September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. As you know, I write a lot about mental health, but today I want to hand over this platform to an amazing mental health warrior, Sarah Fader. She's writing here today about being a mental health advocate for your children, because early intervention is the best intervention, and an active ally is the best ally.
Hi! I'm Sarah Fader, and I'm a single mom of two children living in the burbs of Portland, OR. I’m also a fucking superhero without a cape. Someone, please get me a cape. Moms like me (single or married) have extremely stressful jobs. We are doctors, nurses, listeners, friends, disciplinarians, life-savers, and pirates. Depending on what your child needs at the time, there's a moral obligation to transform yourself into a different person, archetype, role or creature.
As mothers, we defend our children at all costs. A mom will die for her kids. A mama will fight tirelessly until her children get what they need. As a mother with a mental illness, I fight three million times harder than a mom who is neurotypical and not disabled. My disabilities are invisible, which makes them even more challenging. I live with bipolar type II, ADHD, panic disorder and OCD. My son is a lot like me. He is introverted, cerebral and has severe social anxiety. He's struggled with agoraphobia and has already had some panic attacks at his young age. However, he is more than a conglomeration of symptoms. He's a sensitive, empathetic, loving and bright child.
At a decade old he is starting to manifest symptoms of OCD and some sort of mood disorder NOS. When he was a baby I worried that he would show signs of mental illness; it's common for children of parents with mental illness to have a diagnosis as well. I prayed that he would defy these statistics. However, I see that he has mental health issues. The good news, if you can call it that, is that I understand him. I notice his OCD symptoms, and it reminds me of myself, my issues with rumination and my compulsions. Due to my symptoms, I know how to comfort him at times.
Frequently I can explain to my son what he is experiencing. However, there is a significant caveat to this statement. I don’t always understand what he is doing or why he is doing it. And as many times as I ask him, he doesn’t have the language to explain it to me because he is ten years old and trying to cope with symptoms that are confusing to him. I have a lot of guilt about this, but I tell myself that I’m doing the best that I can at that moment when I don’t understand, or I feel like I am failing as his mother because I am not helping him. I’m not in his brain, and I can empathize with
what he’s going through, but I won’t always get it.
My daughter is seven, and she is a firecracker. She is tenacious, smart extroverted and funny. She and I love to sing together. We sing Owl City, Taylor Swift, and many of the songs from Pitch Perfect. She is a born leader, and it has no fear. She will talk to anyone and isn't shy about expressing her opinion. She (like me) has ADHD. Hey! That rhymed! And I see these symptoms in her at only seven years old. She is easily bored, restless and frequently interrupting others because she can’t remember what she wants to say. She’s loquacious to the point where gets her in trouble in a classroom setting. One day she came home from school in the first grade nearly in tears and told me that her teacher yelled at her for talking too much. After she finished the story, she hung her head down in shame. I assured my daughter, who was visibly distressed about the incident that I had her back and would speak to the teacher. Kids with ADHD are often misunderstood. I can't quantify the number of times I got in trouble for not paying attention, not trying hard enough or talking in class. As her mother, I wanted to clarify why my daughter was behaving in a manner that (on the surface) appeared to be disruptive or "rude." I sent her teacher an email explaining to her that my daughter was showing symptoms of ADHD and that her talkative nature was due to her diagnosis. I’m not trying to excuse my child’s behavior; however, there is a reason for it. If teachers were more aware of why children behave in the way that they do, the educational system would transform into a more empathetic environment, and children would get their academic needs met.
I, my son and my daughter all have mental health issues. We are not ashamed of them. I say "we" because I'm instilling this narrative in my children. I'm articulating this to you, whoever you are that is reading this; I will fight for my children to be understood, loved, and for their success in this world. I'm a warrior mom, and I have a hard job concerning mental health advocacy. There are many misconceptions when it comes to children who have mental health issues. Mothers need to be fierce knights, lions or wolves that defend their pack. In our world children’s voices are frequently silenced, and that’s why moms need to be our kids' mental health advocates. We are representing the voices of our children so that they can get their needs met. We inspire our kids to persevere despite their struggles and transform their insecurities into strengths.
I will always fight for my children’s voices to be heard and if you are a mother reading this whether or not your children have a mental illness I hope that you do the same for your brood.
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York. Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her
two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar type II, OCD ADHD, and PTSD. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.
Read more about being a mental health advocate here: Discovering My PTSD in the Dentist's Chair
Read my most recent post here: F*ck Cancer: A long-overdue rant
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