Adolescence is when things with Charles started falling apart–around 2010. I was scrambling around trying to help him keep it all together. I started to see signs that were alarming but I couldn’t get a handle on it.
In 5th grade and middle school, Charles’ teachers kept telling me that he was unprepared for class and was often jumpy and nervous when he realized everyone had their materials out but him. It was all still manageable enough at this age.
He did have ADHD. And a sleep disorder. But I felt like I didn’t have the whole picture. I researched non-stop.
I agonized over where to send him for high school. I wanted him in a smaller setting but all the private schools started around 7:30am and they were some 20-25 minutes away and hyper-focused on grades no doubt driven by ambitious parents. He’d not get the sleep he needed. I was the most worried about the sleep disorder so he ended up at a close public high school but it didn’t seem to be a right fit and he had to be at school so early still.
Where did he fit?
So ninth grade seems to go well enough. But I had this underlying feeling of dread. I am not, by nature a worrier, yet I was projecting all kinds of scenarios–a trait I have curiously lost completely since his death.
One day after his freshman year, he comes downstairs and all of a sudden overnight, he’s 5’10”. It was like that growth spurt at 15 triggered something. That summer he was up to no good and I had a hard time keeping a handle on him. I worked part time at home so I did try. I also bought spyware and installed it on his computer. No amount of normal discipline was doing the trick. I was getting a lot of “helpful” advice, however.
Panic attacks, a cracked skull, marijuana paraphernalia, drug tests, anxiety attacks. And there were episodes of depression but he hid that well. His was a lack of motivation. It all seemed to spiral out of control more and more.
Then I started seeing things from that spyware that were alarming. By that time, we were going to a counselor and trying to get guidance.
Everything we tried was a dead end. I keep taking him to appointments and they keep testing him but giving me no diagnosis. Just more jargon about his being “high risk.” They never specified what “high risk” meant. No one ever said anything about suicide. And they never offered a diagnosis despite my asking. I wish I had known they were called psychological assessments. It was enormously frustrating.
I couldn’t get appointments. Or when we did and they would give him medication that caused alarming results at the first dose. He goes into a program to help him stay off drugs so we can find a psych medicine that works.
But when a med doesn’t work, we have to wait another 5 weeks for another appointment. Every time we went to see the child psychiatrist, the wait was 2-3 hours.
One of the medications we try ends up making him suicidal
Or at least he blames it on the meds. He downplays it. But in reality, that is a suicide attempt meds or not. But I couldn’t get any doctor to say that or tell me what to think of it. They dismissed it. And I think I did, too after I got no answers.
We meet together with a group the special ed teacher brings together. One of the counselors asks me about meds. I squirm. I don’t really want to discuss meds with Charles there in a room full of people. He’s already feeling stigmatized and I am seeing progress on this latest one. She keeps pressing and I tell her quietly.
She audibly gasps, gets wide-eyed, and says, “Have you seen the side effects with that medicine!?” I open my mouth in shock. She didn’t really say that, did she? Charles refuses to take an antidepressant after that. Ever. What he had been taking had been working. But in that one moment, I felt her seal his fate. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so furious.
Meanwhile, Charles is suspended from school for a panic attack a few days later. He’s not threatening just having a meltdown and asks to talk to me and an administrator suspends him for it. She just wants him out of her hair. We fight back but reach a dead end there, too.
This high school administrator idiotically suggests we wait until summer to try any new meds, humiliating Charles. How is she able to even make a suggestion so outside of her expertise? This is lunacy. She starts telling us about how she deals with her son like she’s giving us a lesson we need to hear. From her point of view, we just lack the skills to properly discipline our child. There is so little understanding or compassion, I can see the special ed teacher shrink with embarrassment. She leaves the school not long after this meeting and I can see why.
Honestly, we sent him to wilderness and therapeutic boarding school because all forces locally were working against us. Anytime we made progress, we couldn’t get any support, especially from people we expected to get it from. So all of our efforts fell apart and my son went downhill.
Virginia ranks 46th for treating youth mental illness and is considered one of the worst three states for children suffering major depression. When I say I lived those statistics, I’m not kidding.
I know there are people working very hard to change this both in the school, in nonprofits and in mental health agencies. I am on committees with them now. Things have improved since 2010 but it’s been agonizingly slow. Keep sharing and talking because I feel change coming. We have to do better for our children.