Part 1 of this article was published in the September/October issue and can also be found on our website: Thrivedetroit.org
When we made our move to Southfield, it was deemed a great idea. We would be closer to family. William would be closer to cousins his own age and we would be in a predominately African-American community. Again, a situation that I thought would be great, but turned out to be worse than before. When William started high school, he was short and overweight with female breasts. From afar you couldn’t tell, but if you bumped him, his breasts would move. Once this was discovered, the taunting started once again and he would start his spiral into depression.
The time he thought he was going to spend with his cousins didn’t emerge. It seemed he was more isolated than before. The usual behavior problems would start. I came home from work one night and found my son naked on his bedroom floor, medication everywhere. I shook him, slapped his face to see if he would wake up, and soon an ambulance was called and we were on our trip again. He would be evaluated and cleared medically, then it was on to the question of “which hospital this time?” This was 2009, three years into the journey. Different diagnoses, and different hospitals. Again I reached out to Oakland County Community Health to help my son, but when you are a parent, mental health officials feel you know NOTHING! And they know everything. I would plead with them to either keep him in and fought for them to see my son as a person, an individual, and not a diagnosis. I fought with the hospital to get them to see the difference between normal teenager antics and a person suffering from poor mental health. By 2009, my son was diagnosed with bipolar, chronic depression, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and oppositional defiancy. He was given new medications, and once he responded to the medications, he was sent home. By 2009, long-term stay was defined as 30 days, when previously, long-term stay was 3 months or more. This was because of budget cuts and the fact that Michigan has only one long-term hospital to care for hundreds of thousands of children suffering from mental health issues. The other obstacle was deciding where he would go to school once he was released. The hospital never worked with the home district school to incorporate this into a program, so if a parent didn’t inquire and work on this prior to the child being released, this was one more problem to deal with once your child is home.
During this time, I had no friends, and the only family members I could really talk to were my mother and grandmother, but even they had limits because they also were hurting and didn’t know what to say or do. My life consisted of going to work, then coming home to deal with the company providing services to my son. I didn’t have time for anything else. The company providing services in a way gave me my schedule. Family therapy this day, medication review this day, in-office therapy groups. I would plead with them that they were taking away my parental feelings and turning my son into a business. I had shut down completely. I tried not to love this person. I felt if I didn’t love him or show how much I cared, I could handle the inevitable……his death! William has made so many attempts on his life that it was not a matter of if he was going to kill himself, it was when.
At this point, my son’s mental-health issues had robbed me of him, of me being a parent, of my dreams of planning his prom, graduation, vacations, of friends and any possible relationship as well as my goal to finish college. As for my son, he was robbed of having friends, going out to teenage parties, hanging out with his people, getting in trouble for staying out too late, or learning how to date, learning how to drive a car. He was institutionalized! William had entered the mental-health hospitals by the age of 11, and this is where is development stopped. At 14, 15, 16, he had the mental mindset of an 11 year old. On the other hand, he could hold a conversation with adults on an adult level. This was one thing which was constant that had never changed.
Once again he would battle to find his way. Along the way, however, a strong male role model was needed and lacking. I reached out to many agencies and each group promised they were going to help but then made excuses or just didn’t follow through, which hurt my son and made me look at our African-American men with disdain. William’s father had left his life at an early age and most of the issues which caused this change, in my opinion, came from him, so his absence was welcomed.
There were so many missing components which were needed to help get my son on the road to recovery. We needed a good therapist, but the therapists were a revolving door. We would get a good therapist who would really reach William, and then they would leave. Then we would get a therapist who just let William vent and ramble and offered nothing. Psychiatrists would meet with him and type on their computer more than listen, and then write a scrip, and off we went. The school my son was transferred to was for adolescents with behavioral problems. This school was so used to problematic children, they treated all the children the same. The social worker assigned to William had a tremble in his voice. He sounded nervous and acted nervous, so William took advantage of this. I have always been a hands-on parent and continued even more because my son was not going to get lost in the shuffle, or fall through a crack.
William started acting out with the other students; he did whatever they did because this 16 year old was still an 11 year old trying to fit in. He never did, and when he knew he didn’t fit in, this was a trigger to start him in a downward spiral of depression. I would call his therapist and tell them he was about to do something, but the therapist would come out, ask a few questions, and say he was fine. I would appeal the decisions, but to the county, he was fine. Then in a few days, he’s being brought into my place of work (an emergency room), and the odyssey resumed. Five days in the hospital and out again. Maybe a week or two out and back in again. The pastor of the church we were attending tried to help. He was fond of William and would visit him. The young people wrote letters of encouragement. This relationship with the church seemed to help, but everything was short term. The pastor didn’t understand mental-health issues, and the church really didn’t want to deal with it, or didn’t know how and only offered so much. But what they did offer, when they could, was welcomed.
By 2011, William had spent more time away again. But he was more determined than ever to take his life. In May of 2011, he went to school and had a series of bad events. He managed to get out of school and ran to the 696 freeway overpass. He climbed over the rail and sat there. The police and the therapist from his school arrived. They were trying to talk him down, but nothing was working. William had decided to push off, and praise God, the police officer and therapist were positioned close enough to grab him. In the meantime, I got a call from the school, saying “come to the school,” and then another call: “No! Go to the hospital.” By the time I reached the hospital, I was a wreck. Emotionally, I was empty. I didn’t know what to do. I had called my sister and pastor and they were en route, and when I saw my son, I couldn’t take it. It was like my spirit had left my body. I didn’t know what else to do or say. Then this anger came upon me. After my son was out of harm’s way, I called every person involved with his treatment. I told them they all owed me and my son better than this. If they had listen to me months ago, we would not be here. Now I am DEMANDING better and I WANT IT NOW!
After keeping him in the hospital for a week, they sent my son out of state. None of the other hospitals wanted him back, nor did they want to deal with me. Now I had to drive three hours every week just to have a one-hour visit with my son, then drive home. I couldn’t take a leave from work. For a month I did this, renting cars, borrowing money, whatever it took to get to my son, then come home and argue with agency after agency about what the next plan was going to be. Finally a plan was put in place to bring my son back to Michigan. He would once again go back to the state hospital. A new therapy and a new drug. The hospital assured me this was the highest level of therapy to give my son, as well as medication. As always, what were the side effects of the medication? Excessive weight gain.
The questions for me were, do I want a skinny kid with severe mental breakdown, who was going to be successful and kill himself, or an obese kid who would want to live? I came home and secluded myself from everyone. All I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts and God. Two days later I went back to the round table and gave them my answer…..YES, start the new therapy and medications.
Then the wait began. Will this work? Will he respond? If so, how long will it last? All this years, I wasn’t planning a graduation party for my son; I was planning a funeral. With all he had been through, all signs pointed to this. For nearly a year my son went through this therapy, and he was able to come home four months after starting. A change in therapist, environment, and school seemed to help. I started seeing signs of the child I gave birth to. He had his bumps along the way, but you could see a fighter emerging. He responded positively to a touch, he welcomed a hug, he started to smile.
I also worked with his home school district and instead of returning to the nightmare of a school where he was before, the school district put him in a smaller school setting. Before his release I met with the school district to determine all of his school credits. This is also a problem: mental-health agencies are only concerned with mental health. Education is not deemed important. If he entered school with his original credits, he would have been a sophomore. There wasn’t a system put in place to retrieve any school credits from any hospital at which he was a patient.
He was bused curb-to-curb. He still struggled, but not as much. The school rallied around him along with a committed therapist and on June 3, 2013, my son graduated. YES!!!! I had a high-school graduate. He completed his therapy. I tell everyone that not only did he graduate on time, he walked off the stage with a testimony.
We are going into year two, and so far so good. He still struggles with relationships, and he is learning things he wasn’t able to learn because he was away. He has to learn how to handle money, he has to learn how to open a checking account. He has to learn how to drive. He has been learning to interact with people his own age, where previously he would only seek children who were 11-13 years of age. Television programming is also an adjustment. Where most teens his age are out dating, he stays close to home and doesn’t venture out alone except to go to school (junior college) and to the movies or the library. We are spending a lot of make-up time together as we make it through this journey.
He still receive services, but as an adult, they are very different. My son cannot stop taking his medication. He will most likely be on some form of medication for the rest of his life. He must do weekly blood draws to make sure the medication is not causing problems with him physically. He can develop diabetes, excessive weight gain, and other severe health issues. I pray he continues to respond to this medication we now call our miracle pill. I sometimes wonder if his body will once again get used to the medication and then stop responding. We both do not want to return to a life of running in and out of hospitals or bouts of attempts to take his life.
Each day I thank God for the time he has given my son and marvel at my son’s progress, but we are only scratching the surface of this new journey. I cannot and will not rush him into adult responsibilities, for this would surely lead to failure. Academically, he is great; spiritually, he is on point, but independent? Not yet. But as ads for Virginia Slims cigarettes used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”