Saturday, March 6, 2010
I saw my new therapist on the 26th and was quite pleased to learn that she had a good handle on counseling those in grief. First sessions are difficult - worse than first dates, even - because you have to try to summarize all the things that got you to where you are and brought you to therapy in the first place. It ends up like Charlie Brown's Halloween costume, a sheet full of holes.
One thing she gave me before I left was a book by Danielle Steel. Now, I don't know what you all think of Ms. Steel's writing, but I've never been a big fan. Her characters aren't like me, and her writing is distracting. Too many commas for my taste (maybe because I'm a technical writer?). However, this book is non-fiction. It is about her 19-year-old son who was bipolar and died of one of the two things that usually claims those with the worst form of bipolar: suicide or accidental overdose. The book is called His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina.
Nick, like my daughter Stephanie, was a bright child who seemed far older than his years and was always in a hurry to grow up. He rarely slept and exhibited plenty of signs of his differences from other children. I'm halfway through the book now and feel as though there is someone out there (Ms. Steel) who really understands what I went through. It's a book I'm going to recommend to the Gadsbys, who just lost their 26-year-old son, Neddy, a few days before Christmas. This book is full of threads that tie me to other parents just like me.
From a letter Ms. Steel wrote to Nick while he was away in a wilderness camp, just before he was to be sent to a restrictive school for troubled kids (one of the only high schools that would take him):
You'll never know what strength it took to send you there, and all I can tell you is that the only thing in the world that would lead me to send you there was my own desperation. I knew all the signs that you were on a disastrous course, and had no idea how to stop you. It's like watching someone drown, you would throw a piano bench at them if you had to, to save them...my only fear was that the cure would be worse than the disease, and if the choice was right then we have all been blessed with good fortune. I can't claim any great wisdom here. I was clutching at what seemed right-est at the time, but it terrified me.
She also noted in her letter to him how difficult it would have been to have him at home with her other children:
...to have you at home, even faintly wobbly, would be scary for you and for us, so maybe this worked out right again for awhile.
I can't tell you how many times we felt we needed to hide all the sharp objects (and did) and lock our bedroom doors at night. When Stef learned of this later in her life, she was appalled. "I would never hurt you or Dad or Sean," she said, devastated. "I have only ever hurt myself." That gave me no comfort.
In Nick's journals, which his mother didn't read until sometime after his death, he wrote that he had at least two identities inside him. One wanted to be good, loving, and loved at home and in school. The other wanted "to get sent to some school, and have [his] money and stuff and leave. Party for the rest of [his] life, never look back, and died before [turning] twenty-five. But at least ... have had fun."
I shuddered when I read that, because Stef also seemed like she had more than one identity. In fact, some therapists called what she had borderline personality disorder, which leans more toward manipulation and psychosis than does bipolar disease. Either one is hard to treat and about a third of the time results in an early death.
If you know of any mom or dad who is dealing with a troubled child who has or might have mental illness, recommend this book to them. I dealt with things differently than did Ms. Steel. I tried to homeschool Stephanie, and eventually she got her GED and went to college for awhile. She was brilliant but troubled. She could never seem to get her feet under her, no matter how many times we picked her up and propped her up. I'm not sure there's anything in this book that offers better advice than I already got or that other parents have gotten, but it has made me feel much less alone.
That is something to be grateful for.
Peace - D