When I was 22, life was a wonderful adventure. I was still in college, had a part-time job, belonged to the campus radio station, took journalism classes, and mandatory classes that I should have taken in my freshman year but put off until later. I went out dancing at night, dated a lot, and had a best friend who lived in the same building as I did. Life was so full and so fun.
Now my son, John, is 22 and his life is so different from mine. He’s still in school and has a part-time job, but there the similarities between his life and mine end. He is just so sad.
He was such a happy, carefree child in elementary school. He had neighborhood friends and was happy. I was glad that we had moved into an old-fashioned neighborhood, where kids played outside. But even then, trouble was brewing. One of the neighborhood kids secretly bullied him. In front of the other kids, this boy, Joe, would humiliate John by belittling his athletic ability, his personality, his appearance, his manner of speaking, and anything else he could think of.
Often, when I thought the boys were all playing together, I’d go outside and find my son sitting alone on his swing. When I asked him why he wasn’t with the other boys, he’d tell me that Joe had made fun of him and had told him to go home. The next day, things would return to normal, but then Joe would mock my son in front of their friends and then John would come home, demoralized. Little by little, the other kids started excluding my son from their activities. By middle school, he was always alone.
At school, he became withdrawn and fearful. Anytime he made a friend, the friend would eventually drop him. One told him that he “tried too hard.” Another childhood friend, Troy, turned on him and ridiculed him to everyone at the bus stop. One girl at the bus stop had laughed at the insults, but that night, she went to her mother in tears, saying that she felt so guilty for laughing at Troy’s meanness toward John. The meanness was addressed by the school, but that only exacerbated the hostility.
There was a sweet boy, Tom, who befriended John when they were in sixth grade. John did everything in his power to avoid being his friend, but Tom was persistent. To this day, I thank God for Tom. Tom went on to make many friends, but he never forgot John. They still occasionally get together.
John made a few other friends in middle school, but they were as shell-shocked and insecure as he was. He still contacts them, but they rarely want to leave their homes to go out.
During middle school, John sank into a deep depression and often threatened suicide. This sweet, gentle boy became a tortured teenager with a lot of anger. Much of his frustration was aimed at me, his nearest target. My husband and I got him help. We tried out several therapists and settled on the psychiatric nurse in his doctor’s practice. She pulled him from the depths many times and prescribed medications. He still sees her, even though he should graduate from a pediatric practice. We just can’t make the move to an adult practice for him, though, because he will lose her in the move, and she and he have worked together for more than ten years.
The years following middle school were tough: three high schools, three colleges, a week in a behavioral hospital to treat depression. The highs and lows were, and are, devastating to him and to us. I asked his therapist if he was bipolar, and she said that she didn’t think so. She diagnosed him with depression, mood disorder, and social anxiety.
My husband and I live with heavy hearts. Our son is kind, religious, sweet, smart, adores sports and music, is an excellent writer, and loves being with us and his extended family. But he is absolutely paralyzed when it comes to interacting with people his own age. He confided to me that he doesn’t understand why the guys he works with make plans without him. He said that people just don’t like him and he doesn’t know why. He once told me that he’d like to have a girlfriend, but he doesn’t know how to go about meeting girls. He has nobody to hang out with except us, and occasionally his friend, Tom.
We have suggested joining groups, and John is enthusiastic at first, but his interest wanes once he joins one. I think he feels invisible with other people.
John comes to me often for hugs of reassurance. He cries a lot. There is nothing physically wrong with our son. He has wonderful times with people our age, and feels comfortable with them. My husband’s friends have even gone to baseball games with him, without my husband.
I don’t know how to turn this around for my son. I pray constantly for him. It’s a sad situation and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. My husband and I have faith that it will, but sometimes it’s hard to see past John’s despair and imagine him happy again.