By Cheryl Kelly. Cheryl is a parent blogger and a member of Glade Run’s family advisory committee.
I’ll never forget the day I found my 12-year old son, Joe, curled up in the corner of our living room and the haunting words that changed all of our lives forever. “I want to kill myself and dad too.” Next was the plan on how he was going to do it. This began our years-long journey lost in the crushing, debilitating world of real live clinical depression and severe anxiety. With diagnosis after diagnosis, our reality was my sweet, fun-loving son had given up on life. After, four inpatient hospitalizations and every service imaginable, the reality was diagnosis didn’t matter. Depression attacks at your basic, unseen core. It is a relenting demon. At one point, Joe didn’t leave the house for three months making getting medical care impossible. I fought the system working incessantly to get help, but eventually had to relinquish my parental rights. It took another year for him to get proper treatment at Glade Run. Here, with his fabulous therapist, Tiffany, and a kind, caring treatment team, Joe got the help he needed and I got my son back.
With many Americans on anti-depressants, understanding recurrent clinical depression is difficult. Even I, a life-long sufferer of depression, had trouble grasping the depth of my son’s condition. Early on, I didn’t expect people even my friends to understand what it’s like when the demons of depression take over. That said, it made for a lonely life. And, I simply didn’t have the energy to educate, inform and, and, and ….. It was simply exhausting. I anticipated the well-meaning but misunderstood comments like “He’ll feel better soon,” or, “I understand, my son was depressed last year when his team lost the baseball tournament.” The worst were insinuations that my son was just a defiant, bratty kid and needed to be put in his place or, that it was caused by our divorce. It was not. My son has a chemical imbalance. He needs to be treated for the rest of his life.
By far, the hardest part was helping my family grasp the gravity of my son’s situation. My step-mother pegged him as the “bad kid” and me as the “bad mother.” I chose not to fight that battle, but it wreaked havoc on my dad’s marriage. It took my mom, a pragmatic woman, years to grasp the situation or if she did, it wasn’t a topic I could discuss with her on an emotional level. It wasn’t her fault, it’s just the way the tough Stevenson family handled life’s adversity. You might talk about a problem, but for the most part you take life in stride and do what you had to do. I needed more. I needed my mom. Maybe it was a self-imposed perception, but somehow I felt like I couldn’t connect in the way my soul needed. My dad is different. He thinks more emotionally and I suspect that he and my grandmother struggled with some level of anxiety and depression. I remember grandma always taking her “nerve” pill. Naturally, I turned to my dad for emotional support involving him in the process even attending some team meetings. It was tough and painful, but we all needed this.
Eventually, I became better at educating those close to me. My mom became the ambassador, sharing with family members. Slowly it got better. We fought through the pain and lack of knowledge to begin to understand the demon of depression.
Being a parent of a special needs child is exhausting emotionally and physically. We all need as much support as possible, but it’s up to us to reach out for that help. Glade Run has a fantastic resource in its Family Support Network. See what they offer here.