My Child Has A Mental Illness

Lately, it seems like my youngest son is slipping away from us, one mood episode at a time.

There are moments, hours, and even days when things are good. Just last week, he was able to travel for Thanksgiving, see our family, and have so much fun with his cousin.

It was wonderful. It was a breath of fresh air. And it was short-lived.

By the time we transitioned back home, he was out of touch again. Pacing, irritated, throwing things around the room…totally melting down for reasons none of us can really understand.

My son has a bipolar diagnosis, an anxiety disorder diagnosis, and a panic disorder diagnosis.

My ten-year old son, my sweet boy…

My child has a mental illness.

And no one really knows what to do.


We have tried medication after medication – the first line of defense in stabilizing mood dysfunction. We saw some relief, here and there. But nothing consistent and, after a particularly scary hospital stay due to liver and thyroid side effects, it’s clear that the cure might be worse than the illness.

We have been in family therapy, to understand how we all can help.

I have read every single book I can get my hands on.

I have sat down with seven, (yes count them, seven) psychiatrists to date. After reviewing three years worth of information in his case file, they all have the same response. He’s complicated. It’s going to take time. Let’s try a different medicine.

Just a decade ago, this diagnosis didn’t even exist for children. It’s unfamiliar. It’s new. And sometimes, it seems like my son’s treatment resembles a bunch of doctors throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

My child has a mental illness.

And no one, not the doctors, not the therapists, not the social workers, not even his mother…

No one really knows what to do.


Every day, I wake up and put together a rigid schedule for him. It helps him to relax, if he knows exactly what to expect. It includes exercise, time in nature, hands-on sensory activities, and if it’s a good day, a little bit of reading and math. If it’s a bad day, we do the best we can to get through.

Every day, I try to figure it out.

What works, what sets him off, what causes the meltdowns, what precipitates mood swings,what helps him relax.

Sometimes, I think I see a pattern.

Sometimes, it all seems like a jumbled mess of chaos.

Sometimes,  I want to curl up in a ball and cry.

Sometimes,  I look at him and glimpse his smile, his sweet disposition, his love and joy for life itself.

I want it all back.

I want it back so badly my heart physically hurts sometimes.


And so, I research, I call the next doctor, I find the next therapy.

I set-up another day to be therapeutic for his needs.

I try to remember that I only have to worry about today – not tomorrow and certainly not his adult life.

I pray, more fiercely than ever before. Deep, choking, momma prayers, echoing those of all the women who have gone before me and placed their children back in the hands of their Creator.

My child has a mental illness.

The only thing I know to do is take the next step, do the next thing, and more than anything else, remind myself over and over again –

There is a plan. There is a purpose. There is a design in all of this.

My son is fearfully and wonderfully made.

He is not the sum of his diagnoses or some sort of puzzle challenge to master.

He is a child.

He loves animals and the outdoors.

He is wicked smart and creative.

He has a soft heart and generous nature.

He is sarcastic and funny – well beyond what is typical for his age.

He is wonderful, just as he is.

Today, I want to embrace this truth.

My son has a mental illness, yes.

But he has so much more.

And he has me.

I openly write about my son’s bipolar diagnosis, because we need to talk about mental illness and remove the stigma.

My son is fearfully and wonderfully made. What message would it send to him that I write about all the other aspects of our life, but somehow keep this hidden?

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  1. I have struggled with a similar situation with one of my sons. The frustration is real. His diagnosis changed often. Scariest one was DMDD, Disruptive Mood Disregulation Disorder. Heavy meds. Made him sleepy and gained weight. Then one day out of the blue she mentions, maybe he had Pyrrole Disorder? There is an actual test to diagnose if he has it or not. Well guess what? He does! After starting his new treatment, he’s a completely new kid. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine my son could function as well as he’s is. It’s been a blessing.

    Good luck, momma. I completely understand how much work goes into being your child’s expert. You’re doing a great job.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Kim. I am grateful to hear your son is doing well!

  2. Melinda Humbert says:

    Heart-breakingly beautiful Shawna! He is your boy and He is God’s child too! Holding this truth up in prayer for you and all of us who live this exceptional life

  3. December C. says:

    One thing..the ONLY thing that Psychiatrists know to tell people is that it’s mental. I hope you’ve been told about leaky gut. About leaky brain. About Medical MAPS Physicians. They are the only ones who truly help us heal our children! Real God sends. My son has emotional let downs just the same, yet he’s had the proper testing and turns out many of our kids have severe gut bugs/candida and are chalked FULL of heavy metals. Medications only topple their health. They’ve also done studies (as well as is our perfect testimony) of removing both gluten and dairy from the diet of patients in Psych Wards and they feel loads better. It’s the biochemistry that needs healed. Not just the brain. PLEASE refer to these groups, & May the Lord supply you with grace to run this race! Xo

    1. Thank you, December. I appreciate your taking the time to share this.

  4. We currently are about to try the 3rd medication for my daughter’s anxiety because of the side effects. I’m so sorry. How is your other son handling these changes in his brother?

    1. Oh Tina – that is a whole nother blog post! Overall, he is handling it better than I expected – there is so much grace in that alone.
      And, the truth is, it is really, really difficult sometimes to handle his rigid thinking along with his younger brother’s acting out.

  5. What a beautifully written heart felt post. In many ways I understand where you are. We have a daughter who is currently living in a mental health placement out of the home. She has a mental illness and became to dangerous to her siblings. It is a very, very hard to find what will work for her. Some days I loose hope. But, I always have prayer and we keep searching for a cure.
    Blessings, Dawn

  6. Just want to send love and prayers your way. You are walking a very hard road and my heart breaks for you. But as you said there is purpose and design, and so my prayer is for you to be filled to overflowing with Gods peace and grace. Many, many blessings to you and your family.

    1. Thank you so much, Rachael. I appreciate your kindness.

  7. I cried…because I can so relate to some of this.

  8. Tammy Mullins says:

    Hey lady. I almost don’t know where to start Never give up…never give in. ❤️ My son Cody is almost 23, non-verbal, tube fed as we had no choice at age 3 he was failure to thrive. Born with severe bilateral cleft lip and palette. 18?months later we received a diagnosis of C.H.A.R.G.E . Syndrome. Many years past and many therapies attended. Public school system in Texas Multiple impairments included hearing (moderate loss) speech , not ambulatory till age 4 and severe developmental delays. Many years , many meds (Psychotropic meds st an early age) many meds not good for him and allergic ,. 3 surgeries for cleft lip n palette surgeries, 1 hiatal hernia repair all before 1 year of age. I’m rambling. So many more years … many many good days and many may bad days. He grew into bright funny handsome young man who signs some and uses gestures or will drag you to where he wants to go!!! Y heart and my head wonders what’s exactly going through his perfect little head. Sending the best vibes I can ! I don’t know if any of the above makes too much sense but from one tired mom to another ….peace my sista ☮️❤️??

  9. Theresa Wallace says:

    I needed to see this today. It made me bust out crying which I guess I needed also. I have 2 boy’s 9 and 6 with extreme mood disorders and GAD, PTSD and Dysautonomia and each day is like a war that we are fighting I never know when the bomb will go off what is even worse they are each others triggers. 3 hospital stays already with my 9 year old and so many more times with the police to help the crisis mode. I’m so very sorry you are going through this but I’m so very thankful to see another parent that gets it. You touched my heart today Thank you.

  10. Thank you for writing this.

  11. What to do. Watch closely. Listen well. Maybe because I’m an aspie, but I have to thoroughly learn about ANYTHING I am interested in. That includes this illness. But for a few years now, I’ve been explaining all the things no one else has explained. It’s a sad world, IMO, when people with bipolar come to ME for answers because their doctors and therapists don’t seem to know. Why? Maybe because they don’t live with the patients and I do? Because I dedicate most of my time to figuring this puzzle out because I want my kids to be WELL?

    You can do this. Little by little, they’re figuring out the things I’ve speculated on for years. It’s a circadian rhythm disorder; sunlight and exercise help the sleep issues; that helps the mood issues, etc.

    1. So well said, Michelle. I am so grateful for your blog and for all of your helpful advice!

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