Journal entries in a confusing time
When Nathan was in his teen years, I kept a haphazard journal of what life was like. By sharing a few of those entries below, I hope to convey the emotional exhaustion, the confusion, the wide swings in outlook that were part of his life, and ours.
I’m glad I made the journal entries. They show how things were, much better than my memory would ever allow. Today, I’m glad to say that while “things” are still a concern, they are nowhere near as volatile for us as they were back then.
The first thing I wrote in my pseudo-journal was not a journal entry, but a note to Nathan when he was 13. (Sometimes it felt better to write it down, giving him time to digest and think about his response. Discussions can get off track and go careening down an emotional path that can do harm, while the initial point gets lost.)
Anyway, in the note I told him of all the good qualities he had, then went on to explain that his father and I were seeing some troubling trends in his behavior, decisions, and attitude. I talked about why we were trying very hard to steer him away from doing things that would limit his potential for the future. I closed with acknowledging he seemed to be a pessimist by nature, but encouraged him to “look for the possible, more and more, and obsess on the obstacles less and less – especially the ones you create for yourself.”
I think he didn’t react much – maybe just a shrug and “yeah, I read it.”
The journal excerpts below are a sampling – I wrote other entries on other days -and they mostly convey Nathan’s actions and feelings. Throughout the journal, there’s also mention of what medications he was on, and how the dosage was being adjusted by the psychiatrists: Effexor XR, Risperdal, Invega, swap this one for that one, Prozac, try Risperdal again, try Lamictal again, Lithium ….
Here an excerpt from when he was 15:
Last week for the first time he expressed an idea of a possible job he’d be interested in (dealing with zoo animals). Before that, he often said that all jobs would make him miserable, so he might as well be homeless. Tonight he is still holding the idea that school is being forced on him, so (he thinks) it’s understandable why he lies about having done his work, and why he doesn’t do the work in the first place.
A few months later:
A bad day. Nathan has 3 F’s and 2 D’s. I imposed consequences; he snuck out of the house without permission, returning only to “get some money and Chapstick.” We then talked more than two hours. He doesn’t feel appreciated at home, says he is a failure, says he was born a failure, has nothing to live for, believes leaving is the best option. By the end of the day he was back to being respectful, leaning on my shoulder, etc.
A week later:
First day volunteering at the Library, something he was not likely to have done six months ago. Went there with minimal complaint, and said afterwards that he had enjoyed it, that maybe he could work in a library as a paid job someday.
Two months later:
Some mixed signals. In an hour-plus conversation with me, Nathan said he didn’t think he’d live to be 16. I asked him what he’d like to see happen (no more school? work part-time?); he said the best course he could think of involves his death. Daily life would have more meaning if daily tasks were essential to living (e.g. gathering food for a meal).
So that’s a pretty big negative. On the plus side, he’s showing interest in playing Uno with the family….
We think he had a sleepwalking incident last night. It was odd, scary behavior. We haven’t known of a sleepwalking incident in several years.
At age 16:
Nathan is now taking 6 mg Invega. It seems to be helping; some potentially volatile situations did not turn out badly (start of school year at his new school; getting blood drawn). He is falling asleep more easily (and voluntarily) and seems to be sleeping more soundly. He volunteered that he loves his new school and is making friends – two things he predicted would never happen. His teacher reports that Nathan smiles at times….
I’ll close for now with another entry from when Nathan was 16:
Nathan was up to 40 mg Prozac earlier this month. Dr M dropped it back down to 20 mg after some worrisome developments.
Nathan was saying how he isn’t afraid of going to jail any more, so that fear was no longer a restraint on him hurting someone who had hurt him. He talked about going after people who had teased him in elementary school, as well as anyone who messes with him now.
… The Monday before [Christmas] break at school, he got a referral from his Ceramics teacher for refusing to participate in class and getting surly with her. The same day he got detention for using excessive profanity in Mr. F’s class. He didn’t want to go to school the rest of the week.
He was withdrawn/sleepy during family get-togethers at Thanksgiving and Christmas. He didn’t interact as much with his cousins, whom he usually enjoys.
He has stopped playing with [a longtime childhood friend]. Nathan had an angry phone conversation with him, trying to convince [the friend] about his world views and getting angry when [the friend] wouldn’t commit to “having my back no matter what.” Loyalty seems very important, and according to him you are either for him or against him.
Nathan is more resentful when he judges that other people (parents, teachers) “overreact” negatively to his misbehavior.
There have been some positive signs mixed in with all this, but the overall trend was not good.