Browsing Tag

Teens

It’s Never Just One

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the subject of the story.

John and I were sitting on the couch across from Heather Lee, medium extraordinaire. It was one year after Luke had passed away, and during the course of our *conversation*, Luke began to describe one of his friends to Heather. John and I managed to figure out he was talking about Sami, someone we had been close to since Luke died. And then Luke said, “You need to take care of her.” Well, this young miss had not struck us as the kind of gal needing help, but we tucked the request away, and went on with the daily work of coping with grief.

It was only a few weeks later that John was driving home from work, when he came across a situation on the side of the road. He was rounding the corner of Quinapoxet, and, in a dangerous curve of the road ( and a hill to boot), a car was parked. John’s headlights swashed across the figure of a young woman standing out front of her automobile. In the seconds it took John to pass the scene on the road, he had processed it, and quickly made the decision to turn around to see if the young lady needed help. He parked safely and made his way over. John couldn’t believe it when he saw another young friend of Luke’s, Allie. He called out to her and she quickly responded.

“Mr. Inwood, It’s Sami! She tried to kill herself.”

Now, I know what you are thinking because it was the same thing I felt at the time. Wait, WHAT?! But it was true. Sami had been suffering with intense anxiety, and when the grief of losing Luke was added to that, it became too much. But her guardian angel was looking over her and when her attempt at suicide was unsuccessful, she knew she was in trouble and reached out to her bestie and her mom. Seeing Sami that night was incredibly emotional for John. And how the heck had HE been the one to land on the scene first? Coincidence? Not in my world. John stayed with them until Sami was in the care of medical professionals. Sami spent a few months in the hospital working on the issues that had landed her in such a dark space. Luke had given her to us to hold and protect, so we went up a few times to visit her. It was during our first visit, when Sami was describing the night John found her, that she shared her final thoughts that led her down the rabbit hole.

“I was hurting and I just wanted to be with Luke.”

Sigh. Suicide clusters are a thing, friends. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Magazine defines a suicide cluster as the situation where more suicides than expected occur in relation to time, place (or both), and includes three or more deaths.

In recent years, suicide has become one of the top five causes of death worldwide for children between the ages of 15 and 19 according to the World Health Organization.   A 1987 study of youth suicide by the Centers for Disease Control found that 1 to 5 percent of all youth suicides occur in clusters.   Since the suicide of a friend or age peer is often a traumatic experience for adolescents (many of whom are left bewildered by the lack of warning signs), the death of one teen might influence other teens feeling suicidal.     Media influences, including the suicide of a well-known celebrity or personal idol can have a similar influence on depressed young people (also known as the Werther effect),

– Psychology Today

Thankfully, Sami’s attempt was unsuccessful and she was able to get the help she needed. But another young man at Wachusett did not. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but about a month after Luke had passed away, a freshman at Wachusett died by suicide. Someone’s baby. So incredibly sad. And these are the kiddos we know about. It is hard to determine how many others may have attempted or thought of attempting suicide in the year following Luke’s death. Just one more ugly consequence of mental health.

So here’s what I need you to know: If your community has been rocked to the core following the loss of a young person to suicide, you know it feels like an earthquake with tremors that just won’t quit. I didn’t realize how much the kids that loved Luke struggled with trying to process his death until we talked about it two or three years after the fact. Young lovelies don’t always recognize the depth or severity of what they are feeling after they lose someone or that they may need help. Remember to tell your kids what I always say – Thinking about suicide is NOT a normal thought process. If even one sneaky, the planet- would- be- better- off -without- me thought pattern is initiated, you are already playing catch-up. That child NEEDS professional help to get to the other side. Because there IS another side and it takes all of us watching out for one another, taking care of one another, as my boy asked, to get through. #NotOneMore Xxx

I need you to know

Sometimes I Say the Wrong Thing

Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of former students. Sigh, It makes a teacher happy to see her kiddos grow up and do well. We were creating a sidewalk chalk mural of Welcome Back greetings at school and their siblings still attend B.E.S, so these young ladies came along to help. Once a Kindness Club member, always a Kindness Club member! As I was getting ready to finish up and head back home, I took the opportunity to check in on one of the girls

“How are you feeling about going back in person?” I asked.

“I was okay, but I am started to get worried,” she replied. And then she launched into what sounded like a million concerns she had circling around her brain. Now this young lady has always struggled with anxiety. Her thought process can jump to a worse case scenario in t-minus ten seconds and despite being AWESOME, she believes every negative word her brain tells her. I spent the time we were together in a classroom building her confidence and her strategies to cope with her anxiety. Naturally, I jumped right into these old ways.

*You’re stronger than you think.

*You are an excellent mathematician.

*I know your best friend is in the other class, but there isn’t any mingling anyway so you will make new relationships with the kiddos in your cohort.

*Remember how worried you were about starting middle school? This isn’t any different. One day in and it will feel like business as usual.

And on and on. She listened, but I could tell from her body language and the look on her face, she wasn’t quite convinced. And in hindsight, I realized I didn’t blame her. I had said all the wrong things.

Now don’t get me wrong… what I said to her wasn’t horrible. I was trying to boost her up and remind her of all the things about her that are fantastic and able to help her in this situation. But that wasn’t what she needed from me in that moment. I was trying to cheerlead her and downplay her emotions. UGH!! Classic quickdraw response, but I know better.

What she needed from me in that moment was to let her speak her truth. She needed to get all those fears and worries out of her mind and off her chest without someone, me in this instance, trying to fix those emotions. It is incredibly difficult to bear witness to someone who is in pain, but just listening is such an important help to that individual. How many times have you heard me say it doesn’t matter whether a person’s perspective is your truth? It’s true to them and we have to honor that. When someone shares a vulnerable part of themselves all they want in return is for someone to say… I hear you.

The next thing she needed from me was to make her feel like she wasn’t alone in those feelings and concerns. I should have said, “You know, B, I think we are all a little afraid right now about going back to school…” and maybe talked about my own hesitancy. When we are in the height of anxiety we feel like everyone around us has their act together and that we are the only one freaking out and that is never the case. Raise your hand if your emotions are on high alert going into this school season? Yep, too many of us to count! I missed an opportunity to help her understand that just because she isn’t privy to reading the thoughts of her classmates, doesn’t mean they don’t share her same concerns.

Instead of trying to fix her thought process with my words, I wish I had asked her about other times she had felt this way and how she handled it. Young people need to recognize that life is full of challenges and as hard as it can feel, we have it in us to push through and get to the other side. Nothing teaches this like experience. Maybe it was a soccer game, or a dance recital, or those damn MCAS tests, that she remembers being afraid of, but doing it anyway, and living to tell the tale. This is another one of those reasons why, as parents, we shouldn’t be handling our kiddos challenges. They NEED them to build confidence in their ability to handle a tough situation.

And finally, I wish I had reminded her about the joy. When Life is handing you a shitstorm, so to speak, one of the best strategies you can adopt is to identify the activities that make your heart happy and spend time doing that. This young lady loves to read. And tap dance, lol. She used to tap her whole way down the hallway. I should have told her when she starts to hyperventilate thinking about lockers and math assignments, to give herself an hour of *her* time. Of joy time. When I can’t stop the tears or the terrors or the tenseness of my life… I throw my schedule to the wind and get outside. Walking in the woods, laying with my face to the sun.. or the stars… slows my breathing and lifts the weight off my chest.

So my beautiful girl…. I messed up. Even Mrs. Inwood says the wrong thing every once in a while. But I do know my last words to you were the most important and I hope you remember them and hold them close.

You’ve got this.

I believe in you.

I love you.

Words we should say to each other every day. Together we get through. Xxx

I need you to know

No Light at the End of the Tunnel

We are almost at the end, friends, of what I call the Rise and Fall of Luke Inwood. If you’ve been following along then you know our main character is in a desperate place. It is March 2015 and there is not much right going on in his world. He is failing high school. He is being tormented with d-halls up the wazoo. Luke is not gaming at his usual level after being let go in January. He dislikes his job. He really dislikes his nagging parents – especially his mother because, well, she’s the one nagging all the time. His friends are all eagerly making plans for what happens after graduation and he is not. And thanks to the Addy and his anxiety, he is not sleeping and barely eating.

So, what is getting him up every day? What is motivating him to move forward? Turns out – nothing. He is hanging on by the proverbial thread because he has lost hope. He has nothing left to get excited about. All the dreaming and planning – just big idea bullsh*t that may never happen – is coming to a close because the crew is about to split up – each one headed in a different direction. But not him.

I am not quite sure how, but both John and I believe that Luke believed he was going to cross that stage with his friends in June for graduation. I don’t know if it was denial or plain misunderstanding of the dire straights he was in, but in March that news hit Luke like a brick. “I’m not graduating and everyone is going to know it.” I can hear that piece of information swirling around in his brain. Luke hated to look *less than* in anyone’s eyes and the whole world was about to find out. The King. Not graduating. He must have been scared sh*tless.

After Luke passed away and the police returned the laptops they had confiscated for review, John went through everything on them as best he could. One of the remarkable things he found was a single Google search at the end of March. It was called – How to Die like a Man. It outlined all the manly ways one might take one’s life: Gun shot, hanging, crashing your car. How to die like a man. My poor, sweet boy.

So here’s what I need you to know: Life is hard. Freaking hard. And we all know one of the things that gets us through is love. Giving our love to a few special people in our lives and receiving love and feeling like we matter to someone. But what also gets us through is hope.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”

– Merriam – Webster

Luke had lost hope. There wasn’t one thing he was feeling good about and I can only imagine his anxiety and his Adderall were one big negative committee in his mind. And we missed it. We all missed it. Now, our Luke was one helluva good actor, but still. We knew everything was going wrong in his life at this moment, but our own life experiences had shown us that it would get better for Luke. He just had to wait a few years for things to change. Your twenties are a whole new world. He just had to hold on. The problem was….we knew that. He didn’t.

So what’s the moral of the story, you ask? Build the hope… for yourself and for your children. Maybe find the things that make your heart happy and spend time doing that – walking in nature, reading in a chair, woodworking, birdwatching, photography, whatever it is. Tell your children how important it is to pursue your passions and model that for them.

And friends, I am going to get a bit preachy here, but we need to change the narrative for our children around what’s important to hope for. What is the hope or the positive outcome you are showing preference to for your children? Popularity? College? What is society and social media pushing on our children as preferred outcomes? Might I suggest that it shouldn’t be their GPA? Or the number of likes on an Insta pic? Or the number of times you get invited to a party or whether you carry a Gucci handbag? Or whether you are a star athlete in your little hometown? Perhaps we should be setting our kiddos up to hope to be a good human being? What if that is how we defined success? I feel like Luke lost hope because all of the things he thought were important were not coming through for him -some he had put up on the pedestal to achieve; some, like graduating, we did. At the end of the day, he was a good kid with a big heart and that should have been enough. Sigh. Whether we know it or not, parents plant the seeds of what a child deems important; of the future they should hope for. Be careful what you show them. #NotOneMore

The Rise and Fall

ADHD… Or Is It?

Nothing makes me more sad than rereading emails between myself and the high school during the time Luke was there. Yes, I still have them. Those emails tell the sorry tale of a momma just trying to help her kid find his way and make it through the teen years as painlessly as possible without pissing off every educator that crossed his path. Sigh. Spoiler alert. The ending will make you cry.

I have written previously about Luke’s freshman year at Wachusett. It was not a stellar beginning. Soon after, November to be exact, Luke ended up with a diagnosis of ADHD. John and I never really understood the diagnosis at the time. We were parents, not practitioners, and the ins and outs of ADHD were a bit beyond us. We thought ADHD was those “hyper” kids who couldn’t stay still in a classroom setting and that was definitely not Luke. I know we filled out some sort of questionnaire at the doctor’s office, and Luke also rated himself, and those results were used to determine the diagnosis. Luke was in the care of a therapist or psychologist, or something. I’m not sure what the official title was, but it was someone parents assume know what they are talking about. The problem was, when the doc made this determination, he didn’t know my child. He had only just met him. He used these checked boxes or the lack of checked boxes to decide what Luke was. And he may have been correct. Again, I am no expert. What I do know is we were surprised. We were expecting an “obstinate child” diagnosis. lol Is that a thing?

So, here is my boy with ADHD. I’m thinking okay, maybe this will solve our problems. Maybe we will try meds and the school will make some changes and we will *fix* Luke. But it didn’t. The anxiety and health issues continued, the arguing with teachers continued, the sleeping in class continued, the lack of motivation around school work continued, the not sleeping at night continued. He didn’t get better not because we all weren’t trying, but because there was more going on than we realized.

Depression is one sneaky bugger. If you’re not careful, you might think you are just feeling down…. for a really long time… because you suck… so why wouldn’t you feel down… and you can’t sleep… thinking about how hopeless you are… and how much better everyone else is… and then you stop caring…. but then everyone thinks you are unmotivated…. and you don’t care…. but you do. And you blame your self for all of this, or life, but no seventeen year old, heck, no ADULT would call it what it is: DEPRESSION.

If you do a Google search using the terms Depression and ADHD you will find lots of compelling evidence around how the two are tied together or misdiagnosed for one another.

Truth be told, when Luke was going through high school, we weren’t talking about mental health the way we are now, just four years later. I used to get caught up asking myself why. Why didn’t any of us think that maybe something was “mentally” up with Luke? Surely his teachers knew his behavior was off – why didn’t they sound the alarm? But depression is one sneaky bugger. And maybe, just like John and I, they didn’t know what to look for. Because sometimes a smart aleck kid who sasses you and sleeps all period and doesn’t do his work in your forty minute block is just a smart aleck kid. But sometimes, it isn’t.

So here’s what I need you to know: Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better” and folks, we know better. Mental health issues are not a fad. Anxiety and depression are on the uptick. And bad news, friends! A child can have multiple diagnoses. As reported, Depression and ADHD could both be contributing to your child’s struggles. As a parent, if you are seeing behavior that concerns you, ask questions and use a professional to help you get to the bottom of it. If you are an educator and you are seeing behavior that concerns you, please, PLEASE talk to the parents, to your peers, to the psychologist in your building to determine how to best help that child. It’s going to take all of us, talking about it, working together, to make a difference, but we can do it. I’ve got my eye on you, Depression, and I am saying “WE WILL NOT BE TRICKED AGAIN!” #NotOneMore

The Rise and Fall