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The Fear and Rage of Parenting a Suicidal Teen (When you Also Suffer Major Depressive Disorder)

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Avatar for JonicaBradley
Written by   447
1 year ago

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Drugs, Cutting

"I want to come back home."

I stared at this text message for five minutes before putting my phone away, text unanswered.

I tried to get back to work writing an essay. I couldn't. My stomach started roiling. My hands were shaking. A slowburn rage started at the tips of my toes and made its way up through my body to the roots of my hair. My brain was screaming at me, "Nope! Nope! Nope! No fucking way!"

The text was from my 17-year-old son.

---

In March of 2019 at 3:30 a.m. my kid attempted suicide by overdosing on his father's Zoloft. He didn't die, but he got a case of serotonin syndrome. He was awake for three days. I was awake with him.

We came together as a family and did everything we could to help ease my son's depression. We got him a social worker and a psychiatrist. I scrambled to get him Medicaid, filling out all of the paperwork, checking and double-checking that the government didn't still show him as receiving benefits in another state. I stated there was an immediate need that would hopefully expedite approval. I called daily for progress reports until finally, they told me he was approved.

I got him an appointment to see my therapist. The only therapist within a 150-mile radius who accepts Medicaid and was taking new patients. She advised me there was a good outpatient program through the Pavillion, the local mental hospital. By local, I mean 65 miles away in Amarillo.

I called the Pavillion. They would not give me any outpatient information until my son was evaluated. It had been a week since his suicide attempt. We drove him up to get evaluated.

We finally got in to see the social worker. She heard the words overdose and suicide and immediately insisted he stay inpatient. She was unconvinced we could keep my son safe. I turned into a mama bear. The conversation grew incredibly intense. I never shouted, but I came close.

I have been in mental hospitals as a patient more times than I can count. I literally cannot remember how many times. Many. What I can remember is the way I was treated, especially after a suicide attempt. I was treated with disdain. I was talked down to and scolded. I was treated as a criminal. Every hospitalization felt betrayed and let down by the system.

The words hospital, patient, and illness imply care. When you check into a hospital as a patient because you are ill you expect to be cared for. You do not expect to be punished. You do not expect to be belittled, isolated, left strapped to a bed soaking in your own urine for 24 hours. But put the word mental in front of the other three, mental hospital, mental patient, mental illness and suddenly you become a criminal and are treated accordingly.

The very first mental hospital to which I was committed was an adolescent care ward. I was 14. I was also molested by a staff member there. I reported it and was not believed. I was never released. I ran away from that place and hitchhiked my way home.

As my husband, son, and I sat waiting for the social worker the sights and smells were triggering the emotions I felt during my own hospitalization. I was rapidly succumbing to an emotional flashback.

The second the social worker said inpatient my mind went straight to every negative experience I had ever had as an inpatient, mental patient, in a mental hospital. I was not going to allow my son to go through even a fraction of that pain, misery, or emotional trauma.

I had finally convinced the social worker that we could keep our son safe at home, and she had convinced the psychiatrist who was literally phoning it in, to allow us to try the outpatient program when my kid asked to be admitted. I apologized to the social worker and she started the admissions process.

My husband and I expected our son to stay in the hospital for two weeks, at least. It would take around 14 days for the antidepressant medication they would invariably prescribe him to reach high enough blood levels to be effective. We hoped during that time our son would receive some counseling as well.

We did not know The Pavillion is only an emergency mental facility. “Stabilize them, medicate them, and send them home,” is how the social worker put it to me.

Two and a half days after admission they sent our son home.

---

It took months to find a medication that was effective. He began acting strangely. He was secretive. He wouldn't make eye contact. He was raging, taking all of his anger out on me. I kept telling my husband something was going on. But I couldn't prove it. Just something was off. I suspected I was paranoid. I made every excuse in the book for his strange behavior. I convinced myself I was wrong.

Unfortunately, I was right. He had been cutting himself. He was smoking pot. I knew he had already tried pot a few times. He told me a lot of secrets while he was high on serotonin and couldn't stop talking. He told me he didn't really like the way pot made him feel and he doubted he would ever try it again. I believed him.

One night he got vomiting drunk and later refused to take his medicine, glaring at me, taking his rage out on me again. Blaming me. I am not proud of some of the things I said (shouted) to him that day.

During this time, my husband and I were struggling with our own depression and mental illness. I dealt with mine by shoving it down and ignoring it. I'm pretty sure my husband did the same. All of our everything was focused on our boy.

We were all going to counseling, both together and individually. We were all taking medication. We restructured our family dynamic to include doing chores together. We rearranged the living room to include our son's computer set up. We came up with creative forms of communication at the supper table. We limited his social life and took away all electronics at night. I was the enforcer of all things. My husband would participate in making a rule but I was the one who passed it on and who had to ensure it was followed. We all needed a break from each other.

We arranged for him to visit his adult sister in Washington for a month. He seemed to thrive there. He went to work with her every day and they had long brother-sister talks. He was able to visit his other sister in Montana and spend time with his niece. We were getting daily updates from our daughter. Things were going well.

Three days after he got home he got high. We took away his phone. We took the number off of the family plan. He would have to figure out how to get himself a phone. It all began again. All the worry, all the suspicions, all the sleepless nights, all the emotional triggers for both my husband and me. Things seemed to ease up a bit when he got a job.

When he wasn't in school my kid was at work. My husband or I would drive him to work. My husband would always be the one to pick him up from work. Our kid's shift ended long past dark and my eyes are too bad to drive at night. Things got much better when he got his driver's license.

His grandparents had gifted him enough money to pay for a car. The second he had his license he started driving himself to school and work. He would come home briefly to change after school and head straight to work. He never missed a shift.

He was keeping his grades up in school, too. On his days off he would hang out with friends and spend the night after work. We were breathing a little easier.

Christmas vacation came and went. He spent another week in Washington. I noticed him spending longer periods in the bathroom, isolating himself into his video games, and snapping at me again. I mentioned it to my husband in passing. But we were so relieved he was working and staying in school, we didn't see these behaviors as warning signs. We didn't want to.

---

One night, just a couple of weeks ago, he was wandering around in the a.m. hours again. All the warning signs I had been ignoring presented themselves to the forefront of my mind. I jumped out of bed to confront him or shoo him back to bed or make sure he wasn't eating in his room. Something. I didn't think about it. The second I stood within a foot of my son, I smelled it. Vodka.

I pulled his face close to mine and sniffed. Yep. Vodka. I patted him on the cheek, well, it was somewhere between a pat and a slap. Not hard enough to be a slap, but not kind enough to be a pat. I pointed my finger in his face and said, "You won't be driving that car anymore, kid."

Because I always second guess myself, when I woke up my husband I told him the boy smelled like hand sanitizer. Even though I knew it was vodka. The next day our boy went to school as usual. My husband went to search for the vodka. He found it. He found something else, too.

The vodka was in a water bottle. The pot was in the sock drawer. I felt vindicated. Hah! I was right. It was booze. It wasn't hand sanitizer. He had been acting weird and I had known all along. The heady feeling of vindication didn't last long. It was almost immediately replaced with rage.

This fucking little brat had been lying to me. To my face. Lying and lying and lying.

We took his car. I confronted him and told him this was bad. His dad was at work and we hadn't had time to discuss consequences other than"He does so well in Washington, maybe we should send him there." We were so hurt. Felt so betrayed. I was (am) so angry. I told him all of this. I have never lied to this kid. That made his lying even worse on me.

We saw his social worker the next day. We saw her together. She kept asking him if he thought he had a problem with drugs and alcohol and he kept denying it. I was able to express my worry for him. Pot and psychotropic medication just don't mix. Other than feeling a bit closer to him after expressing myself and listening to him express himself, the session didn't offer any solutions. He did promise not to lie to me anymore.

I did take all of his electronics, video games, tablets, old broken phones, and anything with a screen and wifi capabilities. Anything that would keep him awake at night. It wasn't punishment; it was consequences. He seemed to understand that. Since he no longer had his car, he needed rides to school. His ride showed up at 7:30 on the dot. He was having trouble waking up because he was still staying awake into the a.m. hours.

After a few days, the patterns of our lives seemed to be asserting themselves. For my son, it was school, work, home, school, work, home. He didn't have social privileges. A couple of times he asked me for rides to work but mostly he got rides from friends. That was his social life for the foreseeable future. He was to come straight home every night after work. He did. Until he didn't.

One morning I noticed he was wadding up his dirty work shirt and apron to take to school. He had work right after school. I offered to wash his clothes for him so he could have a clean uniform. He agreed. He forgot he had (illegal) vaping equipment in his apron. I found them. I found another lie, too.

I left him a note telling him I was done being lied to. He needed to turn to some other adult in his life when he needed favors, rides, or help. I was done. Just done.

He didn't come home that night. Or he did, but only to pick up his computers and his bedding. His dad called him several times. The boy wasn't coming home. He wasn't telling us where he was. We waited 48 hours and went to the cops. I felt so guilty. It was all my fault. I left him that angry note. I drove him away. I didn't love him enough or in the right way. My inner voice was having a field day.

We live in a rural area just outside of a tiny city, population 2000. It is the county seat (the county population is only 3,736 according to the 2010 census), which means the Sheriff's department is here. I called to set up an appointment with one of the deputies. The deputies can generally be found drinking coffee down at The Outpost. It's best to call ahead.

I called and the mother of my son's best friend answered. I explained to her why I needed an appointment. I told her my son had run away. She gasped. She told me she didn't know he was running away. He was at her house. By the time my husband and I got downtown, the boy had been walked over to the station and was sitting in a deputy's pickup truck.

We were informed that at 17, our son is considered an adult in Texas. It was his choice to come home with us or not. He chose not.

My husband wanted our son to have his car back. It is a big ole thing. I think it seats 8. My kid could sleep in it if he couldn't find a place to go. So he got insurance on it and transferred the title to him. Automobile ownership is also something 17-year-olds can do in Texas. We needed that car out of my name. My kid was actively drinking and smoking pot with no signs of quitting. If he wrecked or got pulled over, it would be on him 100%.

The second week he was on his own, the boy texted me and informed me he would be spending the night because he had nowhere else to go. My husband allowed this. I wouldn't have. I don't want this place to be a crash pad and laundry mat; a place for my son to come take a shower and leave. He stayed 2 nights, took a shower and left again. He would not speak to or make eye contact with me. That's ok. I was still pissed off.

Another week went by during which time I had several doctor's appointments. We got stuck in Amarillo due to icy roads and hazardous driving conditions after the second appointment. Tension was running high for my husband and me. We were still stuffing and ignoring our stress for the most part.

I guess there wasn't any room to stuff my emotions because I blew up three days ago. I yelled at my husband. He left. I sent him 8,475,764,234 long, angry texts. He ignored 8,475,764,234 long, angry texts. He came home and slept in the living room. Or our kid's bed. I'm not sure. We still aren't exactly talking. He is giving me the space I need and I am trying to work through my stress. I'm desperately holding on for one more week. Seven days and I can see my therapist.

I have been keeping busy working my keyboard. I'm either writing chapters of the book I'm working on or transcribing or editing a pre-written eulogy. If I don't slow down, I won't have to feel how upset I am. I can still ignore my stress even if I don't have room to stuff it.

Until I got that text. Now, a tornado married a tsunami and they gave birth to an earthquake and they are all living in my stomach. Am I worried it will all begin again? Will the cycle repeat itself? Is it because I know he will lie to me again and I will have to deal with the aftermath of that trigger? Is it because he wants to come home?

Or is it because I really, deep down where I won't look, I don't want him too?

---

UPDATE: I wrote this story when our family was in the midst of the darkest parts of my son’s depression and our confused, afraid, and angry feelings were very raw and at the forefront of my mind.

Time has passed. My son continued to commit self-harming behaviors, drinking, drugging, cutting, and overdosing. He was placed in a long-term rehab facility that primarily dealt with substance abuse, but also with childhood trauma. Things seemed to get better afterward.

He has since turned 18 and moved out of state to Seattle, Washington.

He has a steady job but his moods are still up and down. “Mostly down,” he says.

He is considered an adult in all of the United States, now. We’ve had to let him go live his life. Things have calmed down considerably here since he left. I feel terribly ashamed at my sense of relief. And yet, I feel relieved.

I have left his name out of the story to protect his privacy.

This story originally appeared in Medium on February 2020 here

Lead image: Image by Satya Tiwari on Pixabay

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Avatar for JonicaBradley
Written by   447
1 year ago
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Comments

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$ 0.00
1 year ago

It's been rough. But I think all good parents feel the strain of parenting at one point or another. It is the cost of raising independent people. And I'm this day and age, kids have so much more to worry about. Especially here with all the school shootings and drugs and vitrolic internet threads. It was hard when I was a teenager under Reagan. We seriously believed a nuclear war was around the corner. And Trump was worse. It is hard to not get discouraged as an adult. A child doesn't have the depth of coping technique that comes with age and practice.

I think everything will be ok in the end.

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1 year ago

[deleted]

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Sometimes there is nothing more to say. All the prayers are appreciated.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Depression most of time lead to sucide. And in these say children are stepping so big like sucide. That make me so sad what happen with us if even child can't control depression , tension. Same here a boy committed sucide just because he failed in on e subject. That fine and glad for your son . That he is fine now ut okay leave him alone yeah someone we normal feel sad so that is not scary thing. Keep doing him what he want. God bless everyone mother like you !

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I worry that my children will go through this. I think it's something all parents worry about. I just want to hug you all ☹️ Mental health and addiction are tough things to deal with. It is nice to see that society is slowly starting to treat the mentally ill (addiction is a mental health issue IMO) with the respect and care they've long deserved. The vilification of people that are "different" is such a deeply-rooted and long-running societal plague.

I hope that your son is still able to continue receiving counselling and support in Seattle. Depending on his job, he may have additional support services available - especially if it's a larger company... I hate HR but they're (usually) the ones with info on that one. He just needs to ask if the company offers "EFAP" (sometimes called EAP) or "employee and family assistance programs". If they offer it, he needs to get the number to contact. The services are supposed to be confidential and HR can get fucked if they want any other details about why he's asking lol.

I wish you all the best through this.♥️

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Thank you. He is currently waiting for a very small company repairing cell phones and tablets and such. I don't think they have HR. He had been going to a counselor in Seattle. I hope he finds some relief there. I'm sure it helps that he's in a large city. He is close to his sister there, and will make friends. Depression is one of the hardest illnesses to deal with. People always want to know what's wrong. But Depression is chemical. So there isn't necessarily any life circumstance causing the diesel person to feel low. It's brain chemistry. It is also easily masked.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

It was sad real story of two merciful parents who did their best for their son.But their son not able to even tell a single truth about his life to his parents.Anyhow,ma'am you should satisfied you did every try for his improvement but a bad luck His mental level was so affected by late night awake and drunk he was not able to understand.Keep him alive in Washington with his sister.I think he feels comforts there.Applause for your consistency from your visit to mental hospital at 14 and your son appointment there.And how you resist for his admit there.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Shukran my friend.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I am too much surprised to hear this. Can you speak Urdu??

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Inshallah, hamduallah, Jummah, salaa allah ealayh wasalam, As-salamu alaykum, Wa ʿalaykumu s-salam - you know, the basics.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Only a few words. Mostly relating to the Qur'an, and polite language.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Yeah!Alhamdolilah I can speak Urdu smoothly.. Are you Muslim?

$ 0.00
1 year ago

No, not formally. But I have many friends who are. They would say we all have no choice but to submit so we all are Muslim. . .

$ 0.00
1 year ago

It is more pleasure for me.. Let me say.. Ap kesi ho? 😂😉

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I'm doing ok. I have a bad headache today. It's been windy here for a few days. And I have pretty severe allergies too everything around here. All the grasses and trees. All the hair, wool, fur, and feathers, my cat...

$ 0.00
1 year ago

[deleted]

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I tagged you in the comments, but I will also link it here. You can read about a little bit of the veterinary care I do. This was after taking the animals to the vet because I suspected either the need to put them to sleep or to amputate and the need for medications I would need a prescription for. https://read.cash/@JonicaBradley/push-push-push-704ab678

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I actually do all the veterinary care around here. My friends who have goats no longer call the vet in town, they call me. I have friends I call when I need help. We're take care of each other.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Good job.. Love to Animal is great job..

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I had mistyped something (due to headache?) I fixed it. Not sure what happened or where "for queen" came from. I fixed it.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Am not quite sure what to say... What you've had to go through was more than what most people go through in their lifetime. You hung on, and that is huge. I pray your boy truly finds clarity in his life. And for you and your husband, may you continue to have the strength to keep fighting.

$ 0.01
1 year ago

Thank you.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I hope your son continues healing and getting better as time goes by. I'm glad he's working. ❤️

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1 year ago

I hope so too.

$ 0.01
1 year ago