My Parents Spent Thousands of Dollars…
My mom noticed “small things” at age 4. Zoning out. I had a hard time following instructions and managing time. I would cry often about small things and get frustrated easily.
The first doctor she spoke with said it was ADHD. I was her first kid. She believed what the doctor told her. My dad pushed back, “She’s 4 years old. Of course she’s responding like this.” He wanted more opinions. So, they got more opinions. They talked to a therapist, ADHD coaches, teachers, doctors, more therapists, psychiatrists, ADHD specialists, my school principal.
All of them sensed something.
And, with these collective opinions, I was diagnosed with ADHD categorized as emotional-over-response at age 5. Every parent, family member and friend had an opinion.
“Oh god, she’s so young for a diagnosis.”
“Why would you put her on medication?”
“Are you sure?”
But, my parents were playing the what-if game. What if she does have ADHD and medication could help her in school? What if we don’t put her on medication and she never reaches her full potential? They just wanted what was best for my future and the consequences of everyone being wrong seemed small.
From my younger perspective, I felt like an alien. Don’t get me wrong…I had a happy childhood. I had a roof over my head. I had friends and birthday parties. I played outside. My parents let me play any sport I wanted and supported any activity that I felt like doing at the time. But, I never felt normal: normal enough for my parents, normal enough for my friends or normal enough for myself.
I remember my parents would be in parent-teacher conferences longer than the other parents. The teacher paid a little more attention to me than they would to the other kids. After school, I would have to meet random people (therapists, doctors, specialists). It was overwhelming and it felt like I had to keep it all a secret. That is where my isolation began. My weird little quirk. The thing that made me special. The thing that made me distracted, made me drift, made me different. Keep it hidden, Lilly.
When I was really little — before I started taking my medication — we would practice swallowing pills with mini M&M’s. Once I mastered the M&M’s, the real thing started. Adderall only lasted 2 weeks because of the rebound effects. Ritalin. Strattera for 2 months.
“I had my baby back but she still couldn’t concentrate.”
They landed on Concerta which I took for 7 years. It wasn’t the perfect match but it was the best that they could do. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it except that I never felt like myself. I felt like a test monkey. I hated medication.
I started to push back when I was in 8th grade. I told them I felt sad. I told them I didn’t feel like myself. I told them I didn’t want to take medication anymore. It made me feel robotic. I wasn’t telling the therapists and doctors anything new. I was just 13 now and my words meant something.
We then went through the diagnosis process all over again. Therapists, coaches, teachers, doctors, more therapists, psychiatrists.
New diagnosis. Anxiety and ADD.
Back on Adderall. It felt too harsh after the first two weeks.
“We need to keep you on it for at least a month to see real effects.”
Didn’t work. New psychiatrist, new medication. Vyvanse. New therapist.
“I think she may be bipolar.”
Why couldn’t anyone tell me what was wrong with me? That’s all I ever wanted. If I knew what was wrong and someone could pick a diagnosis, I could help myself. My parents could start to understand and we’d work through it. At this point, I was starting to feel a heavier type of sadness. My parents saw me slipping.
They became just as desperate as I did. I would put up a fight with my mom to take my medication in the mornings. I started to get creative. I would put the pill in my mouth and spit it out in the trash when she wasn’t looking. She caught on. I’d wait to spit it out outside. She caught on to that as well. At some point, the routine became take the pill in front of my mom and lift up my tongue to prove it was taken. Then, I could leave.
I had a group of friends in high school that seemed cool at first, but they were mean to people outside of ‘the group’. They were mean to each other but, most importantly, they were mean to themselves. I was sick of it, so I ditched them just as much as they’d pushed me out. I became even more of an outcast. I chose to stay to myself. I played golf, I did art, I had friends here and there from each ‘group’ but now, because of the isolation, I felt even more depressed. Even more stuck in my own head.
My parents didn’t know how to talk to me, let alone know how to help me. I didn’t want their help because I was a teen. We were all lost. Fights happened every morning. I would come home crying every afternoon. Some days I would cry myself to sleep and, at some point my junior year, I had enough. I was suicidal.
I would come home after school and therapy and google “easiest way to kill myself”. My neighbor down the street had killed herself by turning on the car and letting gas fill the garage ‘til she suffocated.
I could do that…. no. My parents would smell it. I could drown myself in the creek… no. It’s too shallow.
I told my parents I wanted to kill myself. My sisters heard it too. But, I always felt too guilty to go through with it. I saw the sadness in my mother’s face when I told her I didn’t want to exist. I wished she didn’t react like that. I wish my family didn’t care for my life just as much as I didn’t. Then it would be easy.
New therapist, new diagnosis. Depression.
My mom was petrified. My dad thought I was being a little wimp. He is Philippine. Culturally, mental health just wasn’t talked about. This was new territory for him and my heightened emotions made him uncomfortable.
My mom took me to tour a few mental health hospitals just in case I ever felt like I needed to be admitted…in case I no longer had control of my depression. They looked scary. I didn’t think I was “that bad”. Each time we would go on a new tour and they would pull me aside to ask if I was suicidal, I’d say I wasn’t. Yeah, I felt suicidal. Like I said, I knew I felt too guilty to actually do it. So, in my head, I wasn’t.
My parents could no longer help me as much. They were overwhelmed. They still had two other daughters and careers, so they decided on an after-school program. For months everyday after school I would go straight to this “mental health camp”. I hated it. At this point, my life felt like a freak show. I had to accept that I was never going to be a normal teen. Would someone please let me die?
At camp, there were other kids like me. I could tell they were all sad. Some could mask their sadness more than others. At my high school, the people with mental health issues were “weird”, “dramatic”, “annoying”. When I met other parents, we didn’t talk about the fact that I was depressed. We’d talk about my art, golf…the things that made me successful. And, because of that, I was an expert masker.
New therapist, new diagnosis. Clinical depression. Concealed clinical depression.
Leaving The House
I was heading into college. I could finally be who I wanted: happy, creative, a student, artist, athlete. I had signed to play golf at Savannah College of Art and Design. I was ready for a new beginning. Ready to no longer have to deal with petty high school teens. Ready to not have to see therapist after therapist. Ready to no longer take medication. Ready for the adult world.
The first year was hard. I was navigating a new life though. I thought that’s why I was still a little sad.
Second year, I had made some awesome friends and was getting the hang of things. It was a tough year in terms of school and golf. I thought that was why I was still sad.
Third year, I fell.
Maybe I should see a therapist…
Wow, I was finally open to seeing a therapist myself. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be proactive. And, for the first time in my life, I found a therapist I trusted. But, it was too late. I wasn’t proactive enough and I fell hard. So hard that I could no longer get out of bed. I thought I was handling life well myself. Now look at me. I couldn’t even move, eat, sleep, work. My mom was scared, I was suicidal again so she flew in to stay with me for a few days until I got back up on my feet. My third year, I realized these cyclical major falls happened about 3 times a year and that I would evidently have to deal with this for the rest of my life.
Finishing college was really hard. I had been proactively seeing therapists for the last two years and I started to learn how to navigate my life WITH my depression. I was learning healthy coping mechanisms. I got an emotional support dog and everything felt a bit more normal. I was still having these fall offs where I couldn’t move and it was harder to eat. But, I was prepared for them now. I learned my depressions signals. The week before a “fall off”, I would slur my words, my handwriting would usually look like a 2nd-graders’ and I would sleep more often. But, because I knew they were coming, they seemed less scary and more tolerable.
I wasn’t really the type to celebrate but the day that I graduated I sobbed. For the first time in my life I cried happy tears because, to be honest, I didn’t think I would live to graduate college. I did it. I hadn’t overcome my depression but I had the reins now. It couldn’t send me spiraling anymore. I was still going to therapy and now I was able to comfortably tell people about my depression and communicate around it. I started to feel more like a warrior. I had been through a lot and I was stronger because of it. I felt at peace, normal enough for me.
I got my first job and, after about a year, I met my co-founder Kenzie and we started maro Parents.
A parent companion for mental health, diversity, empathy, and sex education. The goal? These impact metrics.
What fuels me to build this platform is my experience and my parents’ experience because, let’s be honest, that was a mess. As an adult, my family and I are still mending scars that my depression had caused.
I don’t want any parent or child to have to experience the struggles that my family did and I believe that, with preventative education, I would have come to acceptance and learned to deal with my depression sooner.
So, how would preventative education around mental health help?
If my parents had been educated sooner, maybe it would be easier for them to work with me. Less isolation.
If kids at my school were educated, maybe they could learn to love themselves earlier. Therefore, they would be capable of having more empathy towards others. Less isolation.
If I was educated earlier, maybe I would have been able to get out of my own head faster. For years, I could have had more control over my depression. Maybe, I would have never become suicidal. I would have learned that therapy is really healthy and not something to be embarrassed about. I would have learned to communicate my feelings to others. Less isolation.
My main belief is that isolation gives mental health the room and freedom to thrive. And, I believe maro could take away that isolation.
My parents spent thousands of dollars — a resource that most parents don’t have — on what should be included in my free education. I went to a normal public school, but had to learn about self-love and emotions in another place.
lilliana Mittenthal 2021