When a child has a mental illness it is often very difficult for parents to accept. Struggling to find the right ways to help a child means a myriad of therapy appointments, doctor visits and sometimes hospitalizations. All of this can be even more difficult for single parents/caregivers and households where both parents work. Having more children in the mix can be the most difficult thing of all, as the effects on the other children are imminent and most times, very detrimental.
I can remember back when all of the aggression/meltdowns/restraining behavior started. It was early 2008 and my son had just turned ten. There were countless episodes of screaming, crying, throwing things, wrecking his room and becoming aggressive without provocation. Most prominently in my memory is the memory of my daughter, just seven, rounding up her littlest brothers, just three and one and a half, to hide under our big kitchen table and be safe. The thought of it now still brings tears to my eyes. There is just so much burden. Things that little children should not experience or know about or have to deal with at such a young age.
I have watched my bubbly, sweet daughter, always full of wonder and excitement, collapse in on herself in fear, grief and depression. There were many times she slept with her door locked because she didn’t know if her brother might come in and harm her. She watched as the brother who used to love her and play with her became dark, brooding and mean. It is an experience that I wish I could have spared her. She has far too much responsibility much, much too early.
My youngest sons have never really gotten to know their brother as he existed when he was younger; kind, always wanting to play with others and excitable. For them, they have experienced the moody, harsh and angry brother who was always more ready to cause them harm because he was annoyed with them than anything else. Not surprisingly, it has not made for a good relationship for any of them.
Yet, the transformation my oldest has gone through is not his fault. He certainly didn’t “choose” to have a severe mental illness, and more often than not in these long years he has told me how he’d like to be “free”. For many of the years between age ten and thirteen, his desire was to end his life. It came up nearly every day and back then I was told by one respected therapist that it was “for attention.” I’m here to tell you today that the therapist was WRONG, on all counts. I’m glad that I trusted my gut and kept working toward getting better and better help for my son. It wasn’t easy at all and took far too long, but if I hadn’t kept believing we could find help, my son might have tried to kill himself much earlier.
When my second son began having similar difficulty at age six and a half, the cycle began again and the difficulties became even more overwhelming for everyone. This round put my daughter in therapy and we spend some time in family therapy as well. There is always work to be done, and a lack of resources available. Mental health support in America is slim to nil.
Days for me are still spent as mediator and referee, anticipating difficulties and intervening before any harm comes to anyone. It is a very tiring, difficult pursuit. Being hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware sixteen to seventeen hours a day is nothing short of exhausting and stressful. Unfortunately, it is necessary. When I feel like complaining about it, I try to remember that the casualties are children I adore, and I don’t want to see them go through any more than they already have, so I will continue to do what I need to do, for them.
When I read this article on siblings and aggression done by the Maple Clinic in Birmingham, I thought, “Finally!” While I’m glad they are shining some light on the issue, it certainly isn’t telling those of us in the mix anything we don’t already know, but hopefully, we can get the professionals and the government to wake up to the needs of the families affected by mental illness in America.