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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 (31-40):
annabl1970
by Platinum Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:11 PM
1 mom liked this
Very sad
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
rfurlongg
by on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:15 PM
I understand what you are saying. 2yrs ago, I might have fully agreed with you. Unfortunately over the past two yrs a dear friend and neighborvhas been struggling with her son in a very similar manner to what the op is describing. Our neighbor's son has been hospitalized 2x for violence and both time released to open his bed for a more dangerous child. He has ins, but they will only cover 8 mental health treatments per year, hospitalizations not included. He is a plethora of meds and are regularly rotated because they are not fully effective. The majority of his treatment is out of pocket. Thank goodness they have the means. He is 8. The first time he pulled a knife, the cops were called. The said my neighbor was a bad mom and there was nothing they could, not even juvy because he was under 10. She has 2 other sons, 4 and 11. Neither behave this way. Having seen all this much too close up, her hands are tied behind her back. She is going above and beyond and paying for most of it out of pocket. I am not sure there is anything else she can do.
Quoting Thomigirl:

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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MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:18 PM

The mental illness issue has dominated much of my life.  My brother is severely mentally ill and resides in a therapeutic facility following years and years of fighting to get him the help he needs.  At the onset of puberty he became very noticeably ill.  My parents were stymied by his behavior and the lack of resources in which to help him.  As my parents were hard workers and had excellent insurance, they hit a wall of sorts when the insurance company flatly refused to keep insuring him.  We had no idea their was a cap on the the payments for mental health services.  As a result my brother was being sent home from each hospitalization with boat loads of heavy meds that cost hundreds of dollars each month and outstanding bills.  His illness would be contained for small periods ot time and he would become physically aggressive, dangerous and cause terror in our household to the point of us calling the police and EMT's dozens of times.  He'd be hospitalized again and upon realizing that we could not pay the 1000 per day bill, he'd simply  be sent home again....and again.  We lived in fear for our lives and the community at large.  This nightmare went on for years. 

Eventually the phychiatrist simply defied the insurance company and refused to release him citing his extreme potentiality to harm himself and everyone around him.  He pit himself against the insurance company, went to court with my parents and fought and fought until my brother was sent to another state to receive treatment.  He flew with my brother to the state to be treated and the hospital staff accepted him at the other end.  It was hell.  My parents lost our home, their health and everything they ever worked for and they died young. 

I visit my brother often in his facility.  He is doing ok where he is and accepts his illness and has both good and bad days.  He will never harm anyone because we did everything and anything to ensure he would not.  His illness is NOT his fault.  He was born this way.

 

Thomigirl
by Gold Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:23 PM
1 mom liked this

Perhaps in the coming days we need to press the issue of mental illness as vehementally as we campaign for anything else.

ChancesMommy07
by Silver Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:27 PM
1 mom liked this

I've seen this. More times than I can even describe except from the perspective of trying to help a parent that has it. Every story sounds the same. You want help, your desperate for it. But there is literally nowhere to turn. They can't help the way they are acting and you can't do a thing for them because society thinks that a simple little pill is going to fix it when sometimes that makes it even worse. All you can do is keep hoping that no one gets hurt in the next violent rage or that they don't hurt themselves. Its exhausting and its heartbreaking.

1Giovanni
by Becca on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:28 PM

My dh and I adopted his brother's 8 years old dd because he didn't want her and her mother wasn't fit to raise anyone. my dd had many mental issues. We would wake up with her standing over us with a knife. She would try to strangle, drown or hurt my son. I tried to get her help, but it was very difficult when I finally got her help, her doctor told her she didn't have to take her meds if she didn't want to. We couldn't make her take her meds, so we lived in fear every day. When I had a my youngest son, she said she was going to kill him. Her pscyologist told us to lock us in the room, make sure my son was never alone. IT was a nightmare.

She finally ran away and we haven't seen her in 8 years. About 3 years ago we found out her boyfriend was arrested for robbing a store. I was told she was there at the time, but some how she got off. She still contacts some of our family, they tell me that she is still very off balance. Not taking her meds and never know when she is going to freak out they don't even like to be around her much, but they do because she is family. She is dangerouse to society, but there is nothing we can do about it.

It is very scary.

AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:35 PM
I don't think a smack in the mouth for calling your mother a bitch is going to be the cure all you are hoping for. Knocking him out or down won't undo the rage he is feeling and he might be able to take it out on others or himself but there is also the chance he literally can't control himself.

Quoting Thomigirl:

Perhaps in the coming days we need to press the issue of mental illness as vehementally as we campaign for anything else.

Posted on the NEW CafeMom Mobile
Zawifey
by Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:41 PM

 omg that is soo sad :(

That mom (assuming it's not OP??) is amazing, I don't know how she does it. I can't say if I could be that calm and be able to handle a child that had fits like that. Thank you for sharing, I do think people (myself included) need to be more aware of the different mental issues that are out there. I know I for one don't know as much as I should.

lancet98
by Silver Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:45 PM

 

Quoting TCgirlatheart:

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

 

What do you mean?   That information is out there for all to read and learn if they wish to.   Most of it for free.  NAMI conducts a FREE 'family to family' class taught by volunteers and it will teach you a GREAT DEAL of what every single citizen SHOULD KNOW about mental illness.   WIthout that knowledge no one can vote responsibily on mental health levies or laws pertaining to mental health.  

Other sources I used - doing home based care, respite care, how about READING  books, articles, LISTENING TO doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, they will ALL tell you exactly what I have written, over and over and over, the exact same things.

In her book Sheila Cantor APOLOGIZED to all the patients whom she was FORCED by her bosses, NOT to diagnose with schizophrenia when they clearly had it, she listed all the diagnoses she was forced to use instead, it was ridiculous- she begged them to forgive her.  

1Giovanni
by Becca on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:47 PM

They will find sharp objects. We locked up all of our knifes, we didn't allow pencils or any sharp in our house. But she found them and brought them home. We had to search her room daily and search her when she got home from school or any where else to make sure she didn't bring anything home. She would break things off of her dresser, wall, bed to get something sharp.

When kids have mental illness you can't treat them like you would with a child that doesn't. You never know what is going to trigger epoisde. It could be your tone, they are tired, or anything can trigger it. If the child cusses at you have to let them know what they did wrong, but if you have a tone that triggers the fit then it could be alot worse. Until you calm that child down after a fit starts there is nothing you can do. What ever you try to do makes things worse.

I use to think like you, until I had a child with mental illness. That open my eyes to a different world.


Quoting Thomigirl:

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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