An Open Letter To the Mama of Mental Illness: Not So Random Thoughts Before Bed

Have Your Say on Youth Mental Health

I have been reading the book 72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell for the last two weeks. This compelling story of a mother who is desperately trying to live and thrive with her young adult daughter who is struggling with a severe mental health illness is eye opening. Dealing with the everyday struggles of trying to protect and love her daughter in spite of her erratic behavior and mood swings is commendable. A mother’s love is tested most in times of adversity when it comes to dealing with their child. Years after the book was released the world found out that the book was written about the beautifully talented Maia Campbell. Mental illness stole her shine and created a women who struggled on the streets of Los Angeles smoking and joking….in the worst way.

I have been working with adolescents and young adults for the majority of my life. I like to say that I was a Social Worker before I received the degrees. This book resonated with me on many levels, because I have seen the behaviors, attitudes and actions portrayed in the book in youth as well as people in my own family. Because I read the book through the lens of being a mother, my heart ached for BeBe Moore Campbell. Her pain, anger and sadness are all emotions that most parents experience on a certain level. However, for parents with children not effected by mental illness those emotions do not dominate most of their waking hours.

Tonight’s Not So Random Thoughts Before Bed is an Open Letter To The Mama of Mental Illness:

Dear Mama,

How are you doing today? I mean how you really doing? I know most times when people ask you this you say “fine” with a smile on your face and keep it pushing. But I want to know the truth. Tell me how you didn’t go to bed until after midnight because your mind is racing about how to balance loving your child who has a mental illness with protecting your other children in the house.

How are you feeling today? I mean how do you really feel? Are you sick of asking God why? Has your cup runneth over with guilt, shame and disappointment? Mama you need self care that helps you take care of your needs while you try to figure this thing out. Stop beating yourself up because you feel like your child doesn’t measure up to your friend’s children. Everyone is fighting a silent battle that we can’t see. Guilt, shame and disappointment are the anti-Christ. Praying will help, but it won’t fix what’s broken. God created mental health therapists. So while you are trying to get your child to take that Xanax, Zoloft, and go to therapy, find a therapist for yourself. Find a support group for YOURSELF. Don’t hide. Don’t avoid.

Hey mama. I know being a black mama with a black child with a so-called “white folks” illness is hard. It’s tough hearing family members question your parenting style, tell you how you should whoop your child more or put them on punishment. It’s hard sitting in on family holiday conversations and hearing Big Mama say “only white folks go to see a shrink”. Especially when you just came back from a family therapy session the day before. I know you get tired of counting pills, paying missed appointment fees when your child lies about showing up for therapy and thinking of ways you can run away for just a few brief seconds to get some clarity and peace of mind.

Yes, Mama. I know you try to be as compassionate as possible but there are just some moments where that child gets on your last nerve and you really want to cuss them out and cut them off. But you don’t, you try to keep calm, breathe, and walk away before you treat your child like someone on the street. It’s not them talking, it’s the illness. Their brain is not well. Walk away. Go exercise. Phone a friend. Do what you need to do for your sanity. It’s scary to explain to a potential suitor the nature of your relationship with your child, so you stay isolated. You don’t let many get too close. You want to stop heartache before it even has a chance to fester.

Mama, let’s be real. We all hope that the right mixture of medication and therapy will work. That someone somewhere will find a cure for this genetic and environmental hiccup. But the reality is that this illness will probably stay with your child in some way, shape or form all of their life. The real prayer is that as they get older they learn how to manage it better and we learn how to cope. The real prayer is for them to lead as much of a normal life as possible without walking around like a zombie because of the medication and not causing  hurt, harm or danger to themselves or others.

Yeah Mama. You, yes you! I see you. I salute you. I pray for you. In some ways I am you. We both have the same hopes, worries and fears because we are Mamas. We love our children and only want the best for them. Take care of yourself. This road will be long, arduous and taxing.

The scripture 1Corinthians 10:13 says “But remember this—the wrong desires that come into your life aren’t anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation’s power so that you can bear up patiently against it.”

Stand on God’s Word, but go to therapy. Stand on His Word, but practice self care. Hold on to God’s never changing hand, but find an outlet for your feelings.

God hasn’t forgotten about you and neither have we.