Until the moment I stepped into the Psychiatric Emergency Department at our local hospital, I had no idea the speed of my son’s breakdown. I was totally and completely floored. It wasn’t as though I didn’t know he was depressed; he’d been in counseling for years. I knew he disliked school and I had made several attempts to help find him alternatives. I knew he was using drugs and had tried drug counseling, therapy and testing. I created consequences and handed out rewards to motivate him to stay clean and sober. I knew when he was lying to me. I saw the decline, the isolation and the mood changes but, honestly, I thought it was normal teenage stress and that he would move through it as I had when I had played the role of dark, tormented teenager some years before.
As a parent, I was engaged. I listened. I met with his school counselor and his therapist. When he said he wanted to feel useful, I found him volunteer opportunities. When music was the antidote, I bought him a bass guitar and lessons. I did all I could think of to support him and counteract the speed of his decline. I hoped that if I could just get him through high school, he would see that there was a huge world out there full of so much promise and possibility. And yet, in the end, I never saw his breakdown coming.
The road to my son’s recovery was long and winding, with many twists and turns. The first steps were to stabilize the situation and later to feel all of the sadness, fear and pain associated with what he – and in turn what I – experienced. I still experience some post-traumatic symptoms as a result. I am still healing from this experience. The good news is that I am healing each and every day. I have come to a place within that trusts that my son needs to do this journey his way – a way that I cannot direct nor influence. I can be there with a big, open heart, an open mind, and the daily belief that we are moving through this together.
What started out solely as an intention to support my son through his mental health crisis has become a journey that opened the doors for self-exploration, forgiveness and healing for me.
My journey towards a more authentic self had started years ago, long before this crisis. It started at the point where I realized my own life had spiraled out of control. I was a single parent, working to support my children’s needs and wants, trying to regain “control” of my life after a bitter divorce laden with enough negative muck to last lifetimes. I’d lay in bed at the end of the day, exhausted and depressed, wondering how things had gone so far off the rails. I remember the exact moment when I called out to the Universe, my soul, and any higher power that might be listening, asking what I needed to do to find peace in my life and to bring peace to my children’s lives as well. That night, I heard an answer loud and clear: I needed to learn to love myself. Unfortunately, it would take my child’s mental health breakdown before I was ready to listen.
As a result of this crisis, I realized and recognized that I carried so much of my own pain with me as well. This pain was not a result of my son’s crisis but the recognition of it, the calling it by name, was a result of it. It offered me the opportunity to pull back the layers of blame and shame, to look stigma and misconceptions directly in the eyes and learn to love myself in a way that I never thought possible. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Trust. A long, painful road, and one that required me to look at my “stuff” from a whole new level, yet also one that gave me an opportunity to seal the cracks in my own heart so that I could love myself, my children and others with a ferocious love. I just had to be willing to take the journey.