Until recently, I would have classified myself as a “happy” person. Now I’m not so sure.

Every day when I or my wife picks up my son at school there’s a 50/50 chance he’s in the counselor’s or principal’s office because he hates himself for something he did or didn’t do. When something – anything – negative happens, it’s a flip of the coin. Sometimes he’s able to slough it off. And sometimes, he goes into a complete and unstoppable downward spiral. He says he’s the “worst person in the world” or the “dumbest person in the world.” Neither of those things are true, nor is he receiving that message from anyone at home or at school (who have gone above and beyond trying to make emotionally safe accommodations).

So all day I’m on edge about 3:08pm, when his class lets out. Will I see my son bounding out with joy, ready for a rollicking afternoon of fun and games? Or will I see that grimace on his teacher’s face when we make eye contact which tells me everything I need to know about how the next few hours will be?

I check my inbox constantly, anxiously just waiting for that email to show up with the subject matter that simply states his name or something foreboding like “Today…” with my wife, his teachers, his counselor, and his principal all cc’ed. Once that email hits, or once I see his school on the caller ID, the rest of the day is over. It’s time to go pick him up early because he won’t be rejoining the class and he’s unsafe at that point. (I just checked it again.)

It’s not easy to enjoy things when your brain is occupied with such concerns. It’s very difficult to work in a profession that requires social interactions. It’s hard to do much of anything – go out to lunch, exercise – when a significant part of your brain is wondering “Is my son wanting to hurt himself right now?”

When people ask how he’s doing, my answer is “good,” because there’s a good chance that yes, at this very moment, he’s “good.” So it’s technically, possibly not a lie! But he’s not good. He struggles with mental illness in a way that we are all unprepared for. That I am unprepared for.

Thankfully, by dint of never seeking medical attention for myself, I have a fair amount of money stored away in an HSA, which I will be using to attend to my own mental health as I start therapy this month. Even after just two sessions, I feel better equipped to manage my own emotions and responses to challenging situations. Even just talking openly and getting acknowledgement of how goddamn hard life can be has been helpful. And hopefully with hard work it’ll get better.

So I guess I should end this blog post with a Point of some sort. So it’s this: consider whether talking through your anxiety / stress / struggles might help. Really consider it. If you have HSA dollars, use ’em. If you have free counseling sessions associated with your work (as my wife did at her previous job) use ’em. Or seek out a therapist that works on a sliding scale if the price point is challenging (which it truly is! Side note: my insurance will pay through the nose for medication and zilch for therapy, which is both dumb and Another Story).

Don’t try to go through things alone. Don’t bottle things up. Talk to your school counselor. Talk to a therapist. Talk to a pastor. These people are great at what they do. They’ll help you feel better about what you do too.


10 thoughts on “Working while sad

  1. Thank you for sharing. I have also ridden that rollercoaster of emotion as my high school daughter began to self-harm and worse. Somedays it is truly difficult to work and put on a smile for a room full of kids. Other days, it is my students who keep me grounded and sane. I hope that the road smooths for your entire family.

  2. Some of the phrases you used above reminded me of a discussion several of us were having on Facebook just yesterday, on the subject of shame as a psychological condition, and I recalled the work of Gershen Kaufman on that subject.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Geoff. I found this touching and refreshingly honest. Being a parent is really hard… probably the most important and challenging thing I’ve ever done. While I haven’t gone through exactly what you’re facing, I can empathize with the frustration. Thank you again for your perspective.

  4. As a former worst, most idiotic boy in the world (actual quote) whose parents weren’t sure how to help, I recommend counseling. My parents didn’t offer me that option until I got better, then worse in high school.
    For what it’s worth, my sense of self got more accurate as I got older, and now I like me very much.

  5. I have lived this crazy tightrope you are currently on. Our journey was pretty extreme. At one point my husband and i took turns every day through the end of school year taking off to stay home with our son to try and keep him alive through that day. The next day i had to show up in the my classroom and try to find some way to be mentally present for my students. Crazy difficult things that don’t need to be written here have left me with lots of information and years of life experiences in this world.
    A counselor encouraged us to try the genetic testing sited in the attached article, and miraculously, after only 6 months of targeted treatment, it was over. We are now living on the other side of that cripling depression. Hang in there. It is possible to recover.

  6. I’m so sorry you and your family are going through this. Parenting can really be a struggle. Your own child’s pain is completely heartbreaking. It’s so great that you are trying to take care of yourself. Thank you for being brave enough to share, and for encouraging other people to get the help they need, too. I hope you find some peace and that your son does, too.

  7. Oh man did this ever bring back some horrible memories, especially the after-school moment-of-truth that always made my heart ache. Looking at it all from the other end, I can tell you that you’re doing all the right things. It will probably take a while, and it’ll be two steps forward, one back, but it will get better. In the meantime, lots of deeply empathetic hugs.

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