Mental illness isn’t something we post about on social media because it carries a dark and heavy stereotype that tends to makes us uncomfortable. How many selfies are posted with little Johnny holding up his brand new bottle of antipsychotic drugs? How many bumper stickers have you seen on the back of the family minivan that say My child sells Adderral to your honor student? And have you noticed Facebook check-ins at the Psychiatric Unit of the hospital are few and far between? We don’t usually broadcast mental health issues because it’s not brag worthy.
Mental illness seems to be reaching epic proportions, so shouldn’t we educate ourselves rather than avoid it? What does mental illness mean to you? Would it make a difference if it were your child? I’m going to explain the effect it had on me as a mom, to help anyone out there suffering their own internal nightmare caused by mental illness.
If you’ve ever seen ET, The Green Mile or Titanic, you know the feeling of dread that grows as the beloved character is about to face their untimely demise. Your chest tightens, your eyes sting, but you fight the urge to cry because you have to STAY STRONG. It’s the same pit-in-the-gut helpless feeling I’ve endured for twenty-nine grueling days, except it’s my child and not some fictional character. It’s emotionally exhausting. A part of me wants to chug a bottle of Grey Goose and throw the biggest pity party in history. Why am I an emotionally charged trainwreck? Because my only child- that better part of myself- the extension of my being- is suffering. And there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.
Twenty nine days ago she Face-timed me. Her solemn demeanor proved resistant to a recent move back to her “other family” in North Carolina. I figured it was normal teenage apprehension. I assured her life would be okay, we blew air kisses and said goodnight. Minutes later life as I knew it changed. I received the dreaded phone call from her dad telling me something had gone terribly wrong.
*Rewind* My daughter suffered a breakup with her first love right before leaving Maine. She made some unwise choices and a chain of unfortunate events grew into a great big pile of fuckup. Yes, she fucked up. She experimented with marijuana (provided by her older boyfriend; the same one who dumped her after two years) and lashed out at him inappropriately through social media. She was drowning in a pool of mistakes and regrets. And in a flash, our daughter was gone.
Her body was there but stress caused an alien force and something snapped. She became paranoid and delusional and seemed to suffer from a bad trip on LSD, minus the LSD. Could the ingestion of marijuana from over a week before cause such a harsh response? Was it laced with something synthetic? We didn’t know but secretly hoped so because the alternative was grim. Sadly, the best scenario was a drug induced case of mania that would cure itself.
Twenty nine long (and I mean loooong) days later, a toxicology screening, MRI, CT scan, lumbar puncture, and still no sign of anything medically wrong or drug related. *UGH* After weeks of poking and prodding we discovered she had a rare form of catatonia. “Cat-a-what!?”
Confusion intertwined with rage and I wanted to lash out and blame her dad’s abrupt move to NC. The announcement of the move was the catalyst that began the downward slope to her decline. HOWEVER, her dad and stepmother endured her internal nightmare first hand and I’m grateful they kept her safe (well, as safe as they could under the circumstances). Plus he’s the only person who understands the pain and helplessness that only a parent could feel. There is no blame. We’re in this disasteer together.
Mental illness is a hard concept to swallow and I refuse to view my child as crazy or sick. There’s no label or explanation for the events that took place. I’ve avoided sharing it because people give that thank God it’s you and not me look of pity. Some offer unsolicited advice, trying to be helpful as they spew their limited awareness of mental illness. Others have a Doctorate from IKnowItAll University and offer a self proclaimed diagnosis. As her mom I can see she’s struggling with society’s man-made reality and living her own. The problem is her reality doesn’t play well others.
During weeks of hospitalization the doctors continued to shove a cocktail of medications down her throat trying to revive her. She had limited contact with others and five minutes a night to speak to family. She had to ask permission to leave her room. And the sad truth is, I was FUCKING POWERLESS. I had no control over her thoughts or behavior, and if left alone she could harm herself. It was either follow hospital orders or risk a potentially dangerous outcome. My baby was in the hands of strangers and I prayed they knew what they were doing. I prayed, I cursed God, and I tried my best to cling to a faith I once had.
She was irate, wanted to go home, and ranted about everyone out to get her. She felt lost and alone. I urged her to look within because I knew she was the only one with answers. I encouraged her to take the prescribed medication, although I had mixed emotions about it. I was leery to trust the doctors or their fly by night drugs. The first hospital seriously messed her up by administering a medication that increased the psychosis. The poor kid’s heartrate and blood pressure was so high they had to rush her to the ER. It was a nightmare.
If only I could post her gorgeous smile on social media, brag about her milestones, laugh at her goofy expressions on Snapchat. I long to hear her complain about homework and tell me about the latest gossip. I’m desperate for her to return to my world.
I want to remove labels that differentiate her from others and make people understand that mental illness is just another word for a unique thought process society deems abnormal. Most of us attempt to fit into a picture perfect mold; one that idolizes beauty and measures success by fortune and fame. We consider external factors like physique, luxury vehicles and grandiose houses brag worthy and successful. We judge those who don’t fit into a pretty package. I’m just as guilty of using social media to boast to the world about my beautiful and talented daughter.
But today is different. Today I’m using social media to remind the world that although I celebrate the successes of you, your honor students, your trips around the world, your star athletes, family cookouts, school graduations, weddings…
TODAY I’d like to point out that life can change in an instant. Mine did. Social media was no longer my friend. Today I ask the world to embrace the differences we try so desperately to hide and open our minds to that which is not picture perfect. The truth is, nobody’s lives are exclusively as they post on social media and every one of us has dealt with mental illness in one form or another. Personally, I think we’re all mentally ill; some just hide it better than others.