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My Child Struggles with Mental Illness

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series Real and Raw – Soul-Stirring Stories, a series focused on taking a candid look at the Faith and life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


Watching a child suffer is not easy for a parent. We want to take away their pain. But sometimes the pain is too great for even a mother’s love to conquer. We have walked this path with one of our children. Our daughter has a bully. It is a terrible and cruel one that can paralyze her with fear. It is a bully that I cannot see and I frankly do not always understand. Our daughter has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Imagine a movie of your worst fears and nightmares repeating in a loop inside your brain. That is OCD.

There is no handbook for parenting a child with mental illness. This is a heartache that many parents keep hidden. It is too painful, too confusing, too misunderstood, too overwhelming. Your sick child can appear undisciplined, manipulative, or even spoiled by outsiders. And as a parent, you may even be regarded with suspicion. There are many schools of thought in parenting and all seem ridiculous when your child will not get out of bed. Meanwhile, you struggle to keep up with daily obligations. You cannot leave your child alone so you are unpredictable and unreliable canceling at the last minute all the
time. Your family is in crisis.  People sense it but they don’t know why. You are not alone. We need to talk about this. 
When our daughter first got sick I was heartbroken. Our daughter is so gentle and so kind. This was far too big a cross for such a little child to carry. It seemed so cruel and she did not understand why her life was so hard. I poured out my heartache in private in prayers and tears.

The prayers of a desperate mother are not eloquent.  I begged God to heal my child of her OCD. When that did not happen I realized that we needed to fight and we needed to fight hard. A school book report brought St. Joan of Arc into our life. We needed a warrior saint to intercede for my daughter. Her battle cry “I am not afraid, I was born for this” became our vow. We wore her medal as a reminder to pray and to fight.  We were very fortunate. We had access to the right kind of help. And in time our path got easier. Our daughter started responding to therapy and medication. Exposure therapy sometimes felt like torture and we cried in the car on the way home. There were times when she completely gave up and could not fight at all. But our child began to emerge as she learned coping skills. She is doing much better now. But “better” is relative and the road is full of ups and down. 

Perhaps you are in the abyss right now. I am not a theologian I cannot tell you why your child is suffering. My approach to prayer is emotional and I needed the simplest of prayers to keep me going. I knew that God loved my child even more than I did and that provided comfort. Lord, I do not understand your ways, but you love my child more than I do. I cling to this meditation and the faith that God has an all-consuming love for my child. I have no idea why she has to bear this cross but I will be there at her side. 

Your journey as a parent of a struggling child matters. God loves you with a personal tenderness. Be assured of that love. Let it be a source of strength and comfort in your exhaustion and frustration. Your worth as a parent is not measured by your child’s ability to function or meet other’s expectations. You are partners in this journey. You may walk this path imperfectly. That is okay-just keep going.  And perhaps you do not have a child with mental illness. But chances are you know someone who does. Be on the lookout for signs that a family is struggling. Respect privacy if it is requested. But offer help. Pray for your friend. Offer meals or groceries especially if a family member has been hospitalized. Be on the lookout for signs of burn out, exhaustion, and despair. 

So many families walk this path. Let us reach out to one another in love. As a parent of a child with mental illness, you are a warrior, caregiver, and advocate. You are also a beautiful child of God. Pour out your needs to Him and know that you are not alone. People are aching to talk about this.


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before the experience of loss?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A Friend Asks – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide

MyChildStruggleswithMentalIllness

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