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I am going to let you in on a little secret. I’ve been struggling. I’ve been in a deep, dark placethe kind of place where all you want to do is crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head. It’s the dark place where the simple thought of dinner is too much to contemplate; where your emotions are all over the place, and you just don’t know what you feel; where exhaustion overwhelms and sleeping for days seems like the only thing to do.

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I am a wife, a writer, and also a photographer. But, I think the most defining role I have had in my life is that of being a mother. It is the single most important role I’ve taken on.

It is also the one role in my life that has brought me both the most joy and the most heartache.

I am the mother of a 13-year-old boya boy born with chronic kidney disease, transplanted at the age of two, and a boy recently diagnosed with significant mental health issues. It’s funny how you can spend 13 years of your life dealing with chronic kidney disease and all that entails. How you can handle that disease like a champion. How you can spend those 13 years with the singular goal of keeping that child alive, only to have your world turned upside down by hearing the words, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m going to kill myself.”

RELATED: Watching Your Child Struggle With Mental Illness is Pure Agony

This morning I woke up and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. My eyes have lost that sparkle. My skin seems pale and sickly looking. My hair is lifeless.  I can see the lines in my forehead, tiny little lines at the corners of my eyes. I look old to me. I feel as if I’ve aged 10 years in the past several weeks.

Two and a half weeks ago, I made the hardest decision of my life. Two and a half weeks ago, I made the decision to take him to the emergency room, knowing in my heart he would be admitted to a psychiatric unit. I just knew. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind as to what was going to happen. I had him pack a bag and directed him on what to put in there, using my very limited knowledge, admittedly gleaned mostly from books and movies, of what they would allow him to keep with him.

As I made the hour drive to the hospital with him, I tried to prepare myself for this experience. 

As a mother of a chronically ill child, I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent with him at the hospital. There are far too many to count. But this time, this time would be different. This would be a whole different admission. I wouldn’t get to stay with him. I wouldn’t make up the little daybed in the room and settle down beside him to try and sleep while doctors and nurses worked their magic.

I knew it would be difficult, but nothing prepared me for the reality of leaving the hospital after midnight to make the drive back home without him. Nothing prepared me for the reality of my son answering Yes to all the screening questions:

“Do you have a plan?” 
“Have you tried to kill yourself?”
“Do you feel like you or your family would be better off if you died?”

Every single yes felt like a sledgehammer to my heart, to my soul. What do you do with that? 

RELATED: Another Teen Takes Her Own Life: We Must Stop Ignoring Mental Illness

I felt as if a big part of me curled up and died with every single response to those questions. It’s been two and a half weeks and I haven’t gotten over those responses. He’s home now and seems to have responded very well to intensive therapy.

But, I still haven’t gotten over it. I don’t know if I ever will. 

I may not be over it, but here’s what I am going to do. I am going to get myself out of bed every morning. I’m going to get dressed and make my kids breakfast.  I’m going to take them to school. I’m going to get out my camera and capture the daily moments. I’m going to pour out my heart and soul in wordsif for no other reason than to let the crazy out.

And I’m going to pray. 

I’m going to pray like I’ve never prayed beforebig, bold, beautiful prayers.  Intentional prayers. I’ve been screaming in my head for help. And I’m going to continue screaming to God for help to get us all through this.

Most importantly, I’m going to pull myself up out of the depths of my despair.  Because that’s what we do as mothers. When the whole world seems to be crumbling around us, we press on. 

It’s just what we do.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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Jen Riley

Jen Riley is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer. She spends her days managing her family's extensive activities and pouring out her soul in both words and pictures at and

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