Dealing With Chronic Mental Illness
(New Jersey, USA)
Having a child with a severe, chronic mental illness will test your limits beyond your wildest imagination.
(STORY THEME: Active hope)
Approximately 8 years ago, my then 17-year-old son's behavior began to be rather bizarre. He would get incredibly angry at the drop of a hat; my husband and I could not reason with him - his way of thinking did not make any sense, he would stay angry for hours - and then he would come out of it as if nothing had happened. I felt like I was riding on a roller coaster (and I hate roller coasters).
The change in my son's behavior made it seem like some alien being had come in the middle of the night and taken over his mind and body. I had been taking my son to see a psychologist at the time and I described my son's odd behavior to him. He told me the devastating news -- my son had Bipolar Disorder. I had no inkling at the time that my life would go from being relatively normal, to a journey through hell and back.
Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder. A person will go from a state of depression to a state of manic behavior (or the reverse), usually with some periods of normal behavior in between. My son has one of the most challenging types of bipolar Disorder - ultra rapid cycling. He could cycle through states of mania and depression several times each day.
As my son got older, his Bipolar Disorder got worse. He became more aggressive and violent, and he became less able to function in a normal way. What was so frustrating about this was that he was in active treatment - attending therapy sessions and taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist. It was not uncommon for him to punch my other son or husband because he got so angry at the drop of a hat.
My life was quickly going into a downward spiral.
Things went from bad to worse. One Sunday afternoon (we had just returned from church), my son wanted me to give him all of his pills so he could take all of them at one time. He became very threatening when I would not do it. So he ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife with the intention of hurting himself. Luckily my husband was able to take it away from him. We called the police.
In the past, when we called the police, my son would calm down pretty quickly. Not this time. He went into an even greater rage when he saw the police. He began to call them names and struggle with them. I was hysterical because I was afraid that he was going to grab one of their guns and either shoot one of them or himself. The next thing I knew, the entire police force of our town came to my house to try to control my son. They finally got handcuffs on him and took him to the hospital.
Approximately an hour after the police took my son away, he called and told me that he was feeling better and he wanted to come home. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital instead. This would be the first of three psychiatric hospitalizations within 15 months.
I was desperately struggling to keep my son from taking his own life. Finally, his psychiatrist and therapist told me that my son was too sick to be cared for in a traditional outpatient setting. He need more intensive care.
In January of 2010, I got him into an acute partial psychiatric hospitalization program. He attended six hours per day, five days per week. My husband and I began to see signs of hope -- my son seemed to be getting better. He then graduated into an extended partial hospitalization program, where he has been for the past year. He has improved a great deal and is scheduled to graduate from this program next month.
I don't know what the future will hold for my son, but I do know that he is so much healthier than I ever thought he could be. With his hard work in the program and my advocating on his behalf (he calls me Momma Bear), my son now has a chance at life.
When severe mental illness affects someone you love, your entire world is turned upside down. There will be times whe
n you don't think you can get through another day. But there is always hope. There is always hope that with the right treatment, your loved one can get better. It happened with my son. It can happen with someone you love too.