Continued from Excruciating Ride
I often search Flickr for just the right photo, but I don’t always find what I want. In this case, the picture is worth about a million words.
The roller coaster we’re riding with our son right now isn’t any fun.
As I walked into the hall, my son whipped the pencil away from his chest.
“What are you doing?” Reaching for the pencil, I leaned over to see whether he’d progressed through his school work. I used the pencil to point, summoning as much nonchalance as I could.
“You need to fill in these blanks in pencil, please.” I handed the pencil back, adding, “Pencils are for paper; pencils are not for poking people.”
He nodded and took it.
After he finished his school work, I gave him a journal assignment. He wrote about suicide by a pencil stab.
An hour later, he growled in frustration when I wouldn’t believe an obvious lie. He left the house and headed down the driveway. The timing worked well, because we needed to head to an appointment, so I pretended to think he was going to get in the car.
Unlocking the vehicle, I called, “Hey, thanks for getting out of the house so quickly so we can be on time! Do you want me to meet you at the end of the driveway?”
He froze, then turned slowly and shuffled back to the car, muttering, “wearing the wrong shoes, anyway.”
His sister gave him a sharp look. “Were you trying to run away?”
“Yeah, but I need my other shoes.”
She shook her head. “Running away is stupid. What are you going to eat?”
In a cool, flat tone that gave me chills, he said, “Dead squirrels, probably.”
By late August, I was spending an average of seven hours per day closely monitoring our son. Completing tasks became almost impossible; he didn’t want to move, so he began a sabotage campaign. When we put the house on the market, we asked the kids to try to keep things neat for the showings. He thought buyers would refuse to purchase the house if he worked against us. He trashed his room, wrote on the walls in permanent marker, decimated a large planter…every time he wasn’t by my side, I looked for the next bit of destruction.
He did the opposite of whatever we asked and began doing things he’d never done in the past, like climbing out of his window to leave the house. Hubby and I did our best, but…have you ever tried to keep an 11 year-old in sight at all times? It’s even harder than it sounds.
Cameras and a newly-installed alarm system helped, but we still couldn’t supervise 100% of his day. Showers became especially problematic, because he’s really too old for one of us to stand there. He plugged the drain with toys and toilet paper, defecated in the tub and filled the curtain with water, letting it go when it became too heavy (all over the bathroom floor).
Because he is diagnosed as “on the edge” of the Autism spectrum, the in-home counselor suggested we apply for ABA therapy for help with behavior modification. Good ABA therapists have successfully helped non-verbal, low-functioning children learn to communicate and to perform self-care tasks. If his apparent inability to follow directions stemmed from the autism, the therapists would be able to help. And maybe, once he had a habit of doing the right things, he would feel better about himself.
While I sat outside with the supervisor, outlining the challenges of the last several months, another staff member sat with our son to evaluate him. I explained to the supervisor that he’s great one-on-one with an adult, so I expected the other therapist to find nothing. Sure enough, when she joined us, I saw The Look.
The Look, n., facial expression indicating the parent must be out of her mind, as this child is brimming with intelligence and compliance.
Thankful for backup from the in-home counselor, the supervisor and I explained there is more to this kid than becomes obvious in one meeting. We were approved for services, but staffing shortages meant ABA wouldn’t start for several weeks.
A week later, the threats of suicide came almost daily, sometimes several times a day. His moods swung between anger and depression. I couldn’t leave him alone with his sister for even a minute because he started lashing out at her.
ABA wasn’t going to be enough.
We began looking for residential treatment, this time for a program that lasted more than a few days.
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, believes we reach “expert” level by practicing our craft for at least 10,000 hours; K. Anders Ericksson specifies those hours are spent in “deliberate practice.”
Therefore, I would like to announce that
I am an expert.
For at least thirty years, I have deliberately practiced…procrastination.
Don’t even have to try anymore; Hubby agrees my practical level of procrastination is unbelievable—even mind blowing.
Blog procrastination happens when I know it’s time to write but I’d rather pretend nothing is happening.
Writing about the last six months is painful, terrifying, discouraging.
I’ve been procrastinating.
As I mentioned earlier, the roller coaster with our girl has morphed into a super-fun ride most days. (And yes, I know that super-fun is technically not a word.)
The roller coaster ride with our boy…not so much.
Right now, his roller coaster is excruciating.
When we began our journey, people supported us in the best ways they knew. However, few had the experience to understand, so we stopped trying to share our angst, because conversations went something like this:
Me: “Our foster son won’t stop screaming. Anything sets him off. He won’t let me touch him until he’s out of his mind—then, still screaming, he clings to me like the earth is falling away and I’m the last thing standing. Sometimes it lasts for hours; I don’t know what to do.”
Friends my age: “Yeah, my kid does that, too. I just turn on the TV and he settles down,” or “Put him in his room, tell him he can come out when he’s done, and shut the door.”
Friend my mom’s age: “Tell him if he doesn’t stop crying, you’ll GIVE him something to cry about.”
Friend my grandmother’s age: “He probably has gas. Have you taken him to the doctor?”
Social worker: “If he’s too much for you, we’ll find another placement.”
The above suggestions didn’t help.
But those kinds of conversations prompted me to start this blog, because Hubby and I agreed no one should feel as alone as we did.
Have a troubled kid? You are not alone.
Terrified of the future? Wondering whether your child will have the ability to function in society? “Cautious optimism” is your motto?
You’ve come to the right place.
Everyone’s story line is a little different, but the internal conflict connects across all boundaries: parents want beautiful life to happen for their kids, but we don’t always know how to best assist.
We want them to thrive, be mentally healthy and happy, be successful, have a great future.
Three months ago, the main life plan for our eleven year-old son was
His roller coaster almost went off the tracks in August. The happy boy who lived with us during the summer of 2016 was long gone. He used his intelligence to charm and manipulate adults but could not stand his peers. Aggressive behavior caused his expulsion from two summer camps.
Several life alterations (loss of Hubby’s dad, job changes, selling our home, moving) or hormones may have something to do with the downward spiral that held a tenacious grip on his personality; we don’t really know the cause. Hindsight sometimes holds clues and answers, but in this case, we can’t find any triggers.
I once read that talking about suicide is “just” a cry for attention unless the person has a plan. (We can discuss “just” another time…if a person is reaching out, there’s a reason.)
Our son had a plan.
Several plans, actually.
When he was upset, I often sent him to write in his journal; after he finished, he allowed me to read it and we took time to discuss his thought processes. As he found that I would not give him a consequence for anything he wrote (he tested this with a list of swear words), his writing became darker and included plans to run away or harm himself.
His list of ways to die included throwing himself in front of a vehicle, drowning himself in the pond or stabbing himself in the heart with a pencil.
Because of his extreme behaviors and inability to function appropriately in most settings, he had an in-home counselor ten hours a week. She became an invaluable presence in our family, mostly for me. (I no longer had to wonder whether I might be overreacting.)
We monitored him closely, working with the in-home counselor with the goal of keeping him with us.
We were, in a word, Hypervigilant.
We installed an alarm on the house to alert us if he tried to leave in the middle of the night, and cameras so I could keep an eye on him when I had to be in another room. Most of the time, I slept only when he slept, woke before he did and kept him in my physical sight almost all day. If I needed to use the restroom, I took the monitor, and only took showers when another adult was in the house. Hubby took over when he got home from work so I could get a little rest.
We were exhausted but determined to do everything we could to prevent residential care.
We believed our love could be enough.
Our in-home counselor agreed he needed immediate and urgent help after he acted out a detailed suicide scene in front of a camera in our home. We aren’t sure whether he chose the setting intending a manipulation, since he knew the camera was there. Regardless, the underlying issue remains the same: his thoughts were focused on ending his life.
As I explained that we might need to seek help from a facility outside our home, he shrugged.
“You’ve done all you can. You’ve tried everything else. We might as well try this.”
We checked him into an acute care psychiatric facility that afternoon. We visited every chance possible and each time he fed us lies (people hurting him, taking his shoes, trying to fight him). After a visit on day 5, Hubby and I resigned ourselves to the knowledge he’d be there a while as his mindset was obviously not changing.
Less than 24 hours later, a nurse called and told me they planned discharge that day. I was shocked.
“He told the doctor he’s not thinking about suicide anymore, so he can come home now,” she chirped.
I asked to speak to the managing director, who told me they could only keep the child if the child continued to want to hurt himself or someone else. Since our boy knew the right words, he had to come home.
The next day, as I painted a closet, I glanced at the monitor to see him trying to shove a pencil through his ribs.
Another blogger asked me to write this. After a misunderstood blog post title apeared that they posted. With all the noise about vaccines and Autism in children, a very serious matter is being over…
He is eight years old. Skinny and awkward and adorable. We sit at the kitchen table, coloring.
His dad is one of my favorite college professors, fascinating and intelligent. His mom is the woman everyone in the girls’ dorm wants to be when we grow up: wise, soft-spoken, graceful.
Sometimes I babysit. Today, I dropped by to see his mother and play with my little buddy.
“Draw Toby again,” he pleads.
Toby, the multicolored, furry creature I created just for him. Toby is talented, musical, always smiling. Also, he has a chronic habit of leaving his high-top sneakers untied.
I pick up a marker and begin to draw.
He is nine years old. We sprawl on the floor, watching monochromatic terror and insanity crescendo on the screen. The original Frankenstein. I listen for his little sister, napping in the next room.
I am a little shocked that this movie, his favorite, will not give him nightmares. Pretty sure I’ll have one.
I glance at him as the monster comes to life.
His smile is wider than the sun and twice as bright.
He is ten.
I sit in the Florida autumn sun, absorbed in test preparation. I ignore the tiny berries sailing by my head.
Sauntering past my chair, he tosses my notebook into the bushes and takes off running.
He’s fast, but I’m still faster.
I catch up and toss him over my shoulder.
I carry him toward the pond, fabled to be frequented by a large alligator. He screams with laughter, pleading for his life. I agree to give him one more chance.
He is eleven.
He rides a large pony. I walk with him, showing him how to keep heels down, how to communicate gently through the reins.
I grin at his parents, thrilled with his quick success.
I snap a picture of his adorable little sister sitting on a Shetland.
The family moves out West. I leave Florida. My life moves on, as does theirs. Other than intermittent communication, we lose touch.
The picture of his sister remains on my dresser through grad school and three moves. I love those two kids with all my heart. The distance devastates me.
He is twenty-something. He writes a beautiful letter, thanking me for the time I spent with him during his childhood. He writes about Toby. I had forgotten.
We lose touch again, until he mails a picture. He’s married a beautiful girl.
I am happy, so happy for my boy.
He is thirty.
I read his sister’s message, stunned.
None of us knew how deeply he was hurting.
We are so thankful that he trusted in Jesus to give him eternal life, and now he isn’t hurting anymore.
We never saw this coming. I’m heartbroken.
I imagine his parents’ devastation. His family’s deep loss. They were close. Having practically lived with them for several years, I can vouch his parents were some of the best in the business. Not perfect, of course, but amazing. And still, this unexpected tragedy.
Once, I heard a slogan, something along the lines of “Suicide is Not the Solution!” Unfortunately, for many teens and young adults seems to be a solution. And in some cases, the solution.
They think it’s the final solution to a life too overwhelming to comprehend, too hopeless to navigate.
Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and there are many more who attempt suicide. Hence, many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally in 2012.
-World Health Organization (bold mine)
And I think of our two children, with their insane start to life. The neglect, abuse and resulting depression they’ve both experienced. Hubby and I were naive and fully untrained when they arrived. We made tons of mistakes. We still do. Although we do our best to learn and grow, both of us are far from perfect.
Children who’ve survived the foster care system are at even higher risk for suicide.
• Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly two and a half times more likely to seriously consider suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
• Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
• Experiencing childhood abuse or trauma increased the risk of attempted suicide 2- to 5-fold (Dube et al., 2001).
• Among 8-year-olds who were maltreated or at risk for maltreatment, nearly 10% reported wanting to kill themselves (Thompson, 2005).
• Adverse childhood experiences play a major role in suicide attempts. One study found that approximately two thirds of suicide attempts may be attributable to abusive or traumatic childhood experiences (Dube et al., 2001).
-Helen Ramaglia, Suicide and the Foster Child
If this tragedy can happen in my friends’ family, it can happen to anyone. There’s no way to guarantee our world’s children will discount this solution, be willing to consider other avenues, when it seems so easy to simply fall asleep. Forever.
I’ve experienced depression. Desperation. Futility. Bleak future. No chance things will improve. No way out.
One way out, it seems.
There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
– American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
And just as someone who is depressed may believe the untruth that suicide is the only door to relief, we have some myths of our own.
The following are common misconceptions about suicide:
“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”
Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”
Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken,depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.
“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”
Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
“People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.”
Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six month before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.
“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”
Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.
-Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
That last point is important. Ignoring the problem or the symptoms will not “make it go away.” We have to talk about it. We must. Below are suggestions for beginning the conversation.
Ways to start a conversation about suicide:
- I have been feeling concerned about you lately.
- Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
- I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.
Questions you can ask:
- When did you begin feeling like this?
- Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
- How can I best support you right now?
- Have you thought about getting help?
What you can say that helps:
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.
Preventing Suicide, Helpguide
In my deepest depression as a teen, suicide crossed my mind. It never became an option because I had too many nosy adults in my life. And that was a great thing.
In the minds of the hopeless, suicide seems to be a solution. We need to help them see that although suicide may appear to end the problem, it doesn’t solve anything.
Be the nosy adult,
especially if you’re in the life of a child who has been in the foster system or experienced some kind of abuse.
Kids are dying for someone to care. Literally.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit their website: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.