Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

When You Gaze Into the Abyss

06/10/2015 | Published by: A Mom

“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:

  1. Do not be ashamed. Your child may have committed a crime, she may have done something awful at school, and he may have hurt himself or others, but he or she is still your child and still the person you know. Advocate, love, and see the whole person even if others cannot.
  2. Find help. Don’t be afraid to call people, to ask questions, and to seek help for your child. We live in a very rural area with few resources, so I think this website is amazing for helping you make those connections. Find them and use them. Take advantage of family support and therapy to help you cope with your child’s needs.
  3. Be strong. You might be told that your child is a liar, or that you are a bad parent, or that some kids are just bad. You do not have to accept that. Even if you have made mistakes, you do not have to accept that. Don’t let it deter you from advocating and making your case for your child.
  4. Pay attention. Keep records. Talk to your child as often as you are allowed to. Check on their stories; follow up with their doctors/superintendents/wardens/teachers (whatever system they are in). Make sure that you have your facts and present reasonable arguments. Keep presenting them even if you have to send them to an advocacy group or your state representative to get action. Don’t give up.
  5. Remember that almost everyone you deal with will have your child’s best interests at heart, even if they are entirely mistaken about those interests. Approaching everyone with this mindset helps you to make your case and promotes people listening. Don’t yell (Okay, so I yelled once or twice, but only in extreme situations.), but don’t be afraid to say that you are angry, and don’t be ashamed if you cry. It’s your child. You can grieve.
  6. Finally, believe in the future. My daughter is a junior in college. She’s doing very well (dean’s list, thank you). She has wonderful friends and she’s going to a comic-con (road trip!) in a couple of weeks. She’s wonderful, and we love her, and she knows that no matter what, we will never give up on her.

Don’t be afraid to look in that abyss. You’ll be amazed how much strength you have.

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