How Pretty Little Liars helped me

You may be surprised to learn that having a child diagnosed with a mental illness can cause you to go through the five stages of grieving, these are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You will not necessarily experience them in order, and you may move in and out of them more than once. I know that I did.

This type of grief is called ambiguous grief. Ambiguous grief is when there is no real closure such as the death of a loved one. But that person is lost to you in some way. Maybe you feel the loss of who they were. You may feel it for the dreams that you had for them maybe their illness is in some way debilitating. Or you could be feeling the loss of the parent that you dreamed of being.

I remember when I realized the deep sadness and emptiness that I was feeling was grief. It was in its own way liberating. I had a real reason for feeling as I did. We know we do not really need a reason but sometimes having one seems to make it easier to bare. So I was watching Pretty Little Liars, (who knew it could be educational) and there is a scene in the mental institution, Radley Sanitarium, where the doctor is telling one of the characters that she is experiencing ambiguous grief due to her friend having gone through psychosis and who is in the intuition still recovering. This was such an ah-ha moment for me. I was actually giddy. I learned that I was, in fact, grieving and in the depression stage.

This was the beginning of my learning to accept my new normal. What was my new normal? It was accepting that the parent I wished to be was not the parent my child needed. I learned to enjoy moments by living in the here and now and absorbing it for all it was worth. I learned to have hope in a different future for my son. This meant him receiving his GED instead of a high school diploma, and I was thrilled and proud of him for it. He obtained a full-time job instead of heading straight to college. His dreams have not changed but the path that he chose take did. I am very proud of his perseverance. He is an incredibly strong and intelligent man and had I not accepted this new normal, I would not have been able to give him the encouragement he so richly deserved.

Although, I made it to the acceptance stage that did not mean that I stayed there. There were times when things were not going well that I would bounce to one of the other stages again, but that was okay. I understood what I was experiencing. So I was able to feel it, process it, and move into acceptance again. I hope this is as helpful to you as Pretty Little Liars was for me. My hope is for you to find and embrace your new normal.


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