No, this isn't about the latest undergarment that promises to overcome the ravages of gravity and age (boy, do I need one of THOSE).
I'm talking about NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). I sought out one of their support groups during a difficult time with The Boy. There was a meeting close to my home in NY.
Instead of coming home feeling like I had found a life preserver while we were adrift on the sea of involuntary hospitalization, medications and the justice system, I felt more depressed and hopeless than when I had walked in their door.
The folks there were nice enough, that wasn't the problem. They were empathetic and welcoming; as they sat in a roughly formed circle of chairs, they all had that weary, beaten down look that I recognized each day in my bathroom mirror. We were kindred spirits, this group of parents with mentally ill children.
As I had a great need to "share", I volunteered to go first when describing the tale of The Boy. I told of his diagnosis of bipolar disorder at six years of age, and the struggle/adventure we'd been on regarding school, behavior, psychiatrists, hospitals and the never-ending adjustment of dosages of medication. I told of his arrest at school, of his lithium toxicity at age nine, of his involuntary hospitalization at a regional state mental facility. I spilled my guts.
I saw several nods of recognition among the other participants. Some had that faraway look in their eyes (I imagined they were re-living some of their own struggles with their children). When I finished my recitation of what I'd call my condensed version of Hell, there was complete silence.
These parents, on some level, could not relate to me. All of their children came to their illnesses as young adults - they had had normal childhoods, and provided their parents with years of joy and lots of positive memories before slipping off into the abyss of insanity. They were the parents of ADULT bipolars, schizophrenics, depressives or sociopaths. Not one person in the room had a young, mentally ill child. They could not wrap their heads around having a 3rd grader who wrote spelling sentences about ways to commit suicide, or tried to hang himself with a Nintendo DS car charger.
After a very pregnant pause, the informal "leader" of the group invited other parents to share their stories - and share they did.
I heard about a son in his 30s who ricocheted between hospitals and prison.
I heard the story a daughter who had been wonderful until her sophomore year in college - who now is a non-medicated, homeless 28 year old paranoid schizophrenic who periodically breaks into the family home to get food and money, shunning any and all suggested psychiatric interventions.
I heard of a 30 year old man who now lives in the small shed behind his parents' home, ignoring all pleas to find gainful employment, too paranoid to venture out in the world.
Each parent in the room told a story of such sadness and despair that it was hard to bear the telling of it.
These parents looked at me with pity in their eyes when I told my story - they no doubt couldn't fathom what our future would be - a very long future at that. I'm sure they were counting up the years we have ahead of us, and being a bit grateful that their children were already well into adulthood.
I felt horrified that these stories they told were going to be OUR story. That adult mental illness is just as hard as pediatric mental illness (but with the very real possibility of incarceration instead of hospitalization); that there is NO END to the suffering for my son - that there is little hope that his life could be anything more than awful, let alone happy and productive.
I cried as I drove home that evening...and I never went back to another meeting.
Maybe I prefer to think that my son will be a success story. I certainly can't think that his future (and a future that will not include me his whole life, as I am an older parent) will be like the children I heard about.
I have a much more practical approach to The Boy's future as an adult - my focus is to help get him through school, and teach him about how important it is that he remain in treatment even when he grows up and moves out.
I still see promise in him - and no "support" group is going to take that away from me.
A note: I usually participate in Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop on Thursday. This week's prompts just didn't speak to me at.all. I got nothin'. If you want to read all of the witty and outrageous posts there, click here. Hopefully, I'll return to the fun next week.