Thursday, November 29, 2012

Party Time!

Tomorrow my oldest son is attending an ice cream party at the middle school for earning good grades this trimester. He earned 4–As and 2–B+s, sorry I had to brag because he worked so hard for this! I also have to give credit to his study skills teacher, even my son has admitted that his success wasn’t possible without her. One teacher really can make all the difference.

Over the semester she has adjusted her teaching style to his learning style, she has cleverly figured out how to motivate and encourage him, from experience I can share this isn’t an easy thing to master. I also find her to be extremely committed. One night I sent her an email at 11:00 pm and within 5 minutes, she called my cell phone to discuss the situation and come up with a plan to put into action, she talked with me for 45 minutes that night!

Honestly, my husband and I were prepared that my son would not be able to get through this school year, but things have turned out better than we ever imagined! With the exception of the bullies, which is still a great concern, our son has managed to cope with so many stressors and challenging experiences. I am in awe of his incredible courage and resilience. He is one tough, smart cookie!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bully Caught on Camera!

My oldest son is still being bullied at school by older kids. He’s been punched in the stomach, slapped in the face, hit on the back, even pinched by older girls that called him “gay” as he passed them in the hall. What’s strange is that it’s been completely random, each from different kids, all of them unknown. They’re just the older kids on campus messing with the younger, more vulnerable kids.

Yesterday, while waiting for me to pick him up at the front of the school an older boy grabbed his backpack and walked off with it. When my son was alerted to this by a friend, he chased the kid down to get it back. As he approached the kid the kid swung the backpack, hitting him in the face multiple times. My son began twisting the backpack, until he got it back. But the harassment didn’t end there, because the kid then grabbed some rocks and began throwing them at my son. How do I know this? Because I saw it all on video thanks to a surveillance camera filming over the location.

Thankfully we were able to have the principal pull up the video in his office and they were able to identify the bully, who later faced the consequences.

I was so proud of my son on how he handled the situation, he tried to defend himself, but avoided hitting back. On the other side, I was so angry to see him being messed with on camera, my mama bear claws were coming out!

The downside to all of this was the anxiety that occurred the next morning in his first period, after the official meeting with school staff to identify the student. My son’s hearing started to change, for about an hour all sounds became very amplified and the voices of those around him became threatening. He could tell that what he was experiencing wasn’t real, but it was frightening none the less.

As my son told me tonight, I wish there were some things about middle school that I could make disappear.

So do I son, so do I...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and thank you for being a part of my life. I know that I’ve never met you or even know most of your names, but you’ve been an incredible support system for me in so many ways. Whether it’s your supportive comments or suggestions left on my blog or the many private emails I receive from those of you who have shared your own stories and continue to cheer me on. I feel blessed to have this online community to remind me that there is hope when things are tough and to know that I am not alone. It really does make a difference.

Mama Bear

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Starting Prozac

We started my youngest son on a low dose of Prozac 4 days ago. So far, so good. Though I find myself praying for him throughout the day. I absolutely hate starting medications, but I’m hopeful this will help with my son’s depression and anxieties.

My husband and I are still absorbing the probability that our “little one” has Aspergers. The more I read about it, the more I realize he must have it. It turns out, most of my family suspected it for years.

We both are dealing with feelings of sadness over facing another diagnosis and watching another child struggle throughout his life. I just want to cry.

I find myself dreading having to learn about another condition. Just the thought of starting all over again with a new syndrome feels overwhelming. I feel resentful about having to read more books, research more therapies and establish more education plans with the school. Though I know that once it’s confirmed, these are the things I will do without question.

On a bitter-sweet note, if my son does have Aspergers, we’ve been assured that there will be a world of services opened up to him. In addition, it’s a condition that people seem to accept and aren’t afraid of. People will want to help my son and will embrace his challenges. It’s something that he won’t have to hide. Unfortunately for my oldest, kids with bipolar disorder don’t have access to this kind of help or compassion.

... and this makes me mad.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lord Help Us...

During church this morning my husband and I watched our youngest son draw portraits of each member of our family. He did a side-by-side with one image in present time and the next image 10 years later. What started out cute, turned into something very disturbing. Check out the drawings below:

This is my little one’s self portrait, 10 years later he’s the Sheriff.

My middle son 10 years later. A little rugged and appears to have outgrown his clothes.

Here I am 10 years later, I’ve lost an eye along the way and use a cane.
(plus put on a few pounds)

Here is my oldest son who ended up in prison. 
The shirt was suppose to say “Dork” but he misspelled it.

And unfortunately here is my husband, buried in a coffin. It says, “R.I.P The Good Man”. He drew a worm in the dirt with the words “HI!” in a speech bubble.

Lord help us these next 10 years!
(We only hope our son isn’t a fortune-teller.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Grieving Over Another Diagnosis...

We got some discouraging news this week when we took our youngest son for an evaluation with our psychiatrist. It wasn’t what I expected, but looking back, it’s all starting to make sense.

When we arrived at the psychiatrist office, my little one climbed into the big leather couch with his feet dangling off the side, not even reaching the floor. The doctor first addressed him asking, “Do you know why you’re here?”

My son straightened himself up and in a matter of fact tone said, “Yeah, I hear voices in my head.”

From there our psychiatrist ask about a dozen questions about the voices, here are a few of them:

 “Do you hear more than one voice?”

“Yeah, I hear a lot of them. They’re kids’ voices and strangers”

“Are they in your head or in the room?”

“In my head.”

“Do they talk to each other, or just to you?”

“Just to me.”

Do they sound like your mom or dad or your brothers?”

“No, I already told you, strangers!”

“What do they say?”

“They call me bad names like idiot, stupid and tell me I’m a horrible person.”

“What else do they say?

“They laugh at me a lot.”

“They tell me to do bad stuff and if I don’t do it they’ll give me a migraine.”

From there the psychiatrist gave me a curious look and said, “Does he ever get headaches?” I answered, “Yes, more recently, in fact about a week ago he had his first migraine and even threw up with it.” With a look of concern he replied, “Keep an eye on that and let me know if that continues.”

Turning back to my son he asked, “Do the voices ever tell you to hurt yourself?”

My son hesitated for a long moment, looking down and avoiding our eyes.  Then he softly said, “no... well I mean, yes.”

“What do the voices tell you to do?”

“They tell me to kick myself or to punch myself in the stomach.”

“Have you ever done that?”

“No, I know that’s wrong.”

“That’s great, don’t ever listen to that.”

After all the questions and reviewing the list of behaviors we’ve witnessed over the years, along with looking at his drawings of slaughtered dead people (with blood and numbered bodies) he turned to me and said that he’s clearly depressed. He believes the voices are possibly due to psychosis brought on from depression. If it isn’t psychosis, then it’s intrusive thoughts which are also bad and related to depression. He said that it’s clear that he’s struggling and we can’t continue with this so we need to start him on an anti-depressant, Prozac.

I felt a punch in my stomach.

Still dizzy from what I just heard, he then said, “Looking at the list of behaviors you’ve brought me, have you ever considered that he may have Aspergers?”

This felt like it came out of left field, but I had to admit, it recently crossed my mind. About a month ago when I was looking into my son’s vocal tic, Palilalia, I saw along with anxiety, autism was also associated with it. It made me ponder as I thought about the way my son never wants to play with other kids, but instead is happiest when he’s alone.

Plus there’s all the sensory issues that seem to be taking over his life, his extreme reaction to change in routine, even going out to pizza this week brought on anxiety because, “we’re suppose to go home after school, not pizza!” He’s overly obsessed with time and is extremely picky about foods.

There are moments were he goes into fits of anxiety over batteries dying, and showing him a bucket of fresh batteries doesn’t quelch this fear. A few months ago he was hiding under a clothing rack in a Old Navy store in a fit of panic because he saw some balloons and said, “The balloons have a spell on me!”

He seems to hate toys and never wants to sit with the group of kids during story time. He runs out of his classroom and lunch room because it’s too loud and this summer he ran away from a birthday party because it had too many kids.

We’ve seen anxiety over throwing trash away, how his sheets are tucked in or how his clothes are packed in a suitcase. Things like haircuts, shoes getting wet or teeth falling out have produced outrageous moments of panic.

Recently he told me that he sits alone at lunch. When I asked him if he ever wants to sit with friends he said, “I don’t have any friends.” When I asked if he preferred it that way, he nonchalantly said, “Yeah!” and wandered off like we were talking about nothing special.

This summer I found that it’s almost impossible to get a photograph of him since he seemed wary of our camera at times. Then there’s the varying moods, he definitely wakes up in bad moods and on other days he’s clearly happy, but in no time at all, he complains that it’s the worst day ever. He cries almost everyday about not wanting to go to school and homework time is painful.

He has on occasion shown destructive behavior when upset that I always felt was different from the energy his brother gave during a rage. It felt like he was mimicking what his brother did and unlike his brother, I was able to calm him down. Also, his brother’s rages always felt like someone out to get you, like a wild animal, where our youngest son just looks frustrated and overwhelmed.

We watched over the years our “playful boy” that liked to dance to music like he owned the dance floor, turn into the kid who runs and hides under the couch pillows when the music starts, refusing to participate.

And what really hurts, is seeing how he’s pushing my husband away. He just doesn’t connect or respond to hugs and playfulness as much. My husband says, “I don’t even know my son anymore.” And my son’s favorite time of the week is when his brothers leave for youth group so he can have his “alone time.”

As I look at my youngest son with a new lens of Aspergers, the list continues to grow. I can see now how this is possible.

I have to admit that my heart has been very heavy. It feels like I’m losing another child into a world I want no part of.

It’s not because he may have Aspergers, if anything that diagnosis would explain a lot. But it’s because I’m being told that this isn’t a phase. All along we have been told that our son may have PTSD because of his exposure to his brother’s rages. But this depression, this Aspergers, it’s not a phase. It’s another long journey I don’t want to take.

The thought of putting another child on medication, an SSRI on top of that makes me sick. What if it triggers a bipolar illness? What if it makes him suicidal? Our psychiatrist reassured us that we would take him off if we saw any bad side effects, but what if we ring a bell that can’t be unrung?

My heart is aching...

But as I was tucking my little one into bed last night, he was crying, saying, I’m so sad...

He told me the voices keep bothering him and he wants them to go away.

How can I ignore that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Interview with Sam about “Voices”

In a previous post I shared how my youngest was hearing voices now. As a follow up I wanted to post a response I got from Sam, a follower who shared their experience with hearing voices—you might find Sam’s tips very helpful.


Sam: I have these kinds of voices as part of anorexia, a disorder underpinned by anxiety. It is hell. These voices are not uncommon in anxiety disorders and depression, they are just not often talked about by sufferers, probably due to the connotation that it is related to psychosis and therefore makes you a “bad” person (when of course it doesn’t, even if it were psychosis).

There are fundamental differences between these sorts of voices and auditory hallucinations. For starters, people with anxiety will experience the voices inside their brain, whereas people with psychosis will experience the voices as being outside their head even if they know they aren’t real. With anxiety, the voices are not audible; with auditory hallucinations you really can hear them just as you can hear someone talking to you. The type of voices that people with anxiety and similar conditions experience is often misdiagnosed as psychosis; it takes a trained eye to ask the right questions and see the difference.

It is great that your son opened up to you about this, as he can now learn how to cope with and fight the voices. And if it does turn out to be bipolar-related hallucinations, then you have caught it early and are experienced and well-equipped having helped your eldest.

Mama Bear: Did you ever feel scared by these voices?

Sam: I am scared by what the voices can compell me to do because such actions hurt my loved ones and could kill me. More than anything though, I find them distressing, much like how it would be distressing to have someone hurling abuse at you 24/7, threatening and taunting you, screaming at you to do this, do that, don’t do this or that.

I can understand why they would be particularly scary to a child, especially if it has come on relatively suddenly.

A caveat: sometimes the voices aren’t scary at all, sometimes they try to convince me that they are my best friends, acting in my best interest, that I will feel a whole lot better if I do what they say. And I DO feel better if I do what they say, but this feeling is only temporary. When I was younger the voices were not at all scary or distressing because I just did what I was told and had no insight as to the nature of what was gonig on.

Mama Bear: Do they feel like your own thoughts or do they sound to you to be different people in your head?

Sam: They don’t feel like my own thoughts, or really like thoughts at all to be honest. It feels foreign/alien. I consider it to be my illness(es) talking.

Mama Bear: Are they brought on when you feel a surge of anxiety, but quiet when you are feeling good?

Sam: Oh, most definitely! It should be noted, though, that they further aggravate any anxiety/distress that I have to begin with, so it can be a vicious cycle.

This is actually one of the reasons why I know equivocably that the voices are not ME. They are significantly muted when I am well.

Mama Bear: What can you do to live with them?

Sam: I have found a number of things helpful:

- Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT). This is used most often in people with Borderline Personality Disorder and/or who self-harm, but it teaches a number of skills which are excellent for improving distress tolerance. I think it would be too complex for a child, and I don’t know of anyone adapting it for children, but a therapist or psychologist with training in DBT could certainly teach some age-appropriate principles and skills. You might find this website useful: particularly DBT Lessons -> Distress Tolerance.

- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is an evidence-based therapy for anxiety disorders. It has been adapted for children but you would need to find someone with specific training. CBT has helped strengthen my own “healthy voice”.

- Distraction techniques. When it is particularly “noisy” in my head listening to music or having a television playing in the background helps give me something else on which to focus. I find this is particularly important at night time, when the voices tend to be at their worst (probably because there are less distractions at night time!). Sometimes music/tv isn’t enough and I have to distraction further by doing something else with my hands/brain such as playing a game on my iphone. If I am really anxious and do not have something to do with my hands, I have a tendency to sub-consciously start hurting myself and will not realise until someone points it out to me. Talking to someone also helps distract me from the voices. Sometimes I may not be able to engage in conversation, but hearing someone talk still helps. I find it most helpful when the person talking is calm and talkes about something else. Of course, there is a time and place to talk about these things but that time is generally not when I'm in a state of severe distress!

- Many people benefit from guided meditation or other forms of meditation. I personally find these things aggravating as it ends up just being me and the voices duking it out in my head. I do find pilates helpful though, because while it is relaxing there’s still enough for me to concentrate on.

- High intensity cardiovascular exercise. You know how anxiety creates a surge of adrenaline and cortisol? It is basically the body prepping you to fight a battle which doesn’t necessary exist, like a bear chasing you or whatever. Exercise is a good way to release these stress hormones, but it must be suitably intense. This is more for the anxiety than the voices but since they play into each other, it is worth noting.

(NB, in the unlikely event that a parent with an AN child is reading this, please note that I am not allowed to exercise unless I am at a healthy-enough weight to do so and am eating enough to account for the energy expenditure. DO NOT permit exercise otherwise!).

- Doing the Opposite. I do the exact opposite of what the voices tell me to do. Doing the Opposite makes one’s anxiety shoot through the roof in the short term but it helps over time. It takes a lot of practice.

Mama Bear: Did you ever feel like something bad would happen if you didn’t follow through with the voices’ commands?

Sam: Oh yes. I would become fat, I would be greedy, a sloth, disgusting, repulsive, lazy. I would be a failure, amount to nothing, and let everyone including myself down. To avoid these outcomes I had/have to do whatever the voices say.

This probably sounds very similar to OCD, but when I’ve had OCD episodes they are very much intrusive thoughts, not intrusive voices.

Mama Bear: Do you remember how old you were when it started?

Sam: I don’t know when it started. I became more aware of them when they became particularly vicious during treatment for anorexia. However, I am certain that they were there while the anorexia was developing, but that they were silenced by doing what I was told, so I was not bothered by them.

It is possible that they were there earlier. Looking back, I had sub-clinical depression and anxiety when I was a mere four year old, along with what I would call proto-anorexic thoughts and behaviours (scary!).

Mama Bear: Thanks so much for giving this insight, it’s really helpful for understanding my little one!

Sam: It is a pleasure. I do not often respond to blog posts but I thought in this instance I might have something to offer.

I do not believe that parents can prevent their children developing mental illnesses, particularly those which strong biological links (bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, some forms of anxiety and depression). You should NEVER blame yourselves! There are, however, so many things you can do to help your child cope and whip their illness into submission. Your sons are so blessed to have you guiding and advocating for them.

Ooh, I just realised that I left off a vital component of my “what helps me cope with the voices” list: my superhero dog, Malcolm! When I am particularly distressed he will insist upon climbing onto my chest and he will refuse to move until I have calmed down. There is something about the weight of his body laying on me which is particularly beneficial. I have since learnt that this is one of the skills they teach to psychiatric and autism service dogs. He has no such training!

Mama Bear: Thank you once again Sam for sharing with us and give Malcom a hug for us! I remembered your advice the other night about your dog’s body weight calming you down, so when my youngest couldn’t calm down at bedtime I climbed on top of him (we don’t have a dog so I had to make do) and gave him a heavy hug, letting my body weight rest on him. It worked! He calmed down and went to sleep. I will admit though, a dog would be much more fun under these circumstances!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Message from Columbine

On Friday I posted a video clip about a new book that has the parents of Dylan Klebold speaking out. I shared that I felt compassion for the parents of children who commit these violent crimes and wished we as a society weren’t so quick to blame them. I know the topic is heated for many and there may be many more who disagree with me. But I wanted to share with you a comment left by a follower who was closer to the situation than the rest of us. I feel her words are very profound and worth reading.
As a family member of a victim of the Columbine shootings, my heart breaks for the parents of Eric and Dylan. My heart also breaks for the parents of the Aurora shooter, the parents of Jared Loughner (shooter of Gabby Giffords, etc) and the countless others who watched their children self destruct before their very eyes. To have no sympathy for those parents is to have absolutely no idea what it means to be mentally ill. And that is what this blog is all about. Those shooters were wrong. What they did was horrible. But as a society we need to do a better job of accepting that the mentally ill are all around us. And the severely mentally ill are capable of such acts of violence. Just as you do not get to "choose" not to have cancer, you do not get to "choose" to not be mentally ill. It happens. Brains malfunction. Psychosis sets in. AND IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PARENTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thank you Cathy for having the courage to speak up. I am deeply sorry you and your family have experienced such a tragic loss of one of your own. Your pain is unimaginable, but your compassion is an example to us all. Thank you.

* * *

Since there’s been a discussion about mental illness and violent crimes, I thought it was important to point out that the vast majority of those who are suffering from a mental illness who are not abusing drugs or alcohol and are receiving treatment are statistically no more violent or dangerous than the rest of the population. People with a mental illness are more likely to harm themselves—or to be harmed—than they are to hurt other people. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Shooter’s Parents

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I saw this interview on the Today show with author Andrew Solomon about his new book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. His book is about families who have children different than themselves, such examples include autism, deafness, child prodigies and schizophrenia. What’s catching the media’s attention is an interview with Dylan Klebold’s parents, I doubt you’ve forgotten, but Dylan was one of the teen killers in the Columbine massacre that took place in 1999.

The author shares in the interview how he was interested in meeting the parents to see if it explained what had happened and if he could detect what was off in their household. But what he found instead were loving, courageous parents who had no idea this was going to happen and if they had known, they would have done something about it.

This really struck a nerve with me. I know what I’m about to say may upset others, but I feel terribly sad for these parents. And my sadness doesn’t take anything away from all those families who lost their kids in the masssacre, I can’t imagine their pain and wished it never happened. But it feels like society doesn’t allow the parents of these killers to grieve too. I feel like society automatically blames the parents.

I still remember after the movie theatre shooting that took place in Aurora earlier this year when a crowd of news trucks and reporters were outside the home of the killer’s parents. Not knowing a thing about this family or their circumstances, I felt a deep ache for them. I knew everyone wanted to know what kind of parents could create such a “monster”. But I on the other hand was thinking something else... what suffering must those parents be going through. They have lost a child, this is not the child they cuddled and tucked into bed, or the child they watched go on a first date. They must be going through unimaginable hell too, yet society is ready to spit on them and hold them responsible for their child’s violent acts.

I appreciate in the Today interview where Soloman points out that there was a time where many conditions were blamed on the parents. For example, he shares that autism was thought to be caused by a cold mother and schizophrenia was caused by mothers who wished their children didn’t exist but Soloman explains that we have dropped all these ideas except when it comes to crimes, we still blame the parents. He shares that after spending hundreds of hours with these parents he believes they had no clue these acts could happen.

I hope this can be a message to society that we need to stop blaming parents and instead offer support and compassion, just as we do for the victim’s parents.

In this interview, Solomon shares how Klebold’s mother prayed for her son to kill himself in order to stop the killings. He did. And now she has to live with the fact that she prayed for her own son to take his life.

How does a mother do that?

* * *

Today Interview
November 8, 2012

Book on Amazon:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Good News for Little One!

This past week my youngest son saw an ophthalmologist to screen for a genetic disease called Neurofibromatosis. After a complete examination of the eyes, they found that he was free of tumors and his optic nerve looked healthy. In a very optimistic tone she said, “I think he’s going to be just fine, we’ll look again in a few years, but looking at him now, he doesn’t look like a ‘NF’ kid.” 

It was such a huge relief, I didn’t spend much time worrying about this, but it feels good none the less to have it ruled out for now. If only it was that easy to screen for mental illness. Maybe someday...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Becoming an Advocate: The Haunted House Update

After my last post about the haunted house, I dropped in our community director to share my feelings about the haunted house and hopefully bring some awareness.

Honestly, this was a scary step for me. It’s easy for me to be an advocate for mental health behind a computer screen, but to show up in person made me feel vulnerable and exposed. I was also nervous because I was prepared to share a little about our family’s situation, I thought it would be necessary in order to bring awareness and create compassion if she saw an affected family face-to-face. So I swallowed my fears and headed directly to her office.

I first acknowledged all the hard work the staff did to put this event on and let her know that I didn’t intend to diminish their efforts by what I was about to say. She immediately responded with, “I didn’t see you at the event that night.” I said, “Well yes, our family chose not to go because of the Asylum theme.” I explained that we have a child with a mental illness and found the premise to be offense and didn’t want to expose our children to it.

I then explained how the individual scenes were images of real symptoms for those suffering with mental illness and portraying them at a family event is not only offensive but hurtful—pointing out that they would never have done a cancer ward theme. I shared how families like mine are affected by the stigma of mental illness and how my son has lost two of his best friends because the parents were scared of his illness. I told her that this event only feeds into those fears and strengthens the stigma that we’re trying to fight.

She was very good at listening, only stopping me briefly to say that the event was suppose to be a play off of old movies like One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest. In response, I told her that I understood their intentions were never to be offensive, but explained that it was possible that a girl who was privately cutting herself may have attended that night and been negatively impacted if she saw the scene of a girl slicing into her body with the signs “Danger! Psychos!” hanging on the walls. I explained how this girl might be afraid of being labeled a “psycho” and as a result may avoid treatment. I then told her that my son has experienced psychosis and questioned what he’d think of himself had he seen those signs on the walls?

I then shared that, as parents, we face ridicule for medicating our son and that their mockery of a MED STATION only adds to the abuse we feel.

I also reminded her about the high suicide rate in our small town and that this event doesn’t support those parents who found their children dead.

She seemed to be really listening, admitting that she had no idea families like ours were dealing with these issues. At one point her eyes softened and she started to tear up a little. She said, “You know, I did have a gut feeling that this would be wrong in the very beginning, but the younger staff members talked me out of it.” She then went on to share how she grew up with a child who was disabled and was well aware of the struggles that individuals face when they’re different than the “norm”.

Before I left I asked her if they would consider not using mental illness as a theme in the future and to remove the offensive images off of facebook.

She nodded her head in agreement and apologized for their insensitivity and promised she would have a talk with her staff.

I left feeling pretty proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and was hopeful that this conversation may have a positive affect somewhere down the road. It’s the best I can do.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I was Horrified! Mental Patients are Not Monsters!

This Halloween our community clubhouse had their annual haunted house. As we were about to attend the event with our older boys, I noticed that the haunted house was titled “The Asylum”. The invitation read, “Attempt to maintain your sanity as you tour through ‘The Asylum!’”

Hmmm... We decided that it was probably best to stay home.

The next day I saw the photos posted on Facebook. I have to say, I was stunned. They created a haunted house that was about mental patients being out of control. I guess I expected a little gore at a haunted house, but the scenes created were shocking to say the least.

Instead of monsters and creatures, they created a scene of a young girl dressed in a hospital gown calmly sitting in a bathtub cutting herself. Behind her were the words, “NO MORE PAIN” written in blood. All around the girl were sharp objects such as knives and broken glass used in her “cutting” episode as blood dripped from her wounds.

Another scene was a young man in a hospital gown above a toilet. He was smearing feces all over the walls.

Down the hall there was a sign that said “MED STATION” and a line of children waiting to get their meds, all appearing like drugged up victims with self-inflicted scratch marks on their faces.

A sign that said “DANGER! PSYCHOS!” hung from the hospital wall as a man that was chained in a hospital gown stood in a room surrounded by manic writings on the wall.

I usually try not to be offended, but I felt my heart race as I saw these images. They were successful in horrifying me, but it wasn’t because I was scared, instead I was thinking...

What if I had brought my kids to see this? What would my son, who himself suffers from a mental illness, think about these images?

What can images like this do to a community who has a high suicide rate in their youth? What about the parents who have found their children dead with letters of “No more pain.”

How will we ever build compassion for those suffering with mental illness if they remain a “monster” in the eyes of the public?

And most importantly consider this. Stigma is one of the greatest barriers for individuals who need help for their mental illness. Images like this can discourage people from seeking the help they need. Will the girl who cuts herself in private ever feel comfortable in asking for help? Is she afraid that people will think she’s a “dangerous psycho”? Not getting treatment can lead to her death. This is a serious issue!

I know this question is tired, but I have to ask. Would they ever think to create a haunted house with cancer patients in a cancer ward?

I’m so disappointed in my community, I know that they never intended to be offensive and that they worked really hard volunteering their time to create a fun evening for families, but they are sorely misinformed.

We have so much more work to do before society sees mental illness as a real illness, with real patients and families who suffer tremendously.

Tomorrow I’m meeting with the head of our community organization with hopes of making a change— one person at a time.