When I wrote this article in 2014, The Agony of a Child’s Mental Illness, I felt alone and naked on an island.
I was exposing my family’s ugly secret in public. To have a child not thriving is the last thing a parent wants to admit because it feels like a failure.
I was supremely uncomfortable sharing that article because I had no idea what the reaction would be. Turns out it was hugely popular and the follow up article after my son’s suicide went viral because others read their story in mine. And while I have become accustomed to staying true to my purpose of boldness on the subject, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer uncomfortable for me. It is.
I do a lot of second guessing myself. I hesitate and look at all angles for an escape route. I do a lot of deep breathing to coax myself out of my fear.
The hard part is making others uncomfortable. People don’t like that. They want a warm fuzzy blanket and what I’m doing is throwing ice cold gator aide in their faces instead.
People who come to my presentations are not always prepared for what they are going to hear. What’s more, I’m often presenting on suicide at business groups, or at 7am in the morning to an audience who might not have otherwise invited something that raw into the room.
It’s not uncommon for me to look into an audience so wide-eyed and stock still they don’t even move. No mobile phones. No checking the computer. So shock is an emotion with which I’ve become intimately acquainted and have had to learn to deal with by having faith that they’ll be with me a few minutes into it. And they do. Surprisingly they are inspired and end up telling me their own stories. I would have never thought that. Every single review I get whether it’s from a researcher at NIMH or a fifteen year old boy, it’s always surprising how they are inspired to talk and do something which only validates my mission to keep presenting on the topic.
I don’t spend a lot of time on preamble. I just dive in and get started. No charts or graphs. Mostly pictures. And with the teens, a lot of video.
So earlier this year, I gave a presentation and one of the moms brought her son. Unbeknownst to me, she was angry after. Despite the topic description, she felt she had exposed her son to a story he didn’t need to hear.
To take people on a tour of what it’s like to have a child suffer from mental illness including addiction and die by suicide, they have to feel it and understand how I went from being emotionally broken and shell shocked to a functioning, joyful human being again.
As this mom got into the car with her son to go home, she was still trying to resolve how she was going to tell me I should expose teens to this story.
While she was struggling with her anger in her own mind, her son interrupted the temper tantrum in her head and said, “Mom, there is something I need to tell you…. I’ve been thinking of suicide.” Then he thanked her for having the guts to take him and he wanted to download Charles‘ music and read all about him.
She told me she and her son then talked heart-to-heart for an hour and a half. When she emailed me, she said she and her son had not had a conversation that open in years and she felt she had not even known him prior to that conversation. She said instead of being upset her son heard the story, she was grateful. She didn’t think he would have opened up as he did if it weren’t for taking him that night.
Like me, she had no idea her son was suffering. And now she had the benefit of helping her son get help instead of planning his funeral.
It’s stories like these that strengthen my resolve and my purpose.
So I won’t apologize for making people uncomfortable because the benefits of speaking out far outweigh staying within culture’s rigid boundaries. Someone has to challenge them. And one of those people is me.