Nothing really prepares you to parent a child suffering from depression. When the doctors told me at two in the morning. It wasn’t quite the kick in the gut I expected. Perhaps it was the exhaustion from the long day or the denial of what led us to the crowded emergency room filled with sick children, but it was akin to a numbness setting in after sitting too long in one position. My mind just went blank where I couldn’t ask questions or form any cohesive thoughts; all I kept thinking was how cold the room was and how exhausted we all were.
After quite a bit of back and forth where words such as “involuntary 72-hour hold”, “reevaluation,” “psychiatric ward,” were thrown around, I find myself moving backward as a parent. Only a short three years after we took down the last baby proofing gadgets, I’m once again scouring products online. Only this time, I’m not babyproofing for a child who doesn’t know any better, who doesn’t have the dexterity of unscrewing window locks, or one who could be easily distracted. Now, I’m looking for things that a 10-year-old with suicidal ideation won’t be able to figure out.
I don’t know if it’s fortunate or not, that there aren’t many gadgets geared towards keeping an older child safe from himself. Rather, I’m looking at items marketed for people with dementia. I think there’s a heartbreaking paradox here, that I’m looking at items meant for seniors for my young son, but I’m too drained to make some sort of connection.
What is sad though is the thousands of books I found talking about teen depression. And a handful about depression among younger children like mine. People say it’s an epidemic. I’m not sure how true that is. Maybe there’s just more awareness. I hate the idea that we somehow “brought” this on my son because of social media (he doesn’t have one) or pressure, or whatever it is that the media feeds consumers to make the idea of childhood depression more palatable. It’s as if to say “If you do XYZ, your child will not become clinically depressed.” Because, of course, we need something to blame, to make some sense out of it, and perhaps hope that if we can do something about it, then it won’t happen to us.
In our case, its genetics. Depression runs in my family, including bipolar depression. I knew there was no way we can run away from this. No diet, no essential oil, no parenting can fight what his genetic make-up has determined. In that sense, we’re lucky because I know the path he’s taking. I’ve seen it in my family members. But I’ve also seen the toll it took on my family, so while there is some comfort in knowing, there’s also terror in knowing.
When he started showing signs at age eight, we took him to a therapist, we spoke to the school, we created a 504 plan, we saw his neurologist. We tried to be as proactive as possible because I could see the writing on the wall, as much as a part of me wanted to deny it. And when he seemed to recover from his obsessive thoughts, we still kept plugging along, switching the 504 plan to an IEP, we added a school aide, and we kept the neurologist appointments coming. Somewhere along the way, we added medication to address the ADHD, and added a behavioral interventionist to help him cope with symptoms of his autism.
…There’s one thing I don’t have to fake–the encompassing love I have for this child, my need to protect and nurture him, and have him see what I see–a beautiful human being with a kind, and thoughtful soul.
But yesterday, we came to another crossroads when he admitted that he attempted to take his life at age 8, and he was having the same thoughts again. The mood swings that he is too young to explain are back. He’s too young to understand the permanence of death, but he knows enough that death can somehow give him some relief from what he calls “sadness.” The impulsive nature of his severe ADHD adds a challenge to fighting his need to find a solution to his “feelings of failure.” “I’m not of this world,” he said to his therapist. And no matter how many times I repeat those words in my head, the constriction around my heart never eases. I wonder if this was what they mean by a
There’s something very surreal going through my house, where everything now looks different. Innocuous items are now weapons, items he can use if he was determined enough. Those taekwondo belts, the scissors that I have in every room, the bread knife, the opened window on the second floor are a source of terror for me for what he might see them for. It’s a race against my own fears and
So here’s another chapter to this journey–one that includes an in-home crisis team, a psychiatrist, another therapist, and the developmental pediatrician. And now, siblings that are a little older, a little more aware and are owed an explanation while respecting their sibling’s feelings at how much we should share. Honestly, I’m making this up as I go along. As I’m talking to my child tonight, reassuring him that it’s ok to go back to school after he asked: “Do my classmates know I’m suicidal?” I’m trying to find the right words. My mind is looking for kind words, wise ones to help him as I hold him in my arms. I search for the words to make him understand that while there’s no shame in his feelings, that he doesn’t have to share with people what he doesn’t want to share, and that he is deeply loved no matter what.
Luckily, even though I feel like I’m just faking my way through this journey, trying to keep it together, there’s one thing I don’t have to fake–the encompassing love I have for this child, my need to protect and nurture him, and have him see what I see–a beautiful human being with a kind, thoughtful soul.