As I’ve reflected on the events of the past year in our family, I realized that it was time to take our experience to a broader audience. We have been open about our journey to others we are not embarrassed or view it as a direct reflection of our failings as parents. The hope of this blog is to provide other parents support so they know they are not alone in the fight to help their children. The diseases that are depression and anxiety and are becoming a way to common feature in America’s teens. This disease is not discerning in who it chooses as a victim. Our son is smart, bright, and has every opportunity available to him. We are good parents with tons of experience with children between us. We are successful and chose to live where we do, and have the careers we do. We have a strong and happy marriage and relationship, that has been tested more in the past year than in the past 25 years we have been together. A question I keep asking is has all of my experience both personally and professionally in life been preparing me for this?
To know my son is to be engaged by his smile and personality. The last year I often think back of images of him running off to school, loving to learn, and watching him engage is amazing brain. I think of him waking up happy every morning wanting to know what the day had in store. I think of him standing up at his bar mitzvah doing an amazing job and touching the hearts of all the people in the room. Thanks to my husband, I have learned to not go down the rabbit holes. I can’t look back and say “what if” perhaps if we’ve done this. Instead I take each day as it comes, evaluate the information at the time, and make the best possible decision based upon that information. If I don’t do that I’m just setting myself up for failure.
It was a slow process moving from a happy child to the one who struggles to get out of bed in the morning, is so overcome by anxiety he can’t function, and who is so sensitive he can start yelling at you at any moment. At the peak of the depression and anxiety last year, with the help of an educational consultant, we chose to have him attend a wilderness program in Utah. This provided him with extra therapeutic support, confidence, and a chance to hit the reset button. After 13 weeks he emerged confident, happy, and very proud of himself. We were optimistic.
We set parameters at home, he continued with therapy and we had an enjoyable summer. There of course were back slides, especially with his desire to use a screen as a maladaptive coping skill. He then started 9th grade at our local high school where he had a group of friends. The first few weeks went well at some points and okay at others. He got involved in Model UN which he was excited about. Besides a commitment to exercise he had not other obligation but to do school. However, at the end of the day he came home exhausted and barely functioning. As he stated, “Mom one day of school feels like 30 years for me.” He also said, “It is really hard when the rest of the world looks so perfect and happy, and I’m struggling to put one foot in front of the other.” The signs were there that he was slipping into depression again. His anxiety also became more acute as his grades fluctuated all over the place from A+ one day to 0’s the next.
We knew he was very capable of doing the work and being incredibly successful there, however, as he said “I can’t do the work when I have no motivation to do anything.” At one point he missed a few days of school due to his inability to function and cope he said to my husband, “What do I tell my teachers?” My husband said be honest, “say I’m battling depression and I lost the few days.” He was beyond moved at his teachers responses who up to this point had no idea of his journey plus it empowered him to be honest and open about his struggle with mental health.
The recent battle capped off in another moment in this struggle that will forever be engrained in my head. I went in his room as he was putting his laundry away late Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. He was crying and said, “I just can’t do it anymore I need more support.” I asked him to come out so we could have a family discussion with his father. At this discussion he told us that he thought he needed a therapeutic boarding school. This being the place he wanted to avoid when he came out of wilderness last time. We explained to him that this meant he was going back to his therapist in wilderness for a “refresher” while we worked to find an appropriate placement. He wasn’t thrilled, and would have preferred to go straight to Therapeutic Boarding School, however having him sitting around for a few weeks where he had no buy in at school was not going to be healthy for anyone.
As I began putting the wheels into motion, all I could think of was… he is struggling so much he is asking to go back to a situation he swore he would never go back to, where he has no access to friends, us, electronics and the normal things a teenager would want. Plus he was putting 100% faith in us to figure out the next step. However, I knew he would be safe and I was proud of him..he realized what he needed and asked for it. This was progress because he is going to be fighting this battle for the rest of his life.