By Destiny Eve Pifer | CONTRIBUTOR |
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. None of it was supposed to happen this way. I wasn’t supposed to be spending a Friday afternoon crying in my car. But at that moment when everything hits you at once, you just can’t stop yourself. This is my account of our family’s battle against mental illness.
There are times when I blame myself. I blame my own mental health. Maybe if I were healthy. If I wasn’t so messed up then my son would be normal. But would he really? His father, my ex, and a notorious sociopath most certainly isn’t. I guess it’s a no-win situation. My son’s mental health issues began at the age of four and got worse as time went on.
We had mobile therapists come into the home along with family-based. For a while, he would be ok but then in a matter of weeks, he would regress. As he hit his teens he began to get violent and the first time he hit me would soon blur in with other times of being hit. But then just a few days ago I was sitting at my laptop while he was supposed to be in cyber school and everything just happened so fast. He didn’t want to do his health class and wanted to goof around.
I sternly told him to go back to class and the next thing I knew he was hitting me in the face so hard that I fell off my chair. I screamed for my father whom we both live with and he came running. However, my son was ready and he shoved his grandfather into the basement door. It wasn’t the first time he lashed out at his grandfather. At that moment I knew what I had to do.
I phoned his therapist who told me that for not only his safety but ours as well I had to commit him. I had let it go on for far too long and now here I was rubbing an aching jaw. Together my father and I took my son up to the ER where it was agreed that he be admitted to the children’s psychiatric unit.
My son pleaded with me the whole time to reconsider. He apologized over and over again for what he had done but I knew that he needed help. I watched as the nurses helped him change into a pair of paper scrubs, held his hand as they drew blood, and sat with him until a therapist arrived.
The whole time I was beating myself up inside. After the therapist did her intake it was decided that my son would spend seven days in the unit. That would be seven days without him being around. Something I wasn’t used to and something that would tear me apart even more. I was forced to walk away and leave him in their care. Forced to deal with the numbness that had overtaken my body. As my son not only fought to get better but to also figure out why he was being violent I was forced to deal with more troubles.
I had noticed that my mother didn’t sound well on the phone and the next morning when I arrived at her place I found her laying on the couch shaking and shivering. She had two blankets on her and couldn’t keep warm. I found myself rushing around the room trying desperately to find the damn thermometer and when I did it said her temperature was 103.1.
I knew I had to get her to the ER but it wasn’t going to be easy as I had a boot on my left foot after having surgery a few weeks before. My brother helped me get her into the car and it was off to the hospital we went. The whole time I found myself thinking this can’t be happening. This is way too much!
We got to the hospital in time to see a woman rushing her husband ahead of us. He had some sort of saw sticking out of his head and blood running down his face. That image will forever haunt me. My mother was immediately taken in and after running some tests it revealed that she had a UTI that turned into sepsis.
Had I waited to get her to the hospital, she most likely would have died. I once again had to turn and walk away from a loved one as they lay helplessly in the hospital. By the time I returned home I was in a deep depression that I couldn’t snap out of. I never felt so low in my entire life. My son was in a psych ward in another town and my mother was fighting for her life in a hospital in the opposite direction.
That night I went to visit my son. Armed with a bag full of outfits I was told to leave them with the nurse and put the rest of my belongings in a locker. I did find a bit of comfort in being in a room with a lot of other parents who were waiting to see their kids. But that gnawing feeling of guilt and depression was still holding me down. Before we could go up one of the nurses had to wave a wand over us to make sure we didn’t have any weapons on us.
Then it was up to the ward we went and I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed to see my son. He was wearing a different pair of scrubs and took me back to his room so we could talk. In a psych unit, their is just a bed and a flat pillow. Nothing else in the bedroom but that.
My son was homesick but at the same time had to admit that it wasn’t so bad being there. He was with other kids who were battling mental illnesses. Each one was there for a different reason. Though he admitted that many were there for suicide attempts. Most of the day was spent doing crafts, attending therapy seasons, and seeing a psychiatrist.
I told my son to cooperate and talk to the psychiatrist. I needed answers. We have been seeing the same psychiatrist for years and my son has only maybe said two words that have gotten us nowhere. I could only hope that the psychiatrist on the unit could get to the bottom of why my son was so angry and violent at times. I held my son in my arms and told him everything was going to be ok.
He was getting the help he needed while I was quietly falling apart. Everything was happening so fast that it felt like I was being sucker punched right and left. I painted a smile on my face and pretended to be strong for my son.
After visiting hours he would go on to hang out with the other kids while I would find myself heading to the mall and spending money on things I didn’t need in hopes of feeling better. But nothing could ease my pain. I have struggled with clinical depression, severe anxiety disorder, PTSD, and bipolar disorder all my life. I honestly can’t remember a time when I felt normal. But having my son filled my heart with so much joy. However, putting him in a mental institution for a couple of days left me feeling like a terrible parent.
Every time I walked past his bedroom I could feel the guilt eating away at me. To make matters worse I would later get devastating news. My son’s best friend who I will call Jay was hit by a car and was in serious condition.
As Jay lay hooked up to life support I found myself in the horrible position of having to tell my son. I had hoped that the therapists at the ward would have helped a bit more but things were too chaotic. Just as a few kids went home more would be admitted. By the time it came close for my son to get home the ward was at maximum capacity.
When I told my son about the accident, I could see the tears in his eyes. Then came the frustration. He wanted to go home more than ever. “I’m trapped in this jail while my best friend is hooked up to a ventilator,” he said lashing out. All I could do was offer comfort to him while fighting my own pain. Jay was like a part of the family. He was my son’s only friend and the only one who really understood him.
Just a few months ago we had all gone to the fair and my son and Jay were thrilled. Now here we were praying hard but fearing the worst. Meanwhile, my mother got out and was furious that I never visited her. She didn’t understand that I was too busy on the phone with therapists, a psychiatrist, and nurses. My phone was constantly going off as they questioned my son’s medicines, dosages, and how he was doing and gave me an update on what the doctor had found.
The doctor explained that my son is autistic and that when puberty hits those on the autism spectrum tend to become angry and violent. He advised me to get a couple of books for my son to read in hopes that it would help. In the meantime, I had to let my son’s cyber school know about what was going on and they were very supportive. I was trying to keep things on track until the day before my son was released. That is when I received the heartbreaking news that Jay had passed away.
I remember feeling numb. I reread the email from his mother several times trying to process it. Not Jay, I said to myself it can’t be Jay. Jay the smiling kid with the fedora who talked with my son about video games. Who taught him how to be fearless? But then as the condolences flowed across the social media pages I started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I phone my mother and brother who tried to be supportive but were just as devastated as I was.
My father who had gotten to know Jay’s father felt awful. We were all grieving and unfortunately, I once again had the job of breaking it to my son. The therapists felt it would be best coming from me but they didn’t know how grief-stricken I was. I waited until my son was in the car and we were heading to McDonalds to tell him. He at first didn’t want to hear it because deep down he already knew. But then as we continued to drive he tearfully told me how unfair it was.
There were so many questions. How could God let this happen? How could he take Jay away when he was only thirteen years old? I didn’t have the answers. All I could do was offer comfort. In the following days, my son hid his grief. I tried to get him to talk about it but he refused. It was too painful I realized that he would in his own time. I wish I could say things have gotten easier but they haven’t. My son still remains moody and angry at times. I still remain depressed and anxious. However, we are both getting help. We both see therapists and attend family counseling sessions. I am still trying to work through my own mental health issues while helping him with his.
It hasn’t been an easy battle but it’s one that we are currently fighting. If there is one thing I have learned it is that we as a country are dealing with a mental health epidemic. I saw so many kids on the unit who had very bad issues. I walked past the flex unit which was filled with adults as was the adult unit. So many people fighting a battle with mental illness. I can only hope that our government will recognize that it is indeed a problem.
There is no magic wand to wave that will make it disappear. Once you have a mental illness it is something you must learn to live with. So as I fight my battle along with my son, I will continue to raise awareness.
~ Destiny Eve Pifer
If you or someone you know needs support.
There can be many signs that indicate that a mental illness has become overwhelming. If you find that your thoughts and feelings are interfering with your ability to do your job, look after yourself, if you are abusing drugs or alcohol to try to numb your feelings, or if you are having thoughts of suicide, it is important to seek help straight away.
There are many resources available to help you deal with any struggle you may be experiencing including anxiety or depression, and there is no shame in needing or asking for help. With the right support, you can learn to cope with it in a healthy way.
If you’re struggling with loneliness, know that you’re not alone. There are people who care about you and want to help. You can start by reaching out to your family and friends, or you can join a support group.
Check out our list of websites and phone numbers crafted to assist people find relevant resources to help with stress, anxiety, depression and more.
If you’re feeling so isolated that you wonder about your purpose in life, you can also contact a helpline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are not insured, look into some of the following options:
For more information about how to pay for mental health care, contact the National Mental Health Information Center.
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About the Author: Destiny Eve Pifer – Contributor
Destiny Eve Pifer is a published author whose work has appeared in magazines such as Spotlight on Recovery, Reader’s Digest, True Confessions, FATE Magazine, Country Magazine, The World of Myth Magazine, Siren’s Call Magazine, and Autism Parenting Magazine. She currently resides in a very small Pennsylvania town with her son.