Isolation, such a powerful word when discussing parenting and even more significant to a parent struggling to navigate the mental health system for their child. Somewhere along my journey, I was taught to believe it was my sole job to guide my children and help them solve problems life would throw at them. But what happens when you don’t have the answers and don’t know where to turn?
I was 26 years old, fleeing domestic violence, receiving little to no community support, living just above the poverty line with no formal education, when I learned my oldest son had developed PTSD and my youngest son had been diagnosed with “severe” ADHD. The weight of isolation became a crushing reality that settled onto my shoulders. The feeling of powerlessness to help your child when they are hurting is something no parent should ever have to feel. I could go on for days about the ways the systems designed to help us had failed… school administrators who told my youngest not to pursue academics because “he would never amount to much anyway”, the PE teacher who looked the other way when my oldest was bullied for being scared of physical contact in sports, the doctor who told me abortion might have been a better option, the many professionals who advised me “just to be more forceful in my parenting approach” and finally the hardest reality to accept was not one person asked how I was holding up. Quite frankly I was drowning, and not one person offered a hand up until my oldest was 18 years old.
I feel I need to explain that I wasn’t raised to ask for help, so it will never come easy for me. When I couldn’t figure out how to help my kids, I went back to school to earn a degree in Child and Youth Care, so I could learn what I needed. I turned my deep frustration and anger into my drive to help others who were also struggling. I was like the proverbial freight train that just kept on moving, in fear that if I stopped, everything would pile up on me. Until one day it did.
During the early morning hours in December 2015, my oldest son woke me up to say he needed help. When I inquired if he was sick, he replied that he was going to take his life that day…I could hear the brakes of the freight train in full lock up. My baby, the most sensitive and gentle boy, told me the pain in his head was more than he could handle. I remember calling a service provider at CYMH, whom I trusted, and emotionally breaking down. I was not only crying for this moment, but for the years and years of hurt. Like a deck of cards, images of the past 18 years flashed through my mind and in that moment I felt like such a failure as a parent. In the midst of my tears, he said the most amazing thing to me. He said, “What do you need?” When I said my truth, “I don’t know anymore” he replied with “Can I take this from you?” And just like that I wasn’t alone in it. He didn’t need a fancy title or specialized training to be human, to see and hear the suffering of a mom trying to keep her son alive. He didn’t bombard me with technical words or why’s, he just offered to come along side me. Within moments, he had contacted the START team and we were on our way to the hospital. My son was seen by the most amazing clinicians and continued his counseling for the next few months. An appointment was also set up for him to see a Psychiatrist where he was diagnosed with moderate-severe clinical depression. I won’t say it’s been an easy journey because it hasn’t. There have been many sleepless nights, but I do know that I am part of a team. I am not isolated from support and there are people who care about my son. When these amazing service providers helped ease the burden off my shoulders, I could just focus on being my son’s mom. I will be forever grateful.