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.
10 thoughts on “The turning point. When did things start to go wrong?”
Anne Moss, your experience with educators is a mirror image of what we went through with Tyler from the 10th-12th grade. Their ignorance of mental illness was absolutely appalling. Tyler was diagnosed Bipolar, Type 2, which is the depressed type. They told my husband & I they didn’t see any signs of “Manic Depression”; I tried to explain he had more lows than highs. I told them that they didn’t see him when he refused to eat, shower or get out of bed for days on end!!! His number of absences resulted in the truant officer contacting us although the school had failed to. We finally made the decision he would leave high school in March before graduating in May & get his GED. I suppose that’s when he decided the prescribed meds. weren’t helping much & he began to self-medicate. That led to many years of illicit drug use & his eventual suicide at age 28.
All of this is so preventable. So much of what you said I can relate to Tjwanna.
The mental health system is so broken. I cannot find a psych to prescribe me antidepressants – not taking new patients, retiring, don’t take my insurance or any insurance….i have finally begged my GP to prescribe them for me. I take a tiny dose, and have for years….but it makes a difference in my quality of life.
Whitten never did get the right prescription that worked for him. Nor did my brother……
Gray I am so sorry. And it is so broken. I think we need more scholarships for psychiatry!
Amen! One of Whitten’s friends went into the field after he died.
I’m not ashamed to say I take antidepressants. I’ve been on them for 30 years, and it makes all the difference in my day- to -day life. Diabetics take Insulin for a chemical imbalance, it the same for depression. People just don’t get it.
When we first noticed serious mental issues with Curt( between his freshman,and sophomore year of college, we couldn’t find ANY Psychiatrist available. It took us over 3 weeks to get an appointment, and only because I went to Curt’s pediatric office, and begged one of the receptionist to find us a Psychiatrist.
Time had run out, and Curt was due in a week to return for his Sophomore year @ Pitt. The Dr. saw Curt twice, and decided he was fine to return to college. I keep telling her my father had Schizophrenia, but she never listened till it was too late.
Curt was never prescribed the correct medication, either.
I pray you feel better.✨🙏🏻💔
I am so sorry Jan – it definitely runs in families…My dad medicated with alcohol, my brother with all sorts of things, and Whitten with alcohol as well. Mine started with raging PMS in my 30s, and when I could not have a second child, I was headed down the rabbit hole.
Our problem with Whitten was that when he turned 18, he held us at arms’ length, he was intensely private, and we could not talk to his doctor. By that time he was in Brooklyn and I could only watch from the sidelines….and offer suggestions when the opportunity arose. He would finally call me when things got really bad.
After he died and we were finally able to talk to his doctor in NYC, she said “I thought he was getting better……”
I hate what you all went through but am so thankful you are sharing it now. Your experiences can be so validating to other parents going through the same situation. And those “helpful” people… ugh. Breaks my heart for Charles and for y’all. ❤
I am so sorry you all went thru so much pain with Charles-it breaks my heart. I am glad you are telling and will continue to tell your story. I know you will help many others. As hard as it is to read this, cannot imagine how more difficult it was for you all. Keep talking Anne Moss.
Thank you Francene. I wrote this a while back but it’s relevant still.