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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 (41-50):
lancet98
by Silver Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:53 PM

 

I'm not sure what to address first. The name calling - putz, really? LMAO. 


You were plenty brave enough to rag on the kid's mother, as long as she wasn't here to defend herself.  You have a VERY bad case of 'forum courage'.   As long as the target is too distant to fight back you're plenty eager to stick pins in her.

But if someone else gives you a taste of your own medicine, my my how unseemly.   Yes, putz.

Thomigirl
by Gold Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:04 PM


Quoting lancet98:


I'm not sure what to address first. The name calling - putz, really? LMAO. 


You were plenty brave enough to rag on the kid's mother, as long as she wasn't here to defend herself.  You have a VERY bad case of 'forum courage'.   As long as the target is too distant to fight back you're plenty eager to stick pins in her.

But if someone else gives you a taste of your own medicine, my my how unseemly.   Yes, putz.

So I have 'forum courage' (fucking idiotic term) because I respond to a post on the internet yet your namecalling is what? Feisty? I guess this moronic discourse is over since you can't get past  sophmoric name calling. Bwhahaha.

lancet98
by Silver Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:20 PM

And you prefer to act like a bratty child instead of LEARNING SOMETHING from this.

I just gave back to you what you gave, tearing into this kid's mother because she isn't here to defend herself - that is COWARDLY.

Playitagain
by Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:21 PM

My husbands family has long been faced with this problem. My father in law, a large built man was able to control my sister in law. He passed away a few months ago and now.... Well my sister in law is a large women, tall, overweight, and mentally about 7. My in-laws spent years trying to get her help. My sister in law isn't a bad person, she isn't a bad women, she doesn't deserve prison. 

About a month ago my husband and I (I am a very scawny little thing) rushed to my mother in laws home after she called crying because my sister in law who is becoming a hoarder (just another attatchment to her illnesses) attacked her for asking her to clean up the basement where she lives. My MIL is 5 feet tall, a round short women in her 60s. My SIL lifted her up, threw her across the basement, broke 2 of her ribs when she jumped on her and proceeded to nearly bash my mother in laws head in. My mother in law played... D E A D, and my sister in law lost interest. She was back to her normal self by the time the police arrived, by the time Dh and I got there and spoke with the police you would never of guessed it occured. The police told us they could charge her with domestic assault, but chances are she would get community service even with her mental illness, we've long paid for insurence straight out for her, when she was a child, a minor nobody understood things like we do now. The problem is the insurence our family can afford doesn't offer great mental health for somebody like her. The police told us, there would be a PPO with a charge, but that honestly we would need to find someplace for SIL to live, that the local mental health clinics cant take her (they are full and our insurence wont cover more then 2 days, with a large co-pay and deductable). We are now working to figure out how to move them here, although my mother in law cannot leave her job for 2 years or she losses her pension, which we need to care for SIL.

I myself have a daughter with a mental illness, adopted from years of abuse and neglect. Never taught social norms. She has thank the lord, gotton better over years. But I suffered Broken, knocked out teeth, broken ribs, a broken ankle, and have scars from bites. Its hard because you love these people. I feel blessed that my daughter got better from years of therapy, and medications (very expensive and not covered by our insurence). I myself was told by police that there was next to nothing they could do. 

jadedcynic
by NerdyJen on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:29 PM
I don't quite agree with your feelings on the contained classroom. My son has been in a contained classroom off and on since Kindergarten. He does better without the excessive stimulus of the large numbers of kids crammed into the average classroom.
I do know how you feel with many of the other frustrations you have encountered. While my son has never gotten excessively violent with me, he has had difficulties in the school environment.
He has done very well in the past year and has been graduating out of the contained classroom slowly. I am more afraid of him losing that support network within the school environment so have advocated for him to keep at least one class in the contained classroom.
jadedcynic
by NerdyJen on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:34 PM
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)




I really don't understand your objection to her working as a freelance writer. It would allow her to be at home if she needs to be with him. What is wrong with that? It is hard to have a real job when your child keeps getting into trouble at school or at home.
cjsbmom
by Lois Lane on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:41 PM

 Yes, because people like that poster are "sane." SMDH

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. :(  

 

cjsbmom
by Lois Lane on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:49 PM

 

Quoting Thomigirl:

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

 This Needs to be pushed hard, even moreso than gun control.

Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:51 PM
Didn't see this here....
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
Thomigirl
by Gold Member on Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:52 PM


Quoting jadedcynic:

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)




I really don't understand your objection to her working as a freelance writer. It would allow her to be at home if she needs to be with him. What is wrong with that? It is hard to have a real job when your child keeps getting into trouble at school or at home.

I wasn't 'objecting' to anything. I was venting my frustration and railing against the percevied lack of personal responsibility when it comes to Americans nowadays.

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