I promised I wouldn't let her comments bother me. I knew they were from outdated thinking and a lack of knowledge.
BUT STILL, THEY BOTHERED ME!
Our older son has bipolar disorder. The years until we found help and hope were hellishly dark. That's why I'm so vocal about sharing our experience and the resources we've found. That's why our son is so open about his illness and talks to everyone from fellow sufferers to mental health providers at seminars.
What did that woman say? That it was probably my fault that our son was the way he is because I was too strict. (I'm not even going to go into why that's ludicrous.)
Years ago, parents were blamed for their children's mental illnesses, especially mothers. This is especially cruel as mothers often bear the brunt of finding help and hope for their children. Now, we know mental illness is a brain illness. And guilt over that is unnecessary and unhelpful.
People used to think (and some still do) that mentally ill people are just lazy. If they'd only try harder . . . Beep! Wrong answer! Mental illness is a brain illness like diabetes is a body illness. Would you tell a kid with diabetes that if she'd just try a little harder her body would produce more insulin?
We're still working to dispel the shame, stigma and perceived weakness that often goes along with seeking treatment for mental illness. Would you be ashamed to get dialysis if your kidneys weren't functioning properly?
This piece from the Washington Post, "My son is schizophrenic. The 'reforms" that I worked for have worsened his life" is a must-read: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/my-son-is-schizophrenic-the-reforms-that-i-worked-for-have-worsened-his-life/2012/10/15/87b74a98-eadd-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html. It's a great look at what sounds good on paper, but what actually works in real life. The piece ends with excellent, concrete suggestions to make significant improvements.
These resources have been helpful to us:
1. N.A.M.I. (National Alliance on Mental Illness)-- The free "Family-to-Family" course from our local NAMI chapter educated us so much that it completely changed the way we think about our son's illness. It was a lifesaver. (N.A.M.I. has many free programs, support groups, resources, etc.)
2. M.H.A. (Mental Health America) -- Again, the local affiliate offered us many services and referrals.
3. The non-fiction book: Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar But Were Too Freaked Out to Ask by Hilary Smith, which is written in a fun, hip style and offers excellent advice and tools for living as well as possible with the illness.
So, what's the funny thing about mental illness? Watch Ruby Wax, comedian, talk about it on this amazing TED Talk and tell me if you don't laugh (and learn). (My favorite part is when she plucks off a piece of a Play-doh brain and tosses it over her shoulder.)