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Why do we still say the same things to transition age youth?

July 18th, 2017

My then-17 year old son went to bed the night before his birthday and woke up an adult the next morning.  At least that’s what everyone told him.  Neither of us could see too many differences.  We had often played a game about birthdays while he was growing up.  Just before his 8th birthday he said, “When I’m 8, I am going to like sprinkled cheese on my spaghetti.”  And he was sure, (picky eater that he was) that he would and, so he did. Before he turned 12, he told me, “When I’m 12, I will get over my fear of roller coasters.” And he was determined and made that happen.  I’m still not sure how.

Turning 18 was different.  He couldn’t declare, “When I’m 18, I will have all the skills and knowledge to make my life happy and be able to navigate the mental health system to boot.”  Just because someone proclaimed him an adult, he didn’t actually have all the wisdom and tools he needed.  Because he had a mental illness, there was a lot to know, a lot to manage and a lot of complicated decisions to make.  Saying, “When I’m 18….” didn’t make that happen, whether he said it or a provider said it.

Yet, lots of the time the people working with young adults tell them things like, “You’re 18 now and can make that decision for yourself, “ or “You don’t have to share this information with your mom or dad.”

The Pew Research Center has a lot of data about millennials (ages 18 to 36).  36% are living at home and 59% get financial support from their parents.  Only 25% are married (compared with 30% in 2007) and 48% say their parents most influence their voting.  They account for 20% of all same sex couples in America and 74% say they appreciate the way other cultures impact the American way of life.

Kind of an interesting group, aren’t they?  This data includes all millennials, whether they have mental health issues or not.  Here is what the norms for their age group are not: to get out of the house at age 18, find a spouse, start a family and don’t listen to others.  Yet, in the mental health world, that is often the party line.  Our young people are provided with a version of “normal” that’s often based on outdated data.  Wouldn’t it be great if our starting point was what is “normal” for this generation and then individualize that?

I really like the data on how many young adults say their parents influence their voting.  My son and I have lively conversations about the ballot questions each election. They’ve ranged from charter schools, to humane treatment for animals to “death with dignity.” This last election he had strong opinions on marijuana legalization, but he wanted to hear mine, too.  I don’t think I changed his voting but he got better explaining his stance the more we talked.

We live in a complicated world.  My father carried around cash most of the time and he pretty much knew where each dollar went.  It was visual and even tactile – he could see and feel it being spent.  My son’s bank account, on the other hand, got hacked recently.  Some unknown person went into his account and withdrew and withdrew until everything was gone.  He knew what to do because we’ve talked about and rehearsed this kind of thing before (did a walk through on something minor)  and he went to his bank and filled out fraud forms.  But he needed to get that knowledge before he could perform the action.  This is true for most young people.

Parents can – and usually do – take on a lot of roles.  We can be insurance advocates, emotional supporters, medical historians, the local ATM, encyclopedias, life coaches, navigators, experts on benefits and often, advice givers.  Some of us are better at some of those roles than others.  We can also tailor the information and help to our child, because we’ve been doing it for a long time.  What I don’t get is why many who  support young adults don’t automatically assume that parents have some pretty good stuff to offer.   If you find out they don’t, take it from there.  But don’t make that your starting point. Parents can have a variety of roles which is not pointed out often enough.

When my son turned 18, I asked him what roles he wanted me to play.  He hated the idea of having to call insurance for a prior authorization.  He liked the idea of being in charge of his treatment, but having me on speed dial for medical history (yes, I still have a list of all the meds he’s tried).  This was our conversation, not one with providers, though it could have been.  We made it clear for ourselves where we wanted to start and we agreed that not everyone knows everything they need to know.  And that’s okay.

It never goes smoothly.  There were times when I was bossy and times when he was determined to reject help.  There were times when we both couldn’t figure it out.  There were times when I had a hard time giving up my old roles and there were times he didn’t want to take on any new ones.

We kept figuring it out and still are.  What made it harder were the times his providers said, “You don’t have to talk to your mom” or “You need to make this decision,” without asking him if he wanted it that way and letting it be okay whatever he chose.  Young people with mental health needs become independent, but their path can be full of curves, needing comfort one day and distance the next.   It might include getting advice and support from their parents, just like the rest of their generation.  Nothing wrong with that.

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Ramblings within a month-long depressive episode

July 4th, 2017

I’ve been wondering recently what it’d feel like to work in one of those call offices for suicide hotlines. I know the pay is crap and that shouldn’t matter but you must be pretty strong to help someone after they shatter.  The thing I love though is that the people who actually call those are trying to put their life back together.

I’ve been on and off suicidal for as long as I can remember. I’ve never attempted. I smile. I laugh. I lend every helping hand I have. My depression is caused by demons of my past that I almost got away from but they’ve caught back up to my present. I look to my past and see nothing but haunted houses and ghosts. I look to my future and see a vast, empty desert with no road. I am lost and I am scared. Imagine looking to your future and seeing nothing. Nothing but a death trap. I live in a house I fear I will never escape and the worst part is…it’s not actually that bad.

I learned how to be independent at a young age. With a father who was busy working so the family could have money, a mother who was all talk and no action and an older sister who never felt or acted older. I had no choice. I don’t remember when I first started questioning who would miss me. I knew my dad would be devastated and my mom would blame herself. My sister might try to follow me as well because I’ve always set an example. My best friend would feel like she lost everything and as much as we jokingly say we want to die to each other, I think she’d be upset she didn’t take me seriously.

I got a new therapist recently. She’s nice but when we talk I discover walls I never realized I built and don’t have the strength to knock down. I haven’t figured out how to vocalize my feelings yet and it’s much easier to write this thinking no one will be reading it. But people have to read it. I want people to know that it’s a good thing I’m scared to kill myself. I’d much rather a car hit me or a shooter shoot me. Although in some sense it’d be pointless because I believe in reincarnation.

I’ve been on medication since I was 8 and it really messed with my hormones and nervous system. People have suggested I look back into them but they honestly scare me. They messed me up so bad. They messed me up because my depression was situational. My depression isn’t caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. It’s caused by me living in a city, a state, a place I hate. The real question is, though, Where do I like?

I have spent my entire life living because other people seem to think I should. I live to stop my family and friends from crying. I live because what if I actually am supposed to marry the kpop star Choi Minho in the future, I can’t leave him alone. What about the kids I haven’t adopted? What about the cats I haven’t pet? I live for all these reasons but none of them are actually for me. If you asked me what I want to be when I grow up I’ll probably lie. My real answer would be dead…or somewhere I feel alive.

The author would like to remain anonymous, but has been a long-time member of Youth MOVE Massachusetts and offers their support to other peers who may also be struggling.

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