It Wasn’t The Lack Of Compassion That Hurt, It Was The Lack Of Understanding about Mental Illness and Addiction

I had been feeling upbeat over the past few weeks, ahead of our run for breast cancer – which we nailed by the way, raising in excess of $800 for research. And then I stumbled upon a FB share of an old article of mine that was published by News.com last year.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

As a writer of contentious topics (for some) – ADHD, feminism, inequality, mental health – I realise that I put myself in a glass house when one of my articles is published, and I have learned not to read comments from trolls.

This particular article was a highly personal piece about Kurt, detailing his struggles with his mental health, and my reasons for coming full circle on my views about cannabis legalisation. It was an opinion piece – hence, bait for comment and constructive criticism – to which I am always open.

However, many of the comments were not constructive. They were subjective – targeted directly at me as the author and mother. They laid the blame for Kurt’s issues squarely at my feet, and it was that lack of understanding about mental health and addiction that hurt the most – even more than their lack of compassion.

It was a slap in the face to realise that in spite of the attempts of fantastic organizations such as Lifeline and Headspace and various media outlets to improve awareness about mental illness, (as well as the increasing numbers of kids that are taking their own lives), that many people still believe that kids with mental health issues deserve no support, and should even be punished for not towing the societal line.

I am used to being held responsible for Kurt’s choices. Sadly, blame starts with the parents when it comes to ADHD, although there has been a gradual shift in attitude in recent years, thanks in part to the increasing acknowledgement and support of the condition by world governments.

And I can (sort of) see why. A child with impulse control or oppositional issues can look like a monster when you peer in from the outside. However, that refusal to show compassion or to probe more deeply into understanding the condition is why so many of these kids end up being bullied, isolated and rejected, leading to depression, self-harm, OCD and self-medication.

When it comes to inclusion, attitude is the biggest problem we face. But trust me when I tell you that any child with mental health issues who self-mutilates or lines up pills on the carpet is not “attention-seeking” (by our common acceptance of the term). They are seeking attention for help.

Beyond the public condemnation, perhaps the hardest part of the journey for parents or carers is the lack of support, the sense of isolation and the self-blame. That’s why I wrote that article. For others out there, like us, going through what we did and feeling alone.

It has taken years for me to come to terms with the fact that I am not to blame for Kurt’s struggles.

Sure, if I had my time again I would handle some things differently, but I know that no child could have been loved more. We raised our kids identically. We put the same boundaries in place that we did for NC, and like any normal teenager, she tested those boundaries. The difference was, NC was able to distinguish which of her strikes for independence were worth the consequences – unlike Kurt, who was encumbered by poor impulse control.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt – at the very least until I have all the facts or I have met them personally. Rather than judging a book by its cover or from local gossip, I arm myself with as much information as I can before I draw my conclusions. When did we stop doing that as a society? When did we decide that it was acceptable behaviour to take a pop at someone for our own entertainment?

Surely, there can be no excuse for ignorance when we have access to information at our fingertips?

Social media has made it easy to bully without consequences and I fear that we are losing our sense of compassion. So before you jump right in with your heart rather than your head, remember that there is a real person at the other end of posts or comments, who is often motivated by doing good. That person has a heart and possibly a full wardrobe of skeletons that you know nothing about.

Parenting Teenagers and Ignoring Their ‘Right To Privacy’

English: A small and simple white mortar and p...
English: A small and simple white mortar and pestle, on bamboo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes us mothers have to do things we are not proud of.

I admit that I have inadvertently found myself, on more than a few occasions, skimming through my children’s Facebook pages or stalking their friends; I may even have mistakenly checked their private messages.

Sometimes when you parent teenagers, you have to ignore their ‘right to privacy’ for your own peace of mind and their own good.

To protect them.

I call it ‘parenting’.

What our kids don’t understand is that sometimes we have to do these things to teach them the right values and integrity. Admittedly, it might sometimes be more of a case of divine retribution.

Last week, I had to search clean Kurt’s room from top to bottom. For someone who is so OCD in certain areas of his life, (like having to have his uniform washed every day), that boy can happily thrive in a festering pit.

But the reason I was searching cleaning his room this time was not in search of dirty washing, but for illicit substances.

Kurt’s been a little crazy without the old man’s rod of iron discipline to keep him in check (AS FUCKING IF!), this last ten days.

And my nostrils, (which, for some reason, seem to recognize the sweet perfume of ‘cigarettes that aren’t cigarettes’, if you know what I mean), tipped me off that I might have something else to get anxious about.

And you know how much I thrive on anxiety.

Initially, I convinced myself that the not-unpleasant odour was wafting from our hip but rather cray cray neighbours….well, for all of about three minutes….then I began planning my mission.

First I appointed my team. NC was mission control – being the brains and the Princess Spoodle was our sniffer dog.

I retrieved my forensic kit, which was gathering dust in the laundry as I haven’t had much use for it since the mystery of my chocolate fingers stash, and began my search for the evidence.

Kurt’s room was as dark, fetid and pungent as I imagined it would be when I opened the door. What is it with teenagers and gloom? No wonder half of them are so fucking depressed. I inhaled deeply before I attempted to cross the obstacle course of musical equipment, dirty laundry and shoes that lay between the door and the window.

English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please chec...
English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please check my Wikimedia User Gallery for all of my public domain works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After 30 seconds of inhalation and psyching up, I covered my nostrils to evade the predictable stench of BO, stale cigarettes and decaying left-over pizza (that was no doubt concealed under the bed), and vaulted straight over the mess to the window to release the foul stench of boy germs.

Then I turned around to inspect the crime scene, hoping for obvious clues.

There were none.

There was nothing for it, I pulled on my rubber gloves, got my torch out and began to investigate more thoroughly, carrying out what I have been prepared for my whole life as a mother, a perimeter search of the area, combing every millimetre of foul carpet.

I opened each drawer gently, careful not to tidy any of the dirty shirts crumpled into balls inside and give myself away.

I poked between new school textbooks – books that had obviously never been opened – I recognized many of the books titles from letters that we had received from libraries over the past ten years.

I found my nail scissors, tweezers, hairdryer and deodorant…….. but, alas, still nothing to suggest that my son was a junkie.

Finally I put on my ski mask, to get down to the real nitty gritty. I got down on my hands and knees and braved the underworld that grows beneath his bed.

The Refuse Mountains in South America have nothing on the debris that collates in that dark, dank habitat.

Kurt
Kurt (Photo credit: S. Ramírez)

The decaying scent of old Pizza, congealed Nerds, empty Coke bottles and Oreo cookies assaulted my senses immediately, but aside from my own pestle and mortar (that I have never used to mash up fresh herbs but it just looked right on our wedding list), there was nothing I wasn’t expecting to see under his bed.

I sat back up on my knees and relaxed for a second, praying that my assumptions had been misplaced.

PESTLE AND MORTAR? HERBS? WTF!!!!

I shoved my head back under the bed as quickly as a middle-aged Ninja might and dragged the bowl out with difficulty – (it’s surprisingly very difficult to pick up anything with rubber gloves).

The bowl was full of white powder with a straw protruding from the centre of the incriminating pile.

My worst fears had been realised. I sat down on the bed and shed a tear for my son.

I called mission control NC on my phone. She picked up immediately from her bedroom next door.

‘The eagle has landed,’ I whispered.

‘Why are you whispering? Kurt’s at school,’ she responded drily. ‘And what do you mean, the eagle has landed?’

‘Sorry, I mean’t ‘mission accomplished.’ I still whispered, shakily. ‘I’ve found his stash….the evidence,’ I said, ‘and it’s worse than we thought.’

‘Bring it in here,’ she answered, sounding authoritative but bored.

I covered my tracks by throwing a few more crumpled tee shirts on the floor as well as three wet towels from the bathroom, and then proceeded to the lab NC’s room to get the evidence examined.

NC looked at the bowl sitting in the palms of my trembling, yellow rubber hands, gravely.

She put her finger in the powder and licked it, (authentically, like those real detectives on CSI), while I held my breath.

‘This is serious,’ she said, as any final hope of saving my son began to disappear in a cloud of Cocaine. The shower scene in Midnight Express flashed before my eyes.

‘Kurt’s seriously addicted to WhizzFizz.’