This is another blog I've struggled with posting. I've held onto it for months, but ultimately I decided I needed to. I think the more we talk about struggles with mental health, the more we can strip away the shame and embarrassment that have gone with it for so long. So, so many of us struggle with depression and anxiety, and a host of other issues. It's not something that just happens to adults either. It can happen to children. I decided to post this because I know there are other parents going through this. We should talk about it. We are stronger together.
LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT
I have handed in my phone, purse, driver’s license, and car keys to the front desk and assured them that I’m not wearing a belt. I do not have on a hoodie or anything else with ties or long strings. My husband has done the same. We sit in the waiting room until a heavy metal door opens and the nurse tells us we can follow her.
We walk down long hallways, four of them, each ending with another locked door that the nurse opens. The final hallway is decorated with bright construction paper. They are drawings done by children like what you’d see at school, only when I read them I notice how different they are from the school’s artwork. The pictures say things like “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24” and “Parents, talk to your kids. Every day.”
I am holding it together. I am. I have to because we are walking into the adolescent ward for visiting hours so that we can see our son, and I need to be strong. For him. His behavior has been escalating, or rather descending, over this last year until we had a crisis on Friday. Our son hurt himself. Superficial, they say. It’s just superficial. I guess that’s supposed to be a relief. But our son says he wants to die. And so he’s here, getting help.
He is eleven years old.
I like to think of myself as a writer. It’s how I view the world, how I process it and understand it. There are not words for this, though. There aren’t words for how I feel about visiting my little boy here.
He is the youngest on the ward. All their beds are occupied. My heart breaks for every child here and every family. These children are just starting on their lives, just forming their independence and their spirits and it will be a long road ahead of them. I know, statistically, that not all of the children will make it to adulthood because of the effects of anorexia, drugs, abuse from others, or taking their own lives. And I wish I believed in God. I wish I could pray because then I could pray that my son will beat the odds and be comforted by the idea that someone, some mighty benevolent power, will hear my prayer and answer it. But I’m not a believer.
My son shuffles into the room and he hugs us and we talk. There is a girl in the corner with her family and we can hear her crying and we just talk over it. We’re a wave washing over her. I feel guilty about that, but I can’t focus on her. I’m here with my son. He is my focus. We say: How are you? How are things? How are the meals? Are you sleeping? Can we bring you anything? These are the questions we ask. But there are other questions I want to ask but I don’t. Why did this happen? What have I done wrong? How do I protect you? How do I make sure you are safe? What are we going to do when you’re thirteen or sixteen? What happens when your hormones kick in and we’re dealing with your depression but also your changing brain? How do I make sure you survive?
There are no guarantees in parenting, and there are even less for the road we are on now.
I am angry because I have been trying for over a year to get my son help. I’ve noticed his decline and his struggle and we’ve tried therapy and counselors. We have a plan at the school. He has support and love. But what he needed was medication…only everywhere I called there was no one to help. We don’t take children, they’d say. We don’t take children under sixteen. We take children but the calendar is full. We can’t add you to the waiting list because we’re not allowed to. Our appointments are booked for the next three months and we can’t add anyone new.
I am angry because there was no one to help us and we needed help. I don’t know if it’s because doctors don’t want the liability for dealing with children or if there’s still some kind of antiquated belief that children don’t suffer from mental illness. Who created the idea that mental illness only happens when people reach their twenties? It’s ludicrous. So I have been searching for help, and because I couldn’t find it, my son looked for answers on his own. Namely, a way out.
The last woman I talked to at a psychiatrist's office, I’d vowed to call her every week, and then I was going to call her every day until I bullied her into putting us a waiting list. I don't like being a bully but I was prepared to just so she would know how serious this was. That I wasn't just a hysterical woman, or an emotional mother, but this was real. I was ready and prepared, but then my son scratched up his wrists and his chest and wanted to die, so the hospital finally let him in.
It took that. It took my son doing that for someone to finally see him.
So this is where we are. My husband makes jokes and we all sort of laugh and the girl in the corner is moaning because of her pain and my son says he’s got to go because he wants to work on a project and I tell him that’s good, that’s progress, work on that and we will work on ways to support you when you come home.
And all the time I think I love you. I love you, my boy. Your tender spirit. Your bright mind. Your potential. You are a strong soul. A brave boy. You are beautiful. I think, IloveyouIloveyouIlovelovelovelovelove.
I don’t know. Maybe that is a kind of prayer. Maybe I repeat this over and over in my mind because, secretly, I think someone will hear me, and I hope that it is my son who hears me calling to him in the dark.
Be strong. You can fight this. We are with you. We love you. You. Are. Worth. Everything.
He goes to his room and we follow the nurse back down the corridors and through the locked doors and she says, “Wow. Your son is a deep thinker. Eleven years old and the things he says and how he views the world? It’s really amazing!”
We nod. We say thank you, because really, what else is there to say? Thank you.
We collect our things. We go to the car. We drive home. The house is empty and so, so quiet.
Are you okay, my husband asks. It is the first time all day where I say what is truly on my mind. Am I okay? No, I say. No, I am not.
We’ll get through this, he says. He’ll get through this.
I tell him okay. I believe him.
Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s just a hope or maybe it’s a prayer. I don’t know the difference anymore.
UPDATE: It has been months since this happened, and I have to say we've seen a remarkable change in our son. His anxiety and depression are controlled and he is showing a buoyancy in spirit I'd feared was lost forever. He has a team helping him and every day, he's a little bit stronger. A little bit brighter. We were able to find help for him. It shouldn't have been as hard as it was, but once you find help, healing is, indeed, possible.