Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The taint of mental illness

One of the things that scares me most about my Boy's future is that he has a 'record'. No, not anything illegal. He's not wanted by the police, nor has he had any nefarious dealings with them. His record is much more damaging socially. He has an inherited mental illness. He has been hospitalized for this problem. Despite the fact that he has asked for help, and he is med compliant, and he has done everything that is asked of him, including therapy, he still is tainted. His record will follow him his entire life. He will be judged negatively, he will be discriminated against, he will have to defend himself forever. He will have trouble dating, and probably in marriage. He will have to decided if having biological children is the right thing for him to do, knowing that he has a strong chance of passing this disease onto his progeny.

So many people in our society have issues with mental illness. Depression is rampant. Most of us can't think of at least one person we know well who is taking an antidepressant. Many of us are taking one ourselves. We have become a society of sad, anxious people. And yet, people don't judge plain old depression with such negativity. Ok, some do. There are families that would rather die than have a family member to to therapy. It is deemed weak to seek help. But for us, the stigma of depression isn't very strong. How can it be when we're all there at one point or another.

But when you move past depression to a chronic mental illness like Bipolar Disorder, it starts to get scary. Bipolar is neferious. It is challanging and confusing. It is not easy to treat. It can often be tragic. Even when caught young, bipolars can be erratic and untrustworthy. Employers might question the ability to hold a job. Colleges might question the ability to complete a degree program.

That's no way for a kid who already has issues to have to face the world. I am frightened that my son might be held back from his full potential because of his illness. I worry so much for his future, and because I do, it causes him anxiety. I am trying to stop with the assumptions that he will be doing x, y, or z as an adult. I have no idea what he will be doing. I don't know if he will be able to go to college. I don't know if he will be able to be on his own and remain med compliant. I don't know how to predict a future when I can't even make assumptions about the present.

This is tough parenting. It makes me tired and unhappy and scared.

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Blogger Robin said...

I'm sorry for the pain that both you and your son are going through with this. He's a lucky boy though to have such a caring mother in his corner.

While the issues in my own family are not nearly as severe, we are discovering now that my daughter is having some not insignificant trouble with her social development and information processing. We're not sure yet what it is, or how much is neurological or psychological, versus the effect of the disparities between her English and her Hebrew. While her issues will hopefully turn out to be fairly mild and (oh god I hope so) treatable, or at least "manageable", I can really identify with the fear for the future that you describe. With this fear I find myself dragging my feet on even submitting her name for the waiting list of the child development clinic, despite knowing how important that is, because it somehow seems to me that once she's got that record it can never be undone, and I'll have to give up my secret little fantasy of having this all go away somehow...

25/4/07 5:29 AM  
Blogger Suse said...

This parenting gig is hard enough without that extra load.

Blessings to you and your boy.

25/4/07 6:10 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Hi Margalit
I really felt for you, reading this post. I posted something on this subject yesterday- I'm sorry that you and your family are going through this, but I'm glad that someone else is speaking out about this.

My post was about depression, but I do have two relatives with bi-polar, so I am familiar with it. One thing I must say is that, in England maybe we are not so good at talking about things like this because there is definietly still a stigma about depression here. We have a reputation for being quite reserved and I think it is true.

I haven't had bi-polar, but I have been hospitalized for post traumatic stress disorder after I was in the Kings Cross Underground tragedy, the fire which killed 31 people. I was hospitalized for two years and although it is 20 years ago and I have since rebuilt my life, I'm afraid you are right; I will always be judged for it and it will always be there.

Thank you for speaking out Margalit.

25/4/07 8:00 AM  
Blogger deb said...

I don't have a child with mental illness, I'm the one with mental illness. But I do have a child with special needs and I understand that feeling of having people prejudge your child without getting to know them as people. Also that fear of what the future will be like for them. It's tough.

25/4/07 5:29 PM  
Blogger eema said...

Does your son read your blog? I know from experience that positive messages we send our kids can really help boost them. Not cure them, but boost them. Besides, who's to say that he will encounter discrimination and be judged, etc. Thankfully there's plenty of people out there who DON'T do that. Hopefully he'll find them in his life. Best wishes during this time.

25/4/07 9:48 PM  
Blogger VelVerb said...

Oy. My god do I know about this. I don't want to go into details, and I wish I could say that your worrying is unfounded, but I can't.

However, the brilliant man I love often reminds me that worrying is futile, and saps the energy for the very good and needed work that you will be called to do as you raise him. Easy for him to say, he's not a mom. But he's right.

The road you will have to travel with your son is going to be tough, and you'll need all your positive energy at the ready.

Whew...take care. From one mom to another, know you're never alone.

25/4/07 10:36 PM  
Blogger Jen said...


I have four friends who are bi-polar. All of them have finished college, three have graduate degrees, two are married (one I don't know about) and have children and are leading successful, happy lives. Yes, being bi-polar *has* had an effect on their lives-- and so has going off medication at times, and one has been hospitalized at times, and one has required shock therapy.

But they are all wonderful, fabulous people, and I am sure your son is as well.



25/4/07 11:41 PM  
Blogger barbie2be said...

margalit,just this morning i read this article in my local paper about trying to stop the stigma attached to mental illness. i suffer from OCD and depression. not as bad as bi-polar but still stigmatized.

26/4/07 12:18 PM  
Blogger J. Lee said...

I've been meaning to write something for a while, but judgement from people who attach this stigma to depression has stopped me everytime. I suffer from mental illness and others in my family from bipolar and while I've learned how to 'deal' with what I have to in my own way, I wonder how it will affect my son. Will he be touched by it? And how can I protect him from that? You wonder if the decisions you make now will keep him from doing something or going as far as he could and it's automatic that we worry. But you're not alone :)

26/4/07 2:29 PM  
Blogger Major Bedhead said...

I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. It's hard, watching your child deal with anything that stigmatizes them, signals them out as being different. You sound like a great parent, caring and concerned, and that really does count for a lot.

26/4/07 8:44 PM  

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