Two years, three months, and 11 days ago, we sent our son away.
We didn’t want to, and we did. It had been 11 years since Tim’s first diagnosis. Over those years there were 12 hospitalizations, 27 different med combinations, seven therapeutic day schools, one suicide attempt, six broken doors, nine different doctors, and a partridge in a pear tree. We couldn’t get Tim stable at home, and the mental health of everyone else in the house was deteriorating. We couldn’t take anymore, but I didn’t know how I’d live without him. The glimpses of Stable Tim were priceless treasures of goofy humor, deep affection, and boundless compassion. But those glimpses had become so few and far between that I feared that if we didn’t take this drastic step, I might never see them again. He had just turned 15 years old.
When we made this choice it was a family decision. Tim wanted to get his illness under control as much as we did, but he also said he wanted to learn how to be independent from me and Tom. He had literally never spent one moment, outside of school, without either me or Tom since he was seven. It started because we couldn’t trust what he would do or what mood he would be in from one moment to the next, but eventually, Tim didn’t trust himself either. He clung to us, even when psychotic, hallucinating voices that called us evil, screaming what they preached inside his head while pounding his fists on walls, furniture, even us. So two years, three months, and 11 days ago, we checked him in to a long-term residential treatment facility, 120 miles from our home.
By and large, it’s working. Tim has had more periods of stability over the past 10 months than he had the eight years previous. He is becoming a skilled self-advocate, identifying his own symptoms and discussing treatment options and medication changes with his doctor on his own. Puberty and stubborn psychosis still rears their ugly twin heads, causing waves of hypomania and depression that ebb and flow in sync with the changes of light and season. We visit him at least one weekend a month and he comes home for overnight visits several times a year. He’s learning not only how to live with this condition, but how to be an adult. He attends school, has a part time job, and is responsible for his laundry, chores around his group home, and plays competitive basketball and track.
This morning, Tim called me before school. I could hear he was pacing and breathing heavily. He spoke loudly and rapidly, gulping air in between sentences, making the next words louder than the ones just before. It took me a few minutes to understand the problem. He’d had a disagreement with one of his housemates, and he was pacing and yelling and calling me in an attempt to avoid a full-blown rage of his own. Over the next ten minutes I coaxed him to use his breathing techniques to calm him, and got him to stop talking until he was calm and no longer pacing. Either Tom or I get several calls like this every month. Several weeks ago the call was so desperate in the middle of a Thursday that I left work and drove the four hours round trip to hold his hand and sit with him until the agitation and anxiety passed. Even with the army of therapists and social workers and psychiatric aides that interact with Tim every day, the tether between him and us is still very much intact. When he first went away, I think he thought – and we assumed – that him learning independence from us meant he had to learn to live without us. But today, two years, three months, and 11 days after he went away, he and I both know that growing up does not mean growing apart. I will always know my child better than any specialist, and he will always rely on me to smooth out the rough edges.
Editor’s note: If you’re on Twitter, I encourage you to follow her to get and give support. She amazingly real. You can find Chrisa here or her blog The Mindstorm: Raising a Mentally Ill Child. Please welcome her as a monthly contributor to our site, with her focus being pediatric mental illness.