How A Stranger In The Psych Ward Gave Me Hope

When you’re the parent of a child with mental illness, you understand dark places, and you find encouragement from the most unlikely people, in the most unlikely places. Strangers become friends, acquaintances become brothers and sisters, wounded parents on the same road as you, become comrades.


I hear the cold click as the steel door latches behind me. My hand slips into my pocket. I don’t need the key yet but I pull it out anyway. I begin twirling it between my thumb and forefinger. I notice the woman in front of me.

The elevator is taking an unreasonably long time to travel between the floors. It gives me time to really look at her. She is nicely dressed and pretty. Her dainty ballet flats compliment her tall lean frame. She has on delicate silver hoop earrings that accent her neatly straightened hair. Under different circumstances, I might be a little envious.

The ding of the elevator breaks the silence and she steps in before me. We turn to face each other and the doors swish shut. On further examination I realize I know her. We’ve never met but I see something familiar in her.

Her shoulders are slumped, arms hanging lose, eyes unfocused on the present…lost somewhere in a memory perhaps. Weariness etches her face. I know how she feels. I imagine I look the same. The years of carrying this burden have taken their toll.

It’s too much. Her carefully covered heartbreak has been revealed. I feel as if I have accidently stolen something intimate. I look quickly away. As the elevator descends, the weight of our shared circumstance bares down on my heart. I watch one single tear splash onto her shoe.

“This isn’t how I saw life going,” I offer. I’m surprised to hear my own voice and even more surprised to hear my own honesty. I fuss with the key again and she wrings her hands. “Me either,” she sighs. I slip the key back into my pocket. We talk a moment longer, sharing stories of how we came to be here.

As the elevator door slides open, we walk out side by side. Two mothers, one story. One shared experience within a lifetime of isolation.

We each pull out our keys and retrieve our belongings. “Good luck,” I say, for lack of something better. “You too,” she whispers. I press my hand to the glass as I wait for the receptionist to unlock the door. I trace the raised letters with my thumb.

 Adolescent Psychiatric Ward

I walk briskly to my car allowing the restrained tears to escape. I cry for us both. I cry for our sons plagued by an illness that no one understands. I weep for our loneliness. I weep for the stranger I just met. I weep for my friend.

Mike and I have chosen to share openly on Confessions of an Adoptive Parent. We feel that no parent should walk this journey alone, no matter what the circumstance. If you have a similar story we want you to know that you are not alone. We are in the trenches of parenting children with mental illness and special needs with you.

Question: Do you feel alone? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • MaMeex5

    I love your honesty it makes me feel less alone. I remember explaining the loneliness to my therapist as being trapped in a bubble. I can see everyone living their lives but no one ever sees me I recall the tears running down my face as I left my daughter for her first psychiatric stay. I couldn’t believe that we had gotten to that point. Thank you for sharing your walk so others don’t feel they are walking alone.

    • Kristin Berry

      Trapped in a bubble. What a good description. Thank you for sharing. I wish you and your daughter the best. K

  • Allisonm

    In a long and lonely road with our children adopted from foster care, there have been some standout moments: The day we were supposed to have respite for the first time ever and there was a scheduling error and the worker was unavailable. I sobbed.

    The day I told a coworker in a child-welfare office that our children’s special needs and trauma and attachment issues were far more severe than we had been told and got a “well, what did you expect” kind of response. I went back to my office wanting to sob, but prepared a training on how the public mental-health system works instead so maybe someone else wouldn’t have to start from scratch.

    The day my son threw his breakfast, plate and all, at the sliding glass door, then threatened his siblings with a baseball bat. I took him to the hospital for his first and only, so far, psych admission. He was six. I sobbed.

    The day I called my pastor, sobbing, because I just didn’t know how to keep breathing, and got an “isn’t there someone else you could talk to” answer. I sobbed and sucked it up.

    The day my church called and told me that I couldn’t come to women’s Bible study anymore because my son wasn’t allowed to sit in the hall with his iPad since he was too old for childcare and couldn’t go to school. I hung up, then sobbed

    All the times I’ve needed the help of police, EMT’s and mental-health professionals to keep one of my children and the rest of us safe.

    All of the times I’ve been beyond exhausted by the relentless mental-health crises.

    All of the times I’ve been with other foster and adoptive parents whose children have not been as severely disabled as ours and who think they understand, but don’t see why we are having such a hard time–because they really don’t understand since their children started off in better shape. That’s one of the loneliest places of all.

    • Kristin Berry

      You are exactly right. We’ve been there too. It seems like you are describing our life exactly! The isolation and the misunderstandings are so tough!