An Open Letter to the Mother of the Boy Who Eats Bugs
by Joy Eckstine May 19, 2010 08:33 AM
Every once in a while, a boy, your son, comes into the shelter where I work and eats a very tiny lunch. Once, I convinced him to change his clothes. On another occasion, a skilled mental health worker engaged him in conversation and found out that part of the reason that he is so emaciated is because his mental illness takes the form of him eating bugs. Bees, wasps and beetles, specifically. I know which business’s roof he sleeps on and which skateboard park he likes to hang out at. What I don’t know is the way to reach him on a more profound level.
Another thing I don’t know is where you are and if you are staring at the ceiling of your bedroom at night, with slow tears forming, your heart constricted with the everpresent worry of having a mentally ill child. I use the words “boy” and “child” on purpose — yes, he is in his 20’s, the age that schizophrenia usually strikes, but I also know that for mothers, their child is their child their whole life through.
We all know the reasons that mentally ill people are not receiving treatment — budget cuts to every level of mental health treatment, de-institutionalization, laws which protect their civil rights from forced treatment, the unpleasant side-effects of many psychiatric medications. We have also all watched as the jails and prisons of our country become the primary providers of psychiatric treatment.
But those facts do little to assuage your pain, I am sure. If you are like most parents of mentally ill people that I have known, you have spent your life seeking help and asking questions, only to be met with a bewildering morass of treatment modalities, unresponsive systems, lovely but overwhelmed mental health professionals and a lifetime of self-questioning and, at times, self-blame.
This letter is to let you know that, while our hands are similarly tied, we have seen your child. Seen him for who he is — a lost and suffering soul. There has been little that we have been able to do ease his suffering, but we offer him food, give him clean socks and keep asking him to consider mental health treatment. We are not unique; this country has thousands of nonprofits that often struggle financially in order to be present for your son and every mother’s son and daughter that comes along. The sector is imperfect and full of imperfect people — frequently overwhelmed, too busy, impatient and struggling with our own legacies that have drawn us to this work in the first place. But when next that fear is gripping your heart, know that we will watch over your child and we will take that opportunity to feed him and clothe him every chance we get. And we will love him.
Photo credit: laszlo-photo