Robin Williams death on the heels of a friend’s death from similar circumstances brings home to me why I am ruthlessly committed to openly sharing what I have dealt with over the last decade.
I’ve written a lot about our family’s journey with our daughter, her severe depression, anxiety and eating disorder and how we as her parents coped with it all. I’ve shared how we battled our insurance company because even though she was at death’s door, they refused to approve coverage. It took a 5 year court battle but they eventually paid and thanks to our attorney and a district court judge, they really did pay. It has been a long road. It continues.
I’ve also written a lot about what I’ve personally gone through this last 3 years. PTSD and clinical depression relating to multiple life events that turned my world upside down and nearly took me off the planet. It’s been hell.
So why do I spill my guts on a blog and talk about these things openly? It is because I strongly believe the brain is an organ of the human body just like the heart, the liver or kidneys. Hannah was born at 28 weeks after my water broke at 13 weeks. It sealed and broke a few more times and she made it here via an emergency c-section. The real deal is that her brain took a real beating, our bonding took an enormous hit and it is absolutely nothing she or anyone else should ever be ashamed of. She was born with odds of LESS THAN ONE PERCENT. Dean and I know better than anyone how much she suffered before she ever saw the light of day and then again before she ever saw the outside of the hospital. At the time she was born skin to skin bonding wasn’t even practiced. I didn’t hold her for a month. Her first few years were constant stress for our family as she was in and out of the hospital. It impacted her brain. When the chemical changes that came with puberty hit her brain, it had nothing for her. She was on the highest dose of Zoloft that was generally prescribed and only when it was increased 50 mg. did she finally return to us. It was not a demon as some suggested, it was not loser parents having abused her, it was a brain depleted of all its ability to cope with stress. I simply refuse to be ashamed of one single part of her life. She’s incredibly resilient and determined and I thank God for every day she is here with us.
When I started to struggle, I wasn’t about to hide it. I’d spent 3 years as a Parent Advocate at a residential treatment center where I met many different girls and their parents and with each one, I refused to treat them with anything but grace. They were/are amazing young women in a culture that is full of incongruity and double standards. I can say with full assurance that not one of those girls or their families experienced shame from me or anyone who worked with me.
What is heart breaking to me is that in situation after situation, those with mental illness not only suffer from the disease, they suffer from a public that considers them primarly people who make bad choices. We rarely saw fund raisers for girls in treatment. No pro athletes visit the treatment centers with gifts for the residents. Yet these families, are selling property, cashing in retirement accounts and borrowing as much as possible to save the lives of their daughters. When their daughter returns home they may even have had to move into a smaller house or apartment.
All too often, those with mental illnesses suffer in shame and silence. Oddly enough, after they commit suicide, there is a often a celebration of the life they lived at their funeral because no one wants to talk about how they died. Though that is commendable and very, very appropriate, I wonder what it would be like if all of us could learn how to celebrate the lives of the mentally ill while they are living among us.
When we moved into this house someone asked Dean if he knew there was a transition group home next door. Oddly, I’m sure, he said no but that he was fine with that. For us the house next door is celebrating the life of those who are ill. They have a bbq every Thursday at noon with another group in the backyard. I love watching them play bat mitten. They are in the sun, they are laughing and competing without melting to pieces. It’s beautiful to me.
I am committed to normalizing mental illness because it is really just a part of being human. So, I will not only talk about it in my writing or Facebook posting but I will do what I can to welcome those with a brain dysfunction into my circle when they come into it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Ever.