Blogger Who Wrote 'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother' Opens Up About Life with Violent Son
09/12/2014 AT 08:30 PM EDT
"Every picture had to be perfect," says Long, 42. "I wanted to create a reality that never existed."
In reality, the picture was far from perfect.
Her second eldest son, Michael (not his real name), 14, suffered from severe bipolar disorder and was uncontrollably violent, his rages so severe and unpredictable that she was afraid he would kill himself and her.
"My family lived in fear," Long says. "The only time I ever felt safe was when my son was in jail or in the psychiatric hospital."
The Boise, Idaho, mom, who ran an anonymous blog, Anarchist Soccer Mom, kept such fears to herself until Dec. 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza opened fire in Sandy Hook, killing 20 kids, six adults, his mother and himself.
That night, Long posted a blog titled "I am Adam Lanza's Mother," writing, "I love my son but he terrifies me." The blog went viral overnight and launched Long as an outspoken advocate for families of mentally ill kids.
She's now written a new book, The Price of Silence, a plea to erase the stigma and silence that surrounds mental illness.
Michael's rages were violent and unpredictable. "I could ask him to clear his room and he would be pleasant," Long says. "Then I'd ask about his overdue library books and he'd pull a knife on me."
He was sent to juvenile prison four times for attacking family members, starting when he was just 11. "They saw me as a criminal," Michael says, " "but I'm bipolar."
An exceptionally bright and thoughtful young man, Michael was misdiagnosed for years before receiving his bipolar diagnosis last year. He's now on lithium and hasn't had a violent episode since.
"I grew up barricading myself in my room rather than having friends to go hang out with," Michael says. "It was like there was another entity inside of me that would take control. My own body was literally at war with itself. I was hurting people, but I didn't want to."
Michael has mixed feelings about his mom's outspokenness. "I really wish my mom hadn't come forward," he admits. "I also really wish others would because it sure has caused a lot of pain and suffering for our family, but I'm pretty sure it has helped a lot of others."
Asked what he'd like people to know, he says, "I'm not a bad kid. With treatment, I am not that different from anyone else except for the fact I've grown up without friends."
And that's his hope now that he's started high school. 'I'd like to make two or three new friends," he says. "Hopefully more."
For more on Liza Long and her son, pick up a copy of this week's PEOPLE, on newsstands now