Stuff happens

I realize I disappeared for a bit. Well, stuff happened. I got permission to write a little about what that stuff was.

About a month ago, we ended up in the emergency room with Geeky Boy because he had called the suicide hotline. Luckily, he had called before he had even really thought through what he might do. Still, we were scared. We sat in the hospital for several hours waiting for the social worker. There were several people there in a similar situation. Finally, it was recommended to us that GB be put in a residential treatment program for teens.

GB’s depression was not new to us. He’s suffered on and off for years, having a major bout just last year. After getting on medication, it seemed the worst had passed, until this happened, and then we were right back at square one. Only worse. He spent two weeks in the residential program, and came home on Thanksgiving. It was a difficult transition, for all of us.

We worried that he would try to hurt himself if we left him alone. We worried about making him do his regular household chores. We had no idea what to do. We were given zero instructions. Do we let him go out with friends or not? Do we punish him if he’s late or not? Do we push him to finish his college applications or not? Do we keep him busy? If so, how? We had no answers. The normal answers we might have if he weren’t vulnerable didn’t work. Punishments sent him into a dark hole as did pushing him to do things.

The first few weeks, we spent a lot of time talking to him, which was hard. His view of the world and himself didn’t mesh at all with ours. We couldn’t force him to see things differently. We couldn’t force anything.

Things are definitely better, but we still worry. We’re still trying to feel comfortable with where he is, and trying to let him make his own choices and figure things out for himself. Which is hard for any parent of a 17 year old, I know. But most parents of kids this age seem to have some faith that they will come through in the end. Our faith in his ability to do so is not very solid.

Our biggest setback has been college. We’re days away from deadlines, and I honestly don’t know if they’ll be met. His depression has meant that, despite being really smart, his grades are not good. So his choices are limited. There are plenty of options still, but I worry what not getting into somewhere he really wants will set him back emotionally. I am prepared to help him come up with alternative plans for next year, probably community college and work. Yes, I’ve had to adjust my expectations–a lot. But believe me, I’ll take anything over not having Geeky Boy around.

26 Replies to “Stuff happens”

  1. Community college is not the end of the world (though many parents see it as a place for failure). Many kids do that and then go on to transfer to a 4 year college. It can actually be better for some as they transition to college level workloads while still having the safety net of living at home. That may work out better for your son. As parents we want the best for our kids but often our ideal “best” is more an indication of society’s idea of “best” and not what is best for our specific kid. Sounds like you are on a good path. I hope things get better for your family.

  2. Thanks, Rob. I definitely feel like CC would be a good option for him. He doesn’t see that yet, but that’s okay. One day at a time.

  3. Know that the 1st year of college is a particularly vulnerable time for mental health. It may not be the best thing for him to go too far away if it means that you won’t be there to monitor. Once he’s in college, no one will tell you (due to privacy rules) if he’s having issues.

    {{{Hugs}}} to you on the missing instructions.

  4. After having taught at the University level and at the CC level (now), CC is definitely not a bad decision. It is a good time to think and make decisions. There is also a broader cross section of students at a CC, every socio-economic level and a higher density of “colorful” individuals. When I taught at the University level (intro and middle level math courses) I had huge numbers of students with the “what am I doing here” mentality. Mommy and Daddy expected them to go so they went, with no desire or direction. The CC is different. Almost all the students know why they are there and they have a goal. I teach future fire fighters, building maintenance engineers, welders, carpenters and so on. They are all excited about the possibilities in their future. That 4 year college will always be there and maybe working for a living might be a good thing.

  5. I wish I could give you and Geeky Boy a big hug right now.

    I know I don’t know GB or his story but, my heart goes out to him. My teen years were fraught with a depression I didn’t know what to do with and my heart just fills with so many emotions reading this post because I know how terrible that kind of hurt can be.

    I hope he is getting the opportunity to talk to someone (a counselor of some sort). Personally, I found that having someone who could help me figure out how to express my emotions and identify the source of my feelings was invaluable. It ultimately gave me to tools to help myself. Of course the fix wasn’t immediate. It took awhile until I felt I had any sense of control over the downward spiral that was so easy to slip in to.

    While depression is something that may never disappear completely just let GB know that the periods of happiness become longer and the periods of depression shorter and more manageable.

  6. It is good to see you back again, Laura. I hope that we can all be an encouragement to you and your family through the challenging times. Thoughts and prayers for all of you guys, of course.

    Thank you for inspiring those around you.

  7. Oh my soul; I’ve been having uneasy feelings… Agree with all comments above. I think that a productive “gap” year would help him and his chances all around and personally believe that “gap” years before college should be more generally recommended. Also, “work” need not be menial; if you can support it, even some volunteer work or a partial internship in an area that meshes with his interests might be helpful. Those “wilderness adventure” programs have always intrigued me, but must cost a lot and I’m not sure if they’re recommended for depression. I do think that it is important to set up plans and schedules, with very manageable objectives and goals, preferably with the help of counselors. (You should not have been left with “zero instructions.”) The last thing you want is for him to hole up in his room alone for too long.

  8. Wow, how scary! And how frustrating on the lack of guidance/instructions. I hope that GB continues to get the help he needs and that you and the rest of the family get the help you need to help him. My thoughts go out to you.

  9. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. We are in therapy as a family, and GB is with a new psychiatrist that we think is going to move him in the right direction. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own experience is that you don’t have to stay on the same path forever, and there are many possible paths to go down. I think society still assumes we stay on one path, and that certain paths are the right paths. I think that’s hard for most people to get away from.

  10. Garth, I appreciate your observations. I feel the same way about CC. I always enjoyed teaching students who really needed the schooling and had worked to get there. I think exposure to that would be a good thing.

  11. Laura, I am so sorry you are all in the midst of this. It is amazing to me how many families struggle with these problems and yet we still have trouble talking about them or knowing what to do.

    A family member faced a similar situation at a similar age. He did a couple of years in CC while at home and is now about to graduate from Berkley. He has a senior project you and GB might find interesting:

  12. Sending good thoughts your way. We’ve learned that life throws us curve balls all too often. There’s less planning and more reacting in family life. It was good to read that GB has some good support and I hope that you are getting enough support, too. It’s a real challenge to be everyone else’s safety net. . . .

  13. I think we need to talk more about these setbacks so that everyone doesn’t feel like they are the only one. I think we put so much, and too much, weight on the classic college experience. There are lots of paths to lots of goals and not going to one’s “dream” college at 18 doesn’t take any paths at all off the table.

    I know the story of a child of a friend who found themselves in the same place you are right now, right around the same time. The kiddo is now a graduate student, a successful one, in a field that requires brilliance. He found his way, even though it wasn’t the straight path taken by his super-achieving parents. We see our paths, but the kids can find other ones. Our job is to help them find their own way.

    I think its enormously frustrating that after two weeks in a residential facility you don’t have resources to advise you on what might help. I hope the Internets will offer some places to look.

  14. As a hopeful story, one of my relatives made quite a serious suicide attempt in high school and battled depression a lot – and is now high-level, high-achieving sr. management in a great career. The path was a bit crooked but it led to the same spot.

    I have PTSD and another diagnosis and university was hard and I dropped out. I am not quite as high-achieving but I am very happy with my life. What strikes me in your story that I just wanted to highlight is that…he called. That is so awesome, that he had the wisdom to reach out for the help he needed, and says a lot. I have not been in your shoes and it must be terrifying, high-stakes parenting and such complex issues and decisions. I wish you as much peace as possible during these times.

  15. Also, I can’t say how much I’m troubled by the pressure being put on kids to find and achieve their “dream school” for college, making something that is really a minor decision in life (say, as compared to the spouse you plan to spend the rest of your life with, or the children who will be part of your life forever) into sucha high stakes enterprise.

    I had the insight the other day that there are a lot of “realty show game” books out there for kids now (think, Hunger Games, Divergent, Mazerunner, Player One, . . . .) and that the might strike a chord with kids who basically feel like they are in a reality game show aiming for college acceptance.

    It really really isn’t a very important decision, and thought a four year chunk of your life might be different, ultimately life will be fine, anyway.

  16. Just sending out positive thoughts to all of you, Laura.

    Many of the men in my extended family took wandering digressive routes to education and employment. They arrived in good, solid places and lives of contentment and joy. I agree with bj: this current emphasis on those college application deadlines isn’t right. How much of what we want, and can do, at 17 or 18 still determines our lives? I truly believe that missing those deadlines, this one year, will be okay.

  17. Bj and Jody, I so agree with you about the deadlines. I think it’s crazy how much pressure is on kids. I know I was caught up in that for quite a while. It’s what all the parents around here talk about starting as early as middle school. And I know that rubs off on the kids. I have ms students who talk about it. And while certainly the choice has some impact, it doesn’t make as big a difference as most people think. There was a study a while back that showed that Harvard graduates did no better on average than state school grads. We need to talk about that more.

  18. Thank you for sharing your son’s story. Very scary and tough.

    Not sure if this is helpful, but … my sister tried to commit suicide when she was very young — 11 years old. (She is 10 years younger than me.) She took an entire bottle of pills. Overnight, she threw up, and that saved her life. When all this was discovered, it threw our family into a huge terror. She is now 27 and in graduate school to become a therapist. She and I have recently talked about her suicide attempt, and she said that she wished that people would have treated her more normally afterward, though for years we didn’t. Even now, so many years later, we tend to treat her with kid gloves. She has a tendency toward depression and moodiness, so it’s hard to know how to treat her sometimes. Although she wants to be treated “normally” we don’t have a good sense of normal for her, and haven’t for years.

    The worst thing about other people’s depression is that you feel like you have no power to help them. Ugh. It sucks so bad. Hugs.

  19. I’m so sorry to hear this. You have been through a lot! College…oy, stressful in the best of circumstances, and this adds a layer. My dad taught at community college for 20 some years and enjoyed great students. There’s also the 5th year option at a private school if you feel like he just really wants and/or needs a live-away experience.

  20. Have been through this-operative word is THROUGH. She is 25, working, beautiful and loving, always a challenge to herself. College did not work out. Not the end of the world. She has taught us more about love than the other two combined. Have faith just a little bit longer than you think you can manage, and maybe it will be OK. All you can do is love him.

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