Real talk: parenting a kid with mental illness

If you’re a parent, or, hell, if you’re a person, you’re supposed to act like everything is fine, good, great. “How are you?” “I’m good!” You can handle everything. You know what you’re doing. You have this infinite reserve of patience and energy and good cheer and resilience. You’re not supposed to say everything sucks and is terrible and is so hard. It’s not! Everything is good!

Nothing is good.

It doesn’t matter if that’s a lie, because it’s what my brain believes. My brain believes lies. Everyone has their talent, and this is mine. My brain eats every good thing that ever happens in my life, writes it off as a fluke, and spits it out. My brain absorbs every remotely negative or challenging thing, convinces me that this is what I deserve, and feeds off those negative thoughts over and over.


So, you can imagine, being stuck in a relatively endless cycle of hard parenting gives my brain a lot to work with. For 6+ months, Callum has been struggling. Hard. A bout of deep depression and suicidal ideation obliterated any progress he was making in school. It turns out that if a kid has ADD, anxiety, and depression (even if all are being treated and addressed), school and LIFE can be really hard. Go fig. It turns out that if a mother has anxiety and depression, parenting her kid through those challenges can be awful. Revelatory, right? And, because this child is genetically mine, I get the added fun of constantly thinking I DID THIS TO YOU. I PASSED THIS MENTAL HEALTH NIGHTMARE TO YOU. And, let’s not forget, I also get to feel like a failure all the time. Not because I objectively think I am, but because Bad Brain lives on lies.

Here is a week in our life:

Callum is missing 14 assignments from the past few weeks. Teachers call me, administrators call me, detention happens. We take Callum to his psychologist, to his psychiatrist. I send paperwork in triplicate to various people. I ask teachers to fill out forms. I send emails to his school, talk with his teachers, refill prescriptions, and give pep talks. We sit for hours trying to cheerlead him through homework, trying to shut up the damn lies his own brain tells him about himself and his abilities. Callum stays after school twice a week for extra help. I cry. A lot. I go to work, clean the house, run errands, try to write things for SLJ or TLT or for my neglected novel. I go through his binder, I check Schoology, I print off missing work, I email his teachers some more. I remind him to do things like shower and eat and sleep, because Bad Brain tells us things like WHO CARES? CARING FOR YOURSELF IS POINTLESS. FEEL BAD! DO THINGS TO FEEL WORSE!

Bad Brain is kind of an asshole.

Meanwhile, I sit in front of my SAD light. I take Prozac, Elavil, and Klonopin. I wake up a thousand times in the night from nightmares and panic attacks. I then sit there and ruminate over the horrors of life. I turn on Parks and Rec for company, trying to drown out my brain. I snuggle dogs. I go to work and act like Buddy the Elf all day for elementary kids (because! I! have! to! be! cheerful!) then come home and am just so tired from putting on The Extrovert Show all day. I feel like everything I do is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. This is not the part where you need to remind me that that isn’t true (though so much love to everyone who does constantly remind me of this)—I know it’s not true. I am doing everything I can to help my kid through This. But, Bad Brain, remember?

Matthew’s mantra through all of this is that we just need to prioritize our kid not hating himself and wanting to die. That is a Tall Order. And one that feels especially monumental in the face of so much other STUFF that surrounds this.

If parenting is easy for you, and your kid is perfect, then yay for you. Also, you’re a liar. I don’t know anyone who would categorize parenting or their kid like that. But if things are crappy and hard, I hear you. I see you. This sucks. It’s not easy. It’s demoralizing. I am tired. My kid is very, very tired. But we fight for him. We advocate. We do the work. He does the work. It is awful and tiring and endless. It is truly a Sisyphean task, and every day we just try to not be flattened by that boulder. Every day we push harder and try again.

It is terrible. It is exhausting. But it is our reality. We want our child to feel better. To do better. But it’s not that easy.

It sucks and is terrible and is so hard.