Twenty-Four years ago, I went against my family to marry the one I love. In our hearts, we knew that we were making the right decision, no matter what the sentiments of our familIes. We had dreams of building a life, exploring the world, having a family of our own, and growing old together. We were so young and naive. We thought Love was all we needed.
Over the years, life has thrown many curve balls our way, but nothing prepared us for parenting a child with Mental Illness and Addiction. Nothing prepared us for the loss of our child. These are things we didn’t think about at the time of marriage. These are thoughts that never crossed our minds.
The difficulties began as soon as the diagnosis. Both of us reacted differently to having a child with a serious disorder. There were so many extra layers of stress: worry for Lilly, doctor visits, hospital visits, rehab selection, raising our other children, and the list goes on. There were so many moving parts to Lilly’s health and mental well being. As long as Lilly was stable, in treatment, following her treatment plan, we were happy and could take out time to breathe.
I don’t know if we just coped with the stress or if we learned to live with it. At times, I would direct my stress at my husband, and at times he would send his stress my way. Things would get messy. We would be at opposite ends of the spectrum in our thoughts about how to best care for Lilly. We were at crossroads with our views on therapy, medication, rehab, mental illness, and addiction.
I was obsessed with taking care of Lilly. I went into overdrive where every waking moment got devoted to learning more, finding the right services, finding the help that was needed. I was consumed, while his mindset was ‘you have to let her fall, for her to rise’. In the end, he would concede and let me take the lead.
Loving Lilly came easily to us. No matter what the challenge our love for Lilly never wavered. Even in Lilly’s darkest hour, it was our love for our child that got us through. The biggest stress was fear of the unknown. It’s almost as if we were in survival mode and we had little-to-no time to devote to each other, the relationship, and our other children.
As Lilly‘s mental health deteriorated, we as a couple had to find the strength to come together and be there for her. We had to be strong for our other children. Our life revolved around Lilly and her well-being. We would only go out or travel if we had a solid back up plan for Lilly. As Lilly got older, she wanted her independence. She wanted to be ’normal’ and move out. She wanted to show us she could make it on her own!
Even after she moved out, I was constantly worried. What if she overdoses, what if she doesn’t take her meds, is she going to her appts, is she safe, who is she with, has she eaten. I was a wreck. My husband on the other hand was stoic and less emotional. He was confident that Lilly would make it. He didn’t understand the horror of mental illness. He kept wanting me to trust and have confidence in our child. The problem with researching, reading, and meeting people in the same situation as you is that you know the reality of what you’re dealing with. You know every possible outcome. For him, ignorance was definitely bliss.
No matter what our views and beliefs, in the end, we lost Lilly. All the research and knowledge in the world couldn’t help me. All the group meetings couldn’t help her. All the doctors and therapists couldn’t help us. My husband‘s confidence in his daughter seeing this through was of no use. Do we keep her in rehab, do we let her live alone - there was no place for these discussions. Our lives had changed forever in a blink of an eye.
I can’t say if Lilly‘s illness and death have strengthened or weakened our marriage. I know that we are both grieving. We are both dealing with the loss in our own way. There is no one to blame. No one was right and no one was wrong. We both did what we thought was best for our child at the time. We both lost a part of ourselves - For better or For Worse.