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My daughter returned to a therapeutic residential boarding school for troubled girls today.  Her battle with mental illness has been waging war for nearly five years now.  It’s hard for me to believe.  If I sat down and attempted to recount all of the steps we’ve taken on this journey, I couldn’t.  Honestly, most of it is a blur.


Natalie letter 1


If your image of a mentally ill individual includes rubber rooms, straight jackets, wild eyes, and rotating heads….you might need a big healthy dose of reality.  Those images we’ve all seen in horror flicks depict the worst of the worst, a very minuscule, minute percentage.  (Thanks Hollywood!)  Here is the truth:  Mental Illness comes in all shapes, sizes, genders, races, nationalities, and ages.  In fact, it appears and represents itself as ‘normal and typical’ … much the same way you deem your own self to be.


Natalie letter 12


In many instances, in fact, a mental illness isn’t at work on a full time basis.  And that’s the tricky part.  With my own daughter, there are times she is simply herself…  funny, goofy, energetic, big-hearted, kind, loving, smart, and engaging.  Unlike a broken arm, a blazing fever, or a hacking cough, mental illness isn’t obvious and doesn’t show itself.  


Natalie 10


Sneaky and hidden, it is careful about rearing it’s ugly head for fear of being found out….for fear of being criticized…for fear of being judged.  So stealthy is the mental illness, that it can manipulate, finesse, and beguile anyone.  You will think things are finally going along fine.  Trust me, you may never see it coming until you’ve been impacted by it.  


Natalie letter 2


The biggest heartbreak is that the person who is battling the mental illness often has very little to no control over it.  Think of it as a puppet with strings being pulled, mis-calculating the world in a skewed way that only makes sense to them.  My daughter, for instance, carefully measures every glance, tone, and movement of those around her…believing, first and foremost, that she could become a victim.  


Natalie letter 9 

Determined to not let that happen, to not allow herself to fall prey to anyone who might bring hurt or harm to her, she always strikes first.  It is a matter of control, executed in a masterfully secretive way.  So she goes through life combatting her perceived predators with lies, cheating, stealing, manipulating, conniving, destruction of property, and sometimes (but rarely) rage and violence.  


Natalie letter 3


As off putting as this may sound to people who have never encountered this type of behavior, not one single action has ever been my daughter’s fault.  She is the victim of all victims as are all individuals who get up each day to fight this hideous scheming enemy.  And to find healing, to overcome it (when overcoming is possible) will require the impossible:  trust, admission, confession…followed by the work ethic to get up each day choosing to trust, admit, and confess all over again.  And again.  And again.


Natalie 11


The biggest hurdle is trust.  Consider if you were forced into counseling, but you believed counselors couldn’t possibly have your interests at heart.  How honest would you be?  What if you feared becoming your counselor’s victim?  Because if you dare take down your walls to trust during a therapy session, you have made yourself vulnerable, and so you can get hurt.  See?  Your mental illness is constantly telling your brain that you must be in control…even though control is not even an option.  The very foundation of Mental Illness is lack of control.  When there is no trust, there is no honesty.   And how far can you go in therapy/counseling without some honesty?


Natalie letter 5


By now, you’ve read excerpts from a letter left by Natalie this morning as she left.  Her words are endearing…so heart felt.  I sincerely believe she meant every single word.  However, when I went into her room just a few minutes after reading the note, I found hidden candy wrappers, nail polish, and empty packages that once held makeup items.  All had been stolen by her.  Knowing she was leaving, she ate all of the candy, polished her nails, and packed up the make up for her trip.  Instead of dreading going away to another treatment center, the girl had a party in her room.  And left the mess for me to clean up.


Processed with Rookie Cam


I laughed.  I actually laid on her bed and howled with laughter.  I have cried so many tears over the last few days, I think I must’ve needed a good laugh.  This is life for a family who battles mental illness.  There are so many ups and downs, you soon forget whether you’re going up or down.  You celebrate the “normalcy” when it comes…whatever “normal” is, and you take a deep breath, hanging on tight, for the not-so-normal episodes.  

You love hard.  

You dig deep.  

You see the best and worst in yourself.  And you keep moving forward, sometimes only finding enough strength to stand your ground.  But you never go backward.  

You take the many lessons you learn along the journey, bundle them up, and reflect upon them often.  You become a fighter, but you also manage to muster more grace, patience, and mercy.

No matter what, you embrace your life.  This is your family.  And you celebrate it!


“For I know the plans I have for you….”

He knows.