It was four years ago this past May – Mother’s Day to be exact – that my son’s downward spiral began and it was just a tiny little window into the darkness that we would come to know intimately.
He drew a picture of me on a train track and a train about to run over me. He explained he was on the train. Word bubbles came off the edge of the page and said, “Do it! Do it! Do it!” As you might imagine, it was an unbelievably hard day and looking back it marked the beginning of a two year road that brought my son the darkness known as depression and the scary world of pediatric suicide risk.
It was a dark time for our family. We were 1 year post kidney transplant for Gage and now we know, he was in the middle of a period of PTSD brought on by several medical intervention episodes as well as a surgery for which he was awake when he should have been under general anesthesia. We were right over a year until our daughter’s kidney transplant.
It wasn’t long after that May that he started talking about wanting to die. I guess it really started out with him saying he didn’t want to be here, then graduated to wanting to die, then to wanting us to kill him, then him wanting to kill himself.
He was nine years old.
He started play therapy not long after the May outburst and the play therapist confirmed what we already knew. He was clinically depressed. It took us 6-8 weeks to find a psychiatrist, even though she wasn’t the right one for Gage. He was in crisis and she was too conservative. We stayed with her (too long) for about a year.
There isn’t anything to prepare a parent to hear from their child that they want to disappear. Not only did he not want to be here, but he wanted us to end his suffering. I remember thinking that I didn’t hear it right. “Let it pass you by, don’t listen.” I told myself. Then he said it again and again. And with more force and determination, like he was convincing us. Pretty soon it had escalated to dramatic displays of suicidal actions. We couldn’t ignore it because it wasn’t going away with our declarations of love.
Gage’s outbursts about wanting to die never ended it seemed. The end of each day brought parental recaps of the day and a game plan for the next. The next time. My skills as a parent were in question by myself as I frequently thought I was failing him. He wasn’t getting better.
What did depression look like for him?
He quit all things he enjoyed. He shut down more times than he was engaged. He quit seeing most of the few friends he had, he quit going outside, he quit eating regularly. His face showed only pain and never emotions of joy and happiness. None.
There wasn’t anything we tried that was working and after a year things didn’t seem so desperate he still wanted to die. There was an 8 week period after his sister’s kidney transplant that he spiraled, unable to hang on to the love and light we had for him and so we committed him to keep him safe. We left our son in the care of strangers.
We had no other choice. We’d exhausted every other choice. It turned out to be the best thing for him because he got appropriate care and the darkness started lifting, little by little. And he was better a little bit each week. Then he smiled again. He even danced. One day he laughed at dinner and I burst into tears. It wasn’t immediate, this elevation of the darkness, but over the years, it’s lifted.
We know Gage is always at risk and as he ages we hope we have acquired more skills as his parents and a family to deal with the fallout that another episode or string of episodes could bring. We hope that if he ever needs us to help him through the darkness, we can help him hang on long enough to see him smile and laugh and dance again.
My post for Suicide World Prevention Day, 2011
If you need help for yourself or a loved one, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and they can offer support. Their phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Stay with us, please.
This post approved by Gage.
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