Anyone who is a parent can tell you that it is a hard, and often thankless job, but that it comes with the most massive of rewards and they would not change it for the world. One of the hardest thing I have to deal with as a parent though, is the fear that my children will turn out to be like me. Depressed. Anxious. Scared. Lonely.
All along, since even before they were born, even before they were conceived, I have wanted one thing for them. Happiness. Back then, had I known that mental illness likely has a genetic component, I may not have even have had children, weighing the risks of them having to suffer, and instead choosing to deny myself the joy of having a family of my own.
As my babies have grown, now into gorgeous young men, my fears are still there. Both of them have beautiful qualities, kind and generous, sensitive and loving. But there is a shadow that hangs over us, our oldest child, is showing signs of depression and anxiety, showing signs that it is nature, not nurture that is at play.
He is 10 now, and is a genuine cuddle monster. There are some days where I have to tell him that I need some personal space because he wants to hug all day long, every few minutes or so. He has a wicked sense of humor, and is already as tall as me. He’s great with animals, and our dog now sleeps with him in his room. He is being raised in a warm and caring home with a younger brother who dotes on him, and two parents who love him deeply, he is given time, respect, and attention, he is physically healthy and strong, and does well academically at school. He’s a great kid!
But he is also very anxious. He is smart beyond his years, and takes everything in, analysing it and thinking deeply. He becomes obsessed with the how’s and why’s, and can not focus on much else. He has been a solemn and thoughtful child since he was just little, but now as he grows and his understanding of the world increases we need to be careful to protect him from undue worry, while trying to balance his need to adapt to cope, to not be insulated or cloistered away.
To his, and our, dismay and sadness too, he lacks social skills. It is not because he doesn’t know how to interact with others, but because he does not have a lot of confidence in himself. Much of this came from years of being bullied when he started school, but part of it is that in his effort to appear confident, he can become over excitable, or even arrogant. And the more he tries to fit in, the harder it gets. Outside his peer group, he is loved and adored. Teachers, and adult friends, especially elderly ones see the beautiful side of him, he can hold conversations and takes a genuine interest in others, remembering small details and facts that many would forget. Sadly his peers don’t seem to know what they are missing out on, they don’t seem to care either. He has very few friends and the loneliness just drips from him at times, he is so desperate to fit in and to be accepted.
Then there are the days when he struggles with his anger. When the anxiety has reached a level of frustration and he no longer knows how to soothe himself. One day, after we had struggled for the whole week with his temper, he confided tearful in me that he was sorry for being so mean to me, but he was just really angry at himself for being so “stupid and worthless”. We have spent months trying to help him learn better outlets for his frustrations, and he is getting better at expressing himself now instead of reacting with outbursts of aggression or annoyance. He is normally so caring that it upsets him greatly when he calms down and realises the toll his actions have had on us as a family.
Yet the day that broke my heart the most was the day recently when he sat crying in my arms in bed. He was sobbing and telling me that he wished he had never been born. Here, my dear, sweet, complicated boy, my darling baby, telling me that he wished he wasn’t alive. He told me that people don’t see him, that he feels like he is invisible to them. He told me that he feels as though he’s standing right there in front of them, but they don’t look up from his feet, they don’t look up to see the rest of him. How heartbreaking is this, at 10 he has already noticed that the world is often a cold and invisible place for those who don’t naturally fit into a social mold.
There are even times I have found him playing noughts and crosses on his legs. Scratching it with his fingernails. That rings alarm bells in my mind, my first self harm attempts were similar. Is my child developing the same maladaptive coping skills to handle his tumultuous feelings? The fear of this is almost consuming, the thought of him scratching his skin and hurting himself to stop the emotional pain is so sad, it is impossible to even express the depth of the feeling.
I am afraid, I am so deeply afraid that he is going to walk the same path I have, that his life is going to be overshadowed by this dark cloud of depression and anxiety. We have tried psychologists in the past, but they were little help, but once again we are going to try. He deserves us to persevere on his behalf, to find the right person who can draw him out and encourage him, teach him how to survive in a world that can be very isolating on those who it perceives as different, or weak. Someone who can help him to discover that there are ways to cope with his thoughts and feelings, and even turn them into positive qualities. We wont give up searching for this person, and I hope and pray that when we do, he can help my son to learn to view himself in a better light, to see his worth and to cope with the negative feelings that must surely have a genetic grip on him.
Until then, I will be his advocate, I will be his strength, and I will forever feel guilt that I may have passed this struggle on to my child. But maybe my experience can help guide me to be able to reach him before it’s too late. Children are naturally resilient, he’s a strong and smart young man, maybe his life can be saved from being one of pain.