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Fighting Guilt

by Charlotte Riggle

Misplaced parental guilt is a monster I know all too well. Seducing you with what might have been, it wastes your time, erodes your confidence, devours your energy, and distracts you from what is which is the only thing you can do anything about.

Let me tell you about Rooster. He became depressed in first grade; when I took him to the doctor because he was telling me he wanted to die, the doctor told me children that young can't be depressed; first grade is tough for all kids; don't worry about it. So I tried not to worry, and, eventually he did get better, mostly. Three years later, a beloved great-uncle died. He spun into a severe depression. The psychologist diagnosed major depression, and said, based on his history, that he'd had a major depressive episode in first grade, and had been dysthymic ever since. In sixth grade, another major depression, this one worse than the earlier ones. Got him into therapy again.

During the course of therapy that time, we found out he had inattentive-type ADD. The psychologist thought most of the history of depression had the ADD as the root cause and was made worse by Rooster's intelligence. It's really tough to hear your teachers say, day after day, "you're so smart, so why can't you ...." and you don't know why you can't! You can't blame it on being stupid, because you're not. They tell you that you're just lazy or defiant or something and maybe you are, because you can't think of anything else to explain it.

So how much harm was done by the long lag before we diagnosed and treated the depression? And the even longer lag before we diagnosed and treated the ADD? Lots.

Was the damage permanent? Well, it depends on what you mean. His life is and will always be significantly different than it would have been if we'd gotten him proper diagnosis and treatment at an early age. He suffered a lot of pain that he shouldn't have had to suffer. And there will be ways that the pain will affect him throughout his entire life.  I think, for example, that he'll always be cynical about "the system" because of the way the system failed him during his childhood. And that cynicism is going to cause him problems here and there. But he's still an enormously gifted young man. He has close friends. He loves books and music. He is attentive and respectful towards his grandparents. He pays his bills (mostly on time!). He plays several instruments, reads philosophy and history, is currently looking for a job and an apartment.

I don't think he'd see himself as irreparably damaged. I don't think he'd see himself as damaged at all. He would acknowledge the pain but most people suffer pain in this world, from one thing or another.  So you deal with it and go on. And that's the key the thing for Rooster to focus on, and for you and your child to focus on, is not the road behind you, but the road ahead. You move on from where you are.  Not from where you could have been if things had gone differently you don't know where you'd have been, anyway. But you know where you are, and you've got a journey ahead of you, starting right here.

Copyright Charlotte Riggle, 2003.

"Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction."
       ~ Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller's Teacher)

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