Moving Beyond Your Own Parental Dream

There have been so many days I have wanted to blog about our recent experience with our adolescent son and his struggle with anxiety, depression, isolation and, we suspect, peer bullying.  Every time I would be thinking about it, I felt like I would be violating our family’s privacy – but we have so much to share that could help others.  In fact, one day late last Spring, at exactly the same time our family was dealing with the exact same issue, I was standing in the front office of my daughter’s High School when a tearful Mom approached the front desk.  She softly requested, “I need to have my son’s transcripts.  He is flunking every single class and has missed over 4 weeks of school.  I don’t know what else to do.”  Instead of rushing over to her and reassuring this Mom in her desperation, I quietly stood alone, stunned, dismayed, angry, and frightened – for her, for her son, and for our future.

Something is going on with adolescent boys that neither my husband nor I expected.  This is not the case for every boy, of course, but it certainly was for ours – and countless others we have discovered, since we began talking openly about it.

The peer pressure and social isolation that girls feel in middle school can be doubly hard for boys – especially boys with a reputation for being “tough.”

When our 190-pound middle linebacker son started coming home from 8th grade last Winter and crying himself to sleep because he was “fat,” we became very concerned.  It developed into an obsession and led to daily, irrational regimens of “clean” eating (absolutely no fat, sugar or carbs) followed by running 6 miles at a time on the treadmill- sometimes twice a day.  He started losing weight quickly but that did not seem to make him happy.  He became sullen and withdrawn and started avoiding going to school.  Within weeks, he refused to go to school altogether – he would wake up crying and tell us, “You have no idea what I go through.”  No, we didn’t.  But he would not tell us.

A mad search for psychological help began, including seriously considering hospitalization at several points.  Meanwhile, school work was stacking up and his friends were noticing his absences.  But our son could not muster the will to care.  We felt desperate and alone, just like the woman I witnessed asking for her son’s transcript.  While our friends were focused on preparing their sons for high school sports and planning their Freshman academic year, we were either driving our son to different specialists seeking help and answers or huddled with him on his bed in his dark room – his “safe place” – and reassuring him that he would feel better soon.  “It has been so long since I have felt well,” he would reply.

Skipping ahead a few months, once we found the right medication and had given it time to reach a therapeutic level, our son started to emerge from his fog.  50 pounds lighter, this was clearly a different kid.  He began riding his bicycle with a good buddy – a “non-tough guy” friend.  By the end of summer, it was not unusual for our son to spend many hours on his bike, sometimes alone, but clearly a much happier person.  When he did start Freshman year, (fingers crossed), we did not have to push him to go to school.  He seems to like it.  And, instead of football, he announced he was joining Art Club.   He brought this home to me the other night:

My beautiful handmade heart from my son
My beautiful handmade heart from my son

As frightening as it is to go through a deep, dark depression with one of your children, something beautiful emerges on the other side:  a new person with a different perspective on who they are and where they want to go in life.  We, as parents, definitely had dreams that our hard-core football player would continue to love the game (and give us something to do with our free time on Friday nights and beyond!).  But it is okay – no, it is a MIRACLE – that this child we watched literally transform before our eyes is happy again and firm-footed in his own journey.  We all learned that goodness can follow a sense of hopelessness. We are closer as a family now – I have my heart to prove it!

4 thoughts on “Moving Beyond Your Own Parental Dream

  1. Oh girl I wish you had written about it so I could have shared my experience and you would have known that you are not alone (which I’m sure you know now but…well…you know). I say that because when I suspected that my son was clinically depressed I felt so alone and so much like a failure even thought I’ve been on anti-depressants for over 20 years and I know it runs in families!!!

    It was a little easier for us to recognize and attack the situation earlier because my son has an identical twin who does not suffer from ADD or depression. Watching the two of them navigate elementary school and have such vastly different experiences was like a neon sign flashing a warning over and over. Then, when one twin came to tell me that his brother was talking about dying I sprung into action. Granted he was only nine years old but dang it – HE WAS ONLY NINE YEARS OLD…WHO TALKS ABOUT DYING AT NINE YEARS OLD.

    Like your family, once we found the right medication he emerged with better grades and an overall better attitude and just blossomed. It was truly a miracle.

    Over the years we’ve had to adjust the medication as he struggled with OCD, anxiety and anger issues but I’ve tried to keep our communication open (it helps that he knows I also deal with it) so that he’s comfortable talking about it. At the end of the day however, he’s a boy (man) and that stupid male ego makes him believe that he has to handle things on his own which means when I intervene now, he’s generally at meltdown stage. You know…like when he decided he didn’t need his meds anymore and that taking them made him ‘weak’. Getting him back on them was a challenge but I rose to the occasion and I think he’s good…at least for now. BTW he’s 20 and is doing beautifully in college.

    Good luck with your young man. I wish you nothing but peace. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need an ear.

    Sherry

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