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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