Sean’s story (from Sean’s Mom’s perspective)
I often try to think of what may have triggered Sean’s illness. He was a bright, ebullient boisterous child. He was full of happiness and joy.
He did struggle with friendships, he did have significant mood swings. He was often “larger than life” and somewhat bossy. I think this put some people off. Once, we overheard someone call him “that crazy kid”, we think he struggled with bullying.
He often called himself “Penguin” a bird that cannot fly. He had the sense of not quite fitting in.
At some point he started using drugs to try to feel better about himself. He started with marijuana. His use began significantly at age 17. Unfortunately, in some people this can trigger manic episodes. Many people consider marijuana harmless, however, todays THC levels can have significant psychoactive effects.
He was a varsity athlete, student leader/mentor in his junior year. He was looking forward to college. By the time he was a senior, he barely graduated.
Sean had many highs and lows over the next 10 years. He had many periods of sobriety. He was in the Navy and graduated from submarine training. He would have up to a year of sober time. The use of substances would resume and the mania would return. As in many cases of addiction and mental illness, he made the rounds of hospitals, rehabs, psych wards and even jail.
He seemed to be doing well in the weeks leading up to his death. His friends and family were shocked to learn that his death was likely due to overdose. We are quite certain it was accidental, perhaps a moment of weakness. Sadly, it only takes one mistake to have an overdose.
As the parent of a child with addiction and mental health challenges, Sean’s Dad and I tried to find the best help available. Sean went to some very good rehabs; New Found Life, Little Creek Lodge, Hazelden/ Betty Ford, Brattleboro Retreat, Valley Vista, Maple Leaf Farm.
Sean embraced sobriety at times, less so the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
For my husband and I, the family programs at the rehabs were the first steps to healing for us. We were told to find support at Al-anon, Nar-anon, or NAMI parent groups. All were very helpful. There is shame and stigma with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness.
The challenge in getting help is often the lack of support. Many of our friends knew our situation and most were very helpful. Some were not. It only takes a few negative remarks to feel the pain, then the loneliness return.
I think it is unfortunate that the attempt to protect your child’s anonymity often compounds the lack of support. We live in a small town. My son was trying to find work or go to school. It was his story to tell if he wanted to. This made it difficult for me to talk with acquaintances and even some friends, so many people didn’t know how much I was struggling.
Luckily, I started to take care of myself. I found boundaries I never dreamed I could enforce. I started to get better. I had a great therapist and many supportive friends (many of whom were also parents fighting the same fight.)
Sadly, with Sean the problem with his mental illness was the lack of insight. The meds for bipolar numb your moods, the highs aren’t as spectacular. I think if Sean had truly surrendered to his illness and taken medication or gone for treatment, he would be alive today.