Let me be clear - I love my family. They are good people. They are some of my favorite people in the world. My idea of a great time is a chance to visit my family and just hang out.
But the thing about my family is that we have more than our fair share of mental health challenges. I've shared a bit about my recent struggles with anxiety disorder. And I've told you that it seems likely that it has a strong genetic component. I can trace family stories back for a number of generations and tell you about mental health disorders in the family line.
I've heard stories of Grandma Great, who was known to suddenly snap and get angry enough to hurl knives across the kitchen. My grandfather - her son - is prone to depression. My grandmother - his wife - suffers from OCD. Oh, it's undiagnosed, but it's obvious. She is a hoarder. The images you see on the television shows are true... and worse.
So my poor mother got a double-dose of trouble from Grandma and Grandpa. The genetic tendency combined with some horrible things that happened to her as a child led to a lifetime of depression and anxiety. My mother has been hospitalized for treatment many times over the years, and still struggles. Almost all of my siblings have, at one time or another or currently, been medicated for depression and/or anxiety.
My brother Kevin was the worst. He was so young when he startled struggling to deal with life. I remember the kicking, screaming fits when it was time to do something simple like going to church. These weren't normal tantrums that you see in a child who doesn't want to do something. It was levels and levels above. Every day was so hard. He was sad and angry and rebellious and depressed and scared and more - and all at once.
I don't know for sure how old he was when this all started. I do know that it was before he started kindergarten. The year he started kindergarten, they were building a new high school and jr. high school in our town. There wasn't enough room in the current school to accommodate all the current 6-9th graders, so we were on a split schedule. The jr. high students went to school from early morning until lunch. The middle school students went to school after lunch and stayed late. I was in middle school, so my mornings were free. In an effort to help Kevin deal with kindergarten better, I became the teacher's aide for his morning kindergarten class and went to school with him every day. I don't really remember how much (or how little?) this helped during that year. But I know that it didn't help in the long run. School especially became a trigger for him. Every day my parents had to quite literally drag him - kicking, screaming, and fighting - to take him to school.
At home, we never knew what to expect from Kevin. He could be fun to play with. But there were also were violent outbursts. You didn't know what might trigger it, but suddenly he was so angry and aggressive and frightening. He was uncontrollable.
I believe he was in first grade the first time he was hospitalized. He was an inpatient at Primary Children’s Hospital as they tried to get his depression, anxiety and anger under control. After all these years, I don’t remember how long he was there. I do remember that my mother was hospitalized at the same time. So our weekends were spent driving the 3 hours from Vernal to Provo to visit my mother. We children got to see her for 5-10 minutes. And then I watched the other children out on the lawn while my dad met with mom and her doctors for a couple of hours. Then we drove the hour to Salt Lake City to visit Kevin in his hospital. We were not allowed to visit him, so again we waited outside for what felt like a very long time while dad met with Kevin and the doctors. Then it was home again for the week, where we functioned as a partial family. We were luckier than many in our situation might have been. We had a strong and loving father who held us together. We had grandparents, aunts, and uncles to help. We got through that episode and other times when mom and/or Kevin was hospitalized.
As Kevin got older and stronger, it just got harder and harder to deal with him. He continued to resist efforts to get him to engage in school or church. Eventually it was easier to let him stop going to church. To let him spend his days at school as a librarian assistant instead of attending class. Then to transfer his to the special needs school. Then to let him stop going to school altogether.
I don’t know what might have happened if Kevin was growing up in today’s climate. If he was growing up in a time where kids respond to their problems by shooting up a school or a mall, might he have decided to go that route? I do know that every time I hear about a Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Adam Lanza, or James Holmes, I wonder if my brother might have become like them. I feel so much sympathy for the victims and their families, but also for the families of the perpetrators, because I know that they might have tried everything in their power for years and years, and yet were not able to help.
Kevin’s story does get better. Shortly after high school he married sweet girl named Heather and they had three children together. These days, his anger and depression seem to be under control and he is a family man who holds down a job. He is still not a friendly guy. In truth, he’s still a little intimidating. Partly because he is a large, kind of rough looking guy. Partly because I do remember how out of control he was once upon a time. And I wonder if he might become that way again.
I don’t know all that happened during those years. A lot of it I tried to ignore as it was happening so I didn’t have to deal with it. A lot of it I don’t remember anymore because it’s better for my peace of mind if I don’t. I remember the constant stress and worry. I remember my parents trying to do everything they could to get him help, when no one seemed willing or able to provide that help. I remember that instead of help, at one point they were instead reported to CPS and investigated. I remember thinking it would never end and never get better. And I remember making the decision that I was never going to have children of my own because I didn’t want to risk having a child like Kevin.
And yet, years later I got married. And I began thinking about children. By that time, I was more distanced from the whole unhappy situation. Both geographically – I had moved to Logan, then Provo, California, and Colorado – and time-wise. It had been several years since Kevin was at his worst. He had recently married and seemed pretty stable. I didn’t think much about his challenges anymore. My mother was still depressed and struggling, but it was kind of just the way things were. That was my mom and that’s just the way she was. I stopped thinking that I could never have children.
I had four beautiful, wonderful children. I cannot and will not ever regret that. Though I know some people would agree with my younger self and say that I should not have risked passing on these mental health troubles, the world would have missed out on some wonderful spirits. We would all have been poorer for their absence.
So I cannot regret having my children, but now I am struggling as I watch my beautiful, sweet boy Preston try to deal with the world. He’s so happy and cheerful and fun to be with. Except when he isn’t. When he isn’t, he is so sad or so angry. He throws things and shouts and tells us that he hates us. He hits his brothers and sister and topples chairs and tables. He tells us that he is miserable. That every day is the worst day of his life. That he isn’t happy and he will never be happy. That he is worthless. That he can’t do anything right. That he wishes he could run away and never see us again. That he knows that we hate him. That our family and the world would be better if he was never born. That he thinks we want to kill him. That he wishes he was dead and wishes he could kill himself.
My wonderful sweet boy thinks he would be better off dead or never born. I am sobbing ugly cries just typing these words. It hurts so much to think about how he hurts. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help. I just want to hold him and never let him go and never have to think about this again. And I can’t. I can’t make it better with a hug and a kiss. I don’t know if I can make it better at all. What am I supposed to do? Really, truly –
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?
We took him to the pediatrician. Things have improved somewhat since Kevin was a child. At least now more people and doctors do acknowledge that it’s possible for a young child to be depressed. There are some treatment options. Our pediatrician herself has children who are dealing with mood disorders, so she is very understanding and wants to help. She gave us an immediate referral to a child psychiatrist’s office so they could evaluate him and begin to help him. And I called them right away. I want to try everything I can to help him… but I was told I couldn’t get him in to be seen until March 27. And that was the EARLY option. The children’s hospital could get us in after 6-8 weeks. Another hospital offered 8-10 weeks.
How can I call for help and tell them that my 6-year-old child is having suicidal thoughts, and they think that we should be fine waiting for at least 3 more WEEKS before someone will even talk to him? How can this be the help that we’re looking for? What are we supposed to do for 3 more weeks while we wait for them to fit us in? I know that they have other patients and that every one of those patients wants help as well. But this is MY CHILD that I’m worried about, and I cannot be so understanding about it. I just want him to see someone for help. And I want it now. And once again, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
For now, the only option I've been given is to watch him. Keep an eye on him so he won't be a danger to himself or others. Take him to the ER if he gets out of control. Unfortunately, I know from experience that taking him to the ER is a ticket to a 72-hour hold. I've been through this before, and I don't want to put my baby in a hospital. So instead we wait. We hope that things stay on this side of OK for just a little longer. And I hope and pray with all my might that when we finally get to that appointment, someone will be able to help us and tell us what we are supposed to do now.