Since I have written so many emails to professionals trying to find help for our son, I thought it might be useful to hear most of the story from an email I sent last August 2022.
Dear Clinical Psychologist,
A friend has forwarded me your details and I wonder if you can help.
Given the havoc the pandemic has wreaked, I imagine you will be fully booked for months, but I’m emailing on the off chance that I might ask some advice regarding my very lovely son.
His father and I are running out of ideas and we urgently need some advice on how to best help him.
I’m aware that any information I give might be superfluous if you are completely booked up but, in a nutshell:
Our son is a delightful, jolly, talented fifth child of five. He has a very sunny personality, is very sociable and personable and emotionally intelligent. Well, he is regarding others.
Until he was 16 ( in 2018) he was the most mature young man ( think Manny from the American series Modern Family) and hadn’t yet experienced any of the challenges of adolescence.
He had/has a smallish group of very good friends and a social circle of many, many acquaintances.
At 16 he came home one day having smoked cannabis. We were unhappy and told him that his trip to Leeds Fest was dependent on not doing this again. ( Yes, probably not such a good idea). We occasionally asked him to use the test kits you can buy on Amazon and these he did willingly!
Alcohol did not appear to be much of a problem-he maintained he wasn’t that keen.
Whilst in the Upper Sixth ( Year 13) he seemed to really enjoy school-he asked his brother for help with his economics and this was very successful. He seemed to be enjoying his A Levels.
Then the Pandemic struck.
Our son had been going to take a gap year with his two best friends and travel.
They all decided, since the Pandemic had struck, to apply earlier for University since they couldn’t travel and his two best friends were accepted in early.
But Durham didn’t reply to our son’s emails/calls/our letters.
They didn’t reply until the A Level results when they said they were completely full.
Our son was ‘given’ his grades ( his mocks that’d he’d done himself were very good) so he didn’t really feel he’d earned those grades.
Anyway… being left behind had quite an impact on him. His older brother was with us for the first lockdown and things were steady-our son did lots of music practice ( he’s a double bassist and bass guitar), he took Spanish lessons etc. We felt lucky. We had a garden and the resources to be able to help him with lessons. His brother cooked on Fridays and we’d open a bottle of wine.
He got a taste for alcohol.
Then his brother moved to London and our son became incredibly lonely. Still jolly and compliant on the surface, he’d disappear into the local woods when not tutoring ( I tutor and he has done too since he was 16) on Wednesday afternoons and on a few occasions it was clear he’d found some cannabis.
Not many. I was very vigilant. Or so I thought.
We realised that he was suffering. When not under lockdown restrictions , he went to work in a local charity shop in Sheffield, which he loved. And they loved him.
But it kept having to be locked down.
We realised during this time, if we had a couple of beers with him at the weekend, that his tolerance to alcohol was very, very, very low.
He was due to go to Durham in September/October 2020 and the week before, he went into the centre of Sheffield with a ( usually very quiet and studious) friend and saw it was Freshers Week for the Uni.
He was supplied a substance and, of course, we were horrified to see him in a very zombie-like state, having walked through the woods and fallen into a steam en route home.
Adolescence had really kicked in. And seemingly very late.
We went to A and E. He had had ketamine.
You can imagine how horrified we were.
First term of Durham saw him in a very intense relationship with a delightful but slightly mixed up young lady ( like with like?) who finished the relationship in the January.
They are still friends.
Anyway.. a few very worrying incidents later and here we are.
Still very worried about our young’un who finds it difficult to speak to us.
We don’t know whether to sympathise/chastise/ leave him to his own devices ( not sure we can do that!).
But our overriding desire is for his use of drink and occasional drugs not to escalate.
And to keep him safe.
It must be very difficult to be the youngest of so many. Especially when, on the surface, they seem successful and happy ( three have just married).
We urgently need help.
People are giving us very conflicting advice.
We think he probably needs to talk.
I wonder if he needs more help?
We certainly do!
We did get some help for our son from this psychologist including a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, a prescription for medication and 8 weeks later a declaration that she’d suspected he’d had ADD all along ( masked masterfully by cheery quips and a very structured home life).
However, things escalated. He had to come home from his second year at Uni. We watched him 24/7 for a few weeks and realised we couldn’t sustain that. Raiding a locked drinks cabinet, dangling out of a conservatory window, leaping out of a first floor window onto a roof to reach a prowling drug dealer became weekly nightmarish occurrences. Over the next four months he became more and more isolated and paid less attention to personal hygiene ( we tried everything in our power- personal trainer/gym/psychologist/psychiatrist/board games/music nights…. his siblings rallied around…) .
I desperately rang around for help and someone suggested Yes We Can.
Our son went there for ten weeks and is now living temporarily at Start2Stop in London.
He is off all medication and is currently in as good a place as we could have hoped for at this juncture.
But we are less naive than we were. We know the road will be long and bumpy; how excruciatingly difficult it must be for a young person in our culture of drink and drugs to say no.
He continues to be our lovely youngest boy- he’s cleaner ( in all ways, for the moment) and we are ever grateful for that.
And knowing that his story is not untypical and that there is support out there in the form of support like Yes We Thrive is hugely comforting and has been invaluable to his and our recovery.