A Promise Not Worth Keeping

Dec. 23, 2012

This post is the beginning of my blogging journey. 

While driving home the other day, I was thinking. What do I really want for Christmas? Just a little over a week ago, a tragedy beyond comprehension took place at an elementary school in Connecticut. I mourned along with the nation, but I mourned not only for the loss of precious, young lives, I mourned for the mother and son at the center of this devastation.

And so as I drove home, my trunk filled with Christmas gifts, I wondered, what would really make me happy this Christmas? On the surface, it seems like I have a good life. I have a beautiful family and wonderful friends, I have an amazing job with terrific colleagues. I have a house, and a car, and all sorts of gadgets. I couldn't ask for anything more, could I?

It occurred to me as I drove, that the assassin in Connecticut, Adam Lanza, was a little boy once. He was his mother's son. He toddled and he played and he brought home finger painted works of art. Some say he was troubled, autistic, mentally ill. But set that aside for a moment. He was a mother's son. And he was my son too.

Two years ago, I was Nancy Lanza, living in fear of my own troubled son. My eighteen-year-old, who had recently been battling volatile mood swings, was disrupting our home life on a daily basis. When I was successful getting him admitted as an outpatient at a local mental health care facility with a good reputation, a wave of relief swept over me. Finally, he would get help. But that relief was short lived when I discovered he'd be treated in the adult wing because of his age.

After only days in this reputable program designed to treat his depression and anger, my son bought an illegal handgun from a fellow patient in the parking lot of the facility.

Then his thirteen-year-old brother found it and nearly fired it thinking it was a toy. After weeks of witnessing his older brother's outbursts, my younger son finally confessed to me that his brother had a gun hidden in his room and had sworn him to secrecy. I was horrified.

I panicked. 

With the help of a close family friend, we confronted my son and took the gun from him. He tearfully confessed that he had bought the gun to end his life but then had changed his mind. My boy begged us not to tell anyone because he was afraid of being arrested. Thankfully, my friend took the gun intending to turn it in during an anonymous police gun return program.

So that night I naively believed the worst was over.

But between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while most families decorated trees, baked cookies, and wrapped gifts, my boy held me emotionally hostage. He made me promise not to tell anyone about the gun and his intentions. He swore he was going to “be better,” vowing that as long as no one found out about the gun, he'd be fine.

Yet he wasn't. Each evening after a long day of school, my younger son and I would come home wondering what lay ahead for us. Would there be more threats with knives? Would there be more holes punched in walls? Would there be tantrums and screaming that shook the doors off their hinges? Once, he even walked out into a raging snow storm without shoes or a coat promising never to return because he “didn't deserve to live” and he didn't want to be “taken away” to a treatment center. After each hostile moment passed, he always said he was sorry. He always said he wouldn't do it again. Yet, he always did. There were nights his younger brother hid in his room waiting for the screaming to subside. And nights I went to bed not knowing if I was going to wake in the morning.

I was afraid of my own son.

But not once did I seek help. Not once did I call the authorities. You see, I had sworn to my son that I would not tell anyone about the gun, and I naively believed that was a promise I must keep. So he continued to battle his own demons, his brother and I seated in the front row.

Eventually, I did tell my parents but not the police, and by then it was too late for him to be committed by law. So by keeping his secret, I had prevented him from receiving the mental health care he needed. After the gun incident, he repeatedly refused treatment and because of his age, there was nothing I could do. Ironically, if I had called the authorities when I first discovered the gun, he would have immediately been committed without being arrested. If I had only known.

It has been two years of emotional roller coasters. My son has never been treated as an inpatient for his diagnosed bipolar disorder. With his selectively charming personality, he always fools intake nurses into thinking he's just an average troubled teen who smokes too much pot. Currently, he is not being treated at all. He lives with family on the other side of town. He continues to struggle with volatile, sometimes physical outbursts. I still fear that his unpredictability may result in violence. He is unemployed and unmotivated and usually depressed. He has backed himself into a corner by his mental illness and resulting apathy. Without help, I fear he'll remain in this corner indefinitely.

So what is it I want for Christmas this year? Two years later? Just weeks after the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary?

I want every mother out there in fear of her child to read this. I want you to know you're not alone. I want you to know it's ok to ask for help. I want you to never stop searching for the mental health care your child deserves. And I want you to love your child enough to break your promises.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is beautifully written and is refreshingly candid - thank you for sharing. It is great that people are sharing the bipolar story - it is cathartc but serves an imprtant educational role. I wish you every success with your own blog. The Emily Dickenson quote in the header is also one of my favourites.... bipolarlainey.blog.co.uk would gladly offer you the opportunity to guest blog - you could simply use that wonderful opening piece with an addendum or write a new 300+ word piece.