“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Nietzsche’s quote above has become very much a part of who I am. When you gaze into that abyss, it gazes back, and it tells you what you are made of. And, you know, you might be surprised that even in the midst of monsters, you can find your own heroism and the goodness of others. It’s a good thing to remember when you have a child go through a crisis.
Our abyss opened up a few years ago, when our beautiful, funny, smart sophomore in high school fell apart. It was right at the end of Christmas break, the other kids had left to their various homes, and B was very sad. We tried to get her to talk about it, but she just seemed to shrink into a shell. It was hard to understand, since she had always been excited about school and she had a large group of fun, quirky friends. It wasn’t until she committed a criminal act that we knew she was not just sad, but truly ill.
It would be months before we had a diagnosis of bipolar disease with atypical symptoms, and, by that time she was in the juvenile justice system. It was devastating for us. We had never had a child in trouble, never (that we knew of) had a child experiencing hallucinations or the terror of a mind that isn’t working the way that it should. We did not know a lawyer and did not understand the system, and our girl was arrested and taken away before we could even process what to do. She was locked up without seeing a lawyer or even very extensive questioning.
We had to work from behind, finding a lawyer, trying to build a case, and fighting to get her out of a detention facility where she was rapidly descending into full-blown psychosis (which was taken as “acting out” and punished). Before she finally found good treatment at a state hospital, she attempted suicide 22 times. She cut herself, painted with blood on her cell walls, cycled up and down in mood, and was, at one point, so overmedicated that she could not put a sentence together. We stared into that abyss and found that, as parents, we not only had voices, but that those voices could be effective. So for parents in crisis, here are some ways you can be there for your child:
Don’t be afraid to look in that abyss. You’ll be amazed how much strength you have.