Stress, anxiety and depression are real and they play out in our kids' lives. While waiting over an hour for a doc apt for a kid yesterday I scanned some of the headlines of the various magazines. At least half of the articles were helping people deal with stress...stress and money, stress and fashion, stress and organization, stress and nutrition/exercise...you name it. So apparently it isn't just our kids who are stressed out, it is us adults too. Some of the anxiety my kids deal with is "normal". My son was in tears before a flag football game, worried he would drop the ball and make their team lose. Some of that is his personality and some of it comes from a push to win that he picks up from others. I have a daughter who gets anxious about doing the right thing, getting her homework done in time. Again "normal...." caused by a combo of her type A personality and the performance anxiety in the culture around her. I could write a little about my opinion of what we are doing to kids both in sports and schools...pushing them to excel at too young of an age...I mean does 2nd grade flag football really matter in the grand scheme of things? But this post isn't about that...
I have one kid in particular who deals not just with stress but with depression..."down bursts" he calls them. They come randomly, not attached necessarily to a circumstance. They are hidden in that his public and private self are very different. Teachers, friends and anyone on the "outside" of the house wouldn't ever know it was there. It comes out at home. And frequently the amount of emotional and mental energy it takes him to function outside the home pretending everything is ok, means that when he does show back home he is exhausted, flat, moody and angry. We've talked to doctors, counselors, teachers--you name it. Stress, depression and anxiety don't have easy "fixes". Nor are they easy to live with both for our son or for the rest of the family. And interestingly from the outside most people wouldn't ever know. He plays sports, performs well enough at school to not get noticed. He has friends. But it is as if he goes through all the activities in life carrying an extra 50lbs. Everything takes more. Which means everything is harder.
Some days as a parent I have the energy for it. And other days I want to tell him how bad other people's lives are and that he needs to suck it up. I realize that that would not help anything or anyone. There are tools we have and will continue to teach him to help him learn resilience, emotional awareness and even mindfulness helping him tune into what he is thinking and how a change in mindset can sometimes change our approach to the circumstances. But if you have ever been around someone who is depressed and deals with anxiety--telling them to do more doesn't really help.
I know he isn't alone. I worked with junior high, high school and college kids both as a lawyer, a volunteer and as a "pastor" on church staffs. Depression and anxiety weren't uncommon in all 3 age groups. And for most of the kids who I was around, they had a very capable public persona which meant that they persevered most of the time through their depression and crashed when no-one was looking. It wouldn't be hard to portray that my son is doing amazing. He gets himself up, bikes to school, makes his own breakfast and lunch. But in the midst of it all he is struggling. Not to the point of being bedridden and refusing to get up. But enough.
I guess I write this to say to both parents and other kids, if you have a kid with some kind of mental health struggles I'm with you. You aren't alone...nor is your kid. It isn't an easy road. It isn't predictable, visible, and there are no easy answers. It takes patience, extra time and resources. Amazingly we live in a world where there is more and more support and awareness. Even still it can be lonely and isolating. We still like to portray on Facebook and social media everything that is going well, keeping the struggles private. In fact I read an article this weekend, that there is an increase in depression and anxiety in kids partially related to social media. When I was in high school, I knew there were parties I wasn't invited to but I didn't have to see pictures of everyone who was there, or even watch it live as it happened. Kids can see and compare themselves to so much more than I could. But it only tells part of the story. The story we want people to know or see. The edited images that tell a story that maybe isn't even true. Regardless depression is real and for whatever reasons people feel ashamed they feel it especially if they feel like they shouldn't feel depressed or have no reason.
The gift for me with our son is that he tells us. That doesn't mean we always help him feel better but it is an open conversation. He isn't alone. And for as much as we are connected these days on the world wide web I am amazed how many people still feel alone. And everything is harder when we feel alone in it.