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I’m in the middle of one of those weeks which is like a really bad Italian opera. Not one of the great ones, but one of those flabby, cut-and-paste jobs that were just trying to make a fast buck. There is too much high emotion, raised voices and an unlikely plot.

Life with teenagers is not always easy. Life with two highly strung teenagers, both with mental health issues, can really suck. Week four of the school term, the nights are drawing in, homework is piling up, and there is a sudden flurry of assessments. Both kids, in their different ways, buckle under the strain. There are lots of tears, a lot of catastrophising and an overdose is taken (yet again).

I calm, coach, encourage and insist. I drive, cook and shop. I negotiate with school. I phone psychiatrists and therapists. As an after thought, I sometimes work. I don’t sleep, laugh or relax as much as usual.

I think, Why are my kids like this? What did I do wrong? What could I do differently?

I am sorry I had to miss a key meeting at work, sorry I forgot to go to the nurse for my blood test, sorry I failed to return my neighbour’s call, sorry there was nothing in the house to eat one evening. But it was all I could do to survive this week.

But hey, I wrote my blog post: and this weekend I shall bake some bread.

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I was awfully gloomy as a teenager: I mean, a real Eeyore; I can’t have been much fun to be around. Of course teenage is a time of extreme states of mind, extreme joy can be replaced by cold darkness in a heartbeat, but this was a settled grey fog, without relief or variety. From the age of 11 onwards, for several years, I experienced everything through a thick muffling blanket, took very little pleasure in anything, and felt no connection with the rest of the world. At the time, depression was not recognized in teenagers, and since I never lost time from school, and carried on studying hard, none of the adults around me, with one exception, knew that anything was wrong.

The exception was my mother, who knew just how unhappy I was. For years she patiently chased me down, listened to me, chivied me away from my books. She taught me the gentle pleasures of going for walks, doing crosswords, watching a favourite TV programme. It was years before I finally mastered the art of not being depressed, and fully appreciated what she had given me in those years.

However, although she was sympathetic, I never felt that she understood. I was convinced that she had never experienced depression in her life. It seemed to me that our temperaments were as different as the sun and the moon. Both my father and I suffered depression, but my mother seemed mysteriously immune. Of course, as a teenager, since it seemed obvious to me that the world was just depressing, I secretly thought my mother was a bit lacking in imagination! In fact later on the turning point in my battle against depression was in finally recognizing that happiness was not a failure of imagination.

Now I am the mother and it is my children who are amazed at my apparent impermeability to the utter awfulness of the world around them. I am the one coaxing, listening, modelling a calm and happy life. It’s not a confidence trick: I am not selling them a pup. I am happy, and I could show them how to become happy too. But I know they can’t hear that yet, and that it may take a long time for them to understand. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they think I don’t understand, and that I am a bit lacking in imagination.

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.)

ImageMy 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.

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