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Thinking the Unthinkable: One mother's POV on her child with a mental illness.

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Thinking the Unthinkable

Michael holding a butterfly
In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

"I can wear these pants," he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

"They are navy blue," I told him. "Your school's dress code says black or khaki pants only."

"They told me I could wear these," he insisted. "You're a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!"

"You can't wear whatever pants you want to," I said, my tone affable, reasonable. "And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You're grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school."

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan-they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn't have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don't know what's wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He's been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he's in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He's in a good mood most of the time. But when he's not, watch out. And it's impossible to predict what will set him off.  

Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district's most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can't function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.

The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, "Look, Mom, I'm really sorry. Can I have video games back today?"

"No way," I told him. "You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly."

His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. "Then I'm going to kill myself," he said. "I'm going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself."

That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.

"Where are you taking me?" he said, suddenly worried. "Where are we going?"

"You know where we are going," I replied.

"No! You can't do that to me! You're sending me to hell! You're sending me straight to hell!"

I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. "Call the police," I said. "Hurry."

Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn't escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I'm still stronger than he is, but I won't be for much longer.

The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork-"Were there any difficulties with....at what age did your child....were there any problems with...has your child ever experienced...does your child have...."  

At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You'll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

For days, my son insisted that I was lying-that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, "I hate you. And I'm going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here."

By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I've heard those promises for years. I don't believe them anymore.

On the intake form, under the question, "What are your expectations for treatment?" I wrote, "I need help."

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am Jason Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys-and their mothers-need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

When I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. "If he's back in the system, they'll create a paper trail," he said. "That's the only way you're ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you've got charges."

I don't believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael's sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn't deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise-in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/05/us-number-mentally-ill-prisons-quadrupled)

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill-Rikers Island, the LA County Jail, and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation's largest treatment centers in 2011 (http://www.npr.org/2011/09/04/140167676/nations-jails-struggle-with-mentally-ill-prisoners)

 No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, "Something must be done."

I agree that something must be done. It's time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That's the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.

 http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/2012/12/thinking-unthinkable.html


~"Dream the dreams of others and you will be no one's rival." ~


 




 

by on Dec. 16, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Replies (21-30):
TCgirlatheart
by TC on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:31 PM
1 mom liked this

I admit I was shocked and appalled that he has to be charged with a crime to get serious help.  

Quoting randi1978:

I think our system is so pathetic.  And it doesn't matter how good your insurance is or how violent your child is, nothing will be done unless they commit a crime.  And then people come out of the woodwork to help.  Why should it wait to that point?  Why is it that parents and other professionals are so helpless when it comes to getting their kids the help they need to avoid reaching that point? 

Part of the issue I've seen is that there isn't enough residential treatment facilities for children.  The only facility willing to take them will only take them for mere days (usually adult facilities) and then send you on your merry way with a RX for head meds and cross their fingers the kid won't snap again.  The only facilities available for children are juvenile detention centers most times and once again, it means the child has to commit a crime before they can get the help they need. 

This system is flawed.  For both adults and for children.  I've seen it with my aunt now for over 20 yrs.  I tend to think that it's easier for adults to get proper help versus children because of some misconception that a mentally ill child isn't as dangerous as a mentally ill adult.  This is just my own observation tho.


~"Dream the dreams of others and you will be no one's rival." ~


 




 

TCgirlatheart
by TC on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:33 PM

Haters gonna hate.  

I figured there was a possibility of trolls for this.  If they post, I plan on not feeding them.  :)

Quoting divinedimension:

This was posted elsewhere on CM and some troll came on here and told us that we should just basically round up all the "crazies" with mental illness or autism and "kill them all" or institutionalize all of them. I think the post went poof. :(  


~"Dream the dreams of others and you will be no one's rival." ~


 




 

romalove
by Roma on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:33 PM
2 moms liked this

Reading this was painful.  It is very hard to get help.  We have to change that.

TCgirlatheart
by TC on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:36 PM

Thank you for sharing this.  Where did you get your information from?

Quoting lancet98:

Re the original post - she is describing what sounds quite a lot like childhood schizophrenia.   The outbursts, the hysterical reaction to some miniscule frustration, the anger.

The anger is not a CHOICE.   It is a symptom and comes about from specific parts of the brain being constantly hammered by the illness itself.  People usually don't believe this til they see all the 'anger' evaporate 24 hours after starting the right medication.

As I noted elsewhere, health care providers often have a peculiar blind spot where childhood psychotic disorders are concerned, and give such kids a string of poorly fitting and ever changing diagnoses rather than grasp the obvious.

i hope she gets her son to a decent  child psychiatrist, gets him into a residential program when he needs it, and learns more effective ways to deal with what is essentially and fundamentally, a child with a serious brain disease.

There is no reason her son HAS to wind up an enraged criminal.  

But if things keep going the way they are going, she is likely to lose control of him at 18.  If she loses control of him at 18, he is very likely to refuse treatment, and the basic way THAT works, is an irrational, psychotic person refuses medication due to the very suspicion and disorganized thoughts the disease causes, and until he commits a violent crime no one is going to do anything about him.   When he DOES commit a violent crime everyone will declare he is 'evil' and 'bad' and 'deserves to die', and he STILL won't be required to take medication, and will CONTINUE to deteriorate, in jail or a ward for the criminal mentally ill.

 If he gets diagnosed properly NOW, she can get health care guardianship of him and have some sort of control over whether he stays on medication or not.  She is also very, VERY likely to learn far better ways to deal with his behavior and even to help him learn to manage his illness.

Make no mistake - some people just are very sick, a very small number don't get better (or enough better) on meds and need a lot of supervision but MOST will, even if the teen years are very rocky, eventually be able to live independently and safely - IF they get the right diagnosis and medicine SOON.


~"Dream the dreams of others and you will be no one's rival." ~


 




 

LynBoz
by on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:37 PM
1 mom liked this
How sad and scary. We need to overhaul mental health and make it more accessible to those who need it.
Posted on the NEW CafeMom Mobile
TCgirlatheart
by TC on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:41 PM

I think she's doing the best she can, with what information and tools she currently has.  She admitted herself that she needs help.  I really think she was empathizing with the families of those perpetrators.

A social worker told her that they can't seriously help her unless, or until, he's charged with a crime.  I really hope someone sees this and points her in other directions for help.  

Quoting Thomigirl:

You know...this is making the rounds and it pissed me off. While we obviously know only a portion of this woman's story we can only speculate. (Sorry for the language)...why the FUCK does this kid have access to sharp knives and video games if his behavior is this severe? How the hell did he get to this point. He threatened to kill himself before and she did what? Threaten him with hospitalization instead of dealing with it right then and there. Her son was calling out for help yet she continued to freelance write instead of focusing on her child. I know my response is slightly rambling and irrational but I'm getting sick to death of these parents coming out with excuses. Did she really compare herself to parents of murders? Way to start with preemptive excuses for psychotic behavior. Her response to him calling her a stupid bitch was disgusting.  Sounds like this is a regular occurrence that when it started went unchecked. (Deeep breaths)


~"Dream the dreams of others and you will be no one's rival." ~


 




 

TCgirlatheart
by TC on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:44 PM

I know, it was heartbreaking.  I can't imagine how painful it is to be a parent in that situation.

Quoting romalove:

Reading this was painful.  It is very hard to get help.  We have to change that.


~"Dream the dreams of others and you will be no one's rival." ~


 




 

rfurlongg
by on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:44 PM
As the author pts out she did get a job with ins to help her son. With this types of illness the danger aspects generally escalate with age. She also mentions how difficult it is to obtain proper help for this severally mentally ill children. How would you have handled the situation differently if Michael had been your child?

Quoting Thomigirl:

You know...this is making the rounds and it pissed me off. While we obviously know only a portion of this woman's story we can only speculate. (Sorry for the language)...why the FUCK does this kid have access to sharp knives and video games if his behavior is this severe? How the hell did he get to this point. He threatened to kill himself before and she did what? Threaten him with hospitalization instead of dealing with it right then and there. Her son was calling out for help yet she continued to freelance write instead of focusing on her child. I know my response is slightly rambling and irrational but I'm getting sick to death of these parents coming out with excuses. Did she really compare herself to parents of murders? Way to start with preemptive excuses for psychotic behavior. Her response to him calling her a stupid bitch was disgusting.  Sounds like this is a regular occurrence that when it started went unchecked. (Deeep breaths)

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
rfurlongg
by on Dec. 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM
I agree.

Quoting TCgirlatheart:

I know, it was heartbreaking.  I can't imagine how painful it is to be a parent in that situation.

Quoting romalove:

Reading this was painful.  It is very hard to get help.  We have to change that.


Posted on CafeMom Mobile
Thomigirl
by Gold Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:04 PM

While I seriously doubt the validity of this blogger's story...I'll answer. 'Michael' should not have had access to 'electronics', sharp objects, etc. The severity of what she is describing aside, she makes no mention of any medication that he has AT HOME. I'm sorry to say but the elephant in the room is that there is a cultural issue when it comes to these issues. There is NO WAY on God's green earth that I would have been able to talk to my mother that way - first of all. Secondly, while I am in NO WAY discounting the need to for a global conversation on mental illness, had this boy been a minority, he would have been jailed the first time he grabbed a weapon. Harsh? Racist? Maybe? True? Dig deeper.

Quoting rfurlongg:

As the author pts out she did get a job with ins to help her son. With this types of illness the danger aspects generally escalate with age. She also mentions how difficult it is to obtain proper help for this severally mentally ill children. How would you have handled the situation differently if Michael had been your child?

Quoting Thomigirl:

You know...this is making the rounds and it pissed me off. While we obviously know only a portion of this woman's story we can only speculate. (Sorry for the language)...why the FUCK does this kid have access to sharp knives and video games if his behavior is this severe? How the hell did he get to this point. He threatened to kill himself before and she did what? Threaten him with hospitalization instead of dealing with it right then and there. Her son was calling out for help yet she continued to freelance write instead of focusing on her child. I know my response is slightly rambling and irrational but I'm getting sick to death of these parents coming out with excuses. Did she really compare herself to parents of murders? Way to start with preemptive excuses for psychotic behavior. Her response to him calling her a stupid bitch was disgusting.  Sounds like this is a regular occurrence that when it started went unchecked. (Deeep breaths)


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