I almost never watch Oprah, but I couldn’t resist today after I saw the promos. She spent time with Jani Schofield, a 7 year old girl with schizophrenia, and her family. Gut-wrenching show. So I spent some time on the web, hunting up the family’s blog, etc., and landed at Oprah’s web page, which is where I made a huge mistake: I read the message board devoted to the show.
Holy world-full-of-assholes. I’m not talking about the nut-jobs, the down-and-dirty weird who advocate an exorcism or think stars or magic water can cure all ills. No, I’m talking about the doubtful meanies.
So there are these folks: “Parents medicate their children because they don’t want to deal with them!” I’ve written about these folks before. This is the lazy parent theory of childhood mental illness. This one assumes that the speaker gives a shit about her/his children, while I’m simply annoyed by/tired of mine. Way to reduce my child’s struggles and our familial anguish to something you can wrap your head around it, right? If you believe that you’re children are well because you are such a very fine parent, you’ve protected yourself from the fear that it could happen to you or someone you love. Nice way to distance yourself; too bad you had to call us names to do it.
Then there are these folks: “I knew a person who had XYZ problem and he solved it with a diet that eliminated casein/gluten/meat/dairy/vegetables/water/food and if you just tried it, you’d be fine.” There are also the specialized exercise regimens, vitamin regimens, yada yada yada. As long as the “solution” is possible to implement using nothing but a website and things that can be bought at the local discount store and is completely “natural,” it goes here. This is the western-medicine-is-100%-full-of-shit theory of childhood mental illness. And I know this exists in regards to any problem, but it’s far more prevalent with mental illness. If your kid is diagnosed with cancer or a heart defect, people don’t come crawling out of the woodwork to tell you to cure it with daily walks in the sun.
And, of course, there are the meanies, the ones who think that all of it (parents of kiddos with ADHD are especially vulnerable to this one) can be traced to poor parenting. Egad, if crappy parenting, even outrageous, visible-from-space indulgence, could cause acute childhood mental illness, then why the hell do SO MANY of us, who are parents of children with mental illness, also have mentally healthy children who we’re raising alongside each other? The little girl in question was diagnosed by pediatric psychiatrists at UCLA. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they know the difference between acute psychosis and imaginary friends gotten out of control? This is the good-parents-have-healthy-kids theory of mental illness. The more ardently felt and expressed the theory, the bigger the ego. Again, you’ve called yourself a superior parent to protect yourself from fear. Newsflash: It could happen to you. Really.
And obviously, this all bothers me so much because I’ve gotten every bit of it myself, much of it from my own family. “There’s nothing wrong with that kid except his meds,” from one corner, and “You think he’s sick because you just don’t want to face that you caused it all yourself” from another. I mean, seriously? A huge team of highly trained medical professionals, NONE of whom are standing around telling me my kid is fine, are all idiots and I should listen to a few judgmental assholes in the wings. Sure. Honestly, every person who’s ever seen a one-hour documentary on the over-medication of America’s children or watched Supernanny whip a few naughty kids into shape thinks he or she is an expert on the problem and the solution.
As much as I could pound angrily at my keyboard all night, I’m almost ready to step down. One more thought, though: I (and I am not alone in this) totally and completely care about my kid, and based on that, I am an expert. I didn’t see one show; I watch all the shows. Plus I read all the books and all the articles (the peer-reviewed ones, with research and nary a sensationalist claim in sight), carefully scrutinize all the websites, and ask questions of all the doctors and other experts in our orbit.
Most of all, I live it. I am the mother of a child who is ill between the ears. That makes me an expert.
So, you know, STFU.
And in my frustration, I kept saying “you”. I don’t mean you, of course, but I’m way too tired to go back and write the whole thing the way it should have been written in the first place: as an open letter to John Stossel fans.