Monday, March 17, 2008

MOMMY (Caregiver/Mentor) MONDAYS (#6)


Around 15, my son was showing the normal signs of puberty and adolescence, but by 15 1/2, they started to get more severe. Who would know it was more than just puberty and adolescence? He was my oldest child and the oldest of 10 grandchildren. I was supposed to go through everything first and then let everyone else in the family see what it looked like. We were all "first-timers" through me. This means I had no idea what normal puberty looked like, except for what I was looking at. But God gives us some kind of insight and wisdom doesn't He? In areas where we're ignorant, He gives us some kind of sense that something is not quite right. In my case, He finally woke me up to realize, "This isn't just your average kid going through puberty and boy whose testosterone levels have peaked." Something wasn't quite right and eventually, between what I was seeing and what he finally told me, I realized that my son was/is mentally ill. Up to this point, my son was the average kid (with the exception of ADHD), was polite and respectful, got into the same little life's troubles as other kids (but nothing the average family can't handle or doesn't see all of the time), was very smart, hung around pretty good kids, etc.

Here's some information, while nowhere near exhaustive, I'd like to share with my readers and that I hope you share with someone so that we can all be on the lookout and help our babies. Boys who will have a mental illness usually show signs of the illness around the age my son did, around 15 1/2 to 16. This is the classic, average age, although, it can happen before or after then. If it is hereditary (or whatever other reason a person can acquire this disease), usually something like puberty (and the great hormonal changes that come with that) or trauma will trigger it. My son has a history of mental illness on both sides of the family, but more prominent and similar to his own kind on his father's side. For a while, the illness can closely mimic puberty and all that goes with that, and then it may look like puberty gone out of control, but you still may not recognize what you're dealing with. All children don't exhibit signs the same way and to the same severity. In fact, it may not be anything "wild" at all, but what we all do know, is that something isn't quite right with this child and it no longer fits the bill of "just growing up." What you have to watch out for, in yourself, is that you don't jump to conclusions about what could be normal and assume that they do, in fact, have some sort of mental illness. Well, I'm sure the next question is, "Well, how can you tell?" All I can say is, you're the caregiver in some capacity and to some degree, whether you're the mom there everyday, a foster parent temporarily, an aunt, a friend, whatever, and you probably make enough contact with the child that, if you've paid close enough attention to the habits of this child, and you've listened to the normal rants of other caregivers whose children are going through normal "stuff," somehow God just lets you KNOW that you're no longer looking at normal. That's all I can say about this part because I hadn't known anybody with this type of mental illness before this, I had no books to go by, I had no one to tell me about it, nothing. Never fear, sooner or later, YOU WILL KNOW!! The desire is to know sooner than later because the sooner you can get your child help, the better for them in the short and long run.

I started out by taking my son to see a counselor, for just the "normal" puberty stuff. He got worse. At home he was suffering in ways we could have never imagined until he finally told us. The illness (NOS Psychosis or Schizophrenic type behaviors) is a major deceiver. It is a cruel disease like Alzheimer's, although it is not Alzheimer's. Once my son started to tell us what he was hearing and seeing, he realized that the secret was no longer his, and his mind told him that he should not have shared it with us. So now, he was suffering with the illness, trying to tell someone, but the illness was fighting back, fighting against him, trying to keep him from sharing it and possibly getting well, deceiving him so that he got to the place where he tried to start hiding it, and thinking that he would have been better off not ever saying anything because "now everyone knows, and I don't really have a problem, and if I wanted to make it go away I could, and it's not as serious as I may have made it sound, and I've gotten used to it and it doesn't bother me anymore"...stuff like that. Our son struggled hard with trying to be "normal" now. He didn't want to be unlike the rest of the boys his age. He had always wanted to fit in, and now having this disease made him want to fit in more. No way was he going to let on what was going on. What he didn't know is that left untreated, the disease would always have the upper hand and would always reveal itself, whether it was in subtle ways or obvious.

We didn't know the stuff mentioned above and more until months later. He had suffered a great deal by then, and we were thinking that this has got to be the worst case of adolescence and puberty in the world!! But, it was so strange that hormones would do stuff like what we were initially seeing to the degree it was. While we had not yet been told about what my son had been audibly hearing and what he had been seeing, he was talking faster than normal when he got upset, he was looking around while we talked to him sometimes or just looking off to the side, he was getting upset more than normal over really petty things, he was talking back and very rudely and disrespectfully (something he had not done toward me, adult family members, any other adult up to this point), he was staying in his room more or wanting to be out of the house, away from around family, but drawn to other people that he would have NEVER previously been around, he was making really bad choices rather rapidly, he was telling lies on a regular basis now (not your kid fibs that they would tell to keep out of trouble occasionally while growing up), he was starting to want to get into music and other activities that, up to this point, would never and had never been a choice of his, he was thinking of really strange ideas and things to say and do, he was going in and out of his window at odd times of morning and night, and a host of other things. Well, most of them sound like just your average, rebellious teenage "stuff" right? You have to look closer. Sometimes the normal kid would "come out" and stay out and then sometimes this kid I just described would "come out," and then, the "abnormal" kid started to "come out" and stay out more often because...the disease was getting worse and it was completely out of his control. The harder he tried to maintain control and gain control of it, the worse it got and the more frustrated he got. His frustration would come out in ways that mimicked normal puberty, but sometimes it would be worse. This is what fooled us for so long. He did a tremendous job of hiding it for as long as he did. We had done everything, talked to him, took him out by himself to spend time, gave him an open forum to tell us whatever he wanted, privileges, church, activities, freedoms where we could, counseling, what we thought was the right school for him, you name it. We were vigilant parents and we paid close attention to our children and their stages,...or so we thought. We prayed for them on a regular basis and for ourselves so that we could raise them the way we should. Well, while it appears that the prayers didn't pay off, actually they did, because we were praying for discernment on how to raise them and at this point, God was giving us the discernment to realize that something was wrong and we needed help. He was helping us raise our children and He started to set the alarms off big time!!

Once our son told us what he was experiencing, and with no sources to tap from outside, having never gone through this before, not knowing where to start, we first looked within; we prayed, looked in the Bible for answers, we started asking questions, we looked on the computer, and then we talked to doctors and started pooling help from everywhere. We stumbled our way through. Sometimes we feel like he suffered more at our hands than the illness itself because of our ignorance with dealing with the matter and knowing how and when to get help, but God is gracious and was protecting our son (no matter what it looked like) the whole time. What we didn't realize until later is that He was protecting us too. If we could tell all of what we went through the first year, it will appear by all of what should have been, that we should be needing some serious mental help and intervention ourselves. IT WAS TOUGH!!! Only a God like the one we serve could have pulled a family through. Obviously our son still and probably will always have a mental illness, but we are many steps closer to him being the best he is ever going to be now, and we take one step closer every time God reveals another piece to the puzzle or another step we can all take in getting him "there." We got him lots of help in our city, but because we had just about exhausted all of our resources here and because of some of the poor choices our son had made while he was suffering through the hardest part of his illness (at that time), he could no longer remain in our home if we were to keep him safe, keep him out of trouble, keep him from hurting himself, and give him a start to the best future he could possibly have (our son was months away from turning 18-that comes with the possibility of a lot of stuff, not always good if you're ill). He lives with my sister in another city and her family. She and her husband were gracious enough to take him for whatever length of time it took to help us in his healing process and to plant his feet on more solid ground. We all (the siblings) have a great sense of "family" so, while this was not going to be an easy road for them or us (having to even THINK of sending our son, whom we want at home under the best conditions, away), it didn't take them long to agree to help and come to the rescue of another family member.

We are all now in the process of getting him through his senior year of high school (PRAISE THE LORD ALMIGHTY because we had lost hope in this or thought that it was going to have to be put off for a while, and, at the best case scenario, be completed in a very specialized setting) although it is a homebound program, helping him transition into adulthood (which is proving to be difficult, but he's listening just a smidgen more now to us than he has for a long time), helping him in his independence (although we think he'll always need some one's guidance and help), and helping him understand, accept, and cope with his disease. This last one I think, has been the hardest and it may be for a while. What soon-to-be 18 year old boy, who has the same desires, wishes, etc. of any other one, wants to think that they're that different than the rest of them? Boys innately think that they can conquer the world, so conquering this "disease" and making it "poof" go away or at least "be gone" when he wants it to is not beyond their thinking. It is very hard to penetrate that line of thinking and change it when this thinking is what boys are hard-wired to do. This wiring works perfectly for them under "normal" circumstances, but it makes conquering a disease that you really don't have any control over VERY difficult, for the parents, the child, and all of the wonderful caregivers involved.

Moms, caregivers, mentors, watch your babies (girls and boys) very carefully. I haven't shared nearly as much as I'd like, but for the sake of space and time, I've included thoughts that I think will get you to be more vigilant (but not overly) and caring (even if it's not your own child) about a disease that, up to this point, you may not have thought much about. My husband and I have decided that for our son's sake, other children that may be out there like him, and the parents and caregivers of these children, we're going to speak out and shed some light on the subject. We didn't have much to go on initially, but we wanted to make sure that we did our part in making ourselves, not just available if you find you have the same situation, but available beforehand, so that you'll know what to look for and catch something early, or you'll know that you have a "normal" baby after all:).

Since I could not have described the disease and warning signs in great enough detail hear and certainly couldn't answer all questions and curiosities, please visit websites like,, or a host of other great websites. You can Google just about anything and pull up a wealth of information on a specific mental illness to mental illness in general. Check out Psychology books at the library. A friend of mine gave me a great one from when she was in college, and it had a lot of very useful and relevant information. See if your church has a ministry that caters to the support and giving of information for mental illness, and like in my case, if they don't have one, pray about and dare to go to them and start one. IT IS VERY NECESSARY THAT THE CHURCHES ADEQUATELY ADDRESSES THESE ISSUES AND ARE EQUIPPED TO DO SO!! Ask a psychologist, psychiatrist, and mental illness nurse specialist to give you their time and some paper information. Talk to your child a lot and absorb information. They can give you a better clue of what's going on with them than anybody can. PRAY AND PRAY WITHOUT CEASING THROUGHOUT YOUR CHILD'S LIFE!! While that may seem obvious, sometimes we need to be reminded that it takes God, who created us, to tell us and show us how to raise us. That's the most important thing. He will lead you, like He lead us, to all of the answers. You're not in it by yourself. What a great, needful, and refreshing reminder!! All of the resources and answers we got came across our paths, our hearts, and our minds because of Him. Let me end by telling you this too, if we had not known Christ BEFORE our son's mental illness ordeal, this would have pushed us to seek Him out because we were desperate for something besides ourselves to give the help on lonely nights and turmoil-filled days that we absolutely COULD NOT have gotten on our own. You realize really quickly that the whole ordeal is much bigger than you, and there is nothing in this world or nobody big enough to handle such a thing BUT GOD!! You can take that fact to the bank!!

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