Always Blame the Mother

29 March 2013

For my friends and family, who like me, were told that you or your child's mental illness was your fault. That you were exaggerating. That it wasn't really an illness. That depression was so hard on the rest of the family.

Kaylan developed severe OCD from repetitive strep infections as a child. She had always been brilliant and physically coordinated and courageous. She had also always been prone to fevers and infections.

Three years after developing OCD she cut herself while we were on a family vacation and her dad lied to the MD at the ER because he didn't want her grandparents to find out. I had it and didn't absorb the implication of that lie until ten years later when she attempted and was hospitalized. He certainly didn't mean to shame her or teach her to hide her illness; he was just ignorant of mental illness because he didn't have it himself. At one point when he was mad at me for something he told me that my two depressions in my 30s had been hard on him and the kids, and I countered with pointing out this his twenty years of hepatitis and chemo had been difficult on everyone as well. He looked completely shocked - not offended - and I saw the connection happen by his reaction. He "got it"  right there and then in front of my eyes. Nobody wants to be sick, but we as a society tend to blame people with mental illness as if it's a choice to be sick.

Other people in my family blamed me for Kaylan's mental illness and death. I was too involved in my kids' lives; I was not involved enough my kids' lives; we moved too much; I was overprotective; I was under-protective; blah blah blah. Here are some truths: I wasn't a perfect parent. Nobody is a perfect parent. More truth: Nobody needs to say anything negative about a dead child or a parent of a dead child. It's cruel and pointless.

Anyway, if I can encourage anyone to do just one simple thing to make a family safer from the hidden dangers of ignoring symptoms of emotional distress, I would say to simply read everything on the NAMI and QPR websites. Better yet, join both organizations and subscribe to their updates. I wish I had known before I lost my daughter. Two of my nieces, a nephew, and a brother-in-law are alive today because of what our family has learned from simple NAMI instruction.


Erica KitzmanComment