I Found My Purpose

MAY. 09, 2018

By Anita Herron


I walked up a short flight of stairs to the front door and there he stood: A tiny, 2-year-old boy with a rough start in life who would soon be my son. 

The wave of his tiny hand and sad look in his eyes made me want to wrap my arms around him, love him and give him the happiest childhood possible. I thought it would be easy to take his pain away and make everything better. I quickly learned this was far from the truth.

Bonding didn’t happen right away. I was Mom number three for him, and he was done bonding, done losing. Oh, but I tried—I talked to his pediatrician, guardian ad litem and case worker in hopes that one of them could give me pointers on helping my son bond with me. Not only that, he woke up screaming night after night that the house was on fire. 

I could only speculate on the hurt and trauma my little boy had endured. Professionals encouraged me to be patient and hang in there; after all he was “too young” for therapy or interventions and would eventually “get over” his fears and develop into a happy child. 


The road was long, and the walls were high and hard to climb. We often got to the top only to fall back to the start. Our hurt, angry and scared little boy didn’t understand and as his parents, we hurt for him and for ourselves. 

What more could we do? And would it be enough? Should we believe the psychiatrist who told us, when our son was only 9 years old, that we needed to lower our expectations—to come to terms with the fact that children who presented with much fewer behavioral health issues than our son spent the majority of their lives in institutions?  

We decided we wouldn’t “lower our expectations,” nor would we give up on our son. There was a reason we were in his life and he in ours. 

Still, things went from bad to worse. 

He was arrested at 11, spending eight weeks in juvenile detention awaiting trial. During his hearing, I pleaded with the judge to allow my son to attend a residential treatment facility for young boys. The judge either felt sorry for me or agreed and sentenced my son to residential treatment. He spent 18 months there.


Meanwhile, I kept looking for support for families like ours. We had lost most of our friends. We didn’t blame them—they were either scared to be around us or tired of hearing about our heartbreak. 

Luckily, and thankfully, I found a flyer in my son’s case manager’s office for NAMI North Carolina’s Young Families Support Program. I sent an email to the Family Support Advocate for the county where we lived, and she invited me to lunch. 

As we chatted and got to know each other, she gave me a folder with NAMI information and an invitation to the support group meetings scheduled for the following month. At that first family support group meeting, my husband and I were invited to participate in a new NAMI program for parents and caregivers. The program, NAMI Basics, was scheduled for six Saturdays in a row. 

It was during Class 3, when we were telling our stories, that I broke down for the first time. My poor husband was shocked and didn’t know how to respond. After all, I didn’t cry. I was strong. I had to be. But on this day, I wasn’t strong. I was angry—at the mental health system, at my son’s birth family, at the world. 

If I felt this much pain, I couldn’t imagine how my child was feeling. 

That six-week course changed our lives. It allowed me to mourn our loss. The loss of the child we thought we had and the ability to accept the child we did have. 

As the years passed, my son moved from residential treatment, to a group home, then to a therapeutic foster home, and we continued to support him emotionally and financially. I was told many times to give custody of him to the state and not turn back. Even if possible, that was not an option for me. He’d already lost two mothers, he wasn’t losing me too. 

Every time I felt defeated and wondered if I should give up, the coping skills and problem-solving skills I learned in NAMI Basics came to my aid. Like many others, NAMI Basics saved my family. It gave us the tools to keep going and keep fighting for my son—his care, his happiness and his life.


My son is now 23, married with two little boys of his own. He and his wife bought a home last year. College wasn’t his thing, so he went to trade school and is an electric lineman. He calls me often, especially when he is angry or depressed. I was, and have always been, the “phone call” on our Crisis Plan for him. 

During my most recent birthday phone call, he gave me the best present I could have received. It cost him nothing but it was priceless to me. 

“Mom, I remember all the years of being lost and wanting to give up and feeling like nobody cared about me. I was able to keep going and not give up because you and Dad told me over and over that I have a purpose. You told me I might not know that purpose for years to come, but to always remember: ‘You have a purpose.’”

He told me he was helping a teenager through a mental health crisis when he realized: “My purpose is to help people the same way you and Dad helped me.”

Helping him find his purpose, I had found my purpose.


Anita Herron is manager of national education programs—including NAMI Basics—at NAMI.


We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.


JUL, 12, 2018 09:28:59 AM
Marjorie Andrada Barnes
Oh, dear Lord! I am weeping, even though I know I need to contact you, I have to type though the tears! I have been searching for a way to help youth with mental health issues. I especially feel moved to help children of adoption. I relate so much to what you have said, although my adopted daughter was not extremely dysfunctional until she was 17, it was a painful and exhausting. Unfortunately my Carlee Rose died in a car accident January 23rd 2016. She had been putting herself at risk for years and we invested in rehab after her 3 months in jail in 2015. It is extremely painful to continuously hit brick walls when you need help for your adult child. Please, please contact me and help me find a way to help the children in my town. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

JUL, 02, 2018 12:08:38 PM
Mary Scott
I'm glad you didn't give up on your adopted son. As you can see, "the system" does little to support family preservation. I don't know the details of how this child ended up in the system in the first place (and you seem unclear as well) However, I think your anger at his family of origin may be misdirected at best. It is likely there was also untreated mental illness in his parents. We now know there is a strong biological component to this and some of his mental health struggles are likely genetic (and will be passed on to his children.) Adoption (permanent separation from the natural family of origin) itself creates many psychological and emotional lifelong wounds in the adoptee. Like it or not, parents and their offspring (and siblings) are connected at a cellular level. I hope you find it in your heart to eventually encourage him to reunite with them. In order to be whole, we must be brave enough to face reality and live with uncomfortable truths about ourselves and others. Understanding and compassion of such serves us better than a comfortable fiction.

JUN, 24, 2018 11:47:20 PM
And his mother, father and extended family. What role did they play in helping heal his trauma? His mental illness possibly came from abuse or neglect as a young child, but it probably also came from the fact he was separated from his family. I hope he can find them, if he hasn’t already, and do some healing work. We have so much to learn about adoption trauma.

JUN, 05, 2018 08:29:20 AM
Julia Mitton
I am looking for a good place to advocate for mental illness and related issues

JUN, 02, 2018 05:27:56 PM
Katherine A. Lester
Your story really Moved Me
Thank yo u for being strong an not giving Up as So many others do because the child isn't perfect.

JUN, 02, 2018 02:19:28 PM
It is after the struggles that we find our purpose. I'm in struggles now but I believe my purpose is to help others in their time of need. It is a passion.

JUN, 01, 2018 10:16:14 AM
Wonderful story. Curious as to what was or is his mental illness?

MAY, 31, 2018 02:04:41 PM
Anita, As I read your story I felt as if I were reading parts of my own. The bonding issue is still as my son is 20. Our story has taken its toil on all three of us, my wife are divorced. He keeps in contact with me when he runs out of money, or needs food. Tough love has become my new norm. Thank you for the hope your story brought me. Seeing others with similar situations and then a positive ending makes me want to sit down and cry! There is hope. Thanks!

MAY, 31, 2018 11:35:07 AM
Wondering if I can share this article in a newsletter I create for caregivers whom have kids in RTF placement?

MAY, 31, 2018 10:05:21 AM
Thank you for not giving up on your son. It sounds like NAMI has a good program. I'm happy to hear the success story of your son. There are people who view mental illness in so many negative ways. I personally have suffered the devastating effects of it. I'm proud of your nurturing and caring mothering skills. It gives me hope that I may find my purpose even at the age I am. Your son is successful because of you and your support and ultimate acceptance of the real him. Thank you for, "caring, sharing and loving" and making a huge improvement for someone who would have otherwise likely have not done so well. It's true: just one person can make a difference in someone's life. The difference can be a childhood subject to being a ward of the state, but in this case he's become a productive and participant member of society. Peace be with you.

MAY, 31, 2018 09:40:25 AM
Heather Johnston
This gave me tears of sadness, joy, love, and compassion. I can relate. I am a stepmom who is currently finding out where the trauma came to my 15 year old stepson. The woman I thought was a great mom, and I stuck up for her in my marriage for 9 years. Now the truth is seeping out. I feel sick knowing he endured so much from his mother and her relationships. As more truth comes out, even though it’s hard, I know he is getting weight lifted off, and we have full custody. I have been on a rollercoaster of emotions. Thanks for this story. My faith in God will keep on getting us though as well as continuing to advocate for love to those struggling with mental health.

MAY, 30, 2018 10:19:08 PM
Lan Hodges
Dear Anita:

Thank you for your amazing story of strength, endurance and faith. I am so happy for your son and your family and your "hanging in there" gives me hope with my son of 26 whose issues seem unsurrmountable most of the time.

MAY, 30, 2018 09:59:44 PM
I wish you'd have been (are) my mother! At 50 y/o, diagnosed as bi-polar at 47 y/o, my Mother still won't accept the fact that I endure a mental disorder. She's still embarrassed, "... things like this don't happen in our family..". It's fine for everybody else, she has multiple friends whose adult children are "afflicted" and "... much worse.." than I am. She fails to see that my "problem" is what makes me the talented, creative and caring person I am today!! Through NAMI I hope to find my place in helping to change opinions!

MAY, 30, 2018 08:31:12 PM
Wow! That is a very powerful story and so wonderful to read that there was a happy "end". I can totally relate to this and our story has many similarities. My son has not yet reached his purpose but there are positive steps and I am not giving up.

MAY, 30, 2018 07:02:57 PM
Sharon Schwartz
That was so beautiful and heart felt. I had tears in my eyes at the end. Thank God you hung in there and reaped the harvest of the love you sowed into your son. The best Mother's Day gifts I have gotten have been words. Presents are nice but I love hearing my kids tell me how I have impacted their lives. It shows me what my purpose has always been. Thanks for sharing your amazing story.

MAY, 30, 2018 06:26:55 PM
Lacey Natello
I am wondering if I could share your article in a newsletter I create for families with youth in residential care. I would of course give you credit and put in a plug for NAMI groups in our area?!

MAY, 18, 2018 11:40:35 AM
ila sutton
Insightful truth on how we don't always have the answers in the beginning but we know if enough to hang in there and support our loved ones. I am encourage by your story. Thank you!

MAY, 16, 2018 11:31:38 AM
Thank you for sharing your emotionally powerful story. I tell my son all the time God gave each of us a purpose, also. It is not for us to know until the time is right. Everything is in God’s plan and we must be patient and fulfill his plan. It is always good in the end no matter how much junk we go through to,get there.

MAY, 09, 2018 11:57:52 PM
Carol Ward
Anita-thanks for a great story with a wonderful, heart-warming "end." Our lives are a little similar as we are both adoptive moms of children with significant struggles so I could totally relate to your world. Glad you both found your purpose. God bless you all.

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.