I have 2 children. My oldest, now 23, was a quirky child, but a brilliant student, very polite, and very happy. Until she wasn’t. Around the age of 13, her anxiety turned to school avoidance. School and learning had been her favorite things. What was happening?!
Therapists, neurological psychiatrists and endless research yielded results that didn’t seem to add up. Her physical symptoms were multiplying faster than we could get them checked out. Rachel was diagnosed with extreme panic disorder, social anxiety, and social phobia.
By the beginning of her junior year of high school, depression took over and my daughter could barely leave the house.
A brief hospitalization uncovered another possible diagnosis: Autism. I was convinced that Rachel didn’t have autism because she looked me in the eye when she spoke. How little I knew then.
After a battery of tests and peeling back each layer of behavior, she was diagnosed with Aspergers. She was 16 years old and needed more intensive treatment than we could provide at home, so we worked with the school district to have her placed in a residential setting.
During the same period of time, my otherwise happy 14 year-old son (who is now 21) became extremely depressed and fell into a suicidal state that blindsided us. So, while dealing with the heartbreak and turmoil of trying to find residential treatment for our daughter, my son was hospitalized multiple times for suicidal ideation and depression.
I could barely keep my head above water. I was working full-time and my husband was disabled and dealing with struggles of his own. My closest friends tried to understand but were disconnected. Advice was cliche (“what does he have to be sad about?”) and made me feel worse. How could anyone possibly understand this situation? I felt so alone.
A friend of mine sent me information about a parent support group. I didn’t know if a parent support group was right for me but I figured it couldn’t hurt, even if it just got me out of my hell for an evening. What I found was life-changing. I found a place where parents nodded with knowing eyes and without judgment. Where I could cry, be angry, mourn the loss of “normal,” and come to a place of acceptance.
I also found a voice to help others. Why not take what I had learned to help those still struggling?
That’s why I decided to volunteer to become a co-facilitator of The Parent Support Network of Brookfield. Finding other parents gave me strength, but helping other parents healed me. I don’t always have the answers, but I will always listen and be there.
That’s the power of parents helping parents!