There are so many truths that parents and those surrounding someone with a disability must come to terms with. Some we have spoken of here: the stigma your child will receive, and the medication your child will forever have to take. But what about the other truths. There are thousands, and while I am pretty sure by the end of my writing I will have touched on most of them, there is one I want to touch upon now. Disappointment.
We spoke of guilt, and how parents of children with mental diseases or other disabilities often feel guilt, and that it is perfectly natural; but, it isn’t the only thing you will feel. You will also naturally, and even understandably, feel disappointment. And it is almost harder for a parent to understand than guilt. Guilt is somewhat predictable, but the disappointment you are going to feel is much harder to reconcile. It is one of those emotions you promised yourself, as a parent, that you would never feel for your child. It doesn’t quite work out that way.
My parents, like most parents, have always told me they would love me no matter what. And in some ways I believe that; but it doesn’t negate the fact that I have absolutely and positively disappointed my parents. Maybe it is acceptable and even predictable, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that many of the dreams that my parents had for me will never come true. I understand this, and after years, I even accept this.
My parents gave me a first class education, often neglecting their own wants to pay for it, to support it. My parents gave me the tools to be successful: a used car so I could get a job, co-signs on loans so I could start the credit, and even the time and space to find myself and my own way. I can still see in my eye my parents reaction when I got a job with a lofty title. They could brag about me. They could point their fingers at everyone will children less successful than I and literally laugh.
But there was only one problem. That high power life, with the title and the responsibilities, almost destroyed me. I worked insane hours, on the weekends and late at night. I often didn’t eat, and I had no life outside work. I was forced to pace the floor wondering how I was going to meet the expectations placed on me, and I wondered how a young executive was given an opportunity that should be reserved for those with years of experience. I was young, I was cute, and I was in power. And it almost destroyed me.
I am now living a very different life. I had to give up the money, the power, the reputation and become a peon in a cubicle. I had to walk away from the corner office, and all the attention and force myself to accept the life that could keep me rather than throw me around more than the northernly wind. I had to give it all up in order to survive. My mental disease, my ups and downs simply can not survive in that level of stress. I have the brains for it, but not the mind for it.
I have reconciled myself to the fact that I am going to be this person from now on. I even like it most days. I like the slower pace of being an assistant instead of the big boss, and I like that I can see my children at the end of the day. But I am not using the $40,000 MBA I worked for, and I am not wearing high powered suits and heels each day – they sit in my closet unused. I have reconciled the world that I live in is not the world my parents worked so hard to make for me.
My parents have only once shown me their doubt and their disappointment. It is a memory that is powerful, not only because it is the one time it happened, but because it is a memory that goes against everything I once believed in my parents. It was the one and only time that my parents actually let me know how much less of person I was than they thought I could be. I always thought they believed I hung the moon, but that day they let their insecurities show. And while they let me see they were human, it isn’t a lesson any child wishes to see.
It is difficult to want and dream of your child as a certain person, and then come to the realization that they might be able to be that person. Not that they can’t be that person, but that person isn’t who they should be. And I am not talking about your child being the next Tiger Woods, but rather you child can’t be the person that is actually within their reach. When you realize that your child has the brains, the thoughts, the means, and the talent to be great; but their health won’t let them be that person. It is a difficult realization for each side of the equation; not just the parents but the child as well.
As a mother I am determined to give my child everything that I can to help them become everything they want to be. But who and what they can be, might be who they should be. And that will be difficult. Watching as my child wastes her talent because a disease will not allow her to do anything more is a devatating realization. The realization that are children can’t be what they could be. The realization that those we believe in, those we know can fly, may have their wings clipped long before they learn to fly.
It is disappointing in a way when our children become like everyone else. We love them, as my parents love me, but there is still the loss of dreams that we may never even have admitted to having. It is loss that your child feels as deeply as you do.
There isn’t much you can do here expect prepare yourself. You know that the health of your child is more important than their success. You know that you would never ask them to give up their lives, their happiness, their mental confidence by staying and doing what you want them to do, what you were hoping they would do. But you have to prepare yourself, in much the same way all parents do, that your dreams, even their dreams may not be attainable. Sometimes, the disease is more powerful than the wish.
There is nothing to do here, except prepare yourself. Know going in that this might be coming, and taylor your expectations accordingly. Those with bi-polar and other disabilities can be great. They can be better than anyone near them. They can find fame, fortune, power and everything else that you have dreamed. That goal is attainable for some; but for some it is not. Be understanding of who and what your child is, what the disease they have can do, and what battles are truly important. And if you need to close your eyes and cry for a couple of minutes, make sure your child never knows.