My son is so worried about his exams next month that he’s making himself really ill. It’s awful to have to watch. I’ve already written about being worried about the drop in his appetite. Of course as a parent, you want to avoid your children suffering – you look after them, you try to give them what you think is good advice, you fuss, nag, shout or praise depending on your personal style. But against depression, what can you do? Perhaps some parents – with some children – can intervene and stop the process, but I suspect nature is against the rest of us. (This doesn’t make it any easier to accept.)
My son has Asperger’s, and his thinking can be rigid at times. I encourage him to talk to me about his worries and I listen to what he says. I know enough about CBT to spot some of the classic thinking traps, but usually I try to keep quiet. Just occasionally I can’t stop myself and I ever so gently imply that there is an alternative way to think about something – an alternative that would be less painful, less guilt-ridden, less brutal. I am always roundly rebuffed. He is going through a phase where it is so important to reject advice from parents, that he hardly listens to a word I say. He has to reject it, he has to refute it (no matter how thin his arguments against), he has to stake his independence. I can see the path out of his prison, but he won’t take it until he finds it for himself.
Isn’t this always the problem with supporting someone with depression? You are sitting outside the prison with the key to the door in your hand, but they refuse to take it from you?
It seems all I can do is what I am doing: watching out for him in practical ways, making sure he gets to bed at a reasonable hour, cooking for him, nagging him to wear his coat when it rains. I have arranged for him to see professionals for the depression, we take him to his appointments, I try to give him space to talk if he wants. I talk to the school, trying to explain why this is not just normal reluctance to do exams, but something more dangerous. I try to make sure he doesn’t become isolated in the family, I encourage him to come on family outings (he doesn’t usually want to go), I make sure he sees his friends.
There’s a fair chance he won’t even be able to take these exams – he’s been unable to take several in the past. There are serious problems building up for him in the future if he carries on skipping them. And in the meantime, his mood is getting bleaker, and more savage with every day that passes. But all I can do it seems is watch and support him.