Pediatric mental health disorders SUCK.
They steal the joy of normalcy from raising my little family. They lurk around the most mundane places and hide where we least expect them, ready to ruin the simplest moments.
I am a fighter. I plaster on a smile, seek happiness in unusual places, and use humor to cope. Even still, there are times when my grief is all encompassing and impossible to explain. Sometimes I disappear because I’m holding up my family and the weight bearing down on my shoulders is too complex and heavy to unload in a quick text or Facebook post. Moms like me tend to lean back into the shadows when things are falling apart.
Sometimes I wish I could tell you what it really looks like beneath my armor.
If only I could place my hand on your arm and show you everything swirling around in my head for a moment. You would close your eyes and really see.
And then you would hug me, and I would so gladly let you.
I wish I could tell you that I often cry at night when I’m alone making lunches in the kitchen. Because it finally got still and quiet, and I don’t know if he’s going to be okay. I am the strongest warrior, but folding up his napkin and tucking it beside the little bag of Goldfish does me in every single time.
I wish I could explain that the old me changed when I realized I might not be able to fix him. When I could no longer deny the possibility that my baby might not be able to live a regular adult life on his own. There is a piece of a mother that dies when she has to accept this. The roots of my grief bloom from this dark place.
I used to think that grief was reserved for the death of a loved one. I was wrong. It is the heavy coat that I can’t take off. Sometimes I’m able to push up the sleeves and ignore it, but there are times when it becomes too heavy to walk.
On the bad days when I wonder if he’ll be able to take care of himself, breathing in and out and keeping the fear out of my eyes is the extent of what I can accomplish. The unanswered calls/emails/texts and missed lunches/appointments/parties pile up in the corner and taunt me. I tell myself they aren’t proof that I’m failing.
I wish I could explain that when he is out of my sight, every ring of my phone hits me with a wall of heart-thumping nausea that brings me to my knees. Sometimes I wish you could stand in my shoes when he comes to me, brimming with desperation to have a friend over, and I’m running out of excuses. I wish I could tell you what it feels like when he finally stops asking.
I wish I could tell you how I worry about him socially. How utterly debilitating it is to wonder what the other kids think of his panic and emotions. How I wonder what parents say about us when I’m not around. I know better than that and chastise myself for it. I’m acutely aware of how needy I am with my questions and ringing hands.
It is heartbreaking to know that your child is the one people are discussing out of earshot.
You probably don’t know how often I worry about suicide. How carefully I listen to every word he says in an effort to spot the darkness. How the statistics rattle me. How even when the tide turns and his smile is sunshine, I’m watching him. Wary. Looking, so I don’t ever miss a sign.
I wish I could tell you more about this grief of mine that ebbs and flows. That I am not okay at all.
Also that I’m totally okay.
During turbulent times, I frequently sit in the chair beside his bed as he sleeps and marvel at how brave he is. I like to watch his eyelashes laying in soft fans against his cheeks while I pray for him.
Then I wander into the littlest one’s room to do the same. I stroke the fluff of his hair from his face and pray for God to protect him. He’s growing up watching his hero suffer with something that he can’t see or understand. He doesn’t get to experience life in the ways he deserves. I can’t think too long on what all of this might be doing to him inside.
I wish I could explain that this is why I don’t see my text messages in a timely manner and why I’m so hit-or-miss these days. I wish I could share that nothing is more humbling than standing in a crowd and watching for the little thing that will trigger the panic — while trying to act normal and remember to smile and talk. I wish I could tell you that I’m still here.
I wish it were possible for you to understand the toll it takes on a mama when she’s on high alert around the clock. When everything from running into the grocery store to stumbling over an untied shoelace can trigger the panic monster, your relationship with the rest of the world begins to change. As days turn into years, it gets harder to turn the unnatural vigilance on and off at will. Sometimes when I’m out with friends, it feels like my clothes are on backwards and everything around me is upside down. I wonder if I look as weird as I feel.
I wish you knew that I don’t want anyone to pity us. I wish you understood that I don’t want you to see my son’s precious face, all dimples and big brown eyes, and think of the worst moments of his illness. Because he’s everything beautiful and wondrous. Just as God made him.
So I don’t talk about it much.
I would never wish for any parent to understand pediatric mental illness in the way that I do. EVER.
I will always wish that we could all be kinder to each other. You never know what’s going on under the armor.