Once upon a time, there was a little baby girl who was born 17 years ago. The beauty in her pure innocence took her mom’s breath away. She was perfect. Her mom knew that coming home from the hospital (without that instruction book) would bring some fears of raising a firstborn, but, with lots of family support, she knew that it could be done. This child was an angel; she met her milestones, was a happy baby, playful and engaging.
As the little girl grew, her family began to crack open. By two and a half, her daddy was in his addiction and her mom was just trying to survive and “could not do it anymore.” Because of this, they left and her daddy went to treatment for some help. Over the next few years, Mommy and Daddy worked hard to put their marriage back together again, like Humpty Dumpty. When this little girl hit grade school, she was having some trouble. She could not concentrate, she was having a hard time making friends and the onset of anxiety had come into play.
On the day of her 12th birthday, her grandmother died of addiction. The little girl loved her grandmother and felt very close to her. Mom could never make sense of it because her relationship with her mother had been so toxic and painful and was now so severed and broken. But, the closeness was real and the little girl was devastated. After her grandmother’s death, this preteen was showered with gifts and anything that would make her happy. She was not allowed to grieve properly , because her mom didn’t know how to grieve either. And stuffed-down grief is not resolved grief. Stuffed grief will make you sick, and eventually rise to the surface sooner or later to be healed.
By junior high, the signs started to show: the signs of mental illness. The binging, picking, isolation, suicidal ideation, increased anxiety and bouts of depression. As she finished the end of ninth grade, she had been to treatment twice and was hopefully headed down a different road...a road of healing and recovery. By this point, her mom had recognized that her own unresolved childhood trauma had put her life in just as much jeopardy as her daughter’s. She had been living in chaos since the day that she was born, enmeshed with her daughter and could not find peace within herself. A childhood of appeasing others to stay safe caused her to constantly look to others for validation and purpose. The time had come to find herself and begin her own healing journey alongside her daughter.
Last summer, the 16-year-old young woman advocated for herself and asked to go to boarding school. The public school system just wasn’t a fit and the private school was not what she needed either. So, her mom called an educational consultant and they set out to visit four schools up north. Having lived in the South, they knew this would be quite the transition! She picked the last school on her mom’s list. But, her mom trusted her daughter and wanted her to take ownership in her decision. The school year went great! She made friends, experienced joy, struggled and matured. On March 9th, she came home for what was thought to be a two-week spring break. It could not have been predicted that spring break would continue on until she completed her junior year online. Unknown is never easy.
Her senior year was still up in the air until just a few days ago. Her family had been back and forth of what the right decision is to ensure their daughter’s safety (physically and emotionally). The anxiety of making this decision had affected the entire family.
There is still so much uncertainty in the world right now and the feeling of wanting to be in control seems to be so far out of reach. At the end of the day, all we can believe is that the trust is there and that “whatever happens is what is supposed to happen” and that they will be prepared.
OUR journey is far from over and we do not know what the future holds for any of us. As I wrote this life story about my daughter, I realize that she did not ask to be diagnosed with mental illness. She did not choose this life, but it is hers. I did not ask for mine either, but it is mine. We both have experienced some immense pain and neither of us have asked for that either. Her behaviors were telling signs that something was wrong, that she was in pain and that she needed help, but didn’t know how to ask for it. She was never a “bad kid”; she was just a kid who was hurting and I didn’t know how to read the signs.
What do I know to be true? This 17-year-old daughter of mine makes me laugh every day. She can simultaneously warm my heart and drive me crazy with teenager sass! But now I know that she gets to be who she is meant to be. And I am working on who I am meant to be in my own authentic way.
As we continue to work on this, it definitely feels a little messy right now, messier than usual. We are all navigating unfamiliar territory right now and it is extremely difficult. We are doing the best we can to advocate for our kids. Some of us don’t have the choices to make, and, for some, the choices are being made for us. My daughter’s anxiety is on the rise with all of the restrictions and altered class schedules that are being put in place at her school due to COVID. My daughter (as most of our kids do) needs structure and socialization with peers. Every time we think the decision has been made, the schools create another shift. She struggles with change. It is hard for her. As her mom, I have learned to sit with her, validate her feelings and then help her with the tools to bring that anxiety down. The most healing part for me is to be able to sit with my own discomfort and anxiety. Because if I cannot sit with my own, I cannot sit with hers.
Whether your “messiness” comes from your own childhood or being a parent right now or a combination of both (like me), it is so important that we find someone to hold us in our messiness. There is hope for all of us. We have to dig deep and find the courage to reach out for support when we need it.
If you are a mom of a special needs child or a child that suffers from mental illness, search for that “someone.” That someone is there, available to you. It’s not easy, I know. It’s extremely hard to show some vulnerability and share our stories. But sharing our stories is where the healing and connection begins. And, we all deserve that new beginning.
Joye Madden is a parent coach and consultant dedicated to guiding others on a journey of personal and family growth, insight and healing profound happiness. This dedication stems from her own personal healing story—Joye had to dig into the darkness of her childhood plagued with her parent’s mental health and addiction. These issues followed her into her marriage and family. She courageously embraced the need for therapy, rehab and therapeutic boarding schools as part of her family story. Watching her loved ones and children struggle with mental health disorders only strengthened Joye’s desire to fight against the stigma of mental illness.
Joye’s long and arduous journey led to the discovery of her own light and she is now devoted to walking with clients alone a similar path of healing. Her practice in the field of recovery began at Bradford Health Services, an addiction recovery program. She assisted in their family program, by welcoming the family members and sharing her story. She was the first face they saw, as they entered the doors to become educated on addiction and mental illness. She was always there to greet them with a huge southern smile and a big hug. She then moved on to The Bridge to Recovery, a trauma treatment center, where she sat as an active board member. Before that, she assisted in their family program and their Adult Professional Program. After countless coach trainings, conducting research and learning from mentors, Joye went out on her own to become a true advocate for families struggling with mental illness and addiction. She is now a certified Conscious Parenting Coach (by Dr. Tsbary Shefali), specializing in working with parents or caregivers who have children suffering from mental health challenges.
Joye lives in Birmingham, Alabama. When she is not working with families, you can find her knitting, baking, playing with her pups, and enjoying time with her family!