Secrets Even Friends Don’t Tell

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I’ve known Donna ever since our boys were in pre-school some 13 years ago. Joey and Michael were best friends through mid-elementary school. Eventually, they went their own ways going to different schools and so did Donna and I. But, we live in the same community and have run across each other many times over the years. Even though we were never social friends, we had a special connection. After all, we spent the boys’ formative years together sharing experiences – sharing the fears, concerns and always the positives of raising boys. The years go by and we continue sharing the developments of our boys as we see each other.

We meet periodically and for me it’s superficial. I share in the periphery, carefully steering conversation away from the boys and focusing on the vague. “How are you?” “Where are you going on vacation?” I talk about anything, anything at all, so I don’t have to share that my son, Joe, is suffering from depression, severe anxiety, and isolation. Donna and her husband are highly educated engineers. Her kids are bright and are accomplished in school. My son is equally as bright, but has fallen behind in his “expected” accomplishments. Maybe it’s an irrational fear that she won’t understand, and more horrifically for me: shame. I feel shame that my son is different. Shame in that I feel I’m biologically responsible for this and shame that my feelings are ruled by my perceived societal expectations. I hate myself for feeling this way. I don’t know all the reasons I hide the truth from most people… I do know that I am indeed the Master at Avoidance.

Recently, I ran into Donna again. The conversation is now about graduation. I can’t hide the truth anymore because Joe is now a year behind in school, so I begin to tell her about Joe’s rough years and our long battle with anxiety and depression. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so many emotions playing out all at once on a person’s face before. It was unexpected and intense. Her facial emotions quickly turned into words that came rolling out in wave after wave of pent up pain, frustration, sadness, and untold secrets.

Donna proceeded to tell me about the struggles of her daughter, a freshman college student, who was five hours away experiencing debilitating depression and anxiety. For her, the feeling of helplessness with the inability to help her child may have been even more acute than mine because she couldn’t be physically there to help her manage her illness. It was crippling for Donna knowing that all she could do was provide advice and support. No longer are we parents that can make the boo-boos go away.

I mostly just listened to Donna. It was evident that like me, she has kept it all inside, suffering alone. We discovered we’re much the same; our fears, establishing a much needed rapport, and the realization that we were not alone.

The lesson for me was a powerful one: realizing that everyone is human and that you never know what’s happening in their lives. I now realize that I did not have to suffer alone, and neither do you. Here are some ways to get help:

  1. Reach out to Glade Run Family Partnership Support for one-on-one guidance from their staff; they happen to be parents themselves. They can connect you with another parent in a similar situation or to resources within your community.
  2. Get therapy for yourself. A trained therapist can help guide you through overwhelming emotions.
  3. If you are spiritual, reach out to the higher power or to your church community.
  4. Reach out to your family, friends, and others in the world. You’ll be surprised at how compassionate and understanding people can be.
  5. Finally, love yourself by taking caring of you first. It’s like the rule they demonstrate in case of an airplane emergency. Always put your mask on first so you can help your child.

You are not alone.


Cheryl Kelly is the mother of two and a member of the Glade Run Family Advisory committee. She came to Glade Run 2 years ago seeking help for her 17 year old son, who had been diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety since the age of 12. The family spent 3 1/2 years navigating the system, advocating for help, and went through every service imaginable to assist with her son’s medical care. During this time, she was also attempting to manage her own depression while keeping her family intact. Once she found Glade Run, it was literally a lifesaver for not only her son, but for her entire family. Cheryl would like to use her passion for writing to share her experiences as a form of hope and encouragement to other families as they move along their journey.

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