Telling the Story of My Son


It is difficult to tell a story true or slant.  I have edited this post since I first composed it, because some of the things I wrote were hurtful and not precisely true.  I have a point of view, of course, and was in many cases interpreting or guessing at events that I did not witness.  It also does no good to open up old wounds or to speak about things that took place in the past.  It is not helpful to blame other people for things turning out differently than I hoped they would, and it is also not responsible.  

I will try to tell the story of my son, who is 22.  When he was very little, he had a difficult temperament. He was easily upset by loud noises, including the vacuüm cleaner, and often unable to soothe himself to sleep.  We tried to be good parents, but we were young and far from our families and we made many mistakes.

I suffer from depression and my illness got very bad when my mother died–just months before I gave birth. I cried a lot during my pregnancy and afterwards.   About two years after my mother died, my father married a woman who made everyone, including my father, miserable.

My depression got much worse, but, with the help of friends, medication, and a good therapist, to control it enough to finish my dissertation and find a job.  Unfortunately, I was not able to hold my marriage together.  I made many serious mistakes that I deeply regret.

At any rate, we separated when my son was 6–and I moved to a separate state to take the job I had found–tenure track English professor. Very hard to come by and I had worked hard to get it. The agreement we had, after much battling with lawyers, was 50/50 custody but our son would live with his dad for two years and then come to live with me.

I was able to work but got more and more depressed, being so far away from my son. Some days I would collapse on the kitchen floor and weep. Other days I would just lie down on in the room I had made up for him and cry myself to sleep.

Finally I got a jot a lot closer to my son, in Pittsburgh, and the drive was only 4 hours, so I could visit him more often.  He came to live with me later.

My son is an incredibly intelligent young man but  he has a hard time with maths. He was diagnosed with some learning disabilities, but I think his biggest problem was a lack of  patience and discipline. He never learned to keep track of his assignments or to complete them. I helped him with this as best I could while he was in Pittsburgh, but the schools were sooo terrible–I tried four—and my son was clearly so depressed going to them in Pittsburgh –that I ended up sending him back to his old school, where he had friends and a few teachers who understood him and could help him.

So, he lived with his father and his stepmother from age 6 to age 10, and from age 11 to 17, when he graduated from high school. After years of dismal grades he  applied himself during his senior year and got As and Bs.

When my son was about 12 his father and stepmother adopted a Chinese baby.  They all traveled to China to pick her up. My son liked the journey but for some mysterious reason never got very attached to his sister. His father and stepmother never asked him if he wanted a sister, or included him in the decision. I think he resented this. I don’t know for sure, but it could also be that he feared his father and stepmother loved this child more than they loved him.

He began to withdraw more and more.  He had never been like other children, but he had always had a good set of healthy and happy friends.  As he got older he spent more and more time alone.  He stayed up late playing computer games and was exhausted during the day.  He did not learn how to discipline himself to complete or to take pride in his schoolwork.

He started college in Washington State, but stayed only 6 months and failed all his classes. He got involved in a Strurm-und-Drang relationship a girl he had known in high school, and somehow persuaded the college she was attending to admit him.  After a year, the school suspended him for bad grades.  He was clearly not ready for college.

Then he came home to Pittsburgh, where the tormenting girl continued to torment him, and he to torment her. Finally that relationship fell apart and he began a new one with a girl from a very troubled home (he is drawn to people from troubled home).

For a while, she spent her time living with friends in a kind of flophouse, where everyone smokes cigarettes and watches tv most of the time. The house is filthy and he doesn’t like it but he is not able to leave her and they don’t have the money to live anywhere else.

She attends hair-dressing school on a GI scholarship that he gets through her father.She can only go to school part-time because she doesn’t have a driver’s license or car and relies on her roommate to take her to and from school. Also she will not or cannot get up before 11 o’clock in the morning.

My son also never got his license, even though I taught him to drive and have encouraged him many times to take the test and get it.   His father also helped him to get his learning permit.  I have even offered to give him a car—I have two–if only he got his license and a job to earn enough to pay for his own gas and insurance.

He claimed that he was too afraid of driving–and he really is very anxious about many things that other people are not anxious about. He has always been a fearful kid, because he could envision the negative impacts of things.  At the age when other little kids were flinging themselves down slides, he would climb up to the top, consider the prospect, and climb carefully back down.

But he will also admit that he doesn’t want the responsibility of driving.

I was thrilled when he moved in with me, because I had missed him for so many years during his life and finally had him under my own roof. Now, I thought, I can help him to live a better life! To be more disciplined, to have more faith in himself, to think more positively….

I had connections at the zoo and got him a job there. He had to be there at 7 am , and had been used to staying up all night with his girlfriend, who goes to bed around 3 o 4 in the morning. He used to be an early riser–for most of his life he was up at 5, until he got to school years and started to play video games all night.

So, he had very bad habits when he started the zoo job. I had to wake him up and drive him to work so that he wouldn’t be late. Then, after a few month, he quit the job without even telling the manager. He just decided he didn’t want to get up early any more. He was lonely and depressed and very down on himself.

He was sitting around my house, doing nothing, playing games, watching tv. Not helping with the chores, unless I asked him many times. Not interested in cooking with me, or hanging out with me at dinner. He was very reclusive, as he had been through high school. He was, he told me, very depressed and lonely.  I could not convince him to participate in family dinners or events.  Since he didn’t go out very much, he didn’t make many friends.

He said he was afraid to be around people, afraid of what they were thinking about him, afraid that he would lose his temper and get in trouble, or simply be miserable because people–all people–were mean, deceitful, shallow, stupid, and rude.

I was still so happy just to have him around and thought I’d go easy on him for a while to build up trust. He would occasionally show up to help with the dishes or to do something I’d asked him to do, but then he’d retreat into his room. He was not looking for jobs, he was not doing any art projects, he was not trying to go back to school.  I thought he would grow out of it.

I came to point in my life in which I needed to make a change–call it a mid-life crisis. I wanted to see the world and do some good in it, so I started looking into volunteer opportunities abroad. I thought that if he and I could do this together, we’d reconnect and he could discover the better side of himself. He wanted to go to Nepal, so that is where we went. He said he wanted to live with monks and teach them English. The program had this option, so we made the plans and headed to the airport.

He was 20 at this time. We had made one leg of the journey, to New York, and he had a real anxiety attack. He cried and pleaded and carried on, utterly panicked.  All of a sudden he didn’t want to go to Nepal . But I had already made the arrangements, someone else was living in my house, and he would have no where to go except to the very filthy house where his girlfriend lived. He had no choice, he had to go with me. We landed in Doha, Qatar, and stayed there for a day or so.  He was furious and frightened at the same time, and refused to go outdoors.  But I finally got him up in the evening and we walked around the Souq and he seemed to be having a good time.

Nepal was a shock for both of us (see one of my posts about that here) but he prevailed and was a good sport about it for a long time. we lived with a Nepali family who hosted about five other volunteers, all his age. He was jovial and extremely funny with them–they loved his sense of humor and had them in stitches with his jokes about Americans abroad–he is a wonderful storyteller with an advanced vocabulary and a good mind. But he went into withdrawal in Nepal, as well. He found someone who sold him a huge amount of very low-grade pot there (it grows everywhere, in every yard, along all the streets–it is a weed) and started smoking every night.

I don’t mind pot-smoking in moderation. It can be a good, beneficial drug, but I am against smoking it every day. And I told him that I thought it was bad for him to be smoking it so much. But he went ahead and did it anyway. The worst thing, however, was that he had his computer with him, and there was internet at the house where we stayed, so he spent hours and hours in his room (still quite messy), skypeing with this girlfriend, who is very sweet but not at all ambitious or educated.

He was depressed and inward in Nepal, as well. I had been given a job of helping to get five kids, ages 5 -10, ready for school in the morning. These children were the most delightful, loving, dear people I met in Nepal–and they were especially dear because they had recently been rescued from servitude in the country. Their parents had sold them. THey used to fall all over me in a tumble, kiss my hands, and hug me–they were so full of love and goodwill. My son never wanted to go near them…even though he could have…he said it made him sad to see them, and that he didn’t want to get attached, because it was too hard for him to say goodbye.

Brendan never worked with the monks, because, he said, he didn’t think he could be a teacher. He didn’t think he could teach anyone English.. I encouraged him to simply get in there and start talking to them, and to learn from them as they learned from him…but there was no talking him into it. I think he simply wasn’t ready for the culture shock that it would have involved–living in poverty, sleeping and eating very little, and spending most of his time with people who spoke a different language.

We came home after two months. Brendan really needed to come home. He was getting more and more depressed and withdrawn. I was afraid to have him alone in PIttsburgh, so I came home with him, even though I had planned to stay longer. He was glad I made the journey back with him.

He lived with me for a while, but I lost patience with him when he continued to spend his days watching tv or hanging out with his girlfriend. And yes, smoking a lot of pot, but not drinking or doing other drugs. I layed down the law and he got mad and moved to his girlfriend’s house.

He was mad, furious with me, because he had been seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed Klonapin to him and gave him a big bottle of the stuff. The next day he had it I found him passed out on the couch, the bottle clutched in his hand. I took it away and and said I would monitor his doses from now on. He was furious and accused me of treating him as a child. I also called the psychiatrist and told her that I he also smoked pot and that I was worried about her prescribing such an addictive drug to him. At their next session, she told him I had called her and accused her of selling it to his friends. I should have told him that I had spoken to her before this, and prepared him for the visit, but I didn’t. That was another mistake. He felt so betrayed by me and by her that he walked out and insisted he would never return.

At the time he believed that only Klonapin would help him with his anxiety attacks. Anxiety is also the reason he gives for not being able to look for a job. He stopped speaking to me for two or three weeks–living with his girflfriend all the while–but later apologized and said that he was glad I had taken the drug away, because he understood how addictive is is, and didn’t want to get addicted to anything.

He got a job doing data entry from 4 pm to midnight with his friend who is also his source for pot. The manager on the job as well as B’s friends smoked while they worked, and managed to do okay. B, however, was not able to focus well while high and lost the job. He was devastated, but I was glad because I ddn’t think this was a wholesome job environment and hoped he would finally, now, get a real job.

But he hasn’t. He looked around in the very economically depressed neighborhood where he lives with his girlfriend, and found nothing. THere are plenty of jobs in my neighborhood, I think–at Home Depot or the supermarket or the coffee shops–and I have said he can live with me as long as he is working. But he doesn’t want to live with me and obey my rules.

He recently became very desperate for money –his girlfriend has been supporting him, but her monthly scholarship check did not come this month and they are broke, without enough to eat (but they also budget very badly–when they have money they blow it all at Pizza Hut or KFC) , so I agreed to let him work at my house, scraping and painting my garage.

It took him a long time to come to my house—he has trouble finding rides–and when he got there he dilly-dallied and finally started the job at the end of the day. THen he had a breakdown–in which he was screaming, weeping, really truly falling apart. This is a very depressed, very emotionally volatile young man. He said he hates himself and wants to punish himself because he is worthless and deserves to be punished…and he also complains that I am trying to manipulate him into getting a job…and that I never listen to him, and don’t treat him like an adult…

Many internalized, negative messages that have accumulated over the years torment him.. Depressed people are the hardest to reason with, because they don’t see reason, or feel calm.

I am at a loss. I am not depressed now, because I get my exercise and take my meds and go to a shrink and meditate at lot.  But I feel a great deal of pain, sorrow, agony. It is so hard to watch him making so many bad choices. He has so much at his finger-tips, a parent who would help him if only he would do something for himself.

His father does not see the depression, which is so obvious to me. I see that my son needs medication and therapy, and get I can’t force him to get this help. I have offered, and sometimes he says he will call the therapist…..but then he doesn’t do it .

He seems determined to dwell in pain and darkness and actually seems to believe that he deserves to be there.   He needs help but I don’t know how to get it for him.  He needs to ask for help himself but doesn’t know how to do.

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One comment on “Telling the Story of My Son

  1. ninakillham says:

    This is the saddest story. I wish the best for you and your son.

    Like this

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