Sun with bright rays against a blue sky

NAMI Orange County volunteer Melissa Nemeth passed on as did my brother-in-law Don. Grief that I denied myself now hits me. Now I realize how much compassion I withheld from my husband as I defended myself from pain and from being needed. My prayers go out to Melissa’s family and to my in-laws. The tears flow easily now.


Unfortunately, in my hypomanic flurry of activity of late, I lost control of my anger, my rage. Yesterday morning, I lost my temper with my son when he would not wake up and go to school. I hit him on the arm to rise him. I hurt him. I abused him. He cried. He rolled up into a ball and cried. I forced him to go to school unprepared and emotionally raw. I went into the school’s office. I spoke frankly with his guidance counselor. I emailed the school psychologist at her recommendation.

My son has given me the silent treatment since the incident. I deserve his silence and worse.

Distraught over my behavior, yesterday I twice called NAMI Orange County‘s Warm Line at (714) 991-6412. Last night, as I left the house to cool off, I made this voice recording, which I have not yet transcribed (I apologize to those who cannot hear it).


45 responses to “Death, Grief & the Beast”

  1. […] this is where I was with my son back in April. Transcribing this voice recording was gut wrenching for me. In April, my struggle to get my son […]

  2. Thank you. Greatly appreciate it. I will keep you and your son in my thoughts and prayers, as well.

  3. You’re very welcome. My pleasure.

  4. Kitt, you are brave to share this. My son is also in high school and we’ve had some similar issues this year with him. I understand your frustration and wish you all the best. Here’s hoping things get better soon. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. xo

  5. Thank You, Kitt
    for following my blog, i appreciate it very much

    Best Wishes


  6. I have not read her books. Thank you.

  7. Hello Kitt, do you know of Janet Frame, the New Zealand author of “Angel at my Table,” Owls Do Cry” and “You are now entering a Human Heart,” etc. She wrote her way out of severe schizophrenia, and he books can be inspirational for those climbing out of this or that abyss

  8. You’ve got all the bases covered. It’s just a waiting game. Here, they seem to take turns flipping out. 🙂 This too shall pass (everyone says that and sometimes I believe it too.)

  9. Ah, I thought you had a PhD, as well as a Masters. Either way, you’re about 6 years of higher education ahead of me, at present–and certainly up to the challenge of weeding through the above links 🙂 glad they were of some interest/use!

  10. Shared your links. Thank you for the articles.

  11. Thank you. He does have a therapist. This week, he negotiated reducing the frequency of seeing her to once a month, for therapy can be too much for him given that social interaction and stimulation overwhelm him. He seems to be doing well this week.

  12. Thank you, Amanda. FYI, I’m not a psychologist. I have a masters in psychology and am a California licensed marriage and family therapist, but have not practiced in over 20 years.

  13. Just having a quick look, and some of the more recent articles I can find suggest that actually, bipolar and/or schizophrenia and autism may well have a high incidence of comorbidity; this is not what I recall from my original foray into this topic, but that was several years ago (read: when my soon-to-be 9-year-old was first being assessed for autism, from the age of 15 months). These made for interesting reading, at least (which you, as a psychologist rather than a 2nd-year psych student, are better equipped than me to read anyway!):

    To respond to your statement that your son’s therapist is mistaken, re: empathy in autistic individuals–you are completely correct. The diagnostic criteria is moving on from that outdated and grossly erroneous assumption, and among many autistics who have come to a diagnosis later in life, this is the prevailing sentiment: it is not that we are lacking in empathy, rather, we are so excessively empathetic, we can’t always cope with our reaction to others’ pain, and so we withdraw:

    Finally, this article summarizes and references one of the most personally helpful articles I’ve ever read; it validated a lot of my own feelings and experiences in a way that no other autism literature ever had:

    Hope those are of use/interest!

  14. A therapist for him, may need to be someone who can help him accept his limitations and create more realistic expectations for himself. Therapy for a teen with a chronic condition, might be better than the depression that can occur, from feelings of “not being good enough” or “why can’t I every do it right?” Does that make sense? This is just my opinion

    People keep saying that my son’s current therapist isn’t working, because the behavior is getting worse, but the time (too much) it takes to bring a new therapist up to speed is prohibitive with so much going on with him in and out of the home and with so many things in flux. It may be a good idea to try a different therapist in your son’s his case so he (you) have support regarding his behavior.

    Still giving you a virtual hug. You’re doing a good job. You are a good mom.

  15. I’m trying. Today he said he no longer wanted to see his therapist, for he said it’s not helping. He has a point. Honestly, much of his problems are neurological and genetic.

  16. You are welcome. I’m working on another assessment for my 13 year old, sigh. You are a good mother Kitt!

  17. God bless you, Emily. I cried as I read your response. Nick read it, too. You know exactly what Matthew lives with. It breaks my heart, it truly does, that both you and he feel chronic pain. Migraines suck! He struggles with insomnia, too. He has made it clear to us that he cannot do any extracurricular activities and has no desire to socialize outside of school, for school is enough. I respect that choice and that he is able to articulate his needs and his limits to me. I know that he, like you, has tremendous gifts.

    I know that the demands of public high school attendance requirements and his AP/IB/honors courses can be too much, but he wants stay in the classes for the challenge and because he has friends in those classes. Honestly, he is gifted and belongs in those classes. Right now I am working with his teachers, guidance counselor, and school psychologist to try to help him. The school psychologist is drawing up a three-fold assessment: academic/intelligence, psychological, & physical health. I’m taking him to a pediatric neurologist again soon and to a pediatric gastroenterologist.

    The loss of Uncle Don weighs heavy on his heart. He worries about our other family members, too. Cancer has hit too many, far too many.

    Emily, thank you.

  18. Aunt Kitt, I really appreciate your candor and honesty. As I listened to your words, I caught an echo of what my mom probably said to herself when I was a freshman in high school and failing geometry because of absences due to insomnia/migraines and related doctor visits and tests. I ended freshman year with a C in geometry (just barely passing the class); during that year I had Ds temporarily in Biology (for not doing assignments) and English (for not giving a speech). I never got anything better than a B+ in high school math (test anxiety makes me swap numbers, screw up basic arithmetic, and forget things I already wrote down). My math teacher wanted me to take the regular/non-honors math, but my mom talked to him and was able to explain how much I enjoyed his class and his teaching (and that if I was in an easier class with unmotivated students, I simply wouldn’t do the work and would fail).
    I guess I want to say, looking at your situation from the perspective of the person who is sick and having trouble in school, is that it’s really frustrating to have any kind of chronic illness, especially one as subjective as “my head hurts.” I felt enormously guilty about being sick for no valid reason I could see, and for having no way to prove to others—or to myself—that I wasn’t making up my pain. In high school, if I couldn’t sleep, I put a sticky note on the handle to my bedroom door that said, “wake me at [X] o’clock”. Basically, this meant: “if I have to get up at 6:30am for school after lying awake in bed until 3-4am, I’ll start throwing up in my first class and have to be driven home, and I’ll miss all three of my morning classes AND lunch… But if you let me sleep through my first class, at least I’ll be able to go to the rest of my classes, including math, which I really can’t miss.” Since the throwing-up scenario happened more than once, my parents generally stuck to the sticky note’s instructions, and I had to make up lots of schoolwork.
    For a long time, I’ve had a fear that everyone feels horrible daily (or frequently), but I’m the only one who is weak and can’t handle it and complains. Even as recently as last year, I had to give up a leadership position in my church because I simply could not make it to the early morning meetings. The main reason that I don’t want to be an employee with a traditional workday is the fear that I won’t be able to get up and get to work, and I’ll have to quit my job, and all sorts of horrible things will happen.
    The fear that my pain is merely a personal weakness is not gone by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve been able to avoid much of the stress by how I structure my life and the limitations I have to put on myself. I don’t always wake up with my alarm (and if I wake up, I can’t always get up), so sometimes I lose 2 hours of my morning, or 3, or 5, or more, and I have to make up the deficit into the night (or lose the income). Since I don’t have a nine-to-five job, I can stay up ’til 11, or midnight, or 3 or 4 or 5am working on a project that has to be done by early morning. I don’t like pulling late-nighters, but I would rather stay up late and get something DONE than go to bed early and risk sleeping through the time I want to spend working.
    Unfortunately for my cousin, he doesn’t have the freedom to structure his schooling and work time to fit his own sleep schedule. It sucks. It really, REALLY, sucks! I know; I lived with it most of middle school and all of high school, and even sometimes in college. BUT—it is possible to get through high school and pass classes (even get As) despite having nasty migraines and trouble sleeping. For me, it took cutting out all extra-curricular activities in order to have enough time to work on homework during the day and evening and not late into the night. It took lots of work—during obligatory “free” periods, on weekends, during the times when I would far rather have escaped into a book… It took a ton of stress, and discipline, and effort…
    It is hard, but it is not impossible.
    I lived through it.
    And so did my mom, and my dad.
    And so will my cousin, and so will you, and so will uncle Nick.
    Yikes. That was really long. Thank you for reading this far!
    Sending you and yours my love and strength and support, always.
    <3 Emster

  19. Amanda, I would be happy to receive your links. His psychiatrist says he is not on the spectrum because he is empathic, and just shy, but I believe that he is on the spectrum and that psychiatric understanding of ASD denies that a child can be social and have deep caring relationships AND be overwhelmed by social contact (especially in groups). My son does well in small groups, not in large groups. He writes beautifully, but not metaphorically. His first question before we are to go somewhere is how many people will there be and how loud will it be.

  20. Hi Kitt–this might be an odd question (and as someone on the autistic spectrum myself, I am forever diagnosing people with ASD, so please don’t be offended) but has your son ever been assessed for something like Asperger’s? I ask because of what you said, re: his struggles to do his English work (and particularly sharing it)… I was the same way, in high school. I got a 5 on my AP English exam, in 11th grade (the year I missed 63 days out of 180) but I also got a C on one of my projects that year, because I refused outright to give a presentation (and so my potential A became a C, because I lost the points I’d have had for presenting to the class). I simply couldn’t do it, my shrink even wrote me a note (which is how I didn’t get a big fat zero for the assignment)… it was the aspect of trying to do language and social interaction at the same time, and I just couldn’t handle it. And because I was considered to be such a talented writer (cringe, but all my teachers used that phrase) I couldn’t make anyone understand WHY it was so impossible for me to verbally communicate the things I dredged up out of my very soul, on paper.

    I also used to vomit with nerves regularly (like your son, maybe…) and in hindsight, in spite of a run of about 6 years of repeated tonsillitis and strep throat every single winter, what was actually wrong, was my inability to endure the stress of being around my peers. Half of the school I missed, was because as someone with (then undiagnosed) ASD, I needed more support–not to do the work, but to do it with/around other people. I can remember the feeling of needing to do something to unwind (my mother had banned videogames in our house; it was well-meaning, but how I wish I’d had that outlet!) and without that, I literally couldn’t face endless days of dealing with other human beings AND engaging so thoroughly with my schoolwork (which I did, by the way–if anyone could get me to do my homework, it put my classmates’ work to shame, most of the time).

    I don’t know how familiar any of that sounds, but I just want to make the point that you said your husband is an engineer–many engineers, mathematicians, and other people who have significantly advanced logic and/or spatial skills are thought to be on the autistic spectrum (as in, were they children now, with the broader criteria, they would likely be diagnosed as autistic themselves). Autism begets autism, in my experience… is there any chance at all, that some of what your son is experiencing, is a slightly enhanced version of an autistic spectrum disorder (or just one or two traits, maybe) that he’s inherited from your husband?

    I can find you some information about how often ASD is misdiagnosed (especially in verbally advanced kids!) as a variety of other things, bipolar disorder among them–but it’s not hard to find examples, if you wanted to look yourself. Also, autistic kids are purported to have a much higher incidence of digestive disorders, as compared to other kids (sometimes due to extreme sensory issues/food preferences, but sometimes not–most experts agree, ASD kids struggle with digestion more than neurotypical kids). I just thought it might be relevant.

    Sorry, it’s 1 a.m. here and I need to get some sleep, but please let me know if you want me to post links tomorrow… I just, bah, I wish someone had realized I had ASD before I myself did (which was when my daughter was being diagnosed, long after my high school career was past) because there were things that could’ve been done.

    Good luck to you and your boy, whatever happens. Parenting and being a teenager: 2 of the toughest, most combative positions for 2 people to be in.


  21. Thank you for the link to Special Education Resources. The guidance counselor contacted the school psychologist, as did I, to start the process of having him assessed for Special Education services.

  22. Wow Kitt. You are very strong. This is a horrible situation, you are going through right now. You are doing the right things, therapy, communication with the school, getting him to go to school with or without homework. As the parents, you are responsible for his attendance, a truancy hearing is not fun. He is punishing you, emotionally while you are punishing yourself emotionally, resulting in double the pain. I guess loving mothers do that, but the silent treatment from a child hurts so much. I’m preaching to the choir.

    His illness, does not give him the right to be difficult. He sounds as if he is milking this in pure teen form as if you have been abusing him for years. Maybe I misread this, so correct me if I did. Couldn’t he have a 504 plan, since he has a chronic condition that affects his attendance?

    Is there a Student Services Director you could speak to instead of the guidance counselor, there must be a creative way to get the best education, services available for your son, that will give you more support as well. A bright kid doing AP classes, still should be able to get help, since he misses school each year around the same time. He has a documented history of his illness.

    The parent team is not often enough to handle a child with issues and an illness. Could this page help look at the section for Special Education Resource Links for Families and Professionals. The SERRC office here helped me with my son, getting accommodations in place, long before I was divorced. They were very supportive. I hope it helps.

    You have my support. I wish I could give you a hug!

  23. […] night I saw my psychologist over the disaster that was Tuesday. First I had her listen to the distraught voice recording I made that night. I told her about my […]

  24. Thank you, Annie.

  25. Thank you, Nicole, for your love.

  26. He will forgive you. It was a mistake but you are sorry for emotionally hurting him.
    True abusers are never sorry. They just keep abusing with no remorse.
    My mother ( I have never blogged about her and never speak about her…because it is painful to remember. ..Think of it as an offering to ease your pain) was never sorry and has never thought she did anything wrong.
    She always saw it as Me being the cause and the responsible party for her outbursts and abuse.
    She blamed me.
    The difference here is clear.
    You are taking responsibility and are not blaming your son.
    You even said that It is not the job of the abused person to forgive the abuser.. or something like that.
    I am getting tired….it is 530 am and i cannot sleep still….
    He will forgive you.
    You have to find kindness in your heart for yourself to forgive yourself.
    You can forgive yourself, the same as you would find kindness and mercy to forgive your son….if the situation were reversed and he needed your forgiveness.
    He will need you more to forgive yourself, than to punish yourself.
    Punishing yourself will not benefit him and it will not teach him to forgive himself in the future.
    I remember striking my daughter one time in anger. I think I may have had borderline when I was in my 20s and 30s but not now.
    I felt bad immediately when I realized I had struck her. I still remember the shock and pain on her face.
    I am still very sorry I did it and I wish I could remove it from her story.
    But she did forgive me and I never did that again because I remember her expression on her face of her feeling betrayed by me.
    She loves me all these years later.
    We all love you and we want you to feel better….Much love

  27. Please don’t be so hard on yourself. We all make mistakes, and wish we could go back. You are an amazing person, and I admire your honesty. <3 Sending love and light to you and yours.

  28. Thank you, Diane.

  29. Each child is different and with your son having some physical and perhaps other issues, of course it would concern you whether or not it was connected, or perhaps him just acting up. It’s a real conundrum… Sometimes…(okay more than just sometimes) this parenting business is complex. .. especially during the ‘teen’ years… not a child still and yet not an adult either… take care Kitt….

  30. He’s basically a good kid, but definitely can be a brat. We indulge him. He also has thrown up often since he was a toddler, and he gets chronic migraines. As a result, I’m often not sure whether I should force him to school or whether he really is sick. When I do set consequences (and it’s always my job to do so), he sometimes throws a fit (something that I’ve been known to do, as well). Anyway, I’m seeing my psychologist tonight (she was first his psychologist when he was four, so this is nothing new). He’s seeing his psychotherapist next week. The evening of my post (after I left home to drive, sit in a parking lot, and later isolate myself in our bedroom), our son did 5 hours of homework. He did not speak to my husband, but he did do his homework. The next day, he threw another tantrum when I hid his video gaming controller. That night (last night) he ended up with a migraine. My husband got up with him early this morning to oversee him doing homework and took him to school. I usually take him both to and from school because of my husband’s commute, but my husband is stepping up because I need him to.

  31. Kitt, Don’t be so hard on yourself. The scene you describe happened over and over when our second son was your son’s age. I know you don’t like the fact that you slapped him… but it happened while now days it is called ‘abuse’ whenever we smack our children… (I’m not talking beating here because you did not beat him) You lost your cool and smacked him, and he saw how guilty you felt and made sure that he did all that he could to make you feel worse.

    Our son as we said, did the same thing, didn’t do his homework sometimes and then would say he wasn’t feeling well come the morning and calling him to get up etc. I knew when he was sick and when he was putting it on. And it wore me out. My husband had early hours and so was gone before the time this all happened… so it was me, and then trying to get myself out to work as well. There was one year that basically it was the worst. What I ended up saying most of the time to him, was that if he was sick and did have to stay home… not allowed to go anywhere that day, to play, to go to his hockey practice or game, not t.v. … basically nothing!

    Before you worry about changing his school or classed (unless the subject IS to hard for him… for which you need to have him give you an honest answer)… but I would accept that he is a ‘teen’ who likes to sleep in, doesn’t like to do homework sometimes…. and basically is just being a bit of a nuisance (I was going to say brat, but thought that might sound harsh)

    So, what I’m kind of saying is that while I know this is so hard on you as it was on me, if you give him some consequences that he doesn’t like, whenever he does this… (find his Achilles heel), maybe he’ll think about it.

    Just as an aside, my husband and I tried to see if he needed to go to something like teen challenge (he wasn’t bad enough for that they said) so we went to something called ‘Tough Love’ and we realized that was not for him either… as the teens there were into hitting their parents and a lot worse than our son.. and we left half way through the meeting and decided we’d just have to ride this troublesome time.. through with our son… He survived and so did we… There is hope…!!! Diane

  32. Tonight much better than last night. Clearly he knows he is loved. Thank God.

  33. I’m so sorry to hear things are so tough for you and your family now. I’ll be praying. It’s really hard to be a parent. I love how you’re able to realize these mistakes and try to make amends. I’ve met so many parents who act so high and mighty that they never feel remorse or apologetic to their kids. (Yes, there are awful people and some are “normal” too.) It may be tough for him, but I know deep down he understands and forgives. It’s just hard to get over the pain sometimes. It takes a little while. I’m sure things will work out soon. In the meantime, sending lots of warmth and comfort vibes your way.

  34. I totally understand. Let’s hold each other in prayer and in thought. Let’s pray for our children and even for that poor puppy. So challenging when we are expected to make another free-willed creature – human or canine – obey our commands. Why the insistence on obedience and conformity? We do so much harm to ourselves and others when we force our will and expectations on others or even on ourselves. God bless you. Peace.

  35. Thank you, Vic. My son moved from total silent treatment and sitting in the back seat of the minivan when I picked him up from school to silently sitting in the front seat when I picked him up today. He even spelled out a request for Gatorade writing the word out in the air. I’ll take his acceptance of a Gatorade from me as the first step towards him accepting some sort of peace offering from me. I do not expect my son to forgive me. It is not an abused person’s responsibility to forgive their abuser. But, I do want to make amends. That is my job – atonement.

  36. Thank you, Stockdale. We will survive this. We are a particularly sensitive and highly strung trio. My son still isn’t speaking to me, but at least he spelled out “GATORADE” in big letters with his finger, and he accepted a Gatorade from me – it’s a start.

  37. Thank you. I hope and pray that things will get better. He gave me the cold shoulder again today, but my husband thought we should let him get on Xbox with his friends, since he worked for five hours straight last night doing catch up work while I was on my drive and then holed up in my room.

  38. Thank you again. I’m still on the verge of tears. Very fragile emotionally.

  39. I am sending love your way Kitt. The hardest thing for me to overcome emotionally is the fact that my 8 year old daughter saw me beat her puppy because it would not mind. That shame may not be much to others but it does mean so much to me. I am with you in prayer and thought.

  40. It is easy to beat yourself over this situation but the important thing is that you are emotionally and intellectually aware of what is going on, so you are not in denial. As long as you can acknowledge what is going on and take responsibility for your actions (as you have) then you have put into place the foundation for healing and moving on. It is tough now but your son (and family) know that you love and care for them, so time can and will heal this wound too.

    Take care! Sending positive vibes your way.


  41. So sorry, Kitt. Sounds like a tough, really tough situation. Think you are handling it well. I am not a parent but can see and hear how hard it is, especially in today’s world. My brother’s family fell apart after he died. It’s tough, really tough. Don’t think I could have handled kids and there is so much mental illnesses in my husband’s and my family. But being childless is sad. I will pray more for your whole family. You’re in my heart.

  42. Aw, I’m so sorry Kitt. It is tough being a modern mom. I remember going through some of this sort of thing with my older son who had emotional problems. He was, and is, very smart but can’t focus on more than one project at a time, even though he tries. He ended up getting a GED because he couldn’t handle regular high school and I took him out in his junior year. But oh, the battles we had before then—I yelled at him constantly and once even beat his ass with a belt. That was the only time I used more than the palm of my hand in all my years of being a mother. I still feel bad about that. Talk about a parenting fail!

    Anyway, try to forgive yourself. These things have a way of working themselves out on their own. 🙂

  43. p.s. I just listened to the recording and it brought tears to my eyes. I don’t blame you for feeling fed up! Anyone with a beating heart would be at his/her wit’s end about this, Kitt. Sending you even more love. Thank you for sharing your soul with us that way.

  44. I’m so, so sorry….I know I’d react in a similar way, i.e. the spank & anger/losing control. Many, many other parents would react that way too, but they’d never admit the truth so bravely as you do here.

    As I shared with you yesterday, I am so glad you’ve been proactive about this entire situation, such as contacting his counselor, emailing the school psychologist etc.

    Sending you my love and strength to get through this incredibly challenging time.

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