Scared But Hopeful

by Nancy Workman

Charles and Nancy’s son playing paintball at the Family School in upstate NY

My son is 22 years old and suffers from bipolar disorder (mainly depression), anxiety, ADHD and substance abuse. He was only 9 years old when he tried to jump off a balcony and we sought help. We actually had him as inpatient in a Baltimore top-rated hospital in the nation.

They sent him home a week later with parenting advice and a sticker chart.

I wish I were kidding. He was suicidal and they gave me a sticker chart? What? Are you serious? This was 2005. They did absolutely nothing to help us. Nothing.

I knew I was on a quest alone to save him. I found out my family history of mental illness, spoke to some other parents who knew mental illness, printed out a symptom checklist of “Pediatric Bipolar Disorder” (checked off 9 out of 10 boxes) and walked into a psychiatrist’s office with this information.

The doctor looked over this information (who had been treating my son) and said, “Ah-Ha.” Gee thanks!! I diagnosed my son. I then asked for a prescription for a Mood Stabilizer. We started him on a mood stabilizer and worked on meds to get him stable for 2 years. I had educated myself on the medications, so I knew what to ask for.

During that time, my son had horrible rages (extreme meltdowns) where he was manic and irritable and would try to hurt himself, his siblings, and me, sometimes. My husband and I would sometimes have to lay on him for hours to get him to calm down. We were living a nightmare. I have 2 other children who lived through this, too. My daughter was only 7 years old when she heard her brother ask for a rope.

After tweaking meds, we finally got him stable and we had a couple of good years. But, then he got addicted to marijuana around the age of 16. As Anne Moss has said before about Charles, we had him “kidnapped” out of his bed and taken to a wilderness program. He thrived in that environment and made many friends.

He was tested during this time as was Charles and they confirmed all we the diagnosis’ and addictive tendencies as well. All these are in my family tree, and my son inherited mental illness and addiction.

We sought educational consultants and placed our son in a boarding school in New York. This is where my son met Charles. They became fast friends and were “brothers” as a bunch of them called themselves. It was heart-warming when we would visit the school and see these boys share a close bond.

My son and Charles stayed in touch after my son graduated from this school. In June of 2015 my son got the message that Charles had ended his life. My son and others from the school met at the funeral to mourn the loss with the family. We have often talked of Charles and I know my son misses him very much.

My son has not been doing well the last few months and I have been very concerned that he may try to end his life. It is “suicide watch” and it is scary. I cannot describe the gut-wrenching feeling, but I am doing my best.

When we went to the psychiatrist recently, the doctor asked my son about suicide. My son replied, “I have seen what it has done personally, so I would not do that to my friends and family.” He was talking about Charles and also another friend from school who also ended his life. I breathed a big sigh of relief. But, I also know that suicide can be a very impulsive, desperate act. It is an action taken to end pain.

I am cautiously optimistic that my son will get better.

We are adjusting medication. We are going on a family vacation and I hope he will engage with the family doing some activities like kayaking, biking, golfing or anything for that matter. He has been sleeping most days for the past 3 months, so I will be happy for him to engage in anything with us.

My main message is to educate yourself as much as you can as a parent, talk to your child and talk openly to others about mental illness and addiction. Join support groups.

I am a mental health advocate with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I moderate a support group. I go into high schools and talk to students about depression, anxiety, etc. I talk to them about suicide and how to get help.

I am one person, but I am doing everything I can to help reduce stigma and save lives. Anne Moss, Charles and my son are all my inspiration.

The agony of planning to send my child away

6 thoughts on “Scared But Hopeful”

  1. Nancy – Thank you for your post! Anne- Thank You for another post!

    WOW! This is unreal. I just referred a Physician’s son that died by suicide that is desperately seeking help. Anne Moss Rogers was there as always, willing to help, willing to talk, willing to do anything and help start the conversation that WE ALL NEED to have.
    As one of Anne Moss Rogers’s friends, co-worker, helper to Beacon Tree….etc…. I appreciate all of you sharing and being open to spread the word, aside from her new recent accomplishment it IS very appreciated. We need a voice!

    We are dealing with an epidemic! Anne Moss Rogers is an accomplished speaker. If anyone of you knows an opening please call her!

  2. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story. I have written to Anne about my son and my husband previously and have gained insight on how to live with family members with mental illness through many of Anne’s posts. My husband of 43 years, Kevin R. Harris, hung himself in July of 2014. He was a successful PhD and MD pediatrician, a most caring and thoughtful man who suffered from extreme anxiety and bipolar illness. He spent 11 months in Bethesda at NIMH in 1997 in a program with 12 other patients. Mostly, they were guinea pigs for experimenting with new drugs which never worked. We have 2 wonderful children, a son and a daughter. Our son was difficult to raise because he could never sleep, and seemed to be extremely happy or extremely sad from hour to hour of each day. When he was 5, we took him to a child psychiatrist whom he continued to see until 19 years of age. When he was 16, he attempted suicide for the first of many times. He was diagnosed with severe anxiety, bipolar illness and ADHD. He went to college where he became an alcoholic. He has had many jobs, but loses them when he has to go into the hospital for depression or when he simply gives up. He rents a room for which I pay in Chicago. ( I live in PA). He received a DUI which was one of the best things to help him stop/curb his drinking. We tried the “tough love” approach and he lived in the streets for 6 months. He is 37 now and looking for a job and has a psychiatrist who is trying to get him on the right meds. I worry everyday that suicide will take him because he still has manias which are always followed by depression. Thank you for letting me have a place to tell my story. He is coming home for Thanksgiving and I am praying it will be a good visit.

    1. Ann, you are such a warrior. Thank you for sharing that. So tough to be on suicide watch . So hard to live for the moment and not worry. We’ll have to give you your own post. Let me know if you want to do that when you are ready. I hope thanksgiving goes well. I remember thinking that, too.

  3. Thank you for sharing your son’s struggles with us. You are helping others. I pray your upcoming vacation is a time of peace and rest for all of you.

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