The Graduate

23 May

**Trigger Warning** If reading about depression and/or suicide is difficult for you, I kindly ask that you do not read any further.

I’ve started and stopped writing this so many times. What I am going to say is hard to write, hard to read and was definitely hard as hell to live through. However, we made it and it’s a story that needs to be told. So I’m going to tell it – with my sons’ permission.

School started to become challenging for my son in about 4th grade. He had a hard time staying organized, constantly forgot or lost assignments and was a magnet for the “troubled” kids. Though he has always had a big heart, he was also always socially awkward. Not only did he have a hard time making friends, he was often the target of bullying behavior. He wanted to have friends so badly and it often caused him to be in situations that required yet another parent-teacher conference and/or being grounded for the umpteenth time.

When he graduated from 8th grade we moved to Schaumburg (suburb outside of Chicago) relieved to have a fresh start. New teachers, new kids, and a new environment. Without the worries of the goings on in Chicago, he could focus on being an athlete, a scholar and prepare for college. For a while, it looked like we were on the right track.

My son had joined the football team his freshman year and though he was not an all-star player, he loved his team and the comradery. I remember game days, I’d walk over to the school stadium with my dog and watch his games from the other side of the fence. I’d look at him laughing and joking with his friends thinking “YES! He’s finally found HIS people!” Those were the happiest days in our new city. Unfortunately, those days didn’t last very long.

His sophomore year in high school his biological father randomly called and said he was coming to see him. Their relationship was more of brother and brother vs brother and father but my son loved him more than anything. His love and affection were constantly a goal that my son was striving to accomplish. It’s as if he hadn’t realized that the love of a parent should be guaranteed and unconditional with no strings attached. Still, he loved him and wanted him in his life and the empty promises or sporadic visits didn’t deter him.

I was skeptical of a weekday visit so late in the evening from bio dad as we hadn’t seen him in some time. When he announced that he would be moving out of state, the next day, with no warning I was pissed and devastated.  It took my son approximately three days before he could process the weight of what transpired. It was then, when he climbed into my bed, laid his head on my lap and sobbed for what seemed like forever that I realized we were in for a rough ride. “Why won’t he love me? How could he leave me like that? What did I ever do to him?” My heart broke.

After that, things quickly went downhill. He quit the football team, his grades quickly declined, his behavior in school was out of control and at home he was a shell of his former self. He didn’t talk, barely ate and mostly sat in his room with the lights off. He was completely shutting down and despite my best efforts nothing I was doing seemed to help. At the insistence of Bonus Dad (the man who has helped raise him since he was 8) I found a therapist to help him process his feelings. That decision saved our family and saved his life.

During one of our weekly therapy appointments, his therapist asked us to step into the room with her and my son. She sat us down and said she was sorry but she could not release him to our care. She’d called the hospital to let them know we were on our way for a psychological evaluation. Our son had completely checked out. He wanted to die and he had a plan – he had planned to go home and attempt suicide after therapy. I have never seen anyone look so empty and devoid of presence. This was the scariest thing I’d ever experienced and the first of several hospitalizations over the course of 3 years. Once on my birthday. Once days before Bonus dads’ birthday. The first, I will never forget, days before Christmas.

To say that the journey to being well was long is a gross understatement. It was riddled with resentment, frustration, fear, confusion, dread and defeat. There were so many times with we wanted to give up. I remember for weeks his junior year, I’d sit in the driveway after work and cry in my car. I cried not because work was so hard, but because I was afraid that I would come home and find my son dead. Every night brought relief and every day brought a new fear. I honestly don’t know how the three of us pushed through and persevered. Other than sheer will and determination – and relying on God.

One of my best girlfriends just shared photos of her daughter’s high school graduation, which I missed because it was the same day my sons. I’ve watched her daughter grow from a little precocious 5-year-old into a beautiful, smart, intelligent, thoughtful young woman. Every time I heard of one of her many updates and accomplishments I couldn’t help but look at my own life, the child I too was raising and wonder what I did wrong. However, now, I realize that the answer is nothing.

For three years, since my son was diagnosed with Severe Depression and Anxiety, we experienced so many lows. Looking back, I realized that I missed a lot of signs that he needed help – help that I could not offer. But as parents, we think we can fix our children. We think we can handle it on our own. If our children are broken then we broke them. So why shouldn’t we be able to fix them? But the truth of the matter is, he was never broken. He is different. His journey is different. The support he’s needed to get to where he is has been different.

Yesterday my son graduated from high school and it was the proudest moment of my life. Not because he graduated from high school but because of all he endured in order to get there. My son has done something that many adults are not able to do. He faced his demons and he beat them. As he walked out of the auditorium with a smile on his face and his hands pointing to the air I caught his eyes for a moment and said: “You did it.” He’s beat the odds and I could not be more proud of him.

J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” As I send my son off to college, I want to say, wander son. Wander far. Go places you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done. Do them with confidence and conviction. Do them knowing that no matter how far you wander, I will be here with the light shining to guide you back. You will never be lost. I love you.

Sincerely,

The Mistress of All Things Fabulous