I Must Thank My Son For His Mental Illness


The boy turned twenty-one last week, and while part of me wants to scream and holler with excitement, pride, and relief, the other part wants to sit in a corner, rocking and licking my wounds.

Many of you will be familiar with our journey with Kurt, our son. It was one of the reasons I began to write this blog, and I suspect that some of you follow it because you too have kids with mental health problems. You’ll also know that life with them is not what you signed up for, not by any parenting manual standard.

Some people say that parenting brings out the best in you and there have been times, particularly over the past six years, when I’ve wanted to rip that statement apart, over-analyze it with a few bottles of wine and then say “Fuck You!” because parenting is hard, and because there have been so many times when I have hated the person it has turned me into.

Before I had kids, I believed that being a parent was something I was born to do, and I made the assumption that I would be good at it. That naivety and arrogance have made the past twenty-one years feel like a very long and hard road at times, with its highs and lows, the steps forward and backward, the silent condemnation, and then more steps backward.

I’m not seeking pity or consolation. This is my honest acceptance of some responsibility for our journey, because perhaps if we’d done certain things differently, the outcomes might have changed. But we were amateurs at this parenting lark, carrying baggage from the past and the false expectations of others. And we’ve made it. We’re not out of the woods, but we can see the lights of the pub at the end of the road as we approach the start of the next phase of his life and the signs are that phase horribilis is drawing to a close.

My son is officially an adult, and as I draw the curtains on the past few years, I owe it to him to thank him.

I must thank him for shredding my heart strings and teaching me how vulnerable all of us can be – for which there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and for showing me how strong we can be when needed. This experience has opened my eyes. I have learned and grown from it more than from any other experience in my life and it has inspired me to write, develop compassion, get to know people before I judge them, and to form a concrete understanding of difference, unconditional love, and mental health that I will take with me into every other decision I make. 

This experience has shined a glaring light on what I see now was confusion in my younger years about what really matters.

Some God said that we are only given the stuff we can handle, and there have been times over the past decade when I was certain that I couldn’t handle being my son’s parent – or even why I should. You can lose sight of who you are when you have kids, and when you become the parent of a kid with special needs or a maverick, (or in our case ‘that kid’), there are times when you feel resentful about your needs being usurped by theirs. Instead of triumphs and awards, you get calls from school, the police, and the parents of other kids, and the pressure to keep pretending to be a professional at work (when your home life is falling apart) requires your finest thespian skills.

Not all of us are Mother Theresa types, with their long grey hair, premature lines, and a forgiveness in their heart for whatever shit life throws at them. Some of us lie in bed at night feeling broken, rallying against the unfairness of it all, thinking ‘why me?’

No one could have loved my son more than I have, and yet it’s hard not to think about how he might have fared with parents that were more liberal, or less anxious people than us; who might have come to the party with fewer middle-class expectations and ill-informed judgments. Poor kid. Although with fewer boundaries, who’s to say how he would have turned out.

As a parent, you can only follow your heart and do what you think is right.

At seven, I never thought my son would read and write; at twelve, I never thought he would have any friends; at sixteen, I thought he would kill himself; at eighteen, I thought he would end up in prison; and at twenty-one, I am still worrying – because what mother ever stops worrying about their kids?

But I am so proud of this young man. He has fought his own demons to stay here with us when others have given in, and with his fiery temper and big heart, his abounding energy and gentleness, his optimism in the face of constant rejection and his childish vulnerability, he has shaped me into who I am now – a better person.

And like every mother, I believe that he will go on to do great things – in his own time, (because Kurt has only ever done things in his own time). And I don’t mean GREAT things, necessarily,  I mean that he will do something extraordinary that is unlikely to fit squarely with society’s view of what is great; yet somehow, I have a feeling that it will be memorable.


21 – The Key To The Door And The Key To My Heart

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (film)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NC turned twenty-one last week and although I keep tormenting myself with questions such as ‘where did the time go’ and ‘how can I possibly have a twenty-one year old daughter?’, there’s no escaping the fact that 1. Somehow we created a beautiful young woman, and 2. We’re getting fucking old.

She celebrated the key to the door on Saturday night, although much to the old man’s chagrin she hasn’t left home yet, nor has she any intention of doing so.

And her party wasn’t exactly the sophisticated glamor-fest I had secretly hoped for, with formal style dresses, up-dos and killer heels. That’s not NC’s style. It was a Marvel-inspired party, full of super-heroes, face paint, masks and dastardly comic book villains, and NC blew everyone else’s costume out of the park in an uncharacteristically raunchy little outfit that Miley would have been proud of, with NB at her side as The Joker.

The old man and I reluctantly wore capes.

By the few sober accounts that we have, a good night was had by all, and even Kurt held his own in a crowd of twenty-something crazies; although it was obvious to all our guests that his costume irritated his sensory issues and the sight of Batman continually rearranging his balls as his trousers rode up his arse and dissected his man parts all night was a hot topic of debate.

But he also put together a video for his sister – his special birthday gift to her – a thoughtful collection of all her fugliest childhood photos, which culminated in a video of her snorting like a pig. It was set to Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ and it proved a strangely emotional experience to watch your child grow up on television, in the space of three minutes; to relive all those good moments that it’s so easy to forget in the fast pace of life.

I should have recognized NC’s birth for what it was – the precursor to a journey of evolving dysfunctionality. The writing was splattered all over the wall.

For rather like the nativity story, where the family struggled to find an Inn, (Wotif can’t have been around back then), NC’s arrival wasn’t plain sailing and certainly not the model, parenting manual moment I had set down in my birth plan. Perhaps it was a foolish decision at the end of my last day of work, as a final fling and fuck off to a flat stomach, to go clubbing with friends – as you do when you’re 38 weeks pregnant. But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t twerking and gyrating on the dance floor, but rather anchored to a bar stool all night by the sheer voluminosity of the smallest baby in the world, encased in the biggest belly in the world.

So when my waters broke at 2am and the old man was too pissed to drive, and I ended up behind the wheel and then labored while he snored loudly in an armchair beside me, it seemed a little unfair.

‘Let him sleep,’ said the midwife, as I planned the speed of his death with each contraction.

Our daughter has never held back since that day – she has always been determined to make her mark. The naïve who don’t know her well, mistake her for being shy, but she has always possessed an enviably scary inner confidence in her own abilities. She has always depended on logic rather than emotion and strives forwards, rarely looking back.

Kind of part human, part arachnid.

For she can be calculating in her judgments and acerbically accurate in her wit. It is fair to say that a pertinent comment from NC can knock you sideways quicker than a sudden bolt of lightening, yet, as she has matured into a young woman and experienced the trials and tribulations of her own relationships, her scientific mind has been forced to embrace the primitive concepts of feelings and emotions, and she has evolved into a thoughtful, generous and loving adult.

My best friend.

She will never be a graceful or elegant young woman; she is more a socially awkward Bridget Jones or the loose-tongued Elizabeth Bennet, her icon from Pride and Prejudice, than the stereotypical heroine.

She’s not really the touchy-feeling type, either – although she swears she is trying to learn and whenever she catches me stressed and prostrate in the comfort zone of my bed, she lies her full body weight on top of mine and pushes down REALLY HARD because she read somewhere that it relaxes tension.

NC reserves her hidden tanks of love for the few people she deems have warranted them in her life. The Princess is at the top of her list – they both count loyalty as the most important trait of any relationship. NC cannot suffer fools with her petrifying intelligence, she can’t even pretend to tolerate them, yet she can laugh at herself when she still struggles to spell easy words correctly, trips in high heels or stammers when she reads aloud. She is a confusing hybrid of the old man and I. She is the nerdiness of his Peter Parker and the silliness of the Dawn French in me.

She has the key to the door now but will always have the key to my heart.