I love a good list.
Whenever I come across an article that has a list of ideas or suggestions or tips, I always take a moment to read it. I always learn something from a good list. So that’s why it made sense to make a list of things that I think everyone should know. If you are related to or friends with someone who has an adult child struggling with a serious mental illness, this list is for you. And while you may already know some or all of the things on it – and good for you if you do – this list is still worth reading. It has been my experience that many people are, or act like they are, unaware of the following seven things.
- I love my child as much as you love yours. Not more. Not less. Living with an adult child with a serious mental illness is challenging and hard. My son acts a lot younger than he really is and his behaviors wear me out. But I love him. He is my son.
- Pain is pain. It doesn’t matter what you are going through. Life is hard and we all struggle. Who’s to say which is worse: a 24-year-old diagnosed with aggressive non-Hodgkin Lymphoma or a 29-year-old with a severe anxiety disorder?
- Happy is not always better than sad. When people who are close to me ask how my son is and I say that he is better, they immediately think he is, well…all better. With bipolar, anxiety, and depression, the lows are brutal. It’s excruciating to see someone not change their clothes for 10 days in a row. But the highs are hard to be around, too. As much as it hurts to see my son flat on his back, unable to get out of bed and more sad than any person should ever be, it hurts to see him talking obsessively and loudly.
- It’s not that I don’t want to make plans, it’s just that sometimes I can’t. Like most people, I enjoy going out with friends or having people over to the house. But working full-time and then spending every waking second I have left being the only person in my son’s life he can talk to is exhausting. So, it’s not you. It’s me.
- Mental illness happens. Just like a young adult would not choose to get cancer or multiple sclerosis, my son does not choose to have a serious mental illness. It’s time we recognize that all illnesses – whether they are from the neck up or from the neck down – are real. It’s time we stopped stigmatizing people with mental illness.
- My life is unpredictable. Doctors, therapists, medications, and hospitalizations take up a lot of my time and energy. I live an unfocused life. Not a hour or two goes by without my thoughts wandering off. I never know when or how or what I will hear from my son. Or what to expect when I get home from work.
- I need you. I need you to understand that I don’t expect you to fix this. I need you to stand by me. I need you to love me and my adult child for who we are. I need you to know that I am a good mother. And sometimes all I need is for you to be there.
So, counting the fact that I love a good list, I guess that makes eight things you should know about me.
Wait. I have one more.
Finding support and making the decision to support others makes all the difference in the world. The minute I found my people – the ones who are walking the same path I am – I felt safe and understood and free to share. And while that’s not a cure, it sure is the key. Helping others who feel the same way I do has done more for me than I can describe.
I love these words of Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church in California. After the suicide of her son in 2013, she and her husband returned to church with messages of love, forgiveness, honesty, and hope.
“Facing the darkness together is about making a decision. To express compassion is a deliberate choice. We are most like Christ when we choose to offer the gift of our presence and choose to absorb within ourselves the suffering of others. And this is true fellowship.”
And folks…this is how we get there.