Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Son, My Mentor

Sometimes our children know more than we do
How well I remember The Gaze!

In the third week of September 16 years ago, I met my second son for the first time. A difficult pregnancy with preterm labor and several long, tedious weeks of bed rest concluded anticlimactically with an apparently healthy baby born on his due date, a relatively easy two-hour labor. He was loud about announcing his arrival into the world but quieted quickly when the doctor placed him in my arms.
Any mother and most fathers can tell you about The Gaze, that first moment when your newborn child fixes his or her eyes on you and makes him/herself the center of your world. Michael was a master of The Gaze. As I stared into his endless midnight-blue eyes, I was possessed by a sudden strange thought: “This soul is much older than I am.”
The moment stayed with me through my son’s agonizing marathon toddler tantrums that grew into inexplicable preschool rages, continuing right up until he was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 13.
I was and am his caregiver. But I have always felt an ancient wisdom when I’ve looked in his still-deep blue eyes, a sense of timelessness that transcends our relationship and his illness. Michael is an old soul.
And I’m not even really like that. I’m the science girl, not the New Age one. I read quantitative studies and consider outcomes and sample sizes and effects, not the ineffable but undeniable power of my child’s mind.
But now that he is celebrating his 16th birthday, I think about everything he has had to overcome in his brief life: the night terrors, the paranoia, the overwhelming sensory swamp, the dysgraphia, the bullying from peers, the teachers and principals who have said, “He has so much potential. Why does he act this way?”
I think of his four stays in juvenile detention, his three hospitalizations. I think of the keen loss he experienced when he was separated from his siblings for several months. I think of the hole in his heart created when his father left him.
This second son of mine has fought so much harder for happiness than most of us ever have to.
September 2016, "Heroic Pose"
And the thing is, he’s winning. Despite the illness, despite the odds, Michael is winning. Maybe not every day, but slowly, bit by bit, his resilience, my son’s old soul, that ageless wisdom, that precocious sense of humor, keeps him from the abyss that rocks below every cradle, but especially below the cradles of our children who have mental illness.
I am his caregiver, his mother. But he has taught me lessons about humility and strength, about perseverance, and about forgiveness. His experiences with his own “different” brain have taught him to be so much more tolerant of others’ differences, and he has taught me by example.
Mental health is important to all of us. But people with mental illness have to work so much harder at it. My son is my hero. As I watch him claim the life he deserves, I remember that day when we first met, when he caught me in the power of The Gaze. This is a young man who will go far in life (again?). This is a young man who can teach me a few things. I look forward to learning them.


A said...

I don't agree at all with Liza's support for pro-force psychiatry and biologically based models of Madness, but her writings about her son quite often express her love and respect for him and her belief that he will go on to live a good life. This is a welcome departure from the multitude of narratives that are written by "parents" of Mad children, which seem to usually revolve around their excuses for why it's ok for them to want their Mad children to drop dead. "Michael's" dad will one day regret his decision to estrange himself from this young man.

michelle.centers said...

It's so nice to hear pride in your son, belief in him winning!! So often parents give up, I myself am very aware of what belief can do in lives. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

JanetDavies said...

Liza, so often what you write here makes me weep from the truth of it. All three of my children have challenging serious illnesses (1 with schizophrenia, 1 with multiple serious mental illnesses) and their father has pretty much abandoned them as well.. Every day I am in awe of their strength, courage and grace and I feel so very honored to be their mother.

Freddie C. Howard said...

God place people our children in our lives to see who you are, not their father, and not even the child, but it is about God and your relationship with him.

Unknown said...

Last night, while watching some documentary on Netflix, I heard about your son and your post, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother." I wanted to read the article and fell into reading this one instead. I felt like I was reading my mom talking about me, which of course made me cry. Like your son, I have suffered my entire life with mental illness, lack of proper care, and minsdiagnosises. I am now 25 and I have "Bipolar Disorder" (only recently is this what my doctors have settled on). Listening to you and your son on Netflix, though, was like listening to me and my own family. My family always felt they were walking on egg shells and I was always afraid of when my uncontrollable anger would come over me. Routine, diet/exercise, and medications help a lot but something you may not have tried is giving him the opportunity to regularly help others. Not chores or expectations but doing good to make someone else's life better or easier just because they deserve it. We, bipolar individuals, are sensitive and we have felt true pain so it helps keep us stable if we are able to prevent or eradicate someone else's pain. I schedule in both daily and weekly tasks of this type and tend to meltdown if I don't accomplish these goals. It's something to do with our "gift" of empathy (I'd explain my logic further but I think it would be too much for a simple comment lol). I haven't read your other works or read all your comments so I hope it's ok to give you this personal antidote, I just heard what your son said and I couldn't have explained better myself. If this works for me it may give him one more thing to keep him on the positive spectrum.

Your son is so lucky you have been so proactive in his care. I didn't start treatment until my 20's, I can only imagine what he'll be able to accomplish by my age!!! Thank you for such a wonderful post that reflects perfectly a mother's love for her child :). You've reminded me of what my mom said to me, "you were my most difficult child but you were worth it!" Thank you,

~Allie Lish