The view from another vantage point

I was on a run one morning a little while ago and disturbed a family of geese, two adults and about half a dozen goslings. They darted out from their grassy spot on the canal bank and began crossing the road.

I passed and they settled again—right in the middle of the road actually, a few of the babies plunking themselves down on the dappled pavement. A car approached, slowly, and I kept running, figuring the geese would get out of the way eventually.

Except they didn’t. I turned to see two more goslings had settled onto the asphalt, the parents in no hurry to move them along. The woman in the stopped car shrugged at me.

I returned and tried shooing the geese off to the side. The mama closest to me hissed, so I squirted her with my bottle, and then aimed the water at her brood, who finally decided it was time to stand and continue crossing. Momma kept hissing as they all got to their feet and meandered off. The woman in the car rolled forward and thanked me as she passed.

Stupid goose mom, I thought. So focused on me, she can’t see her whole family’s about to be squashed.

Then I realized how appropriate that metaphor was for me, in light of the ass-kicking parenting has given us these past few weeks.

It’s been rough at times, you guys. As in daydreaming-about-apocalypse-scenarios-because-the-end-of-the-world-might-be-a-welcome-distraction kind of rough. It’s truly dark when a zombie narrative seems to have more potential for a happy ending than your everyday life, you know?

This is going to sound cryptic because I can’t go into details that belong to someone else, but I can say there are few things harder than trying to guide/cajole/mentor/love a young person through a dark time when it feels like every other influence in his life seems to be pulling him toward destruction. He’s been on this path, as it turns out, for a while. I’m thankful that he’s with us now and we’re all in the process of turning things around, although every indication we have is that it’s going to be slow.

I can tell you (with his permission) that the root of our problems right now is his anxiety, its little friend depression, and various and sundry coping mechanisms he’s developed to address both. These are things our kid has been living with for a while, and recently was able to put a name to.

Then came the long process of cluing us in. This is new territory for all of us, and I’m embarrassed to admit we’ve let him flounder on his own for far too long.

And now I feel like that damn goose.

It’s not like he didn’t try to talk about it. We’ve had more than one conversation that went something like this:

Him: Something’s not right.

Us: What?

H: I don’t know.

U: Are you hungry? Tired? Do you have a fever? A sore throat?

H: No, it’s not that.

U: Do you have a rash? Are you seeing spots? Does your stomach hurt?

H: I … uh … Could I maybe see someone?

U: A doctor? A counselor? A psychiatrist? Why? What happened? Are you upset? Did you have a fight? Are you being bullied? Did you see something scary? Did somebody hurt you?

H: No, I just … can’t I just see someone?

Finally we got him some help and us some help and things seem to be on the upswing overall, but it’s a process. I keep having to remind myself of that. There have been ups and downs along the way. Meanwhile, I’ve experienced a couple of shifts in perspective.

There are times I’ve thought I need to be way more present than I’ve been. I mean, who misses the signs of something so profound that’s been developing over years right under our nose? Where the hell have I been? I know people living with anxiety. Probably nine out of ten of the blogs I read are authored by people struggling with it, who talk about it regularly. What kind of freaking la-la parenting planet have I been on?

Other times, I’ve wondered if I needed to back way off and give him the space to become who he’s going to become. That’s easier said than done. This process of becoming can be excruciating under normal circumstances. Watching it happen is grueling.

And I know I’m witnessing mere snippets of the whole tale. For the stuff I’m not aware of, I’m making it up in my head. I can’t help it. I concoct stories as a matter of habit. And right now, I’m regularly sewing various scraps of imagination and reality into full narratives darker than a Guillermo del Toro Quaalude-fueled nightmare.

Here’s the tricky thing about anxiety for those of us newbies: it’s hard to keep from wanting to know the why of it instead of focusing on the what we can do to help. Some people can point to a distinct why, others can’t. It’s highly unsatisfying, but there you go.

Mike reminded me recently of a facet of my personality that can make things even more challenging when it comes to parenting an anxious adolescent. I’m an activator. I’m action-oriented. All systems go. I don’t want to talk through things, I want to put ideas into play. I get restless daydreaming about the way-off future instead of pursuing it. I have a plan for all of us, and by golly everyone better get on board or get out of the way.

I know it’s cliché: having a dream for my kid that he doesn’t necessarily buy into. He’s a kid after all. I’ve been working on accepting the fact that he’s going to change his mind about as often as his socks. I get it … mostly. This act of parenting, as it turns out, is a perpetual exercise in resetting expectations.

The very good news is, now we have an inkling into what we’re dealing with, as well as a united front, and a path forward. It’s not going to be a straight path, as it turns out. Sometimes we leave it to dive off into the weeds and have to hack our way back. Sometimes we fall into a pit we didn’t see and have to climb out. I have to keep reminding myself it’s all about moving forward, no matter the momentum. Eventually we’ll get to where we need to go.

God bless the moms who have walked through fire with their kids and are willing to lend a shoulder to cry on when I’ve needed it. And for those of you also currently struggling, know that there are a whole lot more of us than it seems like when you’re scrolling through Instagram posts during graduation season. A close friend reminded me recently that we’ve built a good foundation for our son, and that this turmoil will someday pass, and he’ll remember that foundation is still there when he’s ready to build on it. She knows from experience, and I’m going to hold onto that knowledge.

This isn’t normally a forum for weighty stuff like this. If you’re hanging in there for the punch line, I don’t have one. I haven’t felt terribly inspired in the funny department. Anything I may have wanted to write along those lines is either way too dark or feels like it’s backed up by this Hoover Dam-sized issue. Once I get that out of the way, maybe you’ll see more of my normal fare.

Or maybe not. Maybe this will become a chronicle of our journey out of the mire in which we’re currently sunk.

Maybe it’ll be a little of both.

In the meantime, hit me up if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation––either loving someone with mental illness or learning to live with it yourself. I’m trying to catch up. Share your favorite resources––blogs, books, organizations, practices, tips for coping, communicating, and keeping your wits about you.

And if you’re also struggling to figure this parenting thing out. Hang in there. You’re not alone. And even though there’s probably not going to be a zombie apocalypse to disrupt the everyday crap, we’ll eventually get through this anyway. If we happen to run into each other we can high-five or give each other a hug and remind ourselves although we may have made mistakes … at least we’re not these dummies:

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  1. He asked for help. THAT is the most powerful act–to recognize it, and act appropriately on it. Your parenting did that for him–so feel very proud for you are doing things right.

    For you and Mike, you did exactly what we did. Ask a million questions (aloud or not), and then seek the needed help. I’m certain that you don’t need advise. However, if you want any recommendations or hear what ultimately was the diagnosis, I’m happy to share over a latte or a beer.

    Oh, and guess what? You didn’t see it because since birth, you’ve been helping direct his emotions and focus when you saw them go off track. Picture a toddler about to put a rock in his mouth. You swoop over and teach him not to eat rocks. Sometimes, you do it when he just wanted a closer look at the rock. Well, that parenting skill continues forever. You see something and help him overcome what is a minor issue or bump in the road. It’s just natural. We just don’t always see the very subtle underlying problem when we’re so used to the “routine” of parenting our child. Don’t beat yourselves senseless over missing the clues. You’re doing everything right.

    1. Thank you, Brigette. It’s important to keep the victories along the way in front of us, right? I’d be delighted to meet anytime over coffee or drinks. I’ll reach out to you on FB.

  2. I can relate to this in so many ways, Beth. The fact that he asked for help is huge. Huge. What a guy. Of course you’re beating yourself up for not noticing sooner. Take heart. He felt comfortable asking for help. That’s the golden ticket.

    There has never been a better time for dealing with mental health issues, I don’t think. Right from the young British royals’ open discussions to your wonderful honest post today.

    Wish I lived closer and we could get together for that drink. Hang in there.

    1. Thank you Kelly. It would be lovely to have a nice visit with you. Maybe someday.

      I didn’t mention he also had a girlfriend at the time who was way more expressive and experienced in this issue and she helped him identify what was going on and also approached me, so she deserves a huge amount of credit.

      I agree that we’re in a better position to deal with mental health issues than ever, although there are gaps yet. Still, I’m grateful.