Our Invisible and Unwelcome Family Member

This is what “nobody is perfect” looks like in my world tonight.

We’ve been locked in a power struggle with my son lately. The depression tells him he doesn’t have the energy or the will to do the things he’s supposed to do at school or at home. The anxiety tells him it doesn’t matter if he does the stuff, because it probably won’t be good enough anyway. Combined, those two competing narratives look most days like him avoiding everything he has to do and escaping into things that feel good (video games, YouTube videos, consumption of carbs and sugar, mindless flipping through any magazine sitting around). The problem is that he’s so deep in a hole at school, we’ve had to ban the video games and YouTube videos (actions have consequences even when mental illness is in the equation). But being a teenager he also wants to do what he wants to do. And so we have a daily power struggle.

This evening that power struggle ended in my getting so frustrated with his cajoling, bargaining, begging and flat out ignoring of house rules that I threw the car keys in my hand onto the kitchen counter. I threw them hard. I threw them with all of the emotion I was feeling and attempting to keep in check. The result was a broken key fob. The immediate aftermath saw lots of tears and texting to my husband on my end, lots of self loathing responses from the man-child, and an attempt to swoop in and fix things by my daughter. Not my finest parenting moment.

But here’s the thing. The reality is that my family is living a life colored by the nuances of teenage mental illness. While his anxiety and depression do not define my son, they are often like an unwelcome fifth member of our family. It’s that ghost like additional family member who has the ability to wreak havoc on the rest of us. My son is living with anxiety and depression, but the entire family lives with the fallout caused by his anxiety and depression.

There are some moments/hours/days/weeks/months where none of us feel like we have control – where the unwelcome and invisible fifth family member is calling the shots. The moment in which I threw my keys on the counter was one of those moments. In that moment the anxiety and depression controlled both me and my son. In that moment I was not at my best. It happens. Nobody is perfect.

The key fob is fixable. My son and I have already hugged and moved on. Tomorrow will come and we may find ourselves in yet another round of power struggle with the face of my son but powered by the invisible additional family member that is his anxiety and depression. Chances are good that tomorrow I’ll respond in a calmer and less volatile way, but it’s nearly impossible to always have a calm and measured response to an unpredictable and invisible force. It’s nearly impossible because I am far from perfect.

Nobody is perfect, and that’s okay. My car key is broken, and that’s okay. Every morning is another chance for my son to be a stronger presence than the anxiety and depression. So tomorrow, we’ll all try again and hope it’s a day where the phantom fifth family member fades into the shadows.

2 Thoughts

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