I’m Giving Up on My Son
and I’ve never had a more acute feeling of failure
You know that strange guy being disruptive and oddly aggressive that you just walked across to the other side of the street to avoid? That’s my son.
Something went wrong with him at some point along the way. I’m pretty sure it happened when he was nearly 13. One day, he was this sweet, cat-loving, slightly pudgy young man who loved to be silly and surrounded himself with friends, the next day, he was growing his hair over his face, dying it black and shutting the world out. I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight and I missed the signs, but it felt that way.
From 13 to 17, I felt like I could do no right. I had no connection with my son. As a single mom who was also a driven workaholic, I overcompensated in multiple ways. I bought him anything he asked for. I didn’t make him do many chores. I encouraged him to hang out with friends. I took him on trips with me and put him in his own hotel room, gave him money to shop and showed him amazing sites. I went to parent teacher interviews where the teachers told me he was acting bizarre and took the blame for it. But I was scared of him, so I hung back instead of standing up to him and disciplining him like I should have.
When he told me he was moving out at 17, I felt helpless and let him. My family were aghast (even though they forgot that I left home at 16 and never returned) and accused me of shirking my parental responsibility (while his father hadn’t been around for 7 years at least). But what could I do? He was determined to leave.
In a year’s time, he was living with my parents in Calgary off an on. Slowly, but surely, my parents were getting fed up. My relationship with them drastically improved over this period as they came to experience what I had experienced over the years.
But something was off. He was approaching 20 years old and the behavior I thought was caused by hormones and general teenagerness wasn’t improving. It was getting worse.
One day my mother called me in tears, “He’s accusing me of ‘hitting on’ him.” You’d have to know my mother to know how absurd that sounded. She doesn’t even know how to flirt. According to her account, my son had been growing more and more bizarre over the past few months and he was incredibly paranoid and highly manipulative. My mother thought she was going mad.
I flew out to get him. I knew what I’d do. I’d bring him home and get him help. He seemed very happy to hear I was coming and we had long Facebook chats. I felt connected to him again. Sure, I was connecting to him in a very bizarre way (he was talking about being an Indigo child and having powers and saying that I’m one too), but I was elated because it was the first time since he was a child that we had connected on any level. Oh, minus that time he was on some sort of drug and came home and was all chatty and lovely with me, which went away when the drug wore off.
I spent 10 days in Alberta, visiting mental health clinics and doctors with him. We received prescriptions, but there was nothing more they could do because he didn’t think anything was wrong with him. He laughed it off. He seemed fine. Maybe my parents exaggerating?
I wish that were the case.
“I don’t know where I went wrong.” That’s the thought that keeps running through my head. When the guilt isn’t overwhelming me, the helplessness is. And I’m well-aware that this isn’t about me, but it’s more complicated than that.
Since I’ve brought him home, I’ve tried to get him help, but he won’t take it. He refuses to see anyone and when he does, he plays games (thinks he’s outsmarting everyone) and lies to them. When they see through it and prescribe him medication, he won’t take it. Instead, he accuses me of trying to silence the truth “that I’m afraid to face.”
He abuses me mentally and emotionally. He repeats what I ask him and then says, “what. what.” defiantly back at me. He mumbles answers and when I ask him to repeat himself, he says, “you heard me.” He accuses me of plotting against him and being the weird one. He steals. He lies. He laughs when I get upset. He enjoys watching me struggle with him. He does most of this when my boyfriend isn’t around to see it. I feel like I’m in the movie, Gaslight most days.
My boyfriend, who wasn’t happy that he was moving in with us at the age of 20, asked me for an end date earlier this summer, and I agreed that was a healthy solution. So we chose September 1, giving my son nearly 2 months to find a job and get his own place. I even offered to help him with his place and to give him furniture, etc. So he went out and got a job, then promptly lost it after 3 days because of what he said was “bullshit.” Turns out that he was acting weird and since his job was to interface with customers (telephone sales), they were uncomfortable keeping him around. I don’t blame them.
Time is now ticking down and there is less than a month for him to find a job and save enough money for a place. I don’t have much faith that he’s going to land on his feet.
The guilt I feel is overwhelming. I oscillate between anticipation of relief (I feel unsafe and uncomfortable in my own home these days) and the most acute guilt I’ve ever experienced. Yes, he’s 20 and should get his shit together. But he’s also mentally unfit to get his shit together. And yes, he’s refused help at every turn — even merely acknowledging that his reality may not be reality. But that’s common for someone who is mentally ill. The basis of the illness is that the brain can trick you something fierce and twist everything. Like you are on a drug trip constantly.
But I know I have to do it. The only way to get him real help is to get him ‘into the system’. He’s an adult and right now I’m enabling him. At this rate, he’ll never have to take responsibility for his life. And, who knows, maybe he’ll even wake up and realize he needs help when he hits rock bottom. Maybe someday he’ll thank me.
I don’t want to think of the negative possibilities of this. The guilt will eat me alive.