The day my son called and told me about his attempted suicide, followed by telling me that he had been diagnosed with a mental illness, I tried to maintain a “sunny attitude.” Part of the charade was so he wouldn’t get angry and hang up. And, part was due to not knowing what else to do. It was three days before I cried.
Bryon’s diagnosis has changed him forever. The diagnosis has changed our family forever. And, we needed to learn how to cope with the change.
One of the ways we started to cope was by taking classes with other families who were in the same position as us, other families who also didn’t know what to do next. We all learned there are stages to dealing with mental illness for us, just as with any traumatic change in a family.
Stage One: Transition
By the time a diagnosis is given, a family has already progressed into, and sometimes through, transition. This is the time when we see our loved one move from health to illness.
Often our loved ones are very ill before we know or realize that it is more serious than simple teenaged rebellion. Too often, it takes a traumatic event to find out that our son or daughter has a very serious brain disorder. Many times, by the time it is diagnosed, family members have given up and don’t know what else to do but reject the one they love.
For many families, like ours, the change isn’t recognized as an illness. Since most mental illnesses begin to manifest in the late teens to early twenties, the symptoms are viewed more as rebellion than symptoms. A rejection of what has been taught.
We knew absolutely nothing about mental illness. We knew something was wrong with our son. The change was gradual, but a change nonetheless.
We sought help in the place we thought best, our church. No one there was prepared to recognize the symptoms of mental illness. We were trying to manage symptoms that were unmanageable. Over the years, we have learned that other parents go through the transition in much the same way.
Because the transition stage is before a diagnosis is known, it is scary and hard. Pour it out to God. Let Him carry you through this time of struggle and change.
Your loved one may not get a professional diagnosis for years. As you learn more about mental illness, you may see the telltale signs and know what the problem is.
Once you know it is an illness, you’ll be able to move on.