My son finally broke down yesterday and told me that he is completely miserable at college. He hates dorm life, the food, being away from us/his girlfriend of four years/his cat, and trying to get through his classes while being so nauseous.
My first instinct was to go into rescue mode, which is my default when someone close to me tells me that they’re having problems. I also know that this is not necessarily the healthiest response.
I want my son to feel empowered to make the decision on his own about whether or not he should stay at school. Either way, he will most likely be coming back home for good at the end of the semester. The real question is whether he can make it until then.
I’m scared for him because his mental health is clearly in crisis. He doesn’t want to drop out and owe money, so I will be trying to see if he can drop out due to mental health concerns and not have to pay the tuition back. I’ve heard that’s possible but I don’t know how attainable it is.
All I know is that I want him to be feeling well again. This is his first really major mental health crisis, though I knew he had some tendencies. I am afraid of him becoming a suicide statistic, to be honest.
The campus is the second-largest in the country. They have as many students on campus as we had people in two of the “tri-cities” combined where we lived in Michigan. I’m not surprised that he’s struggling with feeling overwhelmed by that.
I am worried about the long-term repercussions of him being there, too. He’s already starting to be afraid of being in cars again (an old phobia he’d mostly overcome, originating in witnessing his brother get hit by a car.)
So while I wait for all this to play out, I messaged my mom to update her about how Dylan’s doing. I was kinda annoyed that she said maybe he’s having more trouble because he never went away to any camps or anything. Maybe that’s the case but I can’t change it now, and we couldn’t afford it when he was at an age when it would have counted.
She also implied that it’s a problem for him that we have a close relationship and that it’s making it harder to separate. Maybe that’s making it harder, I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be “too close” to your kid.
Then I told her that my husband had a really rough weekend last week with chemo, and that I constantly feel like I’m bracing for things to get worse while also simultaneously trying to be normal. It’s an extremely difficult balancing act, to be honest.
She said that I was so strong and that she herself couldn’t imagine going through what I am, which was kinda nice to hear. But she’s right: she really has no idea what I’m going through.
I also told her that last weekend I was so low and depressed that I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and that I reached out to my male friend because I knew he’d understand (which he did and helped me through it.)
And then I told her that upon hearing about Dylan, another friend who lives in Houston (whom I stayed with briefly when I moved down here) offered to pick him up and take him to her house for a getaway weekend to relax by the pool. She has sons the same age, so she gets it. That would totally freak him out but it was a very kind offer.
Then my mom said that I am so lucky to have such good friends who will be there for me in a crisis and called me “blessed” to have it. Which I guess I am. I may not have a lot of people to see every day but I do have a lot of people I can count on when I’m in crisis. Fortunately, my true crises are rare and I get through most of them by myself.
I also told her about my oldest moving out and how good that’s been for our relationship, and I mentioned that my daughter said we can move in with her if it’s ever needed and we can pool our expenses.
I know that I am very lucky to have a kid who feels such a strong sense of obligation to our family and lucky that her boyfriend goes along with it. She told him on like their second date that taking care of her family if necessary is non-negotiable, and we extended the same to him by letting him stay with us for a year to keep him safe from Covid.
My mom said she doesn’t have that (and I strongly suspect she’d been drinking) and that she’s resigned herself to being the only one she can count on.
I don’t know if she was unintentionally telling me something about her relationship with my dad. It would certainly be a surprise if she was, both because she’s always talked about how great her marriage is and also because her life wouldn’t be possible in its current state without my dad.
To be honest, if she needed a place to stay, I’d probably take her in—but there would be ground rules and boundaries. In general, boundaries are the one thing I’ve worked most on developing over the course of the past years. I know that she’s not in a place to feel comfortable with boundaries yet and honestly, she may never be. And I know my sister has even stronger boundaries than I do.
But I do feel very, very thankful that my life has such good people in it, people who will do anything for me. I would do the same for them as well and often have.
Yet I also don’t think it’s just a matter of luck, either. I’ve worked very hard for a very long time to cultivate these relationships—to my husband, my kids, my friends. I try not to take more than I give.
It is these relationships that make me feel like I might possibly be okay once my husband is gone. Like my mom said, I am too young to be thinking about this. But life decided otherwise, so I have to figure out how to cope and hope that I gain a lot of wisdom in the process.