Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mental Illness Weighs Heavy in my Thoughts

The subject of mental illness has been heavy in my thoughts recently.

And this is one of those posts that I've started and restarted several times.

The Swan Thieves: A NovelIt's an inspired post for the From Left to Write book club for The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. In this book club we don't review the books, but instead we write a post that is inspired by the book.

As with many of the books we read for From Left to Write, there are many directions I could go with my "inspiration." But as I read the first few chapters of The Swan Thieves I knew what I needed to write about.

Integral to the story is Robert, a renowned artist, who attacks a painting in a gallery. As the story evolves we follow Roberts psychiatrist as he attempts to find out why Robert did what he did, it moves from past to present, giving glimpses into who Robert is, and his obsession with a woman from the past. It's a deeply involved story with many layers.

Early on I guessed that Robert was bipolar, with his episodes of mania and depression. And I knew that I needed to write about Noah, and our recent acceptance that he too is bipolar, although it is still more loosely defined as a "mood disorder" because of his age.

The incident in early December that I wrote about in this post took away all doubt in our minds that not only does Noah have Reactive Attachment Disorder, but as is often the case with RAD children, he has a chemical imbalance in his brain; a mental illness.

Sometimes I feel like Noah is an onion. We keep peeling away layers to try and find out just what is going on inside his brain. So much of it is trial and error. Speculation. Specialists seeing what they specialize in.

So as his parents we take in what the experts tell us, and then as the two people that know Noah the best, we consider, and ponder, and hope we are making the best choices and listening to the right people.

With each diagnosis, as we consider it, and whether we ultimately accept it or not, I grieve for him, for his future, and for our family. Because each diagnosis defines another layer of difficulty he is facing, and will likely continue to face, possibly for his entire life.

To hear your 7 year old child say he does not want to live is almost beyond description. Knowing adults with bipolar disorder and hearing their stories makes me fear even more.

Until now we have worried about Noah's future. Worried about his impulsiveness, his learning difficulties, his difficulties socially. But we never worried for his life. That is a door that has now been opened.

You bring a child into your life, whether by birth or adoption, and you dream about their future. You wish for them a good life, a happy life, a stable life. A life where when they are an adult, with a family of their own, you are there for them, but more as an equal, a friend, than as a caregiver.

When you have a child with a mental illness it is hard not to worry about that future. Will he be more susceptible to drug or alcohol abuse. Will he be able to hold a job. Will he continue to take his medication, and recognize when he needs help.

And what if he doesn't?

You hear of families that have given up on their children for far less. Personally, I can't imagine ever giving up on Noah. But I'll be honest, a life with a child, or even an adult child, with a mental illness like bipolar disorder was not in that fairy tale I created in my mind when we became a family.

I suppose to some it sounds dramatic, but I fear for his life now. 

As a pharmacist I have always been especially interested in psychiatry. I grew up with a mother that suffered with depression and anxiety since my early teen years. Depression runs strong in that side of my family, and it didn't pass me by.

But the intensity in Noah's emotions is far scarier than anything I have dealt with myself.

I'm not giving up hope. We will continue to provide Noah with every intervention and therapy possible. And I will continue to hope that his psychiatrist is correct when he tells us that by regulating Noah's brain chemistry now there is a chance he won't need medication as an adult.

And I will continue to worry. Because I am his mother, and I love him beyond description.

This is an inspired post written for the "From Left to Write" Book Club. A copy of The Swan Thieves was provided to me by the publishers. I am not being compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.



  1. This was a tough book for me to read, as well as a difficult post to write as my husband suffers from illnesses similar to Robert. I can understand how hard it must have been for you. I have the same worries about my son, who is four. So far he has been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, extreme Separation Anxiety and possible OCD. My husband feels particularly guilty, fearing that he might have passed something on to our son.

  2. I have not read the book, but will. I have one child, a 16 year old son who has been diagnosed and "un-diagnosed" with many labels...and has battled addiction since he was 13. He is currently incarcerated, and has been on and off for the past 2 1/2 years. My advice to both of you is to listen to your hearts more than to the diagnosis. Noah is in there and HE is the person not the label. This may be hard to understand, but it is what gets me through every difficult day.

  3. heartbreaking and brave post babe.

    I wish I was more like you.