Left or right? I sat at the intersection pondering the lasting consequences this decision would have.
It was December 2015 – a particularly harrowing month to be living with Luke. Luke does not just enjoy summer, he requires it to be happy. He needs the movement outside to burn off energy and soak up happy emotions. By December, with both exercise and vitamin D limited and Christmas chaos and candy abundant, Luke had become completely unmanageable and violent. One day, Little A – then three and still very small for her age – tripped as she bopped along with the kids coming in from school. Without warning, Luke was at her side, stomping on her head and laughing uncontrollably. He probably only landed one or two hits before my teenage boys saved her, one tackling Luke, the other blocking her from the blows, but the image was seared into my brain. My little girl suffering under the feet of her much larger brother who mindlessly acted on every passing impulse. He was growing so quickly; how would I ever protect her when I no longer had the older boys to intervene – when his body looks like theirs? Six feet and 200 pounds of uncontrolled emotion was a fear that I just could not imagine.
Life at school was not much better. Although we had hit the jackpot of loving talent in a new behavior interventionist (BI), Erin, the special education teacher simply did not have the temperament to handle my volatile boy. Whenever Erin was gone, his behaviors with the teacher escalated. He knew how to push her buttons and did so freely. Breaking away and running from her, pushing and hurting other students, intentionally ripping breaking his classmates’ eyeglasses, dumping and breaking school supplies, smashing the box that holds the fire extinguisher. After enduring months of his abuse, the teacher finally broke. She just could not work with Luke any more.
I am not sure the specific event that led to the drive I was on with my Luke. I know it had been another rough day at school and he would. not. stop. screeching – the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard screech that just grates on sanity. In desperation, I loaded him into the van; it was the only activity that had ever reliably calmed him. We drove and drove and drove. Slowly the screeching faded into wimpering and then to blessed silence. As I pondered our situation, I became completely and helplessly overwhelmed. Endless drives day after day simply could not continue, but it was our only calm from the storm. Suddenly, a thought came to me that promised to protect the people I loved and end the endless frustration. . . .
I have struggled with depression, probably, since I was a teenager. I have had suicidal thoughts for a good part of my life, but these thoughts were always outside the boundary of my reality. They would pop up unexpectedly without provocation, but they were not my reality. I am a happy person; I would not ever DO the things that just popped into my head. This day was different though. I suddenly had a moment of complete clarity – a solution to this unsolvable problem. If he only wanted to drive, then we would drive. Just up the highway from our house the road rounds a corner that is precariously close to a rocky ravine. As a kid, I was terrified of rounding that corner, but on this day, it seemed like a small ray of light. It would be so easy to just keep straight. We would leave this problem behind us, together.
It was in this frame of mind that I stopped at the intersection near home. With puffy eyes and a broken heart, I pondered my direction. Left or right? Left would take us to a permanent solution. Right would take me back home to endure more of the never ending screeching and violent, destructive meltdowns. I turned right; that option would still be there on another day; it would always be a choice I could make later. I will make it through this night first.
I was scared: scared that I might actually do something that would hurt so many people I love; scared that I had moved the ever-present suicidal thoughts from the buried corners of my mind to the forefront of conscious consideration. My rational brain knew it was stupid, but my emotional brain just kept reliving the option. Was I going crazy? How could I trust myself to take care of Luke when I had actually considered this awful thing?
While dropping Luke off at school the next day, Erin and I were trouble shooting possible triggers and solutions for the behaviors we were seeing. Next thing I know, words were tumbling out as I recounted the previous evening’s experience. I am not sure what I expected – perhaps a horrified gasp or a stunned reprimand. What I didn’t expect was her calm response, “Shanna, I would think you were crazy if you didn’t have thoughts like this. Look at what you are going through.”
Erin’s background is in social work; she has helped truly troubled souls move to a better place. She has more love for lost souls than any person I have ever known. She has known and loved people who have actually followed through on these haunting thoughts. Her reassurance that I was not a failure or a danger to my son buoyed my spirit and gave me hope that this was just a passing valley in a vast and beautiful landscape that was unfolding. It was a reminder that we are allowed to suffer in order to more fully experience joy. Yes, Luke’s low times still bring me great sorrow and concern, but I cling to the knowledge that my boy will be back; other days will be brighter, and my view will be all the more beautiful for having known the darkness.
Left or right? I chose right.