It Can’t Be Fixed with Two Aspirin: Mental Illness in Your Family

A “Brillant Madness” is how actress Patty Duke titled her autobiography in which she describes her life living with Manic Depressive mental health illness.  Otherwise known as Bipolar, manic depressive is one of the most challenging mental health illnesses to live with because you can go from feeling like you can conquer the world to having suicidal thoughts within a 24 hour time period. I know because my spouse and one of my adult children suffers from it.  Recently our adult child stopped taking the medication that has helped keep their emotions in check and left our home without saying a word and ceased all contact with our immediate and extended family.  I have felt compelled to write this article to let other parents who have a similar situation know that they are not alone and to give them hope.

windowMental Illness is not Like Other Illnesses

Mental Illness is an illness, but unlike other medical conditions, you can’t easily talk about it. If you break your bones, get cancer or contract a stomach bug, people feel sorry for you and do whatever they can to help you make it through your trials. But when your mind breaks, all too often you are left to fix it on your own, and many times you prefer this isolated suffering. 

Our adult child was diagnosed at age 18 as bipolar. It initially manifested itself with many sleepless nights which eventually produced extreme fear, paranoia, feelings of helplessness and hallucinations. Luckily at that time, our adult child trusted us and allowed us to transport and admit them to a mental hospital.  They have been hospitalized numerous times over the years since, but there have been blessed periods of stability in which our child has been able to lead a “normal” life graduating from school and holding a job.

Those years of striving to maintain a healthily family life paid off.  Mental health professionals don’t see many patients who live normal lives with family and friends who care about them and are willing to stand by and help them get their emotions back under control. All too often, family and friends of a person with mental illness gradually separate themselves from this person who used to be normal, but for some inexplicable reason, is now unreasonable and perhaps does or says some very odd things on a regular basis.

Spreading Their Wings log

There comes a time in every young person’s life when they feel an irresistible and very healthy urge to leave the comfort and security of their parent’s home. This is a normal and good thing which should be encouraged and even enabled by parents.  In the case of our child, this natural desire was perverted by their illness. Unknown to my spouse and I, they stopped taking their medication in the midst of a bipolar episode and lied to us about it. We couldn’t figure out why they would sleep all day and not interact with our family and why they abruptly lost their job and were unmotivated to find another.  It wasn’t until they didn’t come home one day and wouldn’t return our repeated phone calls and texts that we pieced together the puzzle and realized that they had taken a few belongings and moved out.


In the midst of this latest bipolar episode, they met another person suffering with mental illness at one of the support groups they attended. This significantly older person befriended our child and apparently started to fill their mind with the idea that they didn’t need medication any more and that their parents did not have their best interest at heart.  Instead they told our child that they would be better off never speaking to us again because we would never understand them and that we only wanted to control every aspect of their life.   Our child believed the ramblings of a person that probably suffers from the same illness that they do.  This person proposed a lifestyle independent of their loving family and paying for everything themselves and living out of their car, and sleeping on the couches of various friends.  Our child choose this life rather than being surrounded by a loving family.  

My spouse and I feel so utterly rejected.  We did so much for our child and yet they can’t see it or appreciate it.  But it is worse than that, they won’t even speak to us and now they believe that that we were not only unable to help them through the struggles of their mental illness, but that we made their situation worse.  Our child has expressed to other family members with whom they are still speaking, that my spouse and I are controlling and abusive and that is why they left.  This is one of the most difficult aspects of this situation.   We love our child so much and have sacrificed so much for them helping them through school, assisting with finding a good career in which they could thrive and now they have completely rejected our family.  Our other children are deeply affected as well.  Not only was it challenging to maintain a peaceful home during those bipolar episodes, but our other children have struggled to understand how their sibling could leave without saying goodbye to them.  They are experiencing a deep loss as well and each will deal with it in their own way and even through our sorrow, we will need to be there to help them understand.

In our mind, we know it is our child’s mental illness that has caused such a dramatic change in only a few months, but it doesn’t make it any easier.  As I have pondered this situation, the thought that keeps coming to my mind is that I am being shown how God the Father feels when one of His children rejects Him.  He offers us unconditional love and the keys to the kingdom and many reject it preferring to live a life according to worldly values.  He loves us perfectly, yet some still reject Him and many of his children do so without the excuse of a mental illness.  

Longing for Their Return

What do we do now?  Surely we are not the only parents who have suffered this trial and we will not be the last.  How do we go on living our lives for each other and for our other children when it feels like one of them has died?  I am not an expert in this area, I am not trained in psychology (other than that one course in my freshman year of college), but I am a parent and I am a Christian.  I have the perfect example of how a parent should react to a child who rejects them, all I need to do is pick up my cross and carry it.  Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, by faith I must believe this, because this cross seems very heavy. I know that if I ask through prayer for help, He will provide it and He will take care of my child and lead them back home, perhaps not to my home, but surely to our heavenly Father’s home.  corn

I have been listening to the new book by Pope Francis, “The Name of God is Mercy”.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  Pope Francis is a true servant leader of the Catholic Church and if we could summarize his pontificate in one word, it would certainly be mercy.  Mercy is a tough thing to give and perhaps even a tougher thing to receive, but if we wish to be close to God, we must extend and embrace it because our God is a God of mercy.  In the pages of this book, I have heard God speaking to me loud and clear that our job as parents in this situation is to extend mercy to our child who has rejected us, much like the Father in the story of the prodigal son.  We need to be anxiously looking for their return home and if they do return, we need to welcome them with open arms.  We also need to help our other children and extended family to understand God’s mercy so they don’t act like the older son in the parable who while obedient to the Father, was bitter that the prodigal son caused so much misery for the family that he rejected.  

In the meantime, we will pray, along with many friends and family, for the safety of our child and for their return, and also pray for all those who have been affected by this situation.  It is hard not only for the parents, but for the grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins and friends.  We need to pray that each of us are ready to joyfully extend mercy if they are the one whom our child contacts seeking help.  Prayer is our most powerful weapon to change this situation, I have seen the power of prayer and it is real and effective.  I don’t know why this happened and there is not much I can do to fix it, but I trust that God can take this horrible situation and use it for His glory, I just wish I could see what He sees.  But for now I will have to use the eyes of faith and trust in His divine providence and His love for us and for our child.


DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}


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

BOOK: The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty

Review of The Catholic Guide to Depression

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