My Son’s Battle With Mental Illness Breaks Me Every Day

The worst part is the isolation. And the loss. Both by stigma and by choice. My son’s battle with mental illness breaks me. Every day. Like an endless roller coaster, the kind with twists and blind turns, unexpected and unpleasant.

Our lives are jolted and thrown from one turn to the next. Ever since he was a little boy, my son has struggled not only with anxiety, depression, hallucinations, headaches, episodes of tremendous highs and tremendous lows, but he has also been lulled by the relief of medication, suffered the hollowness of withdrawal and been on the constant search for balance, for relief, for normalcy, a state so elusive for any of us, but made worse for those who see the world through kaleidoscope lenses.

A person with mental illness is always looking for relief. (Twenty20 @Hanni)

We know the “good days” are short-lived

Even on the good days, as we bask in the glow of the mundane, we know with certainty that the day will be short, the aftermath violent and angry and sad. A person with mental illness is never comfortable, never satisfied, never just complacent.

A person coping with mental illness is always looking for relief, always looking for balance, always searching. And so too are his parents, his siblings, and all of those who love him.

In the morning, on waking, it’s not a new day we anticipate, but a new struggle, a new outburst, a new fear, for these are the realities for a child with mental illness and for those who love him. These are the realities for his family, his parents, his siblings, those close enough to know that there is no easy escape, no simple solution, no place to hide from the trauma.

Each new day is a new struggle

Days fly into weeks into months, and then years have gone by. The little boy, so rambunctious and popular and funny in elementary school, so troubled and anxious in middle school, so depressed and outcast in high school, is suddenly an adult.

The tools you’d hope he’d acquire still wait for him. The friends you’d hoped he’d reconnect with have moved on to college, to work, to new friends and families. The boy you loved and cherished is now a man whom you adore, and the mental illness he’s carried with him his whole life is still part of the luggage with which he travels.

There is no escape from the illness

It is in him, in his past, in his present and likely in his future. There is no escape, and all of those years of coping and moving forward, of therapy and of talking, of medications too numerous to count, they mount up and stand as testament to the illness that knows no boundaries, knows no cure.

And this brings me back to the isolation. There is no cure, and for many of us, there is the feeling that there is no illness to the outside world, just an inability to cope with life, a weakness, a fault within ourselves and our families. And this is isolating, off-putting, tragic.

The illness is private, invisible and not ours to share. It leaves those who most need support alone. With their thoughts. With their fears. With their doubts and sorrow, but also with their hopes, their dreams, their beauty.

And though we might see ourselves reflected in others we meet, we fear the outreach for the confirmation and the rejection both. We isolate ourselves even as the world labels and boxes us away.

Now we realize how much of the little things we’ve missed

And now, after so many years of overwhelming episodes, overwhelming days, in the quiet moments, I realize how much I’ve missed, how much he’s missed, how much we’ve missed. Not because things didn’t happen, but because we were waiting for the trauma.

We were waiting for the emergency. We were waiting so intently that we missed the small things, the beautiful things, the things that make up childhood and middle school and the teen years and life, so that what is left is but a blur with lone snippets of joy and triumph over the challenges of the mind.

My son’s battle with mental illness breaks me, every day, but we’ll keep moving forward, keep making memories, keep building resilience, trying the meds, revisiting the therapies and riding the waves of his brain.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

You Might Also Want to Read:

How to Find a Therapist for Your College Student Dr. Lisa Damour, psychologist and bestselling author, gives guidance on how to support your college student with their mental health needs.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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