A journey no parent should take alone

Feb. 09, 2013 @ 04:08 AM

It was, of course, the topic of conversation inside the BP gas station on that cold December morning.

What caused it. What could have prevented it. What should definitely not be done to try and prevent it from happening again.

And we all, of course, had an opinion.

My own?

“That boy had no business being out in society!” I heard myself burst out in the middle of the discussion.

The people around me fell silent as I continued my harangue.

I mean, the kid was clearly crazy, right? The warning signs — they were all there!

He should have been institutionalized, I declared.

I left the gas station shortly afterward, upset and angry…and a little ashamed of that self-righteous rant.

Wouldn’t I, too, be afraid to hand my child over to strangers in “the system”? Wouldn’t I dread marking my child for life with an official record of mental illness?

Really, what lengths wouldn’t I go to in order to hold onto my child?

Frankly, I’m not even convinced that Adam Lanza suffered from mental illness. Maybe when all is said and done, he was just one of the true devils that walks among us.

But in the rawest days after his rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary, these questions nagged and tugged at me ... and eventually, led me to accept an invitation to an open house for our local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

I can tell you that after attending this event, I have a new and very concerned regard for the parents of mentally children. I also no longer subscribe to certain vague notions about mental illness that I previously held for years.

For example, I used to believe that most psychological issues, even very serious ones, could be treated without the use of psychotropic drugs. But a film that was screened at the open house has considerably altered my opinion.

The people in this film had problems that I cannot begin to fathom, much less primly judge how to treat them. Like hearing voices. Or being subjected to completely new personality changes out of the blue.

And every single one of them cited medication as the stabilizing factor that allowed them to live as productive members of society. Other things were recognized, of course – like family support, a good church, and satisfying work. But it was the medication that banished the most crippling symptoms of their various illnesses.

And so, it’s not just a matter of finding a place that can treat your child. It’s finding a place that can give your child the correct diagnosis — a process that can take years, so the sooner a parent starts, the better.

It’s the critical point from which everything must follow, especially hitting upon the correct dosages and combinations of medication.

The most important thing I learned — and I feel this is imperative to share wherever I can — is that parenting a mentally ill child does not have to put one on a lonely and isolated path. Right here in Rutherford County, we have a very under-utilized resource for parents and other family members: our local NAMI chapter’s “Family-to-Family Education Program.”

If someone close to you is struggling with mental illness, and you’re desperately searching for answers — this course is where you’ll find them.

One mother I spoke with told me that what she learned completely changed how she interacted with her mentally ill son. As a result, her son was finally able to perceive his mother was truly on his side.

With all the talk about how we need to do more in Rutherford County for the mentally ill, you may be surprised to learn (I certainly was) that NAMI presently has a difficult time getting enough people to sign up for a class that can make such a positive difference.

But maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. Those hypothetical questions that haunted me that morning after leaving the BP gas station…well, they’re very real concerns for others. If they are for you or a loved one, please — consider signing up for the Family-to-Family Education program.

It could very well change your perspective, which is often the fastest way to change a challenging situation.

For more information, contact NAMI president Betty Frye at 704-434-5166 or 704-583-0845.


Stephanie Janard is a mother and full-time copywriter. She lives in Spindale. To reach Stephanie, email sjanard@msn.com