The other day I shared about how TheODDDad and I never expected to have children of our own because of medical issues, but how God has smiled down upon us and given us both Bear and Stitch.
One of the best things I did during that dark time was to buy a book on surviving infertility. This book wasn't about the best positions or diets to increase your fertility, it was about dealing with the overwhelming emotions that come with being told you can't have children. Having a baby is something we take for granted. We play with dolls as little girls, and we just assume that one day we'll get married and have babies. But what about when that doesn't happen? What about when your body betrays you? What about when the very sight of a baby makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and sob until you fall asleep and don't hurt anymore? How do you deal with the loss of the dream you envisioned for your life? This book dealt with those things. It said: here's what you're probably feeling, and that's OK; here's what other people are saying to you, and here's how to respond; here's how to explain what you're going through and why it's important to share it with the ones who love you. That book was a lifeline for me.
Having a child who suffers from a mental illness has been, in my experience, similar to dealing with infertility. Everything looks normal on the outside, but looks are deceiving. There is a stigma attached to mental illness, and especially to childhood mental illness. Why is that? About 20% of children and adolescents worldwide suffer from mental health problems. That means that in a classroom of 20 kids, four of them will at some point in their childhood experience some form of mental illness.
I can't speak for other forms of childhood mental illness, but I can tell you that children with ADHD and ODD are often misunderstood. Because they look normal but often appear to be out of control, they are often labeled as brats. People don't like brats. And why are children brats? Well, because of bad parenting of course! So in addition to people judging your child, they also judge you and your parenting skills. And you know, I get it. I really do. Bear is as cute, funny, and smart as they come, but when he's running up and down the aisle in church or calling me names at the store because he can't get his own way, it really does look as if he's getting away with murder. But here's the thing. I know that if I don't diffuse the situation, it will escalate. Escalating, in our world, means that he gets aggressive and we have to physically restrain him before someone gets hurt. We've never had to do that in public, but only because we haven't allowed situations to get that out-of-hand. Instead, we've left church in the middle of the service, looking like we can't control our son.
The reason I'm telling you this is because yesterday I received an email from a woman I've never met before, thanking me for my blog. "I am so glad to have found your blog. I cried, I laughed and I don't feel so alone in a world where add/odd is just looked at as bad behavior and parenting. THANK YOU!" Other than how good it feels to share what I'm going through, this woman's response is part of the reason why I'm doing what I'm doing with my blog. Parents of children with mental health issues often face more parenting challenges in a week than other parents face in a lifetime. This blog is about me reaching out to other parents to say "This is what I"m feeling, and it's OK if you are too. You're a good parent, and you and your child are going to be alright." Mission accomplished.