Sunday, January 30, 2011

Universal Child

I'm listening to a song called "universal child" from a recent Christmas album by Annie Lennox.  Somehow it seems the appropriate backdrop to this simple blog.

There is a lot going on.  Lots of people are working in different corners of the United States to supportively touch the lives of parents with mental health experiences and their children.  I know of groups working in Utah, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida to create supportive educational materials and small peer support groups for children who have a parent with a mental illness.  Many of these initiatives are directly supporting the parents (as parents) through mental health support programs.

I also know of efforts to create support for adults who have the life experience of having a parent experiencing a mental illness.  Its a lot harder to get those groups started, but it is happening.

On Monday night I spoke to a group of people (approximately 51 people) in New Jersey on the experience of parents with mental illness and their daughters and sons.  In the audience - a 10 year old and a 15 year old daughter, a group of young teenage boys and some young adult daughters.  They were brought by their parents, who were either the parent with mental health struggle or the spouse who was working to support both his wife and his children.  The look in the eyes of the young people was truly motivating for me.  Their eyes were not bored.  They seemed filled with a mixture of happiness and hesitancy.  Many expressed that this was their first opportunity to hear a presentation on a topic that they had been living their whole lives.  One young woman who looked about 20 years old said she had read the essay I wrote last year and felt so much had been her experience as well.  I guess the best metaphor for how these young people looked would be - their eyes looked like sponges, eager to take in more.  They want to: 1. be acknowledged for their experience; 2. have more direct information.

Why are people afraid of talking with children?  All we have to do is ask them about their experience.  Its really that simple.

Then, after the presentation, I come home and find myself daunted by my own path.  I am working to find a way to carry on with this project, knowing that all these efforts - my own and others who are working in various corners of the US - require tangible, structured support to build our capacity.  We have been in dialogue about creating an organization that would bring age appropriate supportive literature for children and adults.  That conversation is continuing and requires its own time and focus.

I know it will happen over time.  Whenever I speak openly about these topics I see the gratitude of parents and children for the various stigma busting messages I share.  I feel motivated because I know this effort has already changed dialogue and self-perception for many people.

And, of course, even if I consider stopping, I know that I can't.  I know that I am blessed with some things my mother wasn't able to have.  I am blessed with mental health, a college education, work experience and a network of professional and personal friends who contribute ideas, resources and can make this happen.

Like many people - immigrants and refugees, children who have parents with various disabilities, children who grow up poor -  I know that I have a responsibility to the community of people who reared me.  I know that I am a continuation of their efforts.  That my success is their success.  And although I cannot give back to my parents directly because they have died, I know that this effort makes meaning out of their experience and mine.

When I see young people hearing a message I so wish would have been available to me at their age, I think how blessed I am.  People sometimes think its a sacrifice for me to work on this effort in my spare time, but its really my way of paying back and paying forward the many blessings and types of support I have received through the years.

Universal Child - Annie Lennox

How many mountains must you face before you learn to climb.

I'm gonna give you what it takes, my universal child.

I'm gonna try to find a way to keep you safe from harm.

I'm gonna be a special place, a shelter from the storm.

And I can see you, your everywhere, your portrait fills the sky.

I'm gonna wrap my arms around you, my universal child.

And when I look into your eyes, so innocent and pure.

I see the shadow of the things that you've had to endure.

I see the tracks of every tear that ran ran down your face.

I see the hurt, I see the pain, I see the human race.
Find More lyrics at 

I can feel you, your everywhere, shining like the sun.

And I wished to god that kids like you could be like everyone.

How many tumbles must it take before you learn to fly.

I'm going to help you spread your wings, my universal child.

I can feel you everywhere shining like the sun.

And I wished to god that kids like you could be like everyone.

And I wished to god that kids like you could be like everyone.