Monday, June 29, 2009

What goes away next?

It's been a little while since I posted anything about my son's situation, so here's a quick update.

To the best of my knowledge, he's still clean. And that's a great, great thing. However, the depression and side effects from the Suboxone are still kicking him in the ass. Which means that his sleeping schedule is still totally wack. Which means that he continues to sleep the days and afternoons--and sometimes parts of the evening--away. For example, as I type this sentence it's 4:15 in the afternoon...and my son is still in bed asleep.

We took away his PS3, thinking that losing the ability to play video games would motivate my son to get on a better sleep schedule. But it did absolutely nothing. Then we really brought down the hammer and took away the one thing we thought he could never live without: his cell phone. But, amazingly, two weeks later things still haven't changed at all. So now the question is: what goes away next?

I sometimes think the next logical step would be to take away my son's guitars. But I'm a little scared to do that because it's a key outlet for his emotions. But if it's not the guitars, then I'm not sure what it is. I am really shocked that losing the cell phone didn't force some kind of change in my kid. If someone would've predicted that two weeks ago, I would've told them they were crazy and bet big money against them. Shows you what I know. Or maybe it shows that the whole thing is more out of my son's control than we realize. I just don't know anymore.

Anyway, that's where things stand. It's still beyond frustrating to be in this situation. So I try to take it one day at a time. And "try" is the operative word in that last sentence. Lord knows I deal with it better some days than others. If you don't believe me, ask my wife. Or my son.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

We are the champions

As some of you may know, I've been quite involved in Little League baseball over the last several years. When my oldest son started playing Little League at age seven, I managed his team. That was the beginning of a nine-year coaching run with his teams. I also coached my youngest son's teams for four years and served on the board of directors of our local Little League for several years. I just love Little League baseball.

This year, a friend of mine--also a Little League nut--asked me if I wanted to coach a team in the Majors divsion (11- and 12-year-olds) with him. I agreed. Neither one of us had a kid playing. We just decided to do it for fun. For me, it was chance to get out and do something I enjoyed. A distraction, if you will, from the everyday craziness that is my life.

The season started in late April and our team, the Dodgers, lost their first four games. The kids were pretty bad in those four games and, to be perfectly honest, I think everyone thought we were in for a very long season. Starting off 0-4 was not what my friend and I--or the kids--had in mind. After our fourth loss, when we gathered together as a team to discuss the game, one of the kids actually muttered the words, "We suck." Definitely reminiscent of the Bad News Bears.

But something changed after those first four games. The kids started to play better baseball and jelled as a team. Their defense improved. Their hitting improved. And their overall attitude improved. In short, the season that started off looking like it was going to be a disaster suddenly became magical.

The Dodgers played 17 more games after those first four losses. We won 15 of them. We won 11 of the final 13 regular season games, including the last seven in a row. We finished the regular season with a record of 11-6, good enough for the regular season league championship. Then came the playoffs, which was a double-elmination tournament. The Dodgers played four games and won them all en route to the playoff championship, which was clinched in a dramatic, come-from-behind, last-inning, 4-3 victory. Eleven wins in a row to end the season. Regular season champs. Playoff champs. Wow. That 0-4 start was now a distant memory.

Coaching the Dodgers was a lot of fun for me. But more importantly, the kids had a lot of fun. I have to say, it was incredibly rewarding to get cards and e-mails from parents thanking my friend and I for volunteering our time even though we didn't have kids on the team.

I won't lie. The winning was definitely nice. But giving back to the kids and the community was the real reward this season. And yes, my friend and I hope to do it again next year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Today is Father's Day, which is a "holiday" I've struggled with for a long time. I actually kind of wish I could just skip this day each year.

First off, I've never really felt connected to my own father. Growing up the son of an alcoholic father will do that to you. To this day, anything father-related is very tough for me to deal with. Especially Father's Day. I always run through the same questions in my head: Should I call my father and wish him a happy Father's Day? Should I get him a card? Should I invite him over for dinner? What exactly should I do??? I wish it wasn't like that, but it is.

I also struggle with Father's Day as it relates to my own fatherhood. Despite everything I've read and have been told about how I'm not supposed to blame myself for my son's issues, I still can't help but wonder if I could've or should've done something differently while he was growing up. Something that might've put him on a different, better path.

Yes, it's Father's Day. But I'm struggling with it. Just like I do every year.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Death hits close to my son

Every Thursday afternoon, my son attends an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at Brighton Hospital. At yesterday's session, he found out that one of the girls in his group was killed in a car accident last Friday. She was only 23 years old. What a terrible tragedy.

I think this young woman's death has touched my son in a way he hasn't been touched before. This is most certainly the closest experience he's had with death. And while this girl wasn't exactly a friend of his, there's no denying the closeness that develops between people when they are in the program together.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of this girl. Her life was cut much too short.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Something I wrote two years ago

Almost exactly two years ago, I sat down and wrote a rough draft of an essay that I was going to submit to Newsweek magazine. I was hoping they'd consider it for the "My Turn" feature that runs in every issue. "My Turn" is a column written by readers and the focus is usually on something very personal that is affecting, or has affected, the writer's life.

I had pretty much forgotten about this essay, but last night I was going through some files on my laptop and there it was. If I remember correctly, the draft was several hundred words over the limit and I just didn't feel like editing it down to an acceptable length. In any case, I remember that writing it was good therapy. And since the original intent was to have a whole lot of people read it, I thought I'd post it here. (Note: The original draft used the real first names of my son and wife. If the piece had ever made it to print, I don't know if I would've left the real names in or not. For this blog post, however, I have changed the first names for privacy reasons.)

Rough Draft of "My Turn" Essay
(June 16, 2007)

On a warm, muggy evening in July of 2002, after a weather delay of several hours, my oldest son John and his fellow Little League all-stars won the Michigan state championship game 6-1. John was a bonafide winner at age 12. And so were his teammates. A subsequent trip to the Great Lakes Regionals in Indianapolis that summer provided memories that will last a lifetime for all of us, even though we only won one game. After all, we lost our last game to Kentucky, who went on to win the Little League World Series that season.

Fast forward to January of 2006. January 15, to be exact. January 15 at 1:30am to be even more exact. How do I remember the exact date and time so clearly? Because you never forget when your wife wakes you up in the middle of the night to tell you that your son has overdosed on aspirin and prescription anti-depressants and that we have to get him to the hospital right away. Luckily, my wife Mary had been conscientious enough to have been checking on John regularly that night. In the wee hours of the morning, Mary checked John’s bedroom, only to find that he wasn’t there. She then checked the attic, which is accessible from John’s room, and found him sitting in the dark, crying. He told her what he had done—thank God—and we were soon in the emergency room having doctors pump our son’s stomach and wondering where we had gone wrong.

John was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder in October of 2005. He had always been a shy, introverted kid, but he slowly became even quieter and troubled after he started his freshman year in high school the previous September. After a sparkling grade point average in the first quarter of ninth grade, things began to go downhill. The grades, his attitude, his self confidence, and his outlook on life all plummeted. It took awhile, but we finally convinced John that therapy would be a good thing for him. He reluctantly agreed to go, and we were hopeful things would improve quickly. But they didn’t.

I’ll never forget that early morning in January. After the trip to the ER—it was just about dawn by then—my wife and I were following an ambulance to a psychiatric hospital twenty miles away. Having your child admitted to such a hospital for an evaluation was standard procedure, we were told, after a suicide attempt. I think we cried all the way there and all the way back.

Thirty-six hours later, John was back home because the hospital said he was fine now. But he wasn’t. The hell on Earth continued for months. Depression, new medications, temperamental outbursts, crying spells, feelings of worthlessness; they all grabbed John and wouldn’t let go of him. Finally, in April of 2006, Mary and I made a decision I never thought we could make: we voluntarily checked John into another psychiatric hospital because we knew he needed help we couldn’t give him. This time John stayed for eight days. And on most of those days, we would get the one phone call he was allowed per day, only to hear on the other end of the line, “Please let me come home. I don’t want to be here.” Talk about having your heart broken into pieces.

When John finally did come home, we withdrew him from school. He was so far behind that trying to catch up would’ve just knocked him down again. Having public schools among the best in the nation in your community is wonderful, as long as your child can cope with a very large number of students, the cliques, the anxiety, the stigma of having attempted suicide, etc. Unfortunately, John couldn’t.

I wrote letters to the local paper and the school board and e-mailed teachers, counselors, and parents, urging them to educate themselves and their children about teenage depression. Given the fact that two young teens in our community had just recently taken their own lives, I thought there would be an outpouring of support. But when I later bought an ad in the local paper in an attempt to form support groups for depressed teens and their parents, there was absolutely no interest. I was shocked. Despite great strides forward, depression still is, unfortunately, taboo in our society. What a shame.

This past school year was no different. We found a charter school that we thought John would thrive in. But after two half days, both of which resulted in panic attacks, John decided he wanted to go back to his old school. The new school? It was just too new and different, and John couldn’t cope with it. Against our better judgment, we let him go back to his previous school. But things didn’t change. He was still overwhelmed by the size of the school and the homework and the fear of interacting with teachers when he didn’t understand something. His grades were worse than ever, and in May we withdrew him from school again. The simple fact of the matter is you can’t make a 17-year-old boy go to school if he doesn’t want to. And the daily battles, which occurred every weekday morning, just weren’t worth it anymore.

John is still depressed. And he’s made some poor decisions over the last year or so. Experimenting with prescription drugs (not his), smoking marijuana (bought at school), and smoking cigarettes (they help relieve his anxiety). Because of these things, along with the depression, his group of former best friends—kids he has known since kindergarten or first grade—have pretty much abandoned him. You’d think they’d be supportive, but that isn’t the case. They’re scared of John and the things he’s done. And they don’t want to be around him. Can I understand their reactions? I suppose. But I always tell people that if John suffered from cancer or some other “normal” disease, his friends and their parents would be knocking down our door to see how John was doing, offering to cook us meals, seeing if there was anything they could do to help, etc. But depression? No way. It’s like our house is haunted and everybody is scared to come near it. Parents of John’s friends have even called other friends’ parents to tell them to keep their kids away from John, “because he does bad things.” Imagine how we felt when we found that out.

This wonderful, intelligent, caring, funny, talented son of mine, who at age 12 won it all on the baseball diamond, has now lost it all in the game of life. At least temporarily. He’s lost all of his friends. He’s lost his school career. He’s lost his sense of direction. He’s lost his identity. He thinks nobody loves him or cares about him. And when he reaches out and calls his former friends, and none of them answer their cell phones because “it’s John,” can you blame him?

A new therapist is hopeful that he can help John. Mary and I are hopeful, too. A new therapist for me has also helped me get over a lot of the guilt I feel as a result of John’s condition. I’m more thankful for that than anyone will ever know. And best of all, our other son, who is 11, seems totally bulletproof when it comes to the happenings of the last two-and-a-half years. I guess every gray cloud does have a silver lining.

I’ll be totally honest. John’s condition has caused our family a lot of grief. My wife and I have argued more than I ever thought we could. We’ve both battled verbally (and occasionally physically) with John when we got to the point where we just couldn’t take it anymore. We’ve had to repair holes in our walls, a result of John’s anger and rage getting the best of him. Calling the local police to come and help calm things down was commonplace for awhile. And the medical bills, even with decent insurance coverage, add up pretty quickly, making it necessary to sacrifice things we wouldn’t have to ordinarily. But we all love each other and we somehow have managed to hold it all together.

You learn a lot of things when you have a depressed teenager. I’ve learned that the best place to cry is in the shower, because no one can hear you and you can’t feel the tears running down your cheeks. You learn that most other kids appear to be “normal,” and that, surprisingly, kind of makes you angry. You learn that people you once thought were your friends really aren’t. You learn that depression is a disease that a lot of people want nothing to do with, even though they know people who have been affected by it. And you learn that nobody has the right to judge you unless they’re willing to walk in your shoes for just a day or two. But most importantly, you learn that just because your child is depressed, you don’t stop loving him. In fact, you have to find a way to love him even more. Unconditionally. Because if you don’t, chances are no one else will. And that just doesn’t seem fair.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We gotta stay positive

Before I get to the positive vibe, here are two words for you: I'm tired. That probably won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who reads this blog (both of you), but I just had to say it. I am physically and emotionally drained. And, quite frankly, I'm finding it hard to keep up with this blog. Shit happens, and I want to write about it. But I have found it very hard lately to muster the energy to do that. I guess I'm not a very good blogger.

I've also been thinking about taking the main focus of this blog off of my son's issues and throwing in some more stuff about me. Yes, I started this blog to loosely document what goes on in the life of a parent of a recovering addict who also suffers from severe depression. And since I started the blog, writing about that stuff has been good therapy for me. But lately I've been coming to terms with something: Even though my son's issues are a huge part of my life, I've got to work harder to see past the negatives and not let my son consume me 24/7/365. If I don't, I think it'll kill me.

Granted, I'm not the most interesting person in the world. But I do love to cook. And I do love music. So if I blogged about the latest hunk of meat I grilled, or posted a favorite recipe, or recommended an album that I'm currently digging, would that be such a bad thing? I'm thinking it still might be kinda sorta interesting to the two of you. And even if it wasn't, maybe the different subject matter would help generate some positive vibes inside my tired, too-often-negative mind. That would definitely make it worthwhile, no?

So stay tuned for the new and improved (and perhaps slightly more upbeat) "My Life As 3D" blog. Coming soon. I think.

P.S. You didn't think I'd get through this post without mentioning something about my son, did you? There's been a lot of stuff that has happened since the last time I posted. But I'm not going to dwell on the negatives. Instead, I'll mention a positive. on Thursday, my son's sponsor invited him to go to Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio) with him and a couple of other young people from the program. My wife and I were so grateful that our son was invited to go. And he had a great time.

"We gotta stay positive."
--From the song "Stay Positive" by the Hold Steady

(Photo courtesy of my friend Sam.)