Quit with the hiding, quit with the playing devil's advocate, quit with the holding back, quit with the ever-present safety net thrown out, quit with the mamby-effing-pambying.
Let me back up a bit.
Last time we talked, I was in the depths of sleepless nights and feverish worry about our son, who’s away at college and has been going through some “stuff.”
After my drive down there to see him in person and grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he returned to himself, I spent the next few weeks texting him every morning to check in and make sure he knew we’re here for him.
To make sure he knows he’s not alone and to make sure he knows how very much he’s loved.
And to give him the nudges he needed to get out of his “comfort zone” and live life.
I used quotes around “comfort zone” because - I know this from personal experience - when you have anxiety, you tend to go out less and less, pull away from friends one after another, and retreat further and further into yourself, because your brain feels like it’s safer there, sheltered from whatever illogical horrors may be lurking outside the little box you’ve built around yourself.
And part of you thinks that box is your comfort zone, but the truth is, it’s not comfortable at all.
It’s dark and lonely and those unnamed anxieties are still there closing in on you, even though the walls of your fortress have pulled in closer and closer to you like a steel straightjacket.
There’s only one way out: you have to take the first step.
You have to quit being stuck in that place, force yourself to step out and do the thing that you don’t want to do, and it freaking sucks, and you feel nauseous and headachey and sweaty around the hairline and your butt cheeks squeeze together because you feel like you’ll have diarrhea right there in your pants, but then you’re at the thing - the whatever-it-is-you-didn’t-want-to-do - and you realize it’s not that bad.
It’s not nearly as bad as you’d imagined.
And then you force yourself to do it again.
It’s a cycle: you force yourself out of your “comfort zone,” you feel a little better… a little stronger.
A little more resilient to the scary, unknown forces of - what? The thing is, when you have anxiety, you don’t even know what it is that you’re scared of.
And maybe “scared” isn’t the right word. “Uncomfortable.” That’s better.
Our son came home a couple of weekends ago and he seemed to be gaining some traction in pulling out of the funk.
I’d of course told him all the things I just said to you, and hopefully that’s what’s helped.
I’d like to think that my highly skilled and brilliantly intuitive mothering is what we’ll one day point to as “that which saved him.”
But I quit sending the daily texts after he was home and then went back to school because - and I say this with love - he was a disrespectful asshole when he was here.
Not in the sense that you might be thinking: he didn’t disrespect us verbally.
He disrespected the rules of our house - and me, specifically - by being slobby and expecting us (me) to pick up after him while he slept like a little angel all morning.
I don’t deny that he battles anxiety and depression, because he comes from a long line of it (my side of the family, naturally).
But he’s also irresponsible AF.
We’re dealing with a(n) (un)healthy combination of both.
It makes for a complicated and delicate balance from a parenting standpoint.
I pulled him out of his dorm room when I went to him last month, and I forced him into the sunlight. I made him take that first step out of his “comfort zone” and with daily texts, I coaxed him to take the next step and so on and so on.
And after he was home for the weekend and I could clearly see that - on top of having anxiety - he’s also just a typical teenager who needs the space to figure things out on his own, and I realized it was time for me to step back and go dark.
So that’s what I did.
No texting, no calling. No checking in whatsoever for a full, brutal week.
And he didn’t reach out to me, either, angry for coming down on him before he left.
Possibly confused because I’d been so nurturing and sympathetic in the weeks prior.
But I had to draw the line, as hard as it was (and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because - even though I think he’s at the tail end of a cycle of depression - he’s still in it), and how do you know where depression ends and irresponsibility begins?
My son’s college has an amazing, supportive Facebook group for parents of its students, and I’d posted about this situation when my son initially reached out to me.
I needed to know if any of their students had gone through this, and if there’s any hope at all that he can come through the other side with a sliver of success.
All the responses were supportive and a few had dealt with similar hurdles, but then their kid got back on track, all with happy endings.
One woman said that her friend's son did the same thing as my son, and he did get back on track, ended up graduating and got a prestigious job 🙌.
But after about two years there, he quit his job and started delivering pizzas, and has been doing that for like 10 years because he's happiest just doing that, AND THEN I FREAKIN DIED because I'm thinking George Washington will waltz right out of my asshole before my son spends the rest of his life delivering pizzas with a college degree!
God willing he even gets one.