This is a topic that is rather private for me and very hard to talk about. I have not been one to share too much on family issues over the years. I do feel that by sharing some of my experience on this issue that perhaps it will help other families in this crisis. Or maybe at the least they won’t feel so alone. So here goes…
My neighbor – whom I’ve never met (we live in the country so houses are further apart)- startled me the other day as I was about to grab some dog food out of the garage. I was harried and late for feeding time and bone tired from lost sleep. She said something as she stood in my driveway. “Pardon?” I asked. But I thought I knew exactly who it was and I was right.
“Are you Mrs. Sweeney?”. She asked again. “Yes” I answered.. “It was your son who….the other night”
I am going to save you the exact details of that event but my 18 year old son fueled by alcohol became a volatile and crazed the other night – and he ran out of the house as I was calling the police and subsequently terrorized our neighbor. I feel so awful for what they went through. I am sure in his state he thought he was trying to get into our house but he can’t remember any of it. I know it was terrifying for this neighbor and what I heard I can never un-hear. You never want to know that your child is in such a terrible state of mind.
It turns out he was suicidal that night and I have found out since this episode that he has been this way for months and even tried to kill himself over spring break in our home and we never knew about it. A friend came to his aid and my son promised to tell us he was in a bad way the next day – he never did.
The severity of his issues at this time is a shock to my husband and me – his having depression/anxiety is not. He has been treated for years for ADHD and Depression/anxiety. The problems we ran into over the last few years were twofold- our son didn’t want to confide in anyone – he was a locked up safe – so therapy was futile though we did send him. And secondly getting a Psychiatrist for a teen is not easy. We have a definite crisis in this country with the mental health system and it is even worse if your child is and adolescent.
This is really a country crisis not a family crisis. If families can’t get help for their mentally ill children we can have more mass shootings and suicides. I know the problem. There aren’t enough beds so if you have to have your kid seen in the ER and want him/her admitted it is almost impossible – even when the person is suicidal. If the patient stabilizes they release them. And if you are afraid for your own safety or other family members and you want your minor child not to come home then you can be criminally charged in some states or charged with abandonment in others if you leave him/her in the ER. And if CPS get involved then life can become hell.
In my son’s case he should have been admitted but because he was drunk – a new issue since he began college- they waited for him to sober up. By the time we called in the AM and asked to speak to the mental health specialist in the ER he had already been put into an Uber and sent home- in fact he already had snuck back into the house. And the fact he was 18 and an adult gave us really no say in anything anyway.
I was so angry with the system. I was angry with myself to? I had been trying to get him to tell me what was going on all semester as I saw his grades plummet and work not being handed in. He rarely would answer my texts or calls and when he did he was short with me. I thought it was motivation- he is brilliant – so I knew he was smart enough to understand the concepts. He just wasn’t doing the work. I am sure my lectures on motivation, asking for academic help, and my frustration over the lack of drive was not helpful as he was overcome by the feelings he was having. I feel like I missed the mark and now we are here.
This kid has not been an easy one to raise. Our relationship has been ok at best and non-existent at the worst. But regardless you never want to know your child is hurting in this way. And you never want to see their trajectory in a downward spiral. I knew my kid could lash out in anger at us. He could be a handful at home but he never directed anger toward friends or in school. But I can see he was crying for help and he was getting his comfort from alcohol and binging to relieve his pain. And then he blew.
My children are adopted and that fact in itself make them have a much higher percentage for mental health issues and substance abuse issues. We talked openly about this in our family. I myself have anxiety and have fought a battle with that for years. We went to family counseling for years. For me there isn’t shame in mental illness but it is hard to talk about for many. But when it came to my kids issues I only confided in a few people close to me. But we should be able to talk about this. Parents should not feel alone.
I was lucky because I found a support group for parents with adopted kids and it really saved my sanity. We weren’t alone anymore. I had a group that understood the specific issues of the adopted child. But I kept silent in my writing most of the time. There is so much parent shaming/mommy shaming out there. And if you haven’t raised adopted kids you really don’t know the issues. But mental health issues and addiction can effect all of us and that is why I share this. It is not easy for me. My heart breaks for my child that I have wanted to reach all these years but haven’t been able to. Who I have often not liked but have loved and tried so hard to help in every way to succeed and to be happy. It is what we want for our children. But sometimes they have to want that for themselves more than we want it for them…hopefully now we are on the right path,
The good news is that for the most part my son has allowed us to help navigate him when it comes to his mental health care. But the bad news is that he has not been open about how severe his issues have gotten so he wasn’t getting the help he truly needed.
The depression and hopelessness he was feeling was the gasoline and alcohol has been the flame. Thankfully his friends were very forthcoming when they realized my son was in crisis last week. When I reached out they told me of their worry for him and told me of things he had done or said that helped the mobile crisis team -that came to our home after the ER failed us – understand that my son needed intervention. I must thank these friends for caring so much for my son who they recognize as a troubled but loving and caring friend. I felt happy that he has made these friends -that wasn’t always easy for him. I hope they remain a support for him in the future.
I know that such swift help is not usually the case as I briefly discussed above. But if not for the mobile crisis team I would not have known where to turn for the help that my son had agreed to. I would have probably taken him back to another hospital and sought to get him admitted. But the crisis team had other options.
How did I find this team – that came to our home less than two hours after we called them? The police officer that came to our home the night before – after they found our son and got him transported to the hospital- handed us a card and explained that this team might be of some help. At the moment I didn’t picture our son coming home. I wanted him admitted and then after that I didn’t know. So I didn’t think we would use that card but I set in on the bookcase and sure enough the next day we used it.
I had given my son two options- we will take you to a homeless shelter or you can get help. I said to him whatever he’d been doing up until now was not working and things were just getting much worse for him. He was lucky he didn’t get arrested or shot when he not only trespassed but terrorized our neighbor. What would be next for him if he didn’t get help? I waited for his answer- and he chose help. I thanked God.
Once that crisis team got there they asked many questions and my son was very honest and became very emotional during this time. I felt so bad for him but also maybe this was a small breakthrough to releasing the pain he has been living with. The team got him a place at a rehab- which at first I didn’t feel he needed but once we realized that he had alcohol issues we realized that a rehab would be the best place for him. They will work on the substance abuse and also the underlying issues he has been dealing with. He will see a therapist and a psychiatrist. He will attend group sessions on many subjects.
They got him in a good one…one that is based on music as a therapy- he loves music. He flew that night to another state and is now on this journey to recovery. We were very lucky that we got him help so fast. I thank him for being so open to getting it. I know he was faced with an option but I can tell he knew the best option was to help himself by getting help.
This can be a new beginning for him. I don’t want to have expectations – this is his journey with many battles and there are many things he has to deal with before he knows what his next steps in his life will be. I hope he can shed his demons or at least begin the process. It can be so freeing and maybe he will see many possibilities for his life.
This is not an easy share for me but I felt I needed to be open. I do want to stress – If you are suffering or have a child who is don’t be afraid to speak up. If you have had a hard time getting mental health help perhaps a mobile crisis unit might be of help. And if you are a friend of a person having trouble please report it to someone. You could save a life.