Philip is a leftie. He’s an introvert, quiet and reserved. He’s creative and sensitive. And he is fiercely loyal to the people he loves.

He always hated soccer. This made it difficult to fit in with most of the boys in his class. In elementary school, if you don’t play soccer, you’re weird. As a small child he loved digging and playing in the dirt, especially with toy trucks. He discovered Legos and would literally spend an entire morning or afternoon following the instructions and building the plane, the drawbridge, the palace or whatever the manual instructed him to do. By the next day, he would take the entire construction apart and start something completely original. I discovered that many of his friends displayed their various Lego constructions like trophies on their bedroom shelves. Not Philip. He made his own designs.

When Philip was still three years old we had our first meeting with his pre-K teacher. She told us that they didn’t know what his voice sounded like until the third week of class. He had been observing. This surprised me enormously as he certainly wasn’t quiet at home. He could spend hours playing alone but also asked lots of questions. When he was five, shortly after his father and I separated, we were having supper and he asked, Mom, do extraterrestrials ask their mommies if we exist?

He does have some very close friends that he has kept since he was a small child. Although they didn’t go to the same schools, they have kept in touch all these years and continue to meet up for coffee, card games, computer games, billiards or a movie.

Now he is a self-taught guitarist. He is teaching himself how to draw. He also taught himself how to program and design computer games without ever attending a computer class or an after-school activity. He even has his own Youtube channel with programming tutorials. He now has enough followers that he occasionally gets paid by Google. He has learned different programming languages on his own. He has built up a personal library to teach himself these things.  He’s also fascinated by mathematics, art, design, philosophy, comics and horror.

My son has always been original, just as every child is unique. He has his own tastes, desires, habits, behaviors, fears and pet peeves. Some of these he has probably picked up from family members. We all imitate our parents. Other tastes or habits have come from the trial and error of experience. Swimming in the waves and walking in the mountains are fun. I love the fresh air, the scenery and eating a sandwich while we each find the most comfortable rock to sit on. Judo isn’t fun. Why do I have to attack my opponent? Why do I have to defend myself? I don’t want to do this. Facing each other on the mat and knowing that I am expected to do something is frightening and uncomfortable. I hate this.

This is just a brief observation of a few of the many facets of my son. He is a person, not an illness. He is loving, loyal, bright, and protective of his family and friends. He suffers from bulimia and depression. They are illnesses. They are not desired or self-imposed and are extremely difficult to treat. I know that it will take a long time to get through recovery, but I love my son. I love him for who he is and I wouldn’t want him to be any other way.

Mental illness does not define who a person is. I am me and you are you. People who suffer from a mental illness are often misjudged by family, friends and the society at large. They are not seen for who they really are but for what they suffer from.

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