It was in second grade and I was meeting with Charles’ teacher. The teacher mentioned that my youngest child had a great foundation of self-esteem. He said it would benefit him later in life. He was funny, smart, self-confident although rarely well prepared for class and always slow to get his materials out.
But despite that, his grades were good.
It was around fifth grade that his confidence started to erode and his anxiety started to escalate. The rubber hits the road in fifth grade. A lot is expected of ten years olds and all of the organization required was more than Charles could handle. As the pressure mounted for him to have papers organized and homework assignments turned in, my son started to crumble. And his fifth-grade teacher saw it. She was as concerned as I was.
His teacher and I tried to get him an IEP (Individualized Education Program). But the verdict from the special ed teacher was, “He is too smart.” Translation: She didn’t want to do any more paperwork and she pulled that excuse out of her bag of tricks. Her suggestion? A highlighter would solve all the issues we raised.
The fifth-grade teacher was stunned into speechlessness. My shoulders sank and my heart went with it. He was struggling to concentrate. And school stopped being fun for me and for Charles.
We put him in private school after this hoping a smaller school would help. And I think it did help. But my son’s depression began around this time and I believe he was starting to struggle with thoughts of suicide in middle school. Friends of his talk about some of the dark texts they’d get from Charles that I never knew about.
His sleep disorder also got worse during this time which I believe upended his mental health. Sleep deprivation never improves one’s wellness. He struggled with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) and had since he’d been about 18 months old. And by now his sleep clock had advanced to 1 am which means he couldn’t fall asleep until after that time of night. No matter how hard he played at sports and wore himself out, he could not find sleep until after 1am, leaving a lot of nighttime for him to stress after the rest of us were deep in dreamland. He was not diagnosed until eighth grade.
Night after night of that takes its toll. Of all the things we were never able to resolve, that sleep disorder haunts me. I agonized over finding answers and we tried all kinds of crazy solutions and gadgets.
It was around ninth grade that the funniest, most popular kid in school’s depression manifested itself fully and my once self-confident child started to loathe himself.