History can’t repeat itself
by Christina McCarthy
It began with a phone call. The guidance counselor from our local high school, calling to say my oldest daughter, Madison, was being transported to a local emergency room. As a parent of 4 children, having a child rushed to an emergency room is old hat, but this wasn’t an “I can handle it” typical situation. Madison was being sent to a psychiatric emergency room for immediate evaluation. To say I was stunned is a complete understatement. Madison was a brilliant honor roll student, scoring almost 2000 on her SATs without even studying. She was an amazing actress with lead or secondary rolls in most performances in school. She had scholarships to colleges of her choice by her junior year and was planning her future in every minute detail. Planning…planning her final days with us because she had made a decision that she was tired. Tired of being the brilliant kid, who was so disorganized she couldn’t find her homework from the night before that she swore she put it away. Tired of always scoring 100+ on her tests but couldn’t organize herself to handle each day therefore her grades begin to suffer to Cs & Ds. Tired of acting like her life was great, when in actuality, she was suffering from severe depression, anxiety, bulimia, mood swings and bipolar disorder – all undiagnosed.
Madison, my brilliant and amazing unraveled daughter is actually my stepdaughter. She unfortunately was dealt a hand that she had no control over because her biological mother’s line has mental illness that goes back at least three generations with schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. Given her family history, her father made a decision to give her as much information as possible so she could be prepared “in case” she ever showed any signs of MI. She was prepared, she already knew that her road was beginning to bend in a direction that she wasn’t going to be able to control but she never spoke up or told us the truth about how she was feeling.
This day was the beginning of a rollercoaster ride for a family of six. Madison was transferred to a long-term facility for two weeks, nothing that anyone in our family has ever experienced. There was uncertainty and confusion, especially for her younger sisters and brother. As a parent, who has to remain strong for the rest of your family, you don’t have the luxury to breakdown, to wake up and realize that is wasn’t a really bad dream, and this is now the life that we all will lead into our future.
The past seven years we have seen two full hospitalizations, two long-term outpatient treatment programs, countless hours of counseling along with years of compliance and non-compliance with medications. As a parent, we have attended numerous psychiatric appointments, parent meetings, self-help classes and read an unimaginable amount of books on mental illness and bi-polar disorder. We participate in the annual NAMI walks to raise awareness and promote removing the stigma that people perceive about mental illness.
The one thing we do have is Madison, she is alive and as well as she wants to be as an adult. She has come to a decision that she refuses to take any medication because it makes her feel fuzzy and unemotional. She works full-time as a bank teller and currently lives at home with the goal to move out on her own within one year. As a parent, we are supportive in her decision because she is an adult but have strict guidelines within our home so that any emotional changes she does go through, we can protect her younger brother and sisters. Do we agree that she shouldn’t be medicated? No, we believe that every person, adult or child, which is diagnosed with a disorder should be taking medication, provided that quality of life is maintained or improved. We have learned that is it critical that you listen to your children constantly and try to understand how and why they feel the way they do.
Madison’s future is uncharted and although she would love to start a family one day, she has already made a decision that she doesn’t want to have her own children. She is fearful that she will continue to pass the mental illness to her own children and she “wouldn’t wish that upon her worst enemy.” She hopes for a future that provides better insight for mental illness patients. Having a company, like Orion Bionetworks, with their predictive biomarkers research would help people like Madison. A future in which we could know the probability that someone would become ill and we could be more proactive in an individual’s care. Getting ahead of a mental illness and understanding how to treat it is half the battle, Orion Bionetworks can help to pave the way through that battlefield.