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A CREEPING CANCER
I belong to a community of parents who are becoming increasingly aware that, yes, there is a mental health crisis in this country and, no, it does not begin at age 18. I've personally been afflicted with Bipolar I disorder for as long as I can remember and the anxiety and depression on both sides of my family tree tell a story of colossal internal battles and bloody wars, sometimes lost in the end.
Mine has been a creeping cancer, ever-present, lurking beneath the surface, only rearing her monstrous head full-rampage once I had my first child. The Post-Partum Depression I experienced was enough to make my tough-as-nails husband approach me in tears, begging me to seek help. I had two more children, and each subsequent depression was different than the others, but what remained the same was the rate at which my Bipolar exploded in the wake of the hormonal rollercoaster that was and is motherhood. I could only hope to the heavens that my struggles, my mother's, those of my sisters, my brother, and my father wouldn't plague my children as they have done me.
Depression is a shadow. Ceaselessly and seamlessly attached to some part of you, following you, unshakeable, unbreakable. Reach out and touch it: it's there, and simultaneously not there. It's both a part of you, moving with you, stretching and contorting as it may be in the flickering light, and also of you, separate from you, outside, other, not the same.
I've seen my children wallow in such depths of despair at such ages that despair shouldn't lay claim to their precious faces. It's not always apparent that the cause for the depths of emotion is parallel to the level to which they feel it, but the burden they bear is the same cross I carry. How can I, unable as I am to sometimes navigate the horrors of my own internal landscape, expect these children to possibly tread the waters they're sinking in? How can anyone expect young kids to possibly have the coping skills to negate diseases which alter their mind's very ability to distinguish between real and imagined, to weigh their reactions, to even feel emotions at a reasonable and dare I say "normal" frequency?
I've spoken to parents who have had no choice but to put their children, as young as six years old, into inpatient facilities so that they can safely stabilize them. Can you imagine? And, I can hear some of you screaming, "THAT'S NOT RIGHT!" but to be bluntly clear, these are kids who are dangers to themselves and or dangers to others, and whose parents are so fraught and so powerless that they feel their only option to help their child is to leave them with strangers. That is not ever, I repeat, EVER something to be taken lightly. Quite frankly, it takes one hell of a parent to put your own feelings aside and to do something like that for your child.
The good news is that because there is a community of us, and we're speaking to one another, talking it out, sharing experiences, our children are going to stand a fighting chance. By the time they reach adolescence, there is a shot that they will have some piece of this under control enough that their hormones and teenage angst might, just maybe, not send them spiraling into an abyss from which they can't return. Enter drug use, alcohol abuse, runaways, sex trades, and yes, school shootings.
It has been so taboo for a parent to think that a child might have a mental illness that those children suffer and are punished, treated as "bad" kids--and told so much that they're "broken," "bad," and a "burden," that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for them. Parents wring their hands, hide in shame, feel that it's all their fault. But the truth of the matter is that there is something in our genetic makeup which makes us more inclined to possess that chemical imbalance that is killing so many of us every day. Folks, kids are losing this war! Younger and younger, they're taking their own lives and it is up to us to help them.
First, ask for help! I waited so long to seek assistance because I have such private children, and because of it, not only did my kids suffer through knock-down, drag-out fights for years surrounding simple tasks like finding their shoes in the morning to go to school, but also I struggled so quietly and carried the burden of both mine and my family's mental health. When I finally reached out, I was met with school staff who absolutely don't know what they're doing, persecuted us for persistent absences, and simply did not have any empathy for what we were going to. Again, stigma.
However, I did find out that in my state of Idaho, they recently started a program called the YES Program (Youth Empowerment Services) which would help to identify whether a child has a Severe Emotional Disturbance and if so, enroll them in Medicaid and hold a family's hand through the entire process of getting evaluations and therapy. What's even better is that the income level is so much higher for these kiddos who are diagnosed with an SED, that it allows for so much more of the population to take advantage of their services. Their mission is that every single child in Idaho should have access to mental health care should they need it.
The next thing you need to do if you're in this growing community of parents who've realized their child isn't simply "bad," but is struggling on an entirely different plane, is to reach out to your communities, be it on Facebook, in your local community, or even simply taking care of your own mental well-being by actively engaging in one-on-one and family counseling. I can't stress enough how much the support groups on Facebook full of complete and total strangers have helped me to become confident in my parenting again.
It's not an easy road...and this badge we wear isn't one we're proud of or happy to put on. But knowing is half the battle, and if more parents understand that mental wellness doesn't start being important at age 18, 21, 33, but at TWO and at THREE, we can become better equipped to deal with our babies that are hurting and needing someone to help them to heal, because essentially the human experience is so raw and so tender and so emotional. Some of us simply feel things so much more deeply, so much more powerfully, than others. And for us, there is help.
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