Raising Kevin

Tomorrow Kevin turns 20. 20 years ago a little baby boy entered the world, and like most mothers, I had dreams and hopes for him. Mostly to have a life full of love and joy. To learn about the world and to become a man that will contribute to making it a little better.

Truth be told, Kevin is still at home. No job. No school. He’s not doing much of anything. I know that society does not approve, but there is so much more than what meets they eye when it comes to Kevin.

Have you seen the Netflix series, “Raising Dion”? It’s about a little boy who is born with super powers, and his single mom tries to help him navigate the situation by helping him to control his powers so that they don’t hurt others or himself. It’s a fun little show depicted from a comic book so of course conflicts are resolved in tidy little boxes and where heroes save the day!

In some way Kevin was born with “super powers.” Powers that disabled him rather than enhanced him, and boy did I have a lot of difficulty navigating on how to help him control those powers.

Kevin was more than a strong willed child; more than stubborn. Kevin at a very young age was already having feelings of depression and mania along with aggression and low self esteem. In addition he was having some sleep issues which contributed to decreased function of every day tasks. He was suspended from school a few times for some violence, and power struggles with teachers.

I did everything the parenting books told me to do. I punished him, I took away privileges, I even tried positive reinforcement. I tell the story often about how it took FOUR hours to get him to sit on the naughty step for four minutes (since he was four), as taught by Super Nanny. Remember her? NOTHING was working. He continued to act out, have tantrums. and deep down I felt like something was off.

When I divorced his dad, his condition only got worse. What you have to understand is that Kevin witnessed some domestic violence, resulting in watching his dad get hand cuffed and taken away. So naturally, I took him to family therapy. From there, we had him evaluated. I was told that he had anxiety and depression. We had a sleep study done, and it turns out he had restless leg syndrome. His pediatrician gave him a prescription of Clonidine to help him sleep along with Iron supplements to help with his restless leg syndrome. It seemed like it was working, he fell asleep and woke up with no issues.

Here is where it started to get complicated. It turns out that there are some medical doctors out there who believe that children should not be taking drugs that alter their brain. I was told that as his parent it was my responsibility to make sure I was actually parenting him to help him get better. I was told, no, SHAMED, that I wasn’t giving him proper sleep hygiene and that eventually with a consistent night routine his brain would mature and he would sleep better. So we took him off the Clonidine.

When Kevin continued to show defiant behavior and threating suicide, or at least telling his peers and teachers that he wanted die or he was better off dead, we had him evaluated again. So I found a Social Worker, male, to help Kevin navigate his life. Kevin also started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed some meds to help with depression and anxiety.

Little did we know, Kevin was hiding the pills. I even would make him take them in front of me as I looked inside his mouth to see that he had swallowed them.

When it was time to check in with the psychiatrist we reported that we saw very little to no change in Kevin, again we didn’t know he was hiding the pills, she adjusted the dosage.

After a few weeks, still no change.

I remember sitting in her office reporting that I was frustrated and that no matter what I did it did not help. I described to her how in one incident during a school function, that I thought would be fun for family, Kevin did not want to participate. I pushed him. So Kevin, angry at me, decided to walk home. Our home was five miles away, and it was already dark outside. Out of my frustration, I let him. Of course we ended up picking him up after about 10 minutes and went home stressed and agitated.

The psychiatrist then looks at me and tells me that Kevin’s problem is that I needed to grow up and be the mature adult. It was very childish of me to let Kevin walk home. Basically all of Kevin’s issues were parenting issues.

By the time Kevin was in high school, we continued to see him struggle. He barely made it to class and I received several notices from the school that Kevin was truant so much they were going to call the police. All the way up to his Senior year I found myself once again having teacher parent conferences regarding Kevin’s behavior, and just like all the others, this one ended just the same — it was a parenting issue.

Last summer Kevin was hospitalized because his depression was so bad. I thought for sure after that experience he would want to get his shit together and make something of himself. He was supposed to follow through with a therapist and take the meds the doctor prescribed him. He did not.

So here we are. My 20 year old lives at home with no job, no school, no life.

Looking from the outside in, it’s probably a parenting issue right? I mean why not just kick the kid out? Why are boundaries not in place?

Yes, you would be right if Kevin was a “normal” lazy kid who just wants to stay home and play video games all night.

But Kevin is not a “normal” lazy kid. Kevin has a mental illness. A true mental illness that disables him. One of the symptoms is called “Anosognosia.” What is Anosognosia? NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) defines it this way: When we talk about anosognosia in mental illness, we mean that someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or that they can’t perceive their condition accurately. Anosognosia is a common symptom of certain mental illnesses, perhaps the most difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.

This explains why Kevin won’t take his meds and won’t talk to a therapist. We are not talking about someone who is in “denial” but rather- When someone rejects a diagnosis of mental illness, it’s tempting to say that he’s “in denial.” But someone with acute mental illness may not be thinking clearly enough to consciously choose denial. They may instead be experiencing “lack of insight” or “lack of awareness.” The formal medical term for this medical condition is anosognosia, from the Greek meaning “to not know a disease.”

Now that we know what is truly going on, I can actually parent him the way HE NEEDS TO BE parented. There is a way to help these individuals who suffer from this condition, and after watching some webinars on how to talk and help these people get the treatment they need, this Mama is full of hope that Kevin will in fact be a productive member of society one day.

It will not happen over night, and it will not be easy. Simply, because I have no say on his medical treatment now that he is an adult.

This has been the most challenging journey of parenthood I have ever experienced!!! Mental Health for children, especially twenty years ago, is still stigmatized and making the correct diagnosis is tricky.

I cry a lot and hurt a lot for Kevin. Who wants to see their kid this way? What’s worse is not being able to fix it!! I don’t talk a lot about Kevin or his condition, because I’m still learning myself and the fear of shame that comes with telling people that my kid isn’t doing anything with his life right now.

I will end by saying that this whole experience has humbled me as a parent and an educator. I know more than ever that we cannot look from the outside in and think that a problem child is a result of inconsistent and inappropriate parenting. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is something else. In the end, we need to love people more and share more encouraging words rather than judge them and write them off.