When my son first 'got ill' I guess for a while we treated it like it was something short term and that the best way of dealing with it was by treating him as normally as possible. It seemed logical and it seemed to be the best thing to do but we reached a point where it was obvious that wasn't to be and, frankly, it broke my heart.
When he was 3 or 4 years old I took him camping in the summer. We went to a seaside town that I knew from my own childhood as I knew lots of places to take him, found a nice camp-site to stay at and had a wonderful time. Originally we were only going to go for a couple of days because I didn't want it to be too much for him but we ended up staying over a week and the next summer there was only one thing he wanted to do in the holidays.
Year after year we went there. Same camp-site, a lot of the same people, and excellent facilities made it a no brainer really and we always had a good time. The first summer we knew something was wrong (he was around 14) we still went and everything was fine. It really gave me hope that there was a way out of all this; no doubt helped by the fact he hadn't actually had a diagnosis yet.
By the next summer things had started to go steeply downhill but he still wanted to go camping and it seemed like a great (and reassuring) idea. With him being a little older I asked if he wanted to take a friend and so three of us set off.
Everything seemed to go well. Got there fine, set up the tents, and they went off for a while to be teenagers. All in all we had (what seemed at the time) the best day for a long time and about 9-ish we headed back to the tents which is when the problems started.
They were sharing one tent and I was on my own in one next to them but after about half an hour he came to my tent, quite distressed, and saying he couldn't cope with it, and to add to the situation it had started to rain heavily. He was getting into quite a state so there was no option but to leave. The tents were collapsed and thrown in the boot of the car and we set off for home in the dark.
It was a few miles on that the penny dropped. It was then that I realised this wasn't something that could just be 'got through', I realised it was going to be a major part of our lives.
That drive home was just about the lowest I got and I'm not at all ashamed to say that I was sobbing gently for a fair part of the journey. My son had a serious mental health problem and I was finally having to face up to it. In a lot of ways I also think that was the day that he realised as well, and possibly the day his childhood ended.
The tents? They're still abandoned in a bin bag at the back of the garage and probably covered in mould by now.