want cut herself over and over again.  You can see it in those micro flashes of emotions.  You know those emotions that erupt onto your face, even for the briefest of moments, before you put your game face back on.  You see it.  They blame the Parents and that makes things convenient, because we, the parents of a mentally ill kid, blame ourselves.  It’s nice to have everyone on the same page.  

When I look back on my daughter’s childhood, I did not see anything to alert me to her illness.  I don’t know if I was in denial, or didn’t know better because she was my first child’s and no one tells you how kids are supposed to behave.  I sure as hell did not know.  I always told her to be a free spirit.  Dance, sing, be who you are and love it.  Don’t let society’s rules on beauty and success define you.  She did exactly as I advised and I did not know how to deal with the outcome.  She is who she is and I don’t love it.  It scares me, confuses me, hurts me, and generally pisses me off.

When she was little, she spent her time performing.  She was always singing, and dancing.  She loved playing dress-up and she would always dress for success.  She would very carefully layout a hat, dress, panty hose, Mary Janes (because they clicked on the hardwood floors when she walked) and sunglasses.  She would lay out the ensembles on the floor like scarecrows, waiting to be filled.  She loved Barbie’s, her doll house, and Barney.  She loved make believe.  She was happiest in her own company, but she was lonely too.  She had a hard time making friends.  She was always sweet, but her tidal wave of emotions could be overwhelming to kids her age.  I thought it was normal.  I thought it was because she was a product of divorce and a product of my current marriage that was far from ideal.  I used to always volunteer to read on Friday’s in her classroom.  He teacher said that she seemed a little isolated on the playground and she would often focus on the bad.  So…I would read to the class on Friday, and I would bring candy, or stickers, or another goodie.  I was that mom.  The mom all the kids loved and I hoped that it would spill over to loving that Mom’s kid too, and it did a little.  I would stay for lunch and the kids would vie for who got to sit with me and my daughter.  
 
We were living in Slidell, Louisiana when she first showed me that she had cut herself.  We moved there when she was in the 6th grade and her brother was in 3rd grade and her youngest brother was in 1st grade.  It was a hard move for everyone.  My marriage was a wreck, and my kids were all wrecks too.  My youngest was pissed at the world, my middle was busy trying to please the world and gaining a lot of weight in the process.  He was failing all of his classes due to a severe learning disorder, and the youngest had a regular seat in the principal’s office.  It did not help that we were Episcopalians from Georgia in a small town Louisiana Catholic School.  The school was a lesser of 2 evils.  My daughter struggled.  I thought she struggled because the move to Louisiana was number four move for her.  My husband is in the hotel business and at that time we moved every three years.  She was in the height of puberty.  She had been tall, large breasted, had terrible acne, braces and glasses.  She was a hot mess.  I thought if she was not having a hard time I would worry!  She did not socialize and her teachers were concerned with her dark moods.  She tried out for cheerleading and made the squad.  I was hoping that this would give her an instant acceptance, and it did for a while.  She tried out for soccer and made it and ran on cross country.  Her grades were always excellent.  She loved to read.  She read and became an expert on Tolkien.  Her Tolkien books were her constant companions and a buffer to her peers.  

It seemed for the next couple of years that she was doing well.  She would have problems sleeping and would stay up all hours reading and watching TV.  It was a constant battle of the wills.  She had friends, but no one really that was someone that she did everything with.  She always felt like the default friend.  The girl that got included if no one else was available.  She always felt like she was somebody’s second or third choice on the invite list.  She desired to be someone’s number one, best friend, but did not seem to understand how to accomplish that.   She cheered, but by her own accounts was the least spirited cheerleader in the world.  She felt like a jolly green giant in a sea of tiny prepubescent waifs.   

It was a week or two after Christmas in her eight grade year.  I was standing in her bedroom and I can’t remember for the life of me what I was doing in there.  I was probably delivering laundry or trying unsuccessfully to get her to clean her room.  I remember I was standing with my back to her fluffy, pale blue, oh so feminine bed, piled high with stuffed animals and she was standing in her doorway.  She very calmly pulled up he sleeves and said to me, “Look what I did”.   She didn’t say it with a sense of pride or fear, or any emotion for that matter.  She was almost disassociated about the revelation that rendered me speechless.  All I could see was perhaps fifty or more 1-2 in cuts cross hatching the inside of her arms from her wrists to her elbows.  All I could say was “Why”?  I had an indescribable urge to bandage the already healing cuts with Neosporin and gauze.  I wanted to cover them up and make them go away.  Do I take her to the emergency room?  Who should I call?  What do I do?  What am I supposed to do?  What if someone sees?  Will they take her away?  Will they take the boys away?  To this day some seven years later, I am still at a loss at what I am supposed to do.

 
I always assumed that this was when it began; that day in her room.  Just two weeks before her biological father was to pick her up for a Christmas visit that was cancelled on the day he was to arrive.  He announced he was getting divorced to wife number two.  He had two sons with wife number two and Megan always spoke of them with such affection.  That was the last she had heard from her father for the next six years.  He completely dropped out of her life.   I always identified this event that was the precipitating factor in her mental illness.  I now wonder if it was.  It was always convenient to be able to describe that event in detail and have those few that I shared it with say “Oh yeah…Of course…That makes sense”.    
It was always my default response to any professional that tried to treat her.  To some extent I really did believe it, but I also did not want anyone to blame me.  It terrified me that someone would think that I had done something awful to her.  She was not abused sexually, physically or mentally in my home or anywhere else that I know of.  I don’t believe she was abused when she visited her biological father either, even though he was far from perfect.   I tried my best to be a good mother.  I loved her.  I was a stay at home mom, I baked cookies, I made Halloween costumes, I read to her.  I loved her.  Maybe it is my own narcissism that believes that I caused or could have prevented her mental illness.  I just don’t know the answer to those questions, and it is agonizing to consider it.  I just don’t know how it happened, why it happened, how to fix it, or cure it, or treat it, or how to live with it.  I just don’t know.

I had a revelation about my daughter and her illness in her senior year of high school.  She had just been released from the hospital for her “drug addiction” and destructive behavior.  She and I had just left court because she had received a “Minor in Possession of Alcohol” violation.  I wasn’t even all that upset about her drinking.  Don’t get me wrong, underage drinking is bad, very bad, but this was the first sign of typical teenage behavior, and in a social setting no less.  So she and I were in court and the judge called us to stand before her. The judge was kind and interested in my child despite a packed courtroom.   She took time to ask my child what her grades were like and what her future plans were.  The judge told my daughter that decisions we make when we are young can impact the rest of our lives.  My daughter was uninterested in her unsolicited wisdom.  Part of her penance for her violation was to submit to 3 consecutive drug tests each a week apart.  The first test was to be administered within 48 hours.  I looked over at my child’s face and she looked worried.  Her whole attitude during the whole court experience was less than contrite and less than interested.  The only emotion, other than irritation, was of fear.  She knew she was not going to pass this drug test.  I did know she was doing drugs.  Hell, she was on every prescription drug known to mankind.  Why in the hell did she need top add anything else to the cornucopia of crap she was already prescribed?  To this day I really wonder how much was an addiction and how much was just her skewed perception of reality.
 
After only a week on the psych ward she was released.  I would have loved for her to have stayed longer at the hospital, for purely selfish reasons.  I knew where she was and I knew she was safe, and I knew she wasn’t hurting herself.  Our insurance had run out and at $400.00 dollars a day I had to make a decision.  Do I take out a second mortgage on my house and keep her hospitalized until they deem her ready to be released?  Do I take her home and take my chances?  I chose to take her home.

School was always a place she despised.  She still loved academics, but was no longer was successful.  I know our search for the magic pill to make things better, interfered in her ability to be a success at school.    If the medicine was not making her sleepy, it was making her edgy, and if she wasn’t edgy, she was nauseas, and if she wasn’t nauseas, she was depressed, and if wasn’t depressed, she was manic.  It was never ending.  So I am sitting at a table with the counselor, school nurse, and an administrator.  I just wanted to get her to graduation and I needed to accomplish that in the fastest way possible.  The meeting was called an IEP.  An IEP is an Individual Education Plan, and is set up by the school to help students with disabilities be successful.  I am familiar with the IEP because both of her brothers have had them, because of their learning disabilities.  Her little brothers get extra notes and extra time for tests and other modifications to help them be successful.

 
I am sitting in this IEP meeting for my daughter and each person at the table is so kind.  Not that all educators are not kind, but really, not all educators are kind.  Some educators really just don’t give a shit and just want your kid to get their work done.  It is of not their problem if your kid is in a manic state and has been up for three days in a row and has finally fallen asleep and that is why they missed the exam.  Anyway…these very kind and caring people are having a brainstorming session on how to help her graduate.  The school counselor looks at me in the midst of all of these possible plans and asks me why my daughter did not have an IEP in place.  The counselor wanted to know why this was my first IEP if she has been ill for 4 years and hospitalized twice?  I looked at her and I was at a loss for words.  I just said,” I don’t know”?  I sat there and no one said anything and I searched my brain for why did I not put this process into place for years.  It’s not like I wasn’t familiar with the services that the school had or how to start the process.  I knew all that already.  I sat there thinking why and I just started to cry.  I am not a big crier.  Hate it. Hate it, hate it.  This was my moment of clarity regarding my daughter’s disease.  I never put an IEP in place because I always thought that she would get better.  I always believed that she was one prescription or therapy session away from being ok.  I never thought that this was just how things were going to be forever.  I had to mourn all of the things that I had always hoped for my child, marriage, college, a career.  She may still have those things, but, maybe not.  This might be as good as it ever gets for her.  My daughter getting out of bed may be as good as it gets.
~Unknown

Leave a Reply