[[Today on the Running Through It series, Davina, a Colorado-based #motherrunner, chronicles the journey of her 12-year-old son's mental illness + her first marathon.]]
I woke up that morning and did what I do most mornings: laced up my shoes and went for a run.
But unlike other mornings, what came to follow is part of a long journey that we have been walking through with our son. After a quick stretch, a long drink of NUUN Energy, a shower, and definitely not a big enough breakfast, my husband and I drove to a juvenile detention center to discharge our 12-yr-old son after a very long three-month stay. We then flew him to Atlanta to check him into a residential treatment facility that specializes in Autism, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression—just to name a few of my son’s struggles.
Three days before Mother’s Day this year, our son was taken from our home by police escort and admitted into a psychiatric hospital. The months leading up to this event had been filled with several inpatient and outpatient hospital stays, monitoring his constant obsessions over suicide, death and all things dark.
Our weeks had revolved around therapy and watching him around the clock to keep him safe. Intense is not a big enough word to describe the turmoil and daily battle we were living then—and honestly had been living for years. By May, we had found that we could no longer keep him safe: safe for himself and safe to others.
Ironically enough, the week after my son was removed from our home, my marathon training plan began. Over the last 20 years, I have run countless half-marathons yet have struggled to go further due to undiagnosed Lupus, pain and lingering injuries.
Last year when my BRF suggested we try the Galloway Walk/Run method for long runs, I jumped right on board. For my body, the Galloway Method has revolutionized my running; the recovery has been night and day, and with the new addition of correct medications for Lupus, I am training to run my very first marathon in September.
The miles I have run in the last three months have been therapeutic to say the least. They have been filled with lots of prayer, tears, listening to podcasts (AMR, a constant companion), and self-care. Long runs with BRF’s have provided necessary and appreciated verbal processing, comfort, encouragement, and laughter.
I have learned the importance of making my health and mental state a priority. I have taken advantage of insurance-covered massages ($21!) and chiropractic visits and find that extra yoga stretching and foam rolling is a great excuse to binge watch favorite TV shows.
I have always said that running makes me a better mom, wife and productive human being and I stand by that belief now, more than ever.
Parenting children is not for the faint of heart, especially those with special needs and the siblings of those with special needs. My 10-year-old daughter is in desperate need of my undivided love and attention. I tried to give her special experiences over the summer: just her and me, incorporating her into my exercise routine-yoga, bike while I run, paddle boarding, swimming laps and so on. So far, she does not enjoy running, but I won’t give up hope!
I have also learned that as a parent you are your child’s #1 advocate when it comes to mental health. Running has gotten me out of bed in the morning, cleared out the cobwebs of brain fog, and given me the endorphins that I need to fight for my son who would otherwise get dropped through the cracks of a judicial system, one that is not equipped to support adolescents with mental health struggles.
A person must have grit and tenacity to be a long-distance runner. To run through fatigue, pain and self-doubt takes guts and incredible courage. You need perseverance and creativity to keep going when you just want to quit; or to change strategies when injuries pop up, schedules unexpectedly change, and weather just wants to rain on your parade.
I have found that my personality as a runner has transferred to my parent advocacy. My mother-in-law calls me a Tiger Mama, describing the tenacity, never-giving-up, perseverant attitude and attention that I must pour into helping my son. I do not give up easily and I absolutely hate the phrase “I quit.” (I will also make endless loops in a parking lot at the end of a run just to make the exact needed mileage. Yes, a Type A personality.)
Because Colorado does not have a state-run mental health institution of any kind for long-term rehabilitation, I have spent the better part of the last 3 months researching and filling out applications for residential facilities across the nation. Advocacy has become an entire job in itself, but one I will never regret as I battle for my son’s health and future.
Currently, I am in the last 5 weeks of my marathon training plan (Train Like a Mother Go the Distance) and I see the end in sight. My life of parenting is like marathon training, yet without a race on the horizon. I cannot see what the future holds for either of my children. Some days are super long and tough, some days offer rest and relief. Some days are filled with hope and clarity, some days you just slog through with fatigue, heartache and pain.
Yet the journey is worth the challenge. I hope to one day be at their “finish lines” of life and celebrate with them their victories. And as tough as parenting can be, I would not trade my children for the world; they are worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears I may shed in this race of life I run.
After United Health Care and Medicaid denied further residential level of treatment (after only 2 months) we had to bring him home from Atlanta. Thankfully the county has agreed to pay for 90 days of residential treatment at a facility in Denver, but after 90 days we face the very real possibility of paying the county child support to keep him there. My son is doing well and being safe and making good decisions. However, as we know with mental health, no one changes in 3 months, and his "cognitive distortions" may take months to years to change.