On December 22, 2002 a wonderful little boy moved into my home on an adoption placement and in November 2003 we adopted each other, he was 7 years old.
Terry was busy, funny, independent, brave, unpredictable, cuddly and out of control. The first time I met Terry he was 2 1/2 years old and was brought to my home for weekend relief by the social worker. She opened the door, he raced by me, drinking the cough syrup that he was intrusted with, ran to look out the back window and then jumped on my dog. He showed two emotions, too happy and pissed.
Over the years Terry stayed busy and funny, he loved adventures and the more dangerous the better. He only wanted interactions on his terms, he outsmarted many a good adult and he grew another emotion, rage. But he still had a really cute smile and a twinkle in his eye.
Our paths continued to cross for the next few years in different capacities, he was removed from his birth family when he was 6 and came to stay with me for the first two weeks and then every other weekend for over a year. He arrived with a shirt missing buttons, pants too short and no socks or underwear so we went shopping. He was so excited to try on new clothes and his best treat was a pair of flip up sunglasses. He wore one eye up and the other with the shade down and he pranced in his new shoes.
Fast forward many years and Terry was still busy and funny. He had learned new emotions of shy, manipulation and the need for power. With that came violence, rages, screaming and the need to run away from love. Being his mom has been a privilege and a challenge. Loving a child with attachment issues was exhausting and isolating as the challenges and damage caused by early trauma is so misunderstood.
Fast forward more years and no one knew what to do to help him. Therapy to undue the damage from his early years of abuse and neglect put tiny bandages on the problems. Rage and violence started to change to hurting me and wanting to die.
Our story became entangled with psychiatric hospitals, court, care, police visits, tears and sleepless nights. The funny was gone and had been replaced slowly by sadness and pain. Hope was gone, it was hard to hold onto the sliver of courage that Terry would get the help he needed. I had done everything I knew and everything that had been recommended but it wasn't enough to pull Terry out of
7 months in a psychiatric hospital didn't help with his feeling out of control but being away from home for so long did help Terry make the decision to stop his violence. Depression was now the over riding factor and the only emotion he felt on some days.
Fast forward again and Terry struggled to leave the house some days, stayed in a rage for days and saw little hope that his days would get better. We did the roller-coaster ride of medication with limited to bad results. We were promised that once he transitioned from youth to adult services things would get better. It didn't, still no one knew what to do to help him get his fun back.
Today, progress is slow and good times continue to be measured in moments.
Being in the river helps, riding his bike really fast gives him a happy rush, playing with the little kids brings out the best in him, he is always willing to lend a hand to help someone in need and stuck with it to complete high school. He is very proud that he is the first member of his birth family to receive a high school diploma.
People ask, why talk about mental health and mental illness and I ask why not. Mental illness is just a part of who Terry is and we acknowledge that part the same way as we talk about how good he is with building ideas and playing cards, crashing his bike and leaving an outrageous mess in the kitchen after he cooks a great meal.
We made a decision in our family not to whisper about challenges, not to hide in silence so that others felt better for not hearing about the ugly truth that is mental illness. Terry has experienced more sadness and pain in his 23 years then most of us will in a life time. For that he deserves the award for being courageous and a survivor!
Mental illness is not a choice, it's time we changed the way the way we talk about it.