“It’s going swimmingly,” she said while catching the lifejacket and wrangling two teens.
CONTENT NOTE: Discussion of depression ahead. If you recognise yourself or someone you love in anything in this post, please reach out to mental health services in your area. Some non-emergency services listed at the end.
“Hey! How was school?”
“Shit. As always.”
Breathe. It might just be a flippant “shit” this time. Stay cheery, or at least noncommittal.
“Why? What happened?”
Cheery. Cheeeeer-y. More perk required.
“Nothing. It’s just the same as it always is. It doesn’t matter where we live. I’ve got no friends. It’s just the fucking same everywhere.”
Not flippant. Shiftuck*. Breathe. Don’t panic. Remember to breathe.
Every day we do this Paso Doble, a repeated pattern of feint and thrust. Some days there are friends, some days there are not. But the absent-present friends are just a placeholder, a marker on the mental health gauge. There really are friends, of course. Plenty of them. But when you’re a depressed teen, friends become “associates” and the urgency of life is overwhelming.
Remember that? Remember being in your late teens and feeling like NOTHING WAS EVER GOING TO HAPPEN IN YOUR LIFE BECAUSE IT HADN’T HAPPENED YET AND OH MY GOD WHY OH WHY OH WHY DID YOU HAVE TO BE THIS AGE AND STILL BE SUCH A FAILURE AT EVERYTHING AND NOBODY WILL EVER LOVE YOU AND WHY DID YOUR MOTHER JUST ROLL HER EYES AT YOU WHEN YOU INSISTED SHE ORGANISE AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE FOR YOU WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR? No? Just me? Okay then.
But it’s not just me, is it? At least the first part of that, not the arranged marriage part because that’s my own peculiar neurosis, is being played out in my kid, in your kid too maybe, in far too many kids.
In my day, kids weren’t depressed in the epidemic proportions they seem to be now.
Yeah, but they were though. We just weren’t so good at recognising it or giving it legitimacy in kids then. And we were pretty awful at taking it seriously, or getting an actual diagnosis or action plan in place.
Kids were also not encouraged to report feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope with the rigours of life. Seeing a mental health professional was the purview of middle-age, not teen-age, and medication was self-administered, over the counter, and/or illicit. I can’t remember a single person in my last year of high school admitting to seeing a psychologist, but the list of people who drank too much, went to every party, smoked weed, or engaged in some other high risk behaviour is very long.
Let’s just say mental healthcare in the hands of depressed teens isn’t a good strategy.
Conclusion (hint: it isn’t really).
So this day-in-the-life-of-parenting-a-depressed-teen, much like the one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, feels confined, bleak, and endless.
Or maybe it will.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue Support Service 1300 22 4636
Headspace 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
International Helplines can be found at this Tumblr post
*Oh, c’mon now. You can work it out. Say it quickly.
So, here I am very early on Godzilla’s 17th birthday, resting on the corner of Testosterone Lane and Horsepower Road. Having two teen boys in the house means a lot of muscle flexing, boundary pushing, and territory marking. They wake with teasing exchanges that rapidly morph into the rat-tat-tat of suddenly flared tempers. And before long, like two elephant seals, they’re bumping and jostling each other over the most trivial of things. Left to their own devices, I’m sure they’d find a way to argue over two flies climbing up the wall.
When I was in my teens, I knew I never wanted to be a teacher. My father was a teacher, many of my uncles were teachers, my cousins were teachers, there were teachers everywhere I looked. I knew with the certainty of teenagehood that the last profession on Earth I would ever enter would be teaching.
When I was 22, I finished a graduate diploma in teaching.
What do you do when your 15 year old son comes to you with a problem you can’t solve?
What do I do? I do mental backflips. As a mother, I’m always quietly (or sometimes not so quietly) delighted when my teenaged sons decide to confide their deepest thoughts, troubles, and the issues they’re currently wrestling with in me. It’s a rare treasure.
Parenting teenaged boys is very like parenting toddlers. Or being trapped in a hall of mirrors. Neither adult, nor child, but both at once, they leap between fiery extremes, singeing me and leaving them confused.
Mornings are crammed with distractions and moving at glacial pace, while evenings are a tussle into bed, bathing-optional, clothes, the fallen soldiers strewn on the battleground of their bedroom floor, and emotions flung hither and thither on a hormonal bungee chord. Blue-blinking screens now replace the minutiae obsession of their toddlerhood. The tiny plastic accoutrement of Action Man, the pebble found, the filthy feather clutched possessively in chubby fingers, have given way to the phone or the game controller clenched in a vice-grip.
This post from the extraordinary Ijeoma Oluo deals with her personal experience of nearly losing her beautiful, clever, loving, sensitive son.
This is a story we all need to read.