by Nancy Workman
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.