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.