Full disclosure: This post was written with the complete permission of my son. He has read it and approved its publishing. That said, we’ve chosen to publish it anonymously. This post is an update to our 5-part series, following Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
It’s been a little over a year since we were drowning, but eventually, the swim got easier, and we made it to shore. I am absolutely thrilled with where we are now. I say we because this has been a whole-family process. Yes, my son has been the main focus, but we’ve been putting in the work and have been behind him every step of the way also. I don’t think that’s just because of his age or the fact that we are his parents. I think that any person, of any age, would need help to overcome that level of grief and hopelessness, and fear. We know that strong support systems play a significant impact in recovery, so providing that system for him was imperative. As I’ve had a year to reflect, I’ve learned so much.
Trust the process.
Some days, progress felt like one step forward, two steps back. I learned to celebrate the victories and the good days and to trust the process. We pushed forward with the plan even when we had our doubts. We continued speaking openly about suicide as a family. We continued the workbooks with him. We ensured that he didn’t miss a dose. We had hard conversations and focused on appropriate interventions. It was grueling work that got easier over time with consistent practice.
Accept that mother doesn’t always know best.
We had to trust that he was capable of making major decisions. When he came to us and expressed that he wanted to change schools, we listened. We decided that despite his young age, only he knew exactly how he felt. We tend to think “We’re his parents, and we know best,” but that mentality is limiting. We learned that there are some situations where we can’t know what’s best. We eventually learned that although he loved his school, excelled academically, and had friends, he wanted a chance to “start over.” And who could blame him? This child of mine, who at one point could barely articulate what he wanted for dinner, expressed, “I felt like I was smashing a puzzle piece where it didn’t belong.” After two weeks in his new school, smiling ear to ear, he said, “All the pieces fit without a fight.” He even went so far as to change his iPad home screen to a picture of the school and his friends. Scrawled in his mark-up handwriting, a caption reads “Where I belong.” My husband and I cried like babies when we saw that.
Put in the work.
When we could tell he was feeling off, we’d ask him, “What’s wrong?” He’d try to get by with responding, “Nothing” or “I’m not sure. I’m just in a bad mood.” Now, sometimes, we just feel “meh” for no reason. But, with him, it was important to do the work and figure it out. He had always struggled to identify his feelings, but we couldn’t accept that anymore. It wasn’t enough to have good feelings and bad feelings. He was tasked with expanding that emotional vocabulary. Just like we would help him with schoolwork if he didn’t understand, we had to help him with this new vocabulary. The Feelings Wheel remains in place on our fridge to this day. He clearly identifies his feelings without prompting now, and feels comfortable using words like “overwhelmed,” “anxious,” and “elated.” There were many, many days when these conversations became long and exhausting. Thank God we powered through those days.
We believed in the process. We believed in his counselor and his psychiatrist. We believed that as his parents, we could walk this road with him. We believed in our family and friends. We believed in better. We believed in our child. We knew our boy was lost in there somewhere and that we were equipped to help him get unstuck. Even on our darkest days, we kept the faith.
Our boy meets with his psychiatrist every eight weeks to ensure that his medications are still having their therapeutic effect. Yesterday, our son actually expressed that he would like to stop taking his anxiety medication. We have an appointment with his psychiatrist next week, and he is prepared to discuss titrating down with her. He sees his therapist monthly. He is absolutely thriving now, and it’s genuine. This is a child we’d been missing for years, and we are so glad to have him back! The work is much less intensive now, and much more organic. We don’t need the workbooks, we don’t need the lengthy conversations. A simple check-in periodically is perfect since he has learned to be very open and become comfortable with seeking help when needed. My husband and I are relaxed and able to trust him with his safety, confident in the safeguards we have in place. Listen, I’ll be perfectly honest though. This is not a journey I would choose for anyone. It sucks. Yes, I’m happy and proud, but this was a path of heartache like no other. Still, I believe that we, for whatever reason, were made ready to take it on. And I think we did it.