My Kid Said He Wanted To Die

For some parents this wouldn’t be a big deal. We all know that kids say the darnedest things don’t they? Yet somehow I can’t see this on the eponymous Bill Cosby hosted show. But for someone who has struggled with suicidal ideation since I was seven this is extremely disturbing. In the interests of protecting his anonymity on this sprawling TMI zone we call the Internet, I’m not going to tell you which of my sons said this. I will tell you that just as my suicidal ideation is finally starting to die away in my consciousness, it seems to have been passed on to my son by osmosis. Life. What a riot.

Since I am still living with my ex, we are parenting together and it has been relatively easy. We share the weeknight bedtimes and mornings, and on weekends he takes Saturday and I take Sunday, unless either of us has another specific event. It’s all been very organic, and above all, very adult, but I guess that’s what happens when a breakup doesn’t involve lies or deception, and features two people who are jointly committed to putting the kids first. Putting the kids ahead of my own needs? Wow, that is so un-Borderline-y.

This particular episode with the kid took place on a Saturday when, even though it wasn’t supposed to be my day, I happened to be home and ended up interacting with the kids, when I wasn’t napping or writing in my pajamas. There were the standard fistfights that flared up between the boys, in between laughing hysterically and playing with each other. Then the mood changed, and being a mother I noticed it immediately through the wall. All parents know the difference between the “playing” tone, and the “we’re not playing” tone. It’s something that comes to you once you become a parent of multiple children, like narcolepsy.

Then one of them burst in, “He says he wants to die. He says he’s going to lie down on the road and let a car run over him. I’m worried about him Mommy.”

I sighed. It wasn’t even my day.

Most parents might brush this off as a child being dramatic, but in my case I felt like this at eight and though I was being dramatic, I also was not joking. I really wanted to die, and no one around me seemed to get that. I caught him just as I was coming back inside, when he promptly climbed up into an alcove in our garage and threatened to jump. He looked quite comical standing there, as there is no way he would have died off that height. Sprained an ankle maybe.

Fortunately, I am the parent most qualified to understand and listen to his feelings. I talked him off the ledge (literally) and then he lay with his head on my lap and we talked for a long time. I explained to him that our thoughts and feelings are like weather; they pass by, and we may observe them but know they will change. I explained that if he did this now, these feelings wouldn’t make negative roads in his brain, much harder to deal with later. Like mommy’s fucked up synapses, I was tempted to add, but didn’t.

Much later when he was laughing and feeling better, I reminded him how bad he had felt and made him acknowledge how much better he felt now. He grudgingly did. Since then, he has been exhibiting some ragey behavior, and each time I have tried to just be there and contain the feelings for him so he feels safe to express them, without hurting himself. For the first time I am almost grateful for having my hideous life experiences, if they can help my son. Of course, this is if I don’t assume that my shitty genes made him predisposed to these issues in the first place…

The next day I told the story to a friend and kept saying, “It wasn’t even my day…”
“You’re a parent,” he replied, “It’s always your day.”

13 comments

  1. Susannah,

    I have a seven year old boy who occasionally says things like “the demon who lives in my head won’t let me think about what I want to think about” and “It feels like I have only darkness in my brain, no light.” And as a mom who has depression/OCD/anxiety it sets off all my alarms. I’m glad he’s able to talk about it but I constantly wonder if it’s an attention-seeking behavior or if he’s really struggling. I haven’t taken him to a psychologist yet but I have some names. I really like how you compared emotions to weather for him. Where did you learn that one? I may try that the next time he brings up his dark/sadness. I guess it’s all about finding coping mechanisms, right?

    • I got the observing emotions thing from meditation and yoga. It’s a way not to fall into the feelings and let them run you. Wish someone had told me that when I was little as opposed to denying that I was having said feelings.

  2. this is really incredible susanna. i think one of the things we have to gain by our own trauma is the kind of empathy AND coping skills you were able to share with your boy. and also, bravo for not spiraling with it (as i tend to do if/when one of my girls shows depressive symptoms…)

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