OUR FAMILY’S JOURNEY
I’m from Memphis, Tn., born and raised. I met my husband through a mutual friend while he was in Optometry school in Memphis. I was a working psychiatric nurse and had received my RN, BSN from University of Tennessee. We married upon his graduation and moved to Oklahoma where he was born and raised. He began his optometry career and I continued to work in psychiatry at our local hospital as a nurse manager. I eventually worked for another hospital in Kansas as a Nurse Program Director with alzheimer’s patients. I always wanted to go into psychiatry because of our family history. My aunt was bipolar, my grandmother had personality disorders, my grandfather was a workaholic and there were alcoholics on both sides of my family. I wanted to know what made their brains work differently. I grew up very close to my family.
After 4 years of marriage, we had a beautiful baby boy in January of 1997. My husband’s career was growing and i was doing contract work because I could take our son with me on sites. On August 21, 1997, our world stopped. My husband was in a horrible car accident. He was coming home from a meeting when a 16 yo kid over corrected his car and hit my husband head on. The child had just received his drivers license that day and was coming home from his girlfriends house. He was ejected from his truck and died instantly. (He was a good kid and i got to know his mom really well.) My husband had a torn aorta in his heart, left lung collapsed, torn diaphragm, and crushed left leg. He had multiple surgeries and only a 5 % chance of surviving. They also had to amputate his left leg. He did survive! Two years later, we had another beautiful son! Life went on as a new normal for us. My husband went on to win a bronze medal in the 2000 paralympics for cycling in Australia and came in 8 th in Greece 4 years later! I could do a whole book on this part of our lives. I learned patience, forgiveness, and how precious life is.
Fast forward a few years, as I became the stay at home mom raising two boys, while my husband built his optometry practice. I was president of one of our local volunteer girls programs, helped out with school when needed etc. As the boys were growing, I noticed a change in our oldest son. This is where our lives, once again, changed forever. By the time he was in 2nd grade, I noticed that at school, our oldest son was the “perfect” child! He was quiet, seemed to listen in school, played well with others etc. At home, he was belligerent, sad, and did not want to leave the house. He was becoming more and more aggressive as the year went on. I contacted a psychologist and made an appointment. He went one time and refused to go back! In the meantime, he began to withdraw more. My husband and I went weekly to see the psychologist and he helped guide us on how to handle the situation. I went completely into psych nurse mode. No family, friends, or church knew what was going on. He was still the “perfect” child out in public. I also knew the stigma on mental illness and how this would affect him socially. We live in a small town where “mental illness” does not exist. He had been diagnosed with anxiety and mood disorder. No meds were given at this time. We began to change how we disciplined and some environmental factors etc. Things calmed down. He began to socialize more, not as moody, or aggressive. I never will forget what our psychologist said next, “Since he is doing well, I am going to close the chart for now, and you keep me posted. I will see you when he is in 8th grade. Just call the office at that time when things are out of control, and i will get you all in asap!” I thought, ‘what is he talking about?’ We were doing so well!! 3rd grade to 8th grade went by with minimal issues!
AND THEN…..All hell broke loose….. He began to withdraw. He began to get increasingly aggressive, and SLEEP. He would sleep for 16 hours. His grades remained great and the teachers said he was the “perfect” child in class. Also, during all these years, he played football and baseball. The coaches had no issues either. He was there for practices, games etc without any problems. To the outside world, we were the perfect family. Inside our house, was total chaos. He would come home from school and sports and just collapse into major meltdowns. By April of his 8th grade year, things got way out of control. Sometimes as parents, we have to make hard decisions. I had worked mental health enough to know what I needed to do. He began sleeping through school and I had called him in “sick” a few times. I began to hate mornings. Every morning was an all out war to get him up to go to school. I felt sorry for our youngest son who had to hear this every morning. He began to say “dark” things like how he hated life, how he would feel better dead and he began to get very aggressive. Remember, no one outside of our house knew anything that was going on.
FINAL “STRAW” THAT BROKE…. We were dying Easter eggs the night before Easter as we had always done every year. It was tense that evening and i was just trying to be extra happy to make it a happy evening for our youngest son. Upon dying the eggs, our oldest son had written on every egg before dying it, “F— You”. So as the color of the egg came through, you could read the words. I was so angry. He laughed. I thought “who is this child?” My husband by this time has retreated to himself. He had no idea how to handle this child. So since I’m the psych nurse, it was left up to me. After Easter break, things progressed and he continued to not get up for school. So I knew it was time for drastic measure! I called the school and told them to send the truancy officer. The school originally did not want to do this because “he is not a bad kid” and ya’ll are “good people”. I demanded it. The officer came and was very nice. He gave my son every opportunity to just get up and go to school. My son decided to buck up against authority. He was 14 yo and was arrested that day. I followed in my car crying all the way to the police station, knowing in my head that this was the right thing to do, but my heart was breaking. He was finger printed and processed. He looked terrified. They talked him into going to school, but now we were in the system. We had to go to truancy court and he had to comply with all the probation rules for the rest of the year. This included seeing a psychologist (which is why I needed the truancy involved, because for months he had refused to see anyone). I called the psychologist and said, “Well remember when you said I would be calling back in 8th grade, well here we are”. We went the next day after school.
THIS DAY CHANGED OUR LIVES FOREVER……I sat outside in the waiting room while my son went back with the psychologist. It was not long when the psychologist returned and asked if i could come back there. I knew this was not good. The psychologist said I could not take him home. He said my son was extremely suicidal and had already tried to take his life! I was trying to wrap my head around all this! WHAT?! You see, I began to work in my husband’s practice a few years earlier, but I came home when the kids came home from sports or school. I was always home when they were here! So i did not understand when he had tried something like this. Three days earlier, he had come from school instead of going to practice. He had bought a rope at the store and tied it around the swing set in the backyard. He had wrapped the rope around his neck and when he tried to hang himself, the rope broke. Just when he was about to attempt it again, he heard someone coming in the house. You see, I had tried calling him because I had a question about something. He did not answer my call. I just had a “funny” feeling something was wrong. I left work and went up to his baseball practice only to find out he did not show up. He had taken the bus home. I went home and he was in the kitchen waiting on me. He had heard the car pulling into the garage. He pulled the rope onto the ground so I would not see it hanging. He ran inside and greeted me in the kitchen. He just said he did not feel well and came home. He asked me several times when I was returning to work. I had a gut feeling to stay home and I did. I truly believe this was a God intervention. If I had not followed my gut instinct, he would not be here today. He was honest with the psychologist and said he could not promise that he would not try again. We left the psychology office and headed to Tulsa for an inpatient stay. He was very honest on the intake assessment. Since I knew what was going on and how the process works, I had a sense of peace. My husband on the other hand, was rocked to the core. When he got to the hospital, he was terrified, shocked and in disbelief as to what was happening. I will never forget the look on his face, when they took his baby boy behind the locked psychiatric door, knowing his child will never be the same. He spent 28 days in there. That included Mothers Day that year. We got a special visit to take him out to the park. He was so different. Such a flat affect. He obviously was on medication and a lot of it. So here began the long journey of navigating the medications,the system and the schools!
This is the REASON FOR THE BLOG! If there is any way I can help someone work through the system of mental health and schools, then I know I have done something good in this world! It honestly has been a nightmare. People do not want to acknowledge there are mental health issues and the schools do not want to deal with it either. I tried to offer services to the school (as a psychiatric nurse, I could give an in-service to teachers about mood disorders, panic attacks, depression etc.), but to no avail. I even had a conference with the school at the beginning of his 9th grade year with the teachers and our psychologist attended as well. Only 2 teachers showed up and the principal and assistant principal. They said they were going to do whatever they could to help him adjust into high school. That was a lie. I fought and clawed with the school all through his 9th grade year. I finally got him into alternative school in 10 grade (that is a story all on its own) and he was able to graduate on time 3 years later. He is 21 yo now and still struggling with bipolar 2. He is a recovering addict as well. The process is ongoing and will continue throughout ALL of our lives! Mental Health does not affect the one person, it affects the WHOLE family. I want to blog about different aspects of our life so that it may help others.