Open Letter re: Children with Mental Illness

Like many of you, I’ve been extremely disturbed by the tragedy that took place Friday. From time to time I’ve followed comments and posts on FB and Twitter regarding the killer’s mental health status and about his upbringing and divorced parents and his Autism. I am defensive. Sad and defensive.As you know, I am the mother of two children with Mental Illness.

Our children were adopted from foster care after enduring a traumatic first year of life with their birth parents followed by multiple foster care placements. Our children had limited abilities to attach to adults and have issues such as hoarding food, head banging (KJVR would bang his head on a hot radiator and seem to feel no pain) and violent outburst.

We were the parents who were asked not to bring our children into people’s homes, birthday parties, and never made it through a week of work without having to pick up one or both kids from school for behavior issues. We know that Trauma affects the brain and brain chemistry. We know that children born to parents addicted to drugs have a predisposition to all kinds of mental health issues. We know that children whose parents have a mental illness have a predisposition to have a mental illness. Our kids have ALL of these. Plus parents in a volatile divorce situation.

However, I have worked with children in Intensive Foster Care for years and our kids’ issues are not unlike the issues of most of the kids in IFC. And still, brave, committed and loving families open their hearts and doors to our kids, kids with these issues, offering a home environment to learn and live rather than a hospital. Foster Parents Rule.

Recently, my children were forced to live in a residential facility because their Mental Illness caused behaviors that became too dangerous to live safely at home. KVR attempted to stab my ex with knives that my son hoarded. She was so dissociated at the time she has NO MEMORY of the event. This happened WITH in home therapy happening 3x/week in my ex's home. Both kids were in therapy and have a treatment team and still, this happened.

We could be Nancy Lanza. My kids are the “crazy” ones everyone is talking about.

I feel my blood boil when I read people throwing around diagnosis and what THEY would have done if THEIR kid was crazy. I read with so much anger then guilt. I promise you, Nancy Lanza went down with the guilt ALL parents of children with Mental Illness feel – WHAT COULD WE HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY??

Somehow a child can have cancer and everyone rallies around and supports the parents (which they should ) BUT when is the last time you have seen family and friends rallying around the parents of kids who pushed another kid off the swings because he was having a flashback??

I guarantee Nancy Lanza had services for her son and I also bet she did not seek support and help from the community because how do you ask for help with your child who is a perpetrator?

Our country DESPERATELY NEEDS EDUCATION around mental illness!

Hug your "typical” kids and hold them tight and then remember for a second those of us who can’t hug our kids because they are hospitalized because their brains are wired in a  way that they can’t always stop impulses. I can’t talk to my children because doctors are trying to stabilize them on medications and they don’t want the sound of my voice to trigger them to decompensate. 

Parents of kids with Mental Illness walk the earth with heavy hearts EVERY DAY just like the stories you hear and read about families surviving children with cancer or any other illness. It’s just that our kids are the “evil” ones.

And somehow we (the parents) could have stopped it.

I could not have stopped my children’s mental illness any more than I could have stopped a heart attack. And yet, even in those moments after my son would violently hit the dog or bang his head, like any parent, you see the humanity in his eyes, the pain, the innocence. And when we would reach out to hold him and forgive him only to be pushed away or bitten, we, like many of you, would feel helpless and hopeless and wanting to place blame and even be angry with him.

All I can say is, my son is not evil. My daughter is not evil. Adam Lanza is not evil. He had a Mental Illness in a country where Mental Illness not being addressed.

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