Tag Archives: teenagers

Life got better. From Suicidal Ideation to Scholastic Art Award for Photography.

The information and photography in this post is shared with permission from Preston Blackburne. It is our hope to continue to spread the message that Life Gets Better. 

Yesterday, I watched my 16 year-old son, Preston, accept his Scholastic Art Award, a Silver Key, that he won for his photo “Into the Digital Age.” The ceremony was held in the Pickney Hall on the campus at Central Oregon Community College in a large auditorium with several hundred people. He stood amongst his schoolmates, while his photography teacher and mentor, Mr. Fox, handed out each award. I struggled to hold back tears. No one knows Preston’s story like I do…

In the fall of his freshman year, he fell into the black hole of a “severe depressive episode”. I learned of how broken he was when he exhibited dangerous behavior and admitted to suicidal ideation that required immediate emergency intervention. He spent several days at our local hospital on a one-to-one psych hold, waiting for an inpatient room to become available in Portland, 4 hours away. Fortunately, time has allowed some of the painful details to fade and the memories are no longer so vivid. I do recall that I kept telling him how much I loved him and I wasn’t upset with him. There was no judgement from me and frankly I was proud of him for being brave enough to save his own life. All of a sudden parts of my own dark, depressed past shifted into place and I knew what to say, when to shut up and how to make the hard decisions to get him the help he needed.

His psychiatrist is an incredible man. Previously, I was personally resistant to using medications for depression and anxiety. During our decision making progress about which modalities to use for Preston, Dr C made a great analogy. He said to me, “If someone is drowning, do you just hand them a life-jacket and hope for the best? Or, do you give them the life-jacket, throw them a life-ring, call the Coast Guard and others with expertise to help?” Obviously the latter. He started medication, which has been modified as the crisis episode passed, that he still has chosen to continue to take. The mundane details of his inpatient hospital stays, he had two of them, aren’t important. Just believe me when I say I’ve seen this kid at his lowest points. One noteworthy moment is when he came out to me as bisexual. I said “So?” It was such a nonissue for me. I want my kids to know love and I don’t care what parts their partner has. I honestly could NOT care less. Despite all the emotions Preston was experiencing, he slowly began to believe, with some testing, that I do love him unconditionally.

At the end of Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, he showed again that he was in crisis and when we met with Dr C on Monday morning, Preston asked to go to residential treatment. That isn’t something you say “No” to. It was overwhelming and took a lot of work to arrange but we did just that and he had to wait, as an inpatient, for the bed to become available. Going to the Children’s Farm Home run by Trillium Family Services in Albany was what Preston needed. I drove the several hundred miles at least twice a week, once to visit and once to participate in family therapy. Through this process, I learned what expectations I had set and behavior that I had shown, that was damaging to Preston’s spirit. I took responsibility. I apologized. I committed to changing. (Other people in his life were unable to take less ownership of their negative contributions and those relationships have suffered.) I rarely yell now and I’ve changed my expectations about school success. Preston knows that we expect him to go to school every day, do his best by completing assignments. We no longer press about getting a specific letter grade. Instead, we encourage him to develop good behaviors and habits that will help him be successful in life.

He has really embraced the life he is building for himself. Preston has a diverse group of friends and shows them the same love and acceptance that I showed him. As a family, we have moved away from concerning ourselves with the gender binary and often have open discussions about the LGBTQ community. Life is open and honest and Preston knows he can show us all of himself. I’ve told him time and time again that I am not scared of his truth. I will be here for him no matter what.

Due to his hospital stays, he ended up without credit for the first semester of his freshman year. It was a difficult hole to dig out of, but within the last two weeks, he has completed the last credit recovery classes and is caught up!!!!

As Preston has grown into his own person, he has started sharing his artistic talent with the world. His artful expression that gets the most energy is his photography. He has some incredible photos that you can see on his website gallery https://prestonblackburne.wix.com/preston-blackburne#!photos/c1zeq . It’s a work-in-progress, but his site shows he is getting his feet wet.

He has some incredible photography mentors that include, but are not limited to; Doug H., Brian Z., and An V. With the encouragement of his photography teacher, Mr. Fox, he entered three photos into the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest for 2016. There were 300,000 entrants nationwide in grades 7-12. His photo, shown here, won a Silver Key. The accomplishment of winning a Silver is admirable in it’s own right. However, when you know where this young man has come from, overcoming the obstacle of major depression and suicidal ideation, it means even more. Just two short years ago, at this time, he was just going back to school after missing 2.5 months of school. Preston was able to go into a grocery store and get our shopping done, without having to rush back to the car in a panic. He’d only just started sleeping in his own bed, alone in his own room. Life gets better. Fast forward to yesterday, he wove through the crowd in the gallery, with his girlfriend of 15 months, to see his own photo hanging on the wall with the rest of the Silver Key, Gold Key and Honorable Mention winners. He was relaxed and seemed 100% comfortable in his own skin. As he told me, artists can dress the way they want so he was wearing jeans and one of his two Millenium Falcon t-shirts. His best accessory was his easy smile. I tried really hard not to be all mushy and cry. I failed. As I sat in the college auditorium, with his younger brother, Logan and my parents down the row, I felt overwhelmed by the feeling that he had ARRIVED! Life has gotten better.

I know that thinking “what if?”, is usually a useless past time. However, I can’t help but thinking what Preston, and the rest of the world, would have missed out on, if he hadn’t made the commitment to save his own life. Regardless of my decisions, which medical providers or facilities he went to, his success at life is because of the pain he walked through, that he faced and dealt with.

I’m so grateful that he has shared his talent and made his photography publicly available. I share his story so that other hurting people can have hope that life gets better.IMG_7715.JPG

“Into the Digital Age.” Photo by Preston Blackburne, Age 16, Scholastic Art Silver Key Award Winner 2106.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Wishing you a Happy New Year while in my recliner, wearing a fuzzy pink bathrobe and fuzzy, pink pig slipper socks. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea…I was dressed, went to work, came back home because of a sick kiddo, busted out several hours of chores in my kitchen and this is my reward to myself. Comfy, cozy attire with my kiddo and pets nearby. This is bliss for me, a mellow time at home, with my loved ones and my computer. My new favorite playlist on iTunes is comprised of the songs from the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy. They are what I, at age 36, consider older songs. I especially enjoy “Spirit in the Sky” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” but they are all great songs. However, I find it a little hard to write while singing.

Wow. My last post was way back on December 18th. That seems like a very long time ago. Since then we’ve had lots of great family time. It was awesome to have Preston home this year, sitting next to me on Christmas Eve service at church. It was hilarious. He and I both wanted to sit next to my husband to listen to him sing the harmonies with the all the Christmas songs, so we kept playing music chairs. We were all completely engaged in service. Although I received many great presents this Christmas, that moment where my entire family was mentally healthy and experiencing happiness together, was incredible.

Now that the Christmas season is behind us for this year, there is talk of the new year and for many people that involves New Year’s Eve celebrations and New Year Resolutions. I prefer the quiet passing of one year to the next. We stay home as a family and spend time together and this year, we were all asleep by 9:30pm. To be honest, I’d rather stay on a “regular” sleep schedule and have time for introspection.

I spent part of New Year’s Eve thinking back to the challenges that myself as an individual and my family have faced. Mid-January was the hardest challenge I’d faced. While Preston had already spend 4 weeks in residential treatment, he still could have benefitted from more time when his insurance decided they were done paying. Even though he still had thoughts of suicide and self-harm, it was my turn to provide the 24- hour-a-day-supervision and emotional support and stability and provide a safe environment. What had been performed by a team of trained professionals, fell squarely on my soldiers. While I was thrilled to have him within arms reach, I was terrified and overwhelmed. Preston had done a lot of work in the 7 weeks he had been gone but was still a fragile, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed teenager. Having him home with his needs meant that my husband and I lived in a state of alertness that pumped our bodies with adrenaline and cortisol, that made me feel like I was hunkered down in a foxhole. I worked to learn Preston’s cues, use the right lingo, be available, appear confident and make decisions for him about outpatient appointments and follow-up and chaperone him nearly every minute of the day. The transition home was a long one. For awhile, he slept in my king-sized bed so I was close by and there for him. We talked each other to sleep, listened to music or read. When he was ready to go back to his own room, his choice, I slept on the floor in his room so I was available. Our whole family learned to live life at a different pace. On more than one occasion, I lost hope, couldn’t see the forrest for the trees and wailed in despair. I’ve never felt as broken as I did when Preston was broken. Parenting is always a large responsibility but when you are responsible for keeping a resourceful 14 year-old from self harm, it reaches a different level of critical living. Life was far from normal. My husband and I would grab a few minutes to talk to each other in hushed tones but quickly returned to the boys. We hadn’t found a book that was a very good guide for what we were tying to navigate. While Preston was sad/depressed/anxious, he still remained polite and respectful, which appears rare from many of the descriptions I’ve read about teenagers who experience a mental health crisis. If we said, you need to stay in this room, right there in that chair until I come back from the bedroom, he listened. The most worrisome times for me were if I tried to take a shower, I would be in a state of sheer panic the entire time that something would happen. This time of high intensity existing didn’t last long. Within weeks, we’d learned new patterns for communicating and behaving that helped Preston to feel loved unconditionally and safe. Asking ” Are you ok?” stopped happening and we asked for a check-in or directly “Are you safe?”. It’s really easy to lie and say yes to “Are you ok?”. I am pretty sure that Preston eventually learned that is NOTHING he can say or do that would make us stop loving him. I think he knows that we love him unconditionally and will be here for him in his life, no matter what. I keep showing up. That is what matters. I talk about the hard things. I am honest in all things. I model a strong faith and a commitment to continue to learn to love myself and improve myself so that I can be there for my family.

I choose not to have New Year’s resolutions. I embrace learning new ways of processing life, of showing love and living gratitude and peace no matter what day, month or moment it is. During some of the more challenging times of this holiday season, I slipped into old habits and forgot to do Heart Math. I suffered for it. Instead of feeling energized and hopeful, I became worn and depressed. I did somethings in a mindful and skillful way but in other things I fell far short of the mark. When I realized where I was heading, I made a determined effort to improve my situation by improving myself; coping, attitude, behavior and gratitude. It looks like I need more visual reminders of ways to live an emotionally healthy, positive life so I’m collecting Bible verses, internet tidbits, Pinterest slides and other positive, encouraging words. I will continue to use the Heart Math tools with heart focus and heart focused breathing. I also intend to share my positive attitude with others and spread less negativity when times are tough. Those may sound like resolutions, but I don’t care for the pressure that comes with resolutions. I give myself permission to fail one hundred times and one hundred and one times I will try to get it right. We do the best we can with what we know at the time. When we know better, we do better.

I can and will be looking past myself and my family to the needs of those around me, while maintaining my boundaries and not over committing to anything.

I wish for you a day, a month, a year, a lifetime of emotional wellness, peace and happiness.

Love and hugs, Rebecca

Trying to exhale.

*This is a draft of a post I never completed. Leaving it unfinished and unposted makes me feel like it’s unresolved.*

This evening (weeks ago) we had a discussion in our house that made me feel like I was snatched up in a time warp and dumped upside down into the chaos of last fall. I felt like all the air was sucked from the room in a nanosecond and replaced with the blackest sludge. My head spun and I thought I was going to throw up. It was all I could do to get to my room before I burst into tears and collapsed on the floor. While I have been diagnosed with PTSD in the past due to an abusive relationship, I’ve never experienced such tangible reliving of a nightmare memory. Sparing the details, we all fought hard for the life of a family member battling severe depression and eventually, months later came out the other side. Scarred, not unscathed, but as survivors. Tonight was the first time that for one moment, I truly thought we could end up back there. (It scared the shit out of me. I can’t think of a classier way to express it, sorry.) The episode back then seemed to come from nowhere. All of the grown-ups were surprised and caught off guard. What I saw and heard today is what I think I missed last year. A teenager getting overwhelmed by school and assignments and homework and time management and being dishonest about what he has or hasn’t done can turn into a really big deal, very quickly. It’s only the second week of school and yet again assignments are incomplete, not turned in and the snowball is rolling down the hill. I want to melt that damn snowball into water so it splashes harmlessly around his feet! I tried to say the right things, encouraging things, non indulgent things, provide practical solutions but I was left feeling like all I did was make it worse and I’m clueless. In the midst of crisis, I handled things that no parent should have to take command of. I made life-altering decisions. It was the sacrifice that my tattoo refers to. The sacrifice of the parent for the child. The price I paid was high.

*That was the last of the unfinished post. The part that follows is in real time.*

This week has been more of a roller coaster. Thursday, I was on the way to see my therapist, the ONE hour of my life that is for me. While driving down 3rd, my phone rings and Preston’s school counselor is on the other end of the line. “I have Preston here, is this a good time to talk?” NO! No, it’s not a good time, a voice screams inside my head. I deserve to have time to focus on my own needs. In order to keep it together as the mother, I need to have time that is just for me. His counselor said that Preston is behind in his homework and has been lying about it and now he feels like giving up and is depressed. This doesn’t surprise me. Does it disappoint me? Yes. She asked if I had been looking on Parent View at his grades. No, I haven’t. I want to be able to ask him and for him to choose honesty over deceit. It made me very angry and resentful that once again he is choosing to lie and not complete his assignments. We don’t ask for grades. We expect him to complete his assignments. This is a cycle of behavior that infuriates me. I was only able to have 1/2 of my regularly scheduled therapy appointment because I had to go to the counseling office and meet Preston and his counselor. AJ, God bless him, agreed to go there too and was waiting when I got there. I didn’t say much during the meeting. AJ, being in better control of his emotions, did most of the talking. It’s very discouraging that despite how much I’ve put into helping Preston succeed at living, that he continues to sabotage himself.

Clearly, we haven’t been able to communicate effectively. For fear of saying the wrong thing, I haven’t said much. In an effort to be my best self and have the most to offer the children, and myself, I have scheduled weekly appointments with my therapist to manage my resentment, anger and anxiety. I know better than to just vent to my blog without help from outside.

Be well. Rebecca