From an AB Adult to All of You

A lot of kids have talked to me about their wish to get the perspective of a teacher, parent, administrator, etc. on what’s been going on in our community. Luckily, one of those people also messaged me and asked me to share this anonymously with all of you. Incredible words that everyone should live by.

“So many words of sorrow from young people mourning their peers, remembering times of anxiety, depression and hopelessness in their own lives, and asking for change – whether it be from their school, their parents or themselves.

Here is an adult voice with, perhaps, a different view. When my son was in high school (not AB) he was a happy, active, academically motivated and fun loving. Around the age of 16 things began to change. He began to stay in his room, and not go out unless it was to school or sports practice. His beautiful laugh disappeared; his participation in our family diminished and I was scared. I must have asked him a million times what was wrong, but he would never confide. Everything was fine. As things continued to slide downhill, I remember physically planting myself in my bedroom, which was right near his, so that I could be nearby in case he decided to come out and talk to me. Although eventually he confessed to anxiety, and I took him to a psychiatrist, after a few visits he would not go back. When he turned 18, things did not get better- but I did lose whatever right I had to get him help. For the next seven years he lived a nightmare, and I answered every phone call thinking that it would be the one where I would hear something awful. So far he is still alive, and I have been proud to watch him claw his way toward a good life- though far from what we would have once thought he would be, even though still burdened by demons beyond my imagination.

I think that young people have to stop blaming your school or yourselves for not doing enough because I think when someone is mentally ill they are not in a place that is reachable. It’s hard for anyone to imagine how deep the blackness can be; and sometimes no amount of love can break through. All that being said, I have to say that the kind of anxiety and depression that is rampant among young teens across our country is sometimes a different problem- not mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia but a symptom of societal dysfunction that we probably could do something about.

Your stories of “mean kids” and those who are unkind are not new to your generation, and while this kind of teen mind game is not helpful for a person who is depressed, it is also not the cause. Feeling as though school is stressful, feeling awful over poor grades, ashamed of not measuring up- these too are not new to you.

Two things seem new- and these things would require parents to make some changes. First parents have to turn down the pressure cooker and let kids just be kids. Stop signing them up for every activity in the world to keep them busy after school, or because everyone else is, or because “she really, really begged me to let her,” or because if you don’t she might not get a college scholarship, and you sure could use that! Make them put down the phone or computer once in a while- it’s not true that because we have technology it’s a good idea for your kids to use it 24/7. Stop encouraging them to do stuff because “it looks good on the college resume.” In fact, stop talking about college altogether. Trust me, they’ll go, and they’ll be fine, or they won’t go, and they’ll be fine, or maybe, somehow, they won’t be fine at all, and that sucks but it’s not something you can prevent. Trust me, I know.

Second, somehow the goal of keeping children safe in the world turned into keeping children in a bubble in the world. The bad thing about this is that you are kept soft, like a crab without its shell, and so when something hurts, you have no armor. We can’t make a world where there is no cruelty- unfortunately, some people are just idiots. But when you “survive” the humiliation of having kids make fun of your name, or your clothes, or your failures at an early age, eventually you notice that the world did not end. It’s kind of a cliche, but our parents and teachers really let us experience the world with very little intervention. If our teacher yelled at us, we never told anyone, and eventually learned that some teachers were nuts, and we kept out of their way. If we forgot our homework at home, no one brought it, and we certainly did not copy our friends. We took the detention, and tried to remember next time. When we didn’t have money to go somewhere, we didn’t go. When a kid pushed us around, we either pushed back, or kept out of their way. Our parents kept their eye on us, but let us go. And we got hurt, we misbehaved, some of us broke the law, some of us had, indeed, low self esteem. And the world didn’t end. Without realizing it, we were developing the kind of shell we would need when we left home. And thank goodness, because things got harder!

Young people should rebel more. And rebellion is hard because there are consequences. If you tell your parents you’re not going to do something you don’t want to do, it’s true they will be mad and might ground you, but I promise they won’t “kill you.” If you decide to take lower level courses because you would rather have more time to hang with friends, or read books or sit around and stare at the wall contemplating the meaning of life, I promise you will still get into college- though maybe not Harvard. Take the SAT’s just once and live with your grade; apply to four or five colleges, and then be done.  You should just ask your girlfriend to the prom with your words, in a quiet place, without  a prop- just you.  You should skip school in the spring on the first nice day, and take the loss of points on your GPA (maybe the school should just freaking lighten up on this skipping school punishment but that is a story for another day.) You should go out at night, and do silly things like make snowmen at midnight in a neighbor’s yard, or go pool hopping in the summer, or take the train to Boston just because. Forget trying to please teachers who tell you that their subject is the meaning of life- be true to your childhood, and play- they already had theirs, now it’s time for yours. I promise that getting into a “good” school offers little advantage just because of name, and certainly not any advantage worth your childhood- I promise that your own drive and motivation is what will make your education special.  When you are old and gray you are not going to wish you had gone to a better college.

I started this post talking about my son’s mental illness, and segued into a speech about how giving kids back their independence and childhood will make you healthier- mentally and physically. I was unlucky, because my son had a serious mental illness that I didn’t cause, and he didn’t cause and society didn’t cause. It just came, out of no where, like a sly darkness. But most of you are not in that place. There are these two kinds of mental illnesses- the one kind is a tragedy and no matter what part you get in that play, it is hard to make it come out well; but the one I think most of you are experiencing is more culturally spread, and I believe you can do things to lighten your load. It has to be done early, as we can see by the recent suicide of such a young child, and it has to be done often. Your childhood is not about preparing for college, it’s about preparing for life.”

Quick Visit to Hell and Back

(Huge Trigger Warning)

On November 29th, 2016, I drank a little too much after weeks of darkness and swallowed all of my mood stabilizers – That’s what they give you when you’re so crazy you sometimes forget your own name. I don’t remember that night very well. All the events are out of order and jumbled. I don’t know if that’s from the pills or the wine or if I dissociated again. I’m swallowing all my pills with a glass of wine. I’m on the phone with my roommate. I called her? She called me? I’m falling asleep in the car; My roommate yells at me to stay awake. Everything is spinning and my eyes are tired. Some girl has my phone. She’s texting my best friend? She’s texting my mom? My roommate has my phone. Where is my purse? My roommate offers me a Xanax; her friend yells at her because “more pills? Are you sure that’s a good idea?” The nurse tells me to drink up. My mouth is filled with a chalky, thick, black liquid. I wake up in a chair. Nausea overwhelms me. I throw up all the darkness. They tell me I have a phone call… It’s already 7 AM? They offer me breakfast, and I give my bacon to the woman next to me. She’s crying. I’m watching Law & Order on the small TV behind the glass. I remember thinking, is it a good idea to be playing a show about murder and rape in a psych ward? Is this even a psych ward? Where am I? I wonder if the nurses know that this show always makes me feel sick. Finally the bus with the metal bars pulls up and I’m brought out in a wheelchair. I remember it felt like I was in a prison van, on my way to a life of orange jumpsuits. I remember thinking I was being punished.

I hoped, foolishly, that that would be the end of the story, the end of my misery. I was wrong. Instead of choking on my own vomit peacefully in my bed, I was stripped of all my belongings and thrown into a bedroom beside a nineteen year old girl who had kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach. She had a gash in her forehead from where she’d banged her own head into a brick wall. I use the term “bedroom” lightly because it was more like a cell. The beds were made of wood bolted to the floor and a plastic mattress about two and a half inches thick. There were no windows and the lights were dull. The bathrooms had to be unlocked by an attendant so I wouldn’t drown myself in the toilet, which was honestly starting to sound appealing. I wasn’t allowed to have a pencil, so I wrote in the journal provided by the guards in purple crayon. I had to be careful not to write that I wanted to die because the nurses checked. In fact, they checked every hour, slamming doors behind them as they traveled from room to room to make sure no one had strangled themselves with a piece of string. But that would be absurd, we weren’t allowed string.

Never in my life had I been more suicidal than the day after I attempted suicide. Hospitals are meant to be places where you feel safe, where you heal. This place was a black hole filled with the most unsettling demons allowed to walk the Earth. Patients wandered the hall in their hospital gowns, scratching away at their skin and trying to rip the monsters out of their throats. At night, the walls were filled with soul-shattering screams and the hauntings of hourly check-ins. I faded in and out of sleep under a magic spell they called Remeron. Mornings were filled with dry eggs eaten with sporks and apple juice in a plastic bowl. The days were long. I’d never lived in a place where the days were so long. I spent three whole days in that freezing Hell they called a hospital. (They wouldn’t allow sweatshirts because zippers are evil and hoods suffocate). Aside from my homicidal roommate, I was the youngest in the unit, and apparently the only one who didn’t enjoy watching informercials for twelve straight hours. So I sat. For seventy-two hours I sat and stared at the ceiling, thinking never again would I attempt suicide and fail.

That was the root of the problem, the focus on the fact I’d failed rather than the fact I’d tried to kill myself. I thought that going inpatient would mean group therapies, counseling, medication… Instead I was locked away from society and left to rot. In three days I saw a doctor only once, for about fifteen minutes, just for him to give me a diagnosis I’d already been given years ago. It wasn’t until the second day that I was given access to the medication I’d already been prescribed, and there was never even so much as a mention of therapy. That place made me feel worse than I had when I’d decided to take the pills. So I lied. I told them it was an accident. I told them I’d just had a bit too much to drink, and that I promise I’ll watch my drinking! I lied through my teeth and was released back into the real world on the third day.

I would love to tell you where I was and expose them for the truly wretched place they are, but I can’t. I was never even so much as given the name of the hospital. I’m sure if I dug through the stack of paperwork I was left with I could find it, but I left all of that with my charcoal-covered hospital gown in a dumpster a few miles from my apartment. Kids die every day. More kids end up in hospitals from wanting to die every day. I know not every hospital is like this, but enough are, and that’s a huge part of the problem. I was lucky to have an incredible support system after leaving that prison, but not everyone is. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there’s no accurate number for how many people are institutionalized for suicide attempts, but in 2015, 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm. That’s almost 500,000 people that could have been helped, yet there are still on average 121 suicides per day, and for every suicide it’s assumed that there are twenty-five attempts. That makes over a million suicide attempts per year. Over a million people that need help, and if any of them experience hospital visits like mine then they sure as Hell aren’t getting it. It’s hard for us as individual people to go up against numbers like that, but that’s exactly why we all need to. It can be something like volunteering, donating money for prevention research, or even something as simple as just being there for people. Just be kind, be open, and be here. It’s not that hard.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

Inspired by a piece written by a beautiful friend about her time in an institution and dedicated to those we’ve lost in the last year. Rest in peace.