Depression and Teens
Last week my son disappeared for more than 24 hours.
I had had dinner with him on Wednesday. Finals were over and he was looking forward to a week-long fraternity lock-in that would culminate in his initiation. He is 18 and just finishing his first year of college. He seemed upbeat. Excited. We talked about the NBA playoffs, about summer job ideas, whether he would live in the frat house next year.
Twenty-four hours later, he was gone. No one knew where he was. He never showed up for his fraternity lock-in. Multiple calls, texts and other messages went unanswered.
I can’t even put into words how uncharacteristic of him this was. He was devoted to the fraternity. Every time we saw him, he was wearing a Greek shirt. He was passionate about his fraternity, and he was on the fast-track to leadership. And he never, never didn’t respond to our calls. It might take him an hour or two, but he always called us back.
We did what any normal parents would do – we freaked out. We spent several hours tracking down leads and personally interviewing the last people he’d been seen with. Then we went home and tracked his debit card: He had cleared out his bank account at an ATM across the state line. His cell phone carrier set up tracking on his phone: He was halfway across the neighboring state already.
We didn’t know where he was going, why he left or why he wasn’t answering our messages.
We called the police. We had to seriously consider that he might have been abducted.
It is the worst possible word.
The uncertainty. The waiting. The horrible, unthinkable thoughts that go through your head.
You couldn’t possibly eat. You’d throw up.
You wouldn’t dare sleep. What if he texts and I miss it?
Your head feels like it’s going to explode.
Your heart feels like it already has.
The tears won’t stop.
It’s been hours. It could go on for days. Weeks. Years.
God, please not years.
He is my heart. My life. My son.
And he is MISSING.
Several more hours and many, many unanswered messages later, he showed up without warning at our house. It had been more than 24 hours since he’d disappeared. I was so relieved that he was home and safe, but he clearly was not okay, and I was no less worried about him.
He was severely depressed, and he wouldn’t talk to us. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. He shrugged, “Everything.” My husband asked if any felonies had been committed. (None had.)
The next day, we took him to a treatment facility for an assessment. He was cooperative and talked to the doctor for a long time. He told the doctor things he hadn’t told us: How isolated and alone he felt when his roommate dropped out and moved home. How insomnia had caused him to start skipping class. That he’s flunked out, and was no longer qualified to be inducted into the fraternity. That he wanted to drop out of it, but he was afraid of what the brothers would think. Of what we would think.
I was shocked, because he’s never had what I would call “manic” episodes. But I guess you can have highs and lows without fanatically vacuuming the house at 3 a.m. It certainly explains how he could be so passionate about his fraternity one day and walk away from it all the next. He seemed to connect with the doctor’s description of making plans to conquer the world one day, and giving up everything the next because you believe yourself an utter failure.
He’s in full-time treatment now, seven days a week at the hospital, and sleeping at our house. He’s on an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer. He’s learning a lot about bipolar disorder. He seems relieved to finally have a name and a game plan for what’s been “wrong” with him his whole life.
I still have a lot of questions. Why didn’t he just ask for help? Why couldn’t he turn to us earlier? Why do life’s curve balls seem to cause him to implode? Why haven’t we been able to teach him the tools he needs to cope with life? And the big one: Why, given my own mental health history, didn’t I recognize something was seriously wrong?
All over the blogosphere you find moms writing about their kids’ diagnoses. OCD, autism, SPD…If your child’s been diagnosed with it, chances are, somebody’s blogging about it. I imagine eventually these kids will become teenagers and then I suppose there may be a lot of bloggers discussing their teenagers’ emotional and mental health. Or not. We shall see.
What you don’t often come across is a blogger who’s happy, healthy, well-adjusted college freshman has a mental break and is suddenly labeled with a diagnosis.
Maybe because she can’t write about it on her blog. Maybe her son doesn’t want everyone in the world to know. Maybe he has an expectation of privacy, and, at 18, he’s entitled to it.
And then maybe there’s a great blog dedicated to parenting teens that will let her tell her story anonymously.