For months there was radio silence—a feeling that I was losing him as I watched my 13-year-old disappear into a fog of depression.
Then one day the switch flipped. After dinner, I noticed he was still in his seat when normally he would have retreated to his bedroom.
“Do you need something?” I asked. He shook his head. “No. I just wanted to sit here a little longer.”
“Can I sit with you?” I asked. He nodded.
“How are you?”
He seemed better. I hoped it was the truth.
There was a period of time with the three older children (between period of 3-10 years old) that I was fooled into believing I had parenting down. We sailed effortlessly through a small, flat world. I knew their little souls like my own breath and heartbeat. We had a rhythm—predictable, comfortable.
I believed that my children would be open books with stories I would always have a hand in writing. I believed they would always spill their darling thoughts at bedtime. One day when I’m a grown up I want to be like you, they whispered hopefully. It was our truth.
As they entered the tween years, I was pummeled with a whopping dose of who are these people and what the [email protected]#$ am I doing? They began to artfully untangle themselves from our coupling. Out of my league, I became an actor in their play—fumbling in the mire for answers to questions only they held the solution to. Still, I pretended I knew best when advising them or issuing commands they were quick to question. Because I’m older and I know more and because I said so and that’s how it goes. Whether or not I believed it, it became our truth.
Then they started lying for sport about stupid things like brushing their teeth, cleaning their rooms and feeding the dog. Truth was easier to dodge because they no longer fit snuggly under my thumb. They lied about turning in homework, about skipping art class, and about revisiting a tantalizing website when they claimed they were searching for the sporting goods chain of the same name.
When my oldest entered the later teen years—the dangerous stuff he did in earlier days came out in unsolicited hindsight confessions—smoking weed at a sleepover, hitchhiking on a country road when staying at friend’s cabin. He taught me that I’ll never really know the lengths of their deviousness unless I have them under 24 hour surveillance. And, even then, I’ll never truly know what they are thinking.
The serpentine truth that is bound and gagged somewhere in the fathomless cavern of their humanness is the one that is most troublesome. It’s the one that is covered with the thin mantle called ‘There’s nothing wrong.’ My son had gone through a spell over the winter. He became withdrawn, abstaining from conversation; losing weight; struggling with sleep; with articulation. He looked ill. His grades dropped and his apathy spread. At home, he stayed in his room, lying on his bed staring at the ceiling, obsessing about some vague issue he had with the universe that he could not change because it was humanly impossible to change it.
Let me help you became my plea. I’m okay was the reply. Mere words that were not enough to satisfy the gut twisting perception that this child was in trouble. I’m okay. You want it to be the truth so badly.
I yanked the covers off of him each morning. Twenty questions became twenty thousand. Neither one of us would budge. I sought the help of a counselor who invoiced us each week to let him sit there for an hour and not answer questions.
I ached for the ugly truth because I wanted to fix it, reshape it. I’m older and I know more and because I said so and that’s how it goes no longer overrides what has become their truth.
“I can’t leave you alone because I love you.”
“I will be OK. You have to trust me. I am depressed but I don’t want to die. This isn’t about my sexuality. Or religion. I’m not taking drugs. I haven’t committed any crimes. No one is bullying me. I can handle this. I know you love me. I’m sorry, but you’ll never know what I’m thinking. You just have to trust that I will be OK.’
But that’s what I’m supposed to say. Trust me, it will all be OK.
That night at the dinner table, he confessed that he had abruptly stopped taking the migraine medicine (also used to temper anxiety) he had been on for over a year. It had worked so well for the migraines. He had only subtly complained about not feeling like himself, not having energy. He didn’t know how to articulate that he was feeling dead inside. He was desperate to feel something real again.
But, of course, despite my warnings early on, he didn’t understand that going cold turkey causes withdrawal symptoms. In my late 20’s, my doctor advised me to abruptly discontinue the anti-anxiety medication I had been on for three years. This was years before SSRI discontinuation syndrome was considered a legitimate issue. As the brain is severed from the medicine’s suspended state of animation, each cell becomes acutely aware of the shift, ravaged in an excruciatingly painful battle to find a baseline. The gut feels like it’s filled with poison; food is averted. There are feelings of electrical zaps throughout the extremities; hallucinations; endless chills; uncontrollable twitching; a disconnection from one’s self and loved ones. It all made sense now—how he had arrived at such a dark place.
He wanted to reclaim his body on his own. He wanted to be strong enough to handle this decision without us so that when he came out on the other side, he could prove to us that he was getting older and able to make weightier choices about his health and well being. But, those all-knowing teenagers don’t realize that there is still a path and a process to follow. My heart sank. I could have been with him, helping him so he would not have suffered like I did. I would not have been pretending. I would have known what to do.
We talked for a long time—about all things—eventually landing on the word universe. A word I often use in place of God as a governing power. I told him that I find the word comforting, enveloping.
“Really?” He looked surprised. “Universe is a word that keeps me up at night. It is so vast and lonely. It bothers me that there is so much of it that I will never figure out or touch. It overwhelms me. It makes me feel like I am at the edge of a cliff and there is no where to go. Or I’ll just disappear into it all.”
His sentiments were a mirror reflecting my feelings about motherhood. There is still so much to learn. So much I will never figure out or touch. My constellation has four souls with a rhythm, breath and heartbeat like my own. Each one holding its own mystery. Each one holding its own verity. If I am lucky, once in a while they will open up, glowing a little brighter—illuminating the answers I have long searched for. A universe no longer vast and lonely. A realization that we share the same truths.