I have struggled with what I am about to say. To finally put the words down in print in such a major way might seem strange. But it’s important that I do it. My daughter has a mental health disorder, there, I said it. I know this doesn’t make me “special” – many families are in my shoes, but it has changed my life in ways I never imagined.
In the Black community, dealing with emotional health isn’t something people talk about. People encourage African Americans to learn more about diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and the like, but not often do they speak of mental health. The nucleus for many in the Black community is the church – if you’ve got God, you don’t need therapy – pray and God will help you through your difficulties. And for so long, many of us (myself included) felt seeking therapy was something for White people.
But then, my husband and I decided to adopt through Florida’s child welfare system. We first adopted a son. And then, a year later, we adopted a two-year-old girl. Early on there seemed to me to be problems. She wouldn’t look at you when you spoke to her, or you would ask her a question and she would look right through you. She wasn’t nearly as good at going to the potty as they claimed and she also seemed frightened of her surroundings. At first people told me, it’s because she’s new to your home, give her time. But as she began to prepare for kindergarten, things were getting worse
So, we began a battery of tests and reluctantly I agreed to medication (she is now on 5-6 meds a day). My life has become constant research on her various diagnoses (SAD,OCD,ADHD, SPD, FASD, depression), fighting with the State to meet their obligation and provide the assistance she is entitled to, keeping up with doctor’s visits, fighting over insurance benefits and most importantly, helping her feel good about who she is. I believe that she needs to know that no matter what, I am proud to call her my daughter. And that is the reason I wanted to tell my story. It’s still hard for me and my family to say the term mental illness. I know my mother would rather I not talk openly, for my daughter’s sake. I worry about that too. I don’t want people to treat her differently. But I believe if more African Americans aren’t open about mental illness the stigma I see in my community will never go away and much needed help won’t be sought.
My daughter’s current medicine regimen seems to be working and while short of a miracle, there may always be medicines, doctor’s visits, and yes, mental illness – I wouldn’t change my decision to adopt her for anything. She has taught me patience, the real meaning of unconditional love and that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
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