Lesson: Do Not Despair or Give Up -- Things Can Get Better
It started in second grade.
Ingrid's teacher was concerned because she was always looking out the window, twisting her hair, and seemingly in another world. Her teacher had Ingrid tested to see if she was "too bright" for second grade and was just bored with class. That was not the case.
I decided Ingrid needed some extra attention and took her shopping. We bought a new outfit, her ears were pierced (!) and she got a cute haircut. After we got home and she was showing off the "new Ingrid", she said, “I used to think I was so ugly. Now I feel pretty.”
My heart broke. How could a 7 year old feel so bad about herself?
The rest of the year went by and we didn't have any major problems, but third grade was a nightmare. Ingrid’s teacher didn't like her. Ingrid grew belligerent and rebellious, not sad and sympathetic. Her attitude toward school, schoolwork, adults and even fellow students worsened each year. By middle school, Ingrid thought nothing of telling teachers to "F" themselves. She skipped school. She attacked other students. Ingrid was suspended repeatedly.
Life at home was also a nightmare -- screaming, aggression towards siblings. Ingrid had few friends and we, her family, no longer had anything in common with families who had “normal” kids in band or the Spanish Club. They were closer to us before Ingrid became ill when she participated in after-school activities.
It took nearly three years of the red light flashing on my answering machine to inform me that Ingrid was in trouble again before therapy was recommended. I was so overwhelmed by her behavior and so bewildered that it was a relief to hear someone actually suggest that there was help available. I wasn't simply a terrible mother.
But mental health professionals were no panacea. Ingrid’s initial diagnosis of depression was quickly proven to be wrong, with disastrous results. The Paxil she was taking caused her to enter the manic phase of manic depression. I was told later that antidepressants, taken without another mood stabilizer, can unmask the frightening face of mania. Ingrid was hospitalized for one week.
I could write a book on the years that followed. For now, I will just say that thanks to an excellent therapist and a wonderful psychiatrist, Ingrid is now able, at the age of 18, to lead a happy life. She has a job, is doing well in school, and will be going to college next year.
I am pleased to leaven the sorrow of this website, with its heartbreaking stories and pleas for help, to tell everyone that it is possible for children with mental illness to learn to manage their illness and not let the illness destroy their lives. More education for kids and parents about mental illness in children, especially in schools, could go a long way in sparing kids and their families untold heartbreak.