Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Teenage breakdown

On Saturday, we were a normal, albeit divorced, family. My boys, now 16 and 13, were staying with their Dad. I was having a lovely time with my partner kicking leaves about in the Autumn sunshine. All was well.

On Sunday, the police arrived at my husband's house and all hell broke loose.

They arrived because a mental health worker had contacted them, fearful for my oldest son's safety. He had been in touch with the school nurse, and threatened to throw himself under a train.

What has unravelled since is a thread of self harm and bleakness that my son has been wrapped in for months, that neither me or my ex knew anything about. This A* student, this brighter than bright boy who has never quite fitted the mold, but has always seemed just about ok, had been slipping away from us. He has been suffocating, and we were unaware.

As your children grow older, it's natural for them to pull on the elastic ties that bind them to you. As a parent, you don't need to know everything that your children do. But you'd think that you'd know if they were self harming, or if they were threatening to commit suicide. Or simply that they were very sad.

Looking back, the clues were there. His appetite had been lessening for a while -  not even the lure of a bag of Skittles could raise a hungry smile. And the arguments about the WiFi - the fact that I switch it off at night - had increased. He had begun to sneak down at night to turn it back on again, which I was incensed by. He has mocks in two weeks and the pressure has been mounting all term. And socially, he is struggling. He has always struggled.

After the police had gone, we were left wondering, if things had played out slightly differently, whether we would now have just one son. The idea is too painful to think about for longer than just an instant; if I start to imagine what could have been, I feel like I'm throwing myself into an abyss. So for now, we are concentrating on getting to know him again. CAMHs - the Children and Adolescent Mental Health people - have already given us emergency counselling, and he is lined up with some CBT. I want to talk and talk and talk to him, but of course I can't; partly because he doesn't want to, and partly because he doesn't know what to say.

In those first 48 hours, the threat that he might still take his own life was very real. I was told to remove the knives from the kitchen drawers, hide any headache tablets, take away his dressing gown cord. Watch him. Watch him.

I found it very difficult to cope. Perhaps it was the shock. The realisation that my boy had been living in so much pain for so long, with no help. And he had just snapped right under our noses.

Ten days on, and he is no longer on suicide watch - for now, at least. But his anxiety is overwhelming; he is not sleeping until 3 or 4 am most nights. He can't get up in the mornings and so school is sporadic. His teachers have been wonderful, though; mock exams have now been re-framed as a 'maybe' rather than a 'must'. His health comes first, by a long chalk, they have said.

We have another therapy session lined up in a couple of days, which I'm told we're lucky to have. But I feel like we're living in no man's land, and that ideally, he'd be seeing someone every 2-3 days. Until mental health climbs to the top of the political agenda AND the NHS gets a huge influx of money, that will never happen, of course. For anybody.

And so, for now, we talk to him. We treat him completely normally. I've bought him books about tanks, and the teenage brain, and a new duvet cover. We check on him in the night. Sometimes he wakes me up at 1am to talk.  I try not to over-ask, but occasionally he will open up a bit and I feel like we make some headway. He feels alone and different and just wants to fit in. It's how every teenager feels - but I guess if life isn't going your way, it can feel like a piece of utter shit.


  1. oh dear god. I can't imagine how you feel.Absolutely heartbreaking. Having been in the state your boy is, reassurance that this too will pass is crucial. He won't believe it now, but at some point in the future he will, and that will help. Fucking hell sweetheart, sending you enormous hugs.

    1. Thanks so much lovely - I do hope so. xxx

  2. Oh my god. This is so scary - for you of course and him. All of you. I am so worried about the future with my boys - it's mad your teenager kept it all so secret from both you and his dad. Now you're the second person who's blog has talked about their teenager having a mental breakdown (the other one is Suzanne of '3 Children and It' who's daughter must be about the same age as your son) and it makes me wonder whether this is just something that has always happened to teenagers or whether the world today is just so much more pressurised (schoolwork? relationships?) than it was before.. Yeah huge hugs from me too hon Xx

    1. Hi Sam, thanks for the heads up about Suzanne. I've been in touch and she's been wonderful. xxx

  3. I really feel for your son, feeling like that is awful and dark. It must be terrifying for all of you to go through this. But to read that he has you to listen to him and just be there warms my heart. Continue to give him acceptance and unconditional love and he has the best chance.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. Means an awful lot. xx

  4. As,the mother of a little boy with ASD, this is something that terrifies me, as the risk of self harm seems more prolific with young people on the spectrum. Frightening stuff. I do hope you find a way through, and manage to keep the lines of communication open - while it's an awful thing to discover, thank fuck you found out now and he has a mum he can lean on. My heart goes out to you both.

    1. Thanks Sarah. Today has been a good day. Let's hope he gets some sleep tonight. xx

  5. Oh Lottie you must all be reeling from this, not least your eldest. Take comfort from the fact that he was self aware enough to reach out to someone, and that means that however awful he is feeling, he knows that life can and will get better. xxx
    I've often recognised shades of my eldest in your descriptions of your boy, both when we chatted at Blogfest and on the blog (even today 'this brighter than bright boy who has never quite fitted the mold, but has always seemed just about ok') I don't know if it is relevant or not, but after a similar though less pronounced episode last year, 11 has now been diagnosed with high functioning ASD. It answered many questions for us and crucially has meant we're much better able to support him (and so are school).
    Listen, we're not too many miles apart. Coffee (or beer) always an option xxx

    1. Now THAT sounds like a plan! I'm sure he's on the spectrum - would love to talk sometime about how a diagnosis changes things. xx

  6. I was you 10 years ago and reading this brought it back so clearly. I just want to send you love and strength because it is hard and terrifying. My child is now a happy and settled adult, and has learned to manage anxiety and depression so much better, and had support from a fantastic, loving partner
    I never comment on blogs,but wanted to offer you hope. X

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. It does bring me hope! xx

  7. I have a teenage daughter in the same situation. She has tried to take her life four times.
    Her mock GCSE exams three weeks away. She is projected to get A*s too.
    She has self harmed since she was in Year 7. Her Head of Year says her scars are the worst she's ever seen.
    No one has ever been able to actually identify why she does it (yes it still reoccurs but not as badly and less frequently.)
    I'm just her mum.. she was never going to tell me why... only that life was shit.. and at times I was inclined to agree with her.....I'm also divorced but her dad lives in Saudi Arabia.
    Our local CAMHS is useless. I've lost count of how many counsellors, practioners and social workers we have seen. I've had social workers and policemen in my house at midnight...
    It's been a nightmare.
    The worst thing is the lack of support. Mental health problems DONT EXIST solely between the hours of 5.00pm Monday to Friday....... I've had meetings cut short because 'we've run out of time...'.
    The best advice I got was via Childline... it was brilliant just being able to talk to someone at 2.00am on a Sunday night.
    I work full time but my employer has been really good at letting me just go to A&E when my daughters teachers have contacted me to say she'd cut herself again.....
    Sadly I never found out about any of her really bad cutting episodes until the cuts were starting to heal over...some of them should have had stitches but the doctors said they were starting to heal and wouldn't do anything about it.
    And I agree about your son needing to chat with someone every 2/3 days.My daughter started to improve a bit when she was meeting up with someone every week.
    I even started to pay for regular weekly counselling sessions but sadly my pathetic salary wouldn't stretch to more than three sessions.....
    My daughters school has been brilliant at supporting me and her.. time out of regular sessions has helped her as well as just sounding off to her Learning Mentor at school...
    All the stuff that's recommended hasn't really worked... elastic bands, mindfulness, doodling on skin with a Sharpie and there are several apps for the iPad that we looked at together but nothing has really worked.
    The hardest thing you can do is just be there and accept. Make sure you've got loads of sticking plasters and steri strips. I had to get rid of razors and pencil sharpeners and even now, I have to check nearly every other day her bedroom and pencil case. I've hidden all our medication apart from some vitamins...I've hidden dressing gown cords...
    Be brave and be very very calm... don't break down in front of your child ( I think I've learned the hard way how to deal with my daughters episodes....)
    Above all- make sure you can talk to someone. It's a shock when you have tried your damned best to bring them up- loved, valued and cared for and for me, every time she does it, I feel like I've done something wrong and failed in some terrible way....
    No one knows the answers. And sadly not even your own child can tell you why they are compelled to self harm or feel suicidal.
    I've never sent a reply to a blog before but when I first found out about my daughter I was desperate for someone to talk to.. I just didn't understand.... it's been a living nightmare for me sometimes.
    Oh and they've put her on anti depressants which sadly I have to say seem to make a difference but I hate her taking them and hopefullyonce she's done her actual GCSEs we can wean her off them.

    1. My goodness - what a terrible, terrible situation. Have you got someone you can talk to? A good friend? Family members? My heart goes out to you. xxxx

  8. I have two teenagers. My daughter, now 18, has been self harming since age 14 in addition to anorexia and bulimia. Out of the blueone morning, I found her cutting herself in the basement/garage instead of being at school. It had been going on for a while and it carried on for the next 2-3 years. She is an exceptionally bright person academically but struggles to fit in socially. We are just beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel with her.
    My son who is a year and a half younger and has ASD and a moderate learning disability has last weekend ended up being admitted in an LD speciallized psychiatric unit as he is struggling to cope with social pressure in school and at the skate park and ended up attacking someone.
    What is happening to our children? Why is there such a mental health crisis in young people in this country? What is going on?
    All we have done is tried to be supportive parents.

  9. Asked him what is the second thought if suicide is the first (let him and brave him to do the second stuff on his mind )


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