If You Want To Understand

If you want to understand my pain

Look at your children and imagine them being overwhelmed by an illness that has no cure. Imagine being powerless to stop it. 

Imagine watching them transform before your eyes from a carefree and confident child to one overcome with sickness and despair. 

Imagine having your dreams of watching them learn and grow and succeed replaced with constant worry for what the future holds. 

If you want to understand my fear

Look at your children and imagine them not wanting to live another day because the hopelessness is too great. 

Imagine a constant cycle of hospital visits to stitch up yet another self-injury, to attempt to stabilize yet another bout of suicidality. 

Imagine the sound of your ring tone day or night inducing heart-stopping panic because too often, when the phone rings, it’s somehow related to another unstable episode. 

If you want to understand my exhaustion

Look at your children and imagine never being able to relax because you spend every moment worried about them. Not worried like all parents worry. Worried because you understand, in a very realistic and practical way, that you know your child will never be fully safe. NEVER. Because the illness is chronic, comes and goes without warning, and is always lying under the surface no matter how well it is being managed. 

Imagine that you spend every moment of your entire life worrying about them because of this. Every moment of your entire life.

Imagine a new normal where you and your spouse take turns being awake for hours at a time throughout the night because sleep is elusive despite debilitating exhaustion.  

If you want to understand my stress

Look at your children and imagine using all of your financial means to try and provide for them so that they receive the best possible care, all the while knowing that nothing will fully help. 

Imagine every hard earned cent, every savings account, every loan, being accessed and drained just to try and keep your children alive. To try and find a reason to believe that it will be worth it. That something will change. That, this time, someone will find a way to fix it.  

Imagine feeling that your other children deserve better, deserve more, but cannot have it because the finances are all tied up in mental health treatment. 

Imagine wondering how you will manage to afford everyone’s needs in the years to come… Hoping that happier times will arrive…. college, weddings, grandchildren… But not knowing how you will be able to provide for them. 

If you want to understand my faithlessness

Look at your children and remember how grateful you were when they were born healthy and whole. Imagine devoting your life to them, being good parents and good people, wanting only the simplest of good things for them. 

Imagine praying for their recovery with unmitigated fervor, day after day, year after year, only to watch them sink further into darkness. 

Imagine trying to maintain faith, watching people around you go about their lives unencumbered, wondering what it is you could possibly be expected to do differently to save your child from suffering.  

Imagine trying to understand how innocent children deserve such an abundance of pain. Not just the existential principle that all people wonder about. Look at your actual child and try to find any logic in a world where they deserve to have their life destroyed. 

Imagine your child asking you these questions and not knowing how to answer.

If you want to understand my family

Look at your children and recognize that their health and happiness mean more to you than any other thing. 

Imagine that it doesn’t matter whether they fit a mold, whether people understand, whether they follow the path you hoped they would, back before you understood how complicated life can be. Because all that matters is that they are healthy and happy. 

Imagine wishing with every fiber of your being that your children will internalize this belief. Will figure out who they want to be and live life fully and contentedly. Happily and healthily. Because, really, little else matters when you consider the alternative. 

If you want to understand my frustration

Look at your child and imagine that hardly anybody supports them. Imagine that society around you does not accept that they have a real illness, no matter how many times you have tried to explain it. 

Imagine sitting by helplessly as your children are shunned by their friends who are made uncomfortable by their illness. Who choose to abandon them rather than trying to understand them, who don’t know how to accept that they can’t control their illness and therefore need the friendship more than anything. 

Imagine seeing other families, whose children have other types of illness or have experienced other types of trauma, being supported endlessly by the community. Prayer rallies, financial packages, meals, free gifts and getaways to help relieve the stress and the burden that illness brings to a family.  

Imagine desperately needing that kind of support but knowing that it barely exists because mental illness isn’t considered as real or as unpreventable as other types of illness. 

Imagine knowing all too well how real and unpreventable it is, but not being able to convey it to others despite your best efforts. 

If you want to understand mental illness

Look at my child. Imagine the smart, beautiful, capable, talented, loving, remarkable person beneath the illness. She is there and she is fighting to be seen. But if you want to understand, you have to be willing to look.


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2 Comments on “If You Want To Understand

  1. I so relate to this especially the faithlessness.
    I’m the one with mental illness, but it was my 4 heart old who asked why God gives us sad days (sefira) if He loves us so much(and gave us the gift of Shabbos) I could not answer. I don’t know where my faith is, but it’s hard to have it when life is so cruel.
    Thank you for sharing
    May we all find the faith that is deep inside.

  2. This piece is written so well. Thank you so much for putting into words what so many of us are feeling.

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