Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Panel

I was invited to sit on a panel during a training session for social workers, probation officers, therapists and some other people to discuss the services we had received while Michaela was going through her depression and self-harm. There were 4 other moms on the panel. One had brought her daughter, Michaela's age, who had also outgrown her need for the programs. Another mom had brought her 3 children who were currently still receiving many services - to the tune of 6-8 appointments per week. Their ages were 18, 16 and 14 and I admire their bravery and willingness to come and share things in their life that were so personal, painful and raw. 

The professionals wanted to hear our stories and wanted our feedback on the good things we had to say and ideas on what needs to change. They also wanted to hear our thoughts on ways they could change in their approach to clients. I was very impressed with the professionals and how open they were to everything we had to say.

What I was more impressed with, though, were those of us who had a story to tell, those of us who were sharing such private and painful struggles with total strangers. And the way we all bonded together and supported each other on that panel. It was truly amazing.

Here we are - Mothers - with children that have or had mental health issues. We each shared the frustration and complete madness of trying and trying to get help for our children for years before anyone would listen to us. By the time we were finally believed and heard, the damage to our children was deep and not easily healed.

We all shared the pain and heartbreak of helplessly watching our children suffer and disappear into that black hole a little more each day having no idea how to save them from their illness or themselves.

We had all walked the lonely road of shame and guilt while uneducated and judgmental people had pointed fingers, labeled us bad moms, and judged our children and us without trying to understand what mental illness looked like or meant. 

I did not expect it to be such an emotional day. I thought the pain was behind me because Michaela is happy, independent, off any and all medications and  setting goals and achieving them just as quickly. But when the 18 year old girl who was still using services and currently in rehab began to tell her story, I lost it when she described herself as a self-mutilator. The painful memories of my daughter's raw cuts all over her body came flooding back at me. My heart went out to this girl who rocked back and forth as she talked in an effort to self-soothe. I wanted to scoop her up into my arms and rock her. I looked more closely at this girl as she talked so openly about her struggles, laying her heart right out in the open for everyone to see. She reminded me of my Angel Girl so long ago: hair dyed black, black fingernails, black jeans, black tennies, black tank top covered by a black hooded sweatshirt. She, too, had made several suicide attempts. The last time she had almost succeeded and expressed her joy that she had been found before it was too late.

My mind flashed back to that night when I was sleeping and suddenly woke up, feeling something was wrong. In my mind I heard Michaela yelling for me which was strange because I wasn't hearing it with my ears. The house was silent. I ran upstairs and burst into her room to find her there - bright red blood pouring down her legs and pooling onto her carpet. I had never seen so much blood in my life. And to see it coming from your child is a sickening feeling. I screamed her name and grabbed the first thing I could find to press onto the gaping, long cuts. I felt helpless, sick and so sad. I haven't felt that kind of complete and empty sadness before. I had no words. I wrapped her in my arms and rocked her while she sobbed and begged for help and apologized. I could do nothing but rock her and kiss her head.

I sat there on the panel that day and felt so blessed and so thankful. My daughter was still alive. I could still hug her and tell her I love her and continue to watch her live her life. I felt such pride at how far she had come and how hard she had worked. I thanked God over and over while I sat there and then laughed at the devil because his attempts to destroy her had failed. I had handed her over to God one night while I sobbed on my bedroom floor in desperation and asked him for an answer. I heard Him tell me to hand her over to Him and to trust Him. It was the best decision I ever made because He remained true to His word.

I hope that those professionals can somehow change the way things are done when it comes to getting help for children with mental health issues. Not one of us on that panel had gotten the help we needed for our children without jumping through hoop after hoop, while spinning on our heads, juggling three cows and singing the national anthem backwards. Yes. It is that difficult. For anyone experiencing mental health issues, it shouldn't be such a chore to get help. But especially for children and teens who are in their formative years.

One of the women on the panel has a 5 year old who is having the problems. 5 years old. Imagine that poor child and what she goes through on a daily basis.  The mom expressed her hurt and shame over how often she was judged and told she's a bad mom and that it's her fault that her daughter has problems. How often I've heard those lines! Uneducated and judgmental people - that's all they are. We aren't failures as moms because of the problems our children have. In fact, according to the professionals and each mom on that panel - we are Heroes. Yes, Heroes. Because we fought and continue to fight and are advocates for our children in order for them to regain their health. This women has two other children - one of them is the 5 year old's twin. So if she's such a horrible parent and it's her fault - why don't her other children have these issues? My son has had no issues, either. Can any of you uneducated doofs give an answer for that? It's no different than your child getting cancer. You can't control when and if you get cancer just as you can't control when and if you (or your child) will suffer from a mental illness.

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