You may have been wondering where I have been; after all, it has been eight months since my last blog post. Then I just kind of vanished. I vanished not only in the blogosphere but also from the state of Maryland. I pretty much packed up my family and we headed West.
It has taken me many months to be able to collect my thoughts, figure out how I want to share this part of my life, yet at the same time protect my son and his privacy. I write this blog post with my son’s permission and while I don’t need to share everything with you, I will share a little bit of my experience in being a mother to a son who suffers from depression.
My youngest has a big heart and even a bigger smile. While he has turned into a strong and very tall young man who exudes confidence you would never know that he is a sensitive soul. He has always felt deeply. Even as a little boy, I could see that he had a lot of compassion for others and he seemed to have felt more for others than some boys his age. He is also very artistic and has a creative brain and I believe that might be one of the reasons he is more sensitive. I don’t know if there is scientific evidence that people who are more creative are more likely to be more sensitive and suffer signs of depression but it would make sense to me if there is.
Alex’s freshmen year of high school was tough. He was new to the high school and wanted to make friends. He joined the art club after school which was eventually joined with the LGBT club because the teacher of the art club lead both and thought it would be good idea to join the clubs together. In this club Alex felt compassion for some of the kids who expressed being rejected and ridiculed for being different. As part of the art club he was asked to help make signs to support LGBT, and he befriended some of the kids in the group.
For the first part of the year things seemed okay but by spring after Lacrosse season had started, Alex’s mood had changed. He spent a lot of time alone in his room. Sometimes he had outbursts of anger and crying. I found a self portrait that was a picture of himself with a gun to his head that said, “I’m Fine.” However, we couldn’t get him to open up, even after going to counselling. His mood improved significantly during the summer when he was not in school. He went on a trip to visit the Air Force Academy in Colorado to see if he might want to apply and join the Lacrosse team there. He came home a happier kid with goals. However, by the beginning of his sophomore year we were already seeing signs of depression and the anger was back.
Alex had come home many times that year with so much sadness and anger. He barely ate and had a hard time sleeping and suffered from nightmares. He finally opened up to us that he was being relentlessly bullied and harassed in school. Most of his freshman year he was called a faggot, with kids getting right up in his face, so close he could feel their breath. His teammates ridiculed him and made it difficult for him to be on the team. Even throwing a lax ball at his head in the locker room. He confided that he didn’t eat dinner with them at the team dinners he just showed up to be present and left as soon as he could. There are other details that I could go on and on about, but you get the idea.
One early evening Alex came home fuming with anger after a kid once again was in his face antagonizing him. He ended up running away for several hours that night. He was found safe and sound and when he was brought home that night he was so apologetic but he said he just couldn’t deal with it anymore. He just wanted to escape and get away from it all. We continued to get him help and eventually pulled him out of school and he started homeschooling.
By the time of Alex’s junior year, he was working almost full time, going to community college and finishing up his high school credits at home for his diploma. He seemed to be a lot better. He even thanked us for pulling him out to be home schooled. He could see he was much more mature than his peers and was way ahead of the curve. However, by the time March rolled around I could see some changes in his mood. The nightmares were back, and he seemed aloof, and disconnected. When he started to retreat to his room I knew something was up.
My son is a private person. He doesn’t like to share much with us… it was months before we even knew he had a girlfriend. One March afternoon something switched in Alex. His mood that was solemn and distant was suddenly full of anger and rage and so many tears. He had been holding in so much. He explained the amount of stress he felt to grow up faster than he wanted; working almost full time, taking classes with people almost 10 years older then he was. He felt as though his bullies won. He felt they pushed him out of school and robbed him of being a “normal” kid. Living close to the school with the nightly Lacrosse games and hearing the announcer from our backyard was not helpful. My son was beyond sad. It was evident that he was hanging on for dear life and was feeling like giving up. The darkness of depression was starting to take over and he needed help.
When a child suffers from depression a parent often times feels helpless. It’s not something I can just fix. I can’t put a band-aide on it and kiss his boo-boo and tell him everything will be alright. I can’t just take him to the doctor and expect medication to fix it and make it all go away. All I can do, is reassure him that I love him, and that I am there for him no matter what. I can lend him a ear and listen and ask him how I can help. I can take him to see therapist, and take medicine. A mother is only as happy as her saddest child. My heart hurt for my son, and was enraged by the way other peoples children could be so cruel while teachers, guidance counselors, coaches and principles sit on their hands and do nothing. Holding no one accountable for wrong doing.
Alex wanted out. He wanted to get away from it all no matter the cost. I could see the desperation in my child, and I wanted to save him anyway that I could. So I made the decision to put our house on the market, pack up and move. It was risky, but a risk worth taking for the sake of saving my son’s life. Thankfully, my husband’s company is working with him and allowing him to work remotely. We sold the house very quickly and before we knew it, the four of us and our dogs were packed up and driving across country with no plan on where we would be living, but we needed to thrive. We needed a change, we needed a break from the haunting reminder of the abuse our son had endured at the high school.
So that’s what we did. We found ourselves in California for the summer. Looking at places to eventually land. Utah, California, Colorado… however, our son’s depression wasn’t left behind in Maryland. I don’t want to make it seem like our son’s depression was only present because of his high school experiences. Depression does run in our family. Well at least my side. Bob’s adopted father took his life when Alex was a baby so we are not strangers to this serious mental health illness. I too suffer from depression and know first hand how dark and isolating it can be. Alex will tell you that he started feeling the symptoms of depression when he entered middle school. Around the time of hormones changing.
It was a rough summer for Alex. We stayed in a very small town where we didn’t know anyone and there weren’t kids his age around or not any that we knew. He continued therapy with a therapist who in my opinion wasn’t up to par. They did a lot of book work. It took us an hour and a half to drive to his appointments. We did our best to make the most of the time. Alex also got a summer job which helped to pass the time and save money. However, it was still obvious that my son was sad. It didn’t help that there was a breakup with his girlfriend after leaving Maryland, and the feeling of being lonely can make depression, an already isolating illness, seem even more painful.
Watching my son be so sad breaks my heart in ways that are unexplainable. I, as his mother, would give up my own happiness if it means that he would be happy. I don’t expect my kid to always be happy. That’s an unrealistic expectation that parents place on their children. However, I don’t want him to be so sad. The kind of sadness that breaks your heart. The kind of sadness that feels so daunting that it is hard to get out of bed, hard to see color in life, the kind of sadness that carries a dark cloud with you wherever you go.
The good news is I see my child fighting this illness. I even see his father and I with swords drawn ready to battle this beast if only we could, but the truth is we can’t fight this for him, he has to do it for himself. He has to choose life, he has to choose to use the skills he is learning in therapy to battle this depression. He has to take the medicine and when life feels like its not worth living, live it anyway. When he doesn’t feel like doing things that make him feel better he needs to dig deep and do them anyway.
We found a place to call home. A place where there is so much to do all year long. Hiking, water sports, skiing and winter sports there is so much to do. The people here are friendly, in fact they have a bumper sticker that says “You’re in Bend, be nice”. We now reside, no we live, no we are actually learning the thrive in Bend Oregon. It’s nice to be away from the competitiveness of the east coast. It’s a little more laid back but not lazy. They promote health and well being here. Alex is going to welding school, and working on the weekends. He is just starting to make friends and he has found wonderful therapists here. A great psychiatrist, who actually wants to lower his antidepressant dose and who takes longer than ten minutes with him at appointments. This psychiatrist is teaching us all that depression is a coping mechanism and it’s not uncommon and definitely understandable with all that Alex has overcome.
His therapist is a younger guy who has a dog in his office and they go on walks during their therapy time. He is someone who Alex feels finally hears him and can relate. Alex is also working with a spiritual adviser who practices meditation with him. His spiritual adviser is also young and kind and listens to Alex. He has been helpful in helping Bob and I too. For the first time we are living near my siblings. Siblings that I didn’t grow up with. They are my father’s children. I’m beyond grateful to them. They have welcomed us and make us feel part of the family. In addition I have nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews whom we are getting to know. It makes the transition across country easier for us knowing we have family near by. I should also mention that my mom has been a huge help with this move. Letting us live with her in California while we were trying to figure out a place to live.
It’s important to note that parents need help too. There have been times where it feels as though the three of us were alone fighting this battle and sometimes failing miserably. I was angry for a long time. Not at my son, but at the fact that he was having to go through this and no one seemed to understand. They might be able to empathize but no way could they understand. However, we learned to take it one day at a time. Give Alex space and let him know we are there for him and have his back no matter what. It also helps for us to attend therapy sessions and learn how to help Alex and what we can do as a family to help each other.
Sometimes we have to hang on for dear life. There are so many times when this emotional roller coaster doesn’t seem like it will ever stop. However, it does eventually stop. There are pauses and breaks. Alex may or may not fight depression for the rest of his life, but one thing is for sure, my boy was born a fighter and I know he will learn from his experiences and emotions and someday he will be able to help others. Depression is such an isolating feeling that when someone can relate or reaches out or shows that they care, it can make all the difference in the world.
Teenage suicide is on the rise. Our kids are plagued with depression and suicidal thoughts or ideation. We can have a day for depression awareness, we could have a suicide awareness day but it’s not enough! More needs to be done. We need more education on how to identify depressed teens. We need to reach out to them. Our schools, churches and communities need to bring more programs to help fight this cause and show support to those who suffer. In addition something must be done with the bullies. A no tolerance rule in school is a bunch of BS. Kids who are bullying are acting out and they need help too ,but they also need to be held accountable as do their parents! Perhaps we need to teach compassion in our schools. Parents teach your kid to speak up! When kids stay quiet or don’t speak up for other kids being bullied the one who is being bullied feels as though those silent kids are agreeing with the bully!
Parent’s reach out to your kids. Let them know that you SEE them! Let them know that you are there. Get them help and do everything you can that is in your power to make sure they get the right kind of help. Your child may need to go through a few/several therapists before they find the one who fits for them, the one who understands them and they feel comfortable opening up too. Sometimes your child will try to protect you and claim they are fine. When a teen says they are fine, usually they are not.
I really don’t know if leaving Maryland was the right answer. At the time it felt like the only option. I don’t have any regrets picking up and starting over. I really do feel like this is a better quality of life than what we were all living. I know this isn’t an option for many people and it doesn’t come without sacrifice. However, you do what you need to do for your family.
I’m going to stay committed to helping my son’s health. I refuse to give up! He is going to conquer this and in many ways he already has. I am proud of him! I am proud of all of us! I am so proud that Alex was vulnerable enough to open up and let me in. That he is courageous enough to show up everyday even when he doesn’t feel like it and do the things that help fight against his depression. We take each day as it comes. As of late Alex is feeling so much better and smiling that big wonderful smile of his and opening his heart back up to the world.