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17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hey everyone. Just found this site and it was so nice to find it and read the real stories we don't hear in day to day life. I feel completely alone in this situation because the people around me know so little about being the sole carer of a teenager with mental illness.
My son first developed severe social anxiety leading to depression in high school year 7 around his 13th birthday.
He was unable to attend school at all for many months then through a psychiatrist was referred to special schooling from year 8 to 11. He has been depressed about returning to school after these holidays and 3 weeks into term made it to only 2 classes. This week he says he is not going back but simply cannot answer what he will do next. Anxiety has ruled him for his entire teenage life and I feel so lost and depressed sometimes that I have failed him. My family cannot understand and I feel constant pressure from them to fix him by getting tough and their lack of compassion for my son breaks my heart often. They have no idea how much it hurts me and the stigma from them and others hurts and drains me. Thanks for reading and for being a part of something good here.
Me

15 REPLIES 15

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi @shelter

Welcome to the forum. I'm so glad you found us. It is so important that carers feel supported and connected too. As you have discovered with your own family interactions, it's not always easy for others who aren't in the same situation, to comprehend what you and your son are going through.

I hope you find support and connection on this forum.  Smiley Happy

 

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hello @Shelter and a big welcome to the forum.

Your story and mine are the "same, same, but different".  I also have a son, just turned 18 last week, who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and social anxiety disorder.  The wheels came off the cart for him when he was around 13-14 as well and the first thing that was affected was schooling.  From that time until now we have changed schools 4 times to try and accomodate his social anxiety.  One day off school for him is enough to discourage him from attending ever again because in his mind everyone in the whole school judges him negatively and knows he has a problem.  My son's attendance rate has been abysmal.  6 weeks in 1 year at one school; 3 weeks at another, etc. He even repeated a year.   Last year he was fortunate enough to be accepted into a residential care programe which is run conjointly by the Dept of Health and Dept of Education.  He received intensive treatment for his depression/anxiety and concurrently attended a SPS school within the same facility.  Unfortunately not even this did the trick and he remains holed up in his bedroom, devoid of social contact and with no direction for his future.

I have had to deal with the fallout of this on a social level as well.  So called good friends with children of the same age have chosen to remove themselves from our life, but not before offering ridiculous words of advice that were clearly rooted in ignorance.  So just when you need people to rally around you in support, they actually go the opposite direction and that hurts.  Family are no different to be honest.  My mother, still to this day, comes out with comments that attest to her ignorance as well and drops judgements that infer that I am not doing the right thing by saying things like, "You know you should have xxx" and "If I were you I would xxx" and "Can't you just force him to xxx", etc, etc.  Again this doesn't help at all and only adds fuel to my already fragile state.

I have struggled enormously with this for years and have ridden the waves of guilt and hopelessness.  It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  As a mother we only want to see our children succeed in life.  Success in our lives is just being able to get our child to a level of autonomy, independence and survivability.  Where we once may have had lofty and hopeful aspirations for their future, these have unfortunately been quashed and replaced with a different set of aspirations, and there is nothing we can do about it.  

A few things that I have learnt and that have helped me are:

- come to a place of acceptance and embrace that it just is what it is.  Stop trying to get your son to be "normal" and do things he can't.  If your son had a physical ailment, such as a fractured leg, would you expect him to run and partake in physical activity, or would you understand that he has limitations because of his leg.  It's the same thing for mental health issues, but unfortunately they are not as tangible and hence understandable.  If he can't get to school because of overwhelming anxiety then you need to show him that you understand and take a step back just as you wouldn't force (or even suggest) particpating in a sports carnival if he had a fractured leg.

- forget school, his education and the normal path and focus more on his mental health and well-being.  It's not a deal breaker if he doesn't complete school.  There are many, many alternatives which will always be available, if and when he is ready.  At the end of the day it is better to have him safe and stable at home where he has the opportunity to heal, than to have him getting worse as a result of pressure.

- do not expect other people to fully understand or to help.  This is a harsh reality that needs to be accepted.  Nobody can fully appreciate your experience, except those which have had similar experiences.  People are generally designed to only  want positive associations, rather than negative.  Unfortunately, situations such as yours bring out the ugly side of humanity.  Once you accept this it will make things a little easier for you because you won't feel the intense disappointment attached to unrealistic expectations.

- make sure that you include lots of self-care.  It's really important to not allow the situation to engulf your entire being.  Self-care can be anything from taking time out with friends, to listening to music, getting creative, taking a walk, or doing anything which gives you pleasure and temporarily removes you from the situation pertaining to your son.

- understand that you are not alone.  Building alliances with people who do understand is really important.  Over time you will, by the sheer nature of like attracting like, find others (such as myself) who do get it and who fully appreciate what you are experiencing.  If this support has to come via a forum like this, then so be it.  It doesn't matter where it comes from, but what is important is that you will come to realise that this is not a unique to you and that other people can validate your experience.

That's all I can think of for now.  I hope that this helps.  Please keep in touch via this forum and I hope that I can help in some way.

Janna Heart

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi Janna, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. You have already helped me by reminding me that my son and I aren't alone in this. It also reaffirms that there are many courageous parents out there, such as yourself, who face these worries and hurdles every day and keep going, despite the constant judgment and negative evaluations of others. I do feel that I am bobbing around in the ocean at times, not sure how to find the way back to the shore, and your comment about the waves of hopelessness and guilt really hit home for me. I can summons all of my courage, strength and hope on a good day, yet often I come crashing back down into those feelings of despair and failure, particularly when having to talk to family or teachers about my son's progress, or lack of it. I am very grateful for your message and I hope that you are feeling strong and keeping the hope alive for your son and keeping those waves at bay more often than not.
Take care xoxo

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi @Shelter

Has your son managed to get into school since you posted earlier?

I am in pretty much the same situation. My son started Year 12 this year but then couldn't attend (after years of huge difficulties attending school and suffering anxiety and depression). We are going through the 'withdrawing' application at the moment - and then my son said 'I am not really quite sure if I want to give up.' Trouble is - we are five weeks into term...how can they - with those anxiety levels - lack of motivation - tackle a challenging year.

Depending on where you are in Australia - in Victoria - you can do Year 12 over 2 years.  Has your son thought of that?  It might take the pressure off?  We were trying that but I just think my son needed a break and I do hope he tries again next year but if he doesn't - it isn't the end of the world.

You are not alone. There are lots of us out here finding our way with very little if any support. See if you can get some help for your son via a doctor or psychologist or counsellor if you haven't already.  Sometimes also medication can help take the edge off - and then allow for treatment such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

I am hoping my son can have the courage to take on a part time job of some kind- and not just stay in his room and become depressed.  It is so hard to know what is best, sometimes, isn't it!  And it is very draining. Only those who go through this know what it is like - so family and friends sometimes just don't 'get it'.

Here from you soon. You are a good mum doing all you can in trying circumstances : )

Solar x

 

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi Solar
Thank you for your message and kind words. I feel for you and can understand how difficult the situation with your own son must be. That only makes it all the more admirable that you have taken the time to be so supportive of and reach out to a complete stranger. So thank you for that, truly.
Soon after my first post my son agreed to see our doctor and give medication another try. As background, hewas prescribed an ssri back in year 8 by a psychiatrist,which he was taking for about 18 months. As medication was considered a last resort for a 14 year old, we were advised to wean off the ssri as soon as he possibly could. To be honest, I can't be sure whether it actually made a real difference at that time, and it initially gave him such severe side effects that I was fearful pretty much the whole time he was on it. He also gained weight rapidly and until recently has not been able to lose any of the excess weight. Combine all of that with conflicting information on the internet about medication and teenagers, and the ill-informed opinions of family members. I was constantly swinging from feeling that this was the best thing or the worst thing that I could be doing as a parent. We have also seen quite a few psychologists over the years, but the first one who really seemed to help we only found a year ago. As a single parent struggling financially getting assistance for a reasonable cost is very difficult and unfortunately leaves those options limited. I am appalled that young people who need help with mental health issues can receive only limited support if they come from a low income household.
Sorry for digressing I am quite exhausted and rambling.
So he has now been on a new medication for about three weeks and I am cautiously optimistic as the side effects have been mild and only for a few days. In that three weeks we have talked about options other than finishing school. I spoke with him about apprenticeship options and as I have a friend in a bakery I suggested doing work experience there. To my surprise and delight he agreed to try and worked a very early morning shift. The supervisor was brilliant! A young man in his late twenties had him rolling dough and operating machines on the very first day. As I waited outside at 5.30 am for him to finish I overheard my son being thanked and genuinely praised for his work and his personality! My heart flipped with sheer joy as you might imagine. Not only that, he was offered an apprenticeship on the spot. He took a few days to decide but has accepted the job starting next week. If anyone would understand how huge this is, I imagine that it would be you, and Janna, and any other parent who has been through a similar experience with their child. I am savouring this moment and knowing that we are not out of the woods by any means, but what a few weeks it has been!
I am sending you the most positive thoughts I can muster and hope that you and your son can have a moment in the sun too. We all surely deserve some of that! Sorry for the rambling update but I was touched to read your post and wanted to let you know that there's always a possibility that something good could be around the next corner. You are stronger than you know. Love to you and your beautiful child.
X

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi @Shelter

That is such great news!  Thanks for sharing!  I know just how important those breaktthroughs are!

I do hope your son can find his way forward. And doesn't it make a world of difference, how they are treated? Sounds like the supervisor just knew what he needed.  I wish there were more teachers out there who knew what a difference they could make.  Out of the 11 years we have struggled with this - I can think of only one teacher who made a difference. I am just so glad my son has made it this far in his schooling.

And wonderful that your son has seen the doctor and agreed to  give different medication a go- that is a really positive step forward. It is great that he has the motivation to want to feel better. The weight might even itself out once he starts to feel better about himself.  They say you either gain or loose weight when suffering from anxiety or depression. My son finds it hard to eat, especially when he was at school during the day.

I know the psychologist road well and also as a sole parent. We gave up the psychiatrist as it was just way out of reach financially and doesn't come under the government support (that is ridiculous, isn't it). We ended up having to have the doctor oversee the medication, which is evidently not something they like to do with teenagers. I know that swinging pendulum too with 'have I made the right decision' when others have a habit of making us feel guilty!  They are coming at it from their experience - which doesn't involve caring for a child with severe anxiety or depression! They probably think it is just a bit of anxiousness...so push them...will do them good.  Not realising we have been pushing them!! And that did no good either!

It is terribly exhausting, isn't it. I know there are many times when I thought I couldn't cope - but somehow you look for those 'round the corner' moments that you mention.  But sounds like you have been making some good decisions with your son and he knows you are there for him which is great. I have just reassured my son that there is no wrong or right decision on his not doing the final year (as he keeps feeling he has made the wrong decision). I think his dad planted that doubt in his mind by trying to convince him to push himself back and catch up because of all the 'down' sides of not completing schooling. I have come to the conclusion that whilst it is a good idea to finish school - if you are struggling with your mental health - that comes first.  I think my son still has a lot to work on in order to overcome his avoidance behaviour - but perhaps with school out of the equation - he can feel able to take those steps forward. I am making sure that I work on him to find a part time job though - and continue hobbies and maybe help others in some capacity. 

I hope your son also makes some friends via the apprenticeship. Bit of an early morning start!(For you too!).  Let us know how things go.  I will be interested to see what helps. We might have to re look at changing medication too.

Take  care and so glad to hear the news

Solar xx

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi @Shelter and @Solar

I am so pleased to hear that your son has improved @Shelter.  It's heartwarming stories like this that fill me with hope and inspiration.  Your son has done the unimaginable and taken a huge step in a positive direction.  You must be feeling overjoyed at the moment and yes I fully understand how BIG this is.  I have my fingers and toes crossed that this will be a turning point for your son and one that will see an increasing improvement from hereon in.

All the best and please keep us up-to-date with his progress.   Living vicariously through you at the moment Smiley Happy

Love

Janna Heart

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Janna, I’m so glad I found your response to this and everyone else’s here. I’ve been dealing with the same thing with my son except it’s been going on since pre-k and now he’s 13. I put him in homeschool during his 6th grade year and that wasn’t working out, so I found a charter school to send him to and the first day was a disaster. He came home crying, pleading with me not to send him back. Has been up all night throwing up and shaking uncontrollably. Yes, we have a team of doctors and therapists that semi help but he also has selective mutism and will not communicate with them very much. Like you, I’m out here in left field with no one understanding what we are going through because everyone else’s child in the family is successful and thriving in school. You can almost hear the judgements both our families say about us, I’ve always known my son was different but I have no clue how to help him succeed in life with this debilitating problem. I always tell him that I will help him as much as I can, but in the end he has to be the one to be strong and try to experience things that may be uncomfortable for him but he never seems to be able to. We have put him in so many activities when he was little and he hated all of them. He can’t even enjoy going on a trip to a big city to meet family because it’s too overwhelming to him. I pray every day it gets better and I pray for everyone here in this forum that your children get better also.

Re: 17 year old son with social anxiety disorder

Hi @Lucy10 and welcome to the forum.

 

I'm so sorry to hear about your 13 year old son who appears to have been struggling since he was little.  Although my story is different, it is very relatable.  As a parent we worry so much, and unfortunately in a situation like this, there really is a lack of appropriate support out there.  My son is now 19, and although stable and safe, his life is far from what it should be for a young man.  He has no friends and does not leave the house unless encouraged and accompanied by me or another trusted person.  He managed to complete up to Year 11 at school, has never worked or even done work experience, and has absolutely no direction in life.  I personally found that when he gave up school permanently, and all avenues had been exhausted, it was a huge relief and took a lot of pressure off me.  I have since learnt to accept things for what they are and do not apply any pressure on him because that approach does not work and only creates extreme frustration for both of us.  I'm happy that he is stable and still willing to engage in weekly psychotherapy.  I live in hope that as time progresses he may get to a place where he can work a little and carve some sort of future for himself.   You still have some challenging years ahead given that your son is only 13 and my best advice is that you need to stay strong, stable, understanding and available for him in a calm and consistent way.  I found that my son was very reactive to my emotional states and that my palpable desperation and frustration, not to mention anger and emtional breakdowns, just made things worse.  Please ensure that you look after yourself and give yourself regular time-out doing something enjoyable and far removed from the situation.  It is very easy to get trapped in the vortex of concern and for a situation like this to dominate  your entire life to the point where you actually overlook your own needs.   Please use the forum as it really does help to know that you are not alone in this.  It helped me so much to be able to offload and to get validation for what I was going through.  I wish you all the best.

 

Janna ❤️

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