Updated December 2020
This is our story. It was originally part of an article published in Better Magazine in October 2018. I updated it to read in Episode 002 of my podcast in November 2019 and have added to it to keep it recent. It is definitely a summary and intentionally vague.
When Connor came out to us in February 2017, he was 16 years old. While Steve and I were blindsided, we quickly snapped out of our shock and jumped into learning as much as we could and supporting him in every way possible. We learned that he had known since he was 13 that he felt “different.” We learned that the anxiety that we thought was sports related was really him trying to mask his true identity. We learned that our son, the oldest of four, the high-achiever, and ever the rule follower and pleaser, was absolutely brilliant at living two lives.
Between February-October 2017, unbeknownst to us at the time, the stakes raised in this duality, causing his anxiety to skyrocket and depression to deepen. After a major jaw surgery and 30 pounds lighter, we realized the therapy he was receiving was barely scratching the surface. While maintaining good grades at school, he began to spiral: self-harming, smoking pot, drinking, vaping, and engaging in very dangerous behavior with the help of Grindr to ease the pain and intensity of his inner struggle. He was disappearing before our eyes, tortured and filled with self-loathing. Terrified and wrought with worry, we naively thought we could love and support him enough to rescue him from his desperate hell. We quickly realized, however, that we needed professional guidance.
Surviving a suicide attempt, we took him to an intensive residential therapeutic program in California two days later. What began as six weeks max turned into 7 months as we were advised that Connor was not ready to be at home - just days before Christmas 2017. We quickly researched and tapped the brains of professionals around us and decided on a therapeutic boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina. While communication broke down between the three of us, and Steve and I struggled to connect with the therapist, a silver lining appeared, revealing a mentor and therapist who also happened to be gay men. While these 5 months were filled with frustration in many ways for all of us, Connor began to accept who he was, allow healing to begin, and learn numerous coping techniques that would prove useful in the coming months and years.
We brought Connor home in June 2018, much to his siblings’ delight. Nervous but cautiously optimistic, Connor, Steve, and I moved forward with the help of a commitment to rebuild trust, a gay male therapist, and family therapy. When he turned 18 in mid-July, we began to loosen the reigns on some of the agreed-upon rules and allow him to reintegrate socially for his senior year. College applications, acceptance on a highly competitive community service board at his high school, and an early Christmas gift of acceptance into NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering helped all of us move through those months gracefully with only minor setbacks - relatively speaking, of course.
As 2019 grew warmer, Connor shared that he was dating someone. Knowing that this man was likely 10+ years older, we asked that he proceed with caution. With fewer than 6 months until he left for college, our job became more to prepare him for the real world than to protect him from it. When you have a kid who will sneak out of his window in the middle of the night, encouraging safe behavior, transparency, and adherence to curfew are the few tools left.
And then, in a matter of a few days, it all changed. First, a car accident in which he totaled our kids’ car. Then, three days later, while grounded, I received an accidental call at 5 am. Fuming and terrified, Steve and I learned that the boyfriend had broken up with him, sending him into a horrific downward spiral of depression that relied only on the maladaptive coping skills of drugs, lies, and sex.
Once again in crisis mode, but much better armed with information and competent professionals, we managed to get him excused from the rest of the school year with the ability to graduate and got him into an outpatient addiction program with a brilliant psychiatrist.
Once again centered and focused on the goal of attending NYU, Connor finished the program and moved through the remainder of the summer.
His transition to college was like most freshman, bumpy and not what he expected, with glimpses of positivity here and there. And, as with all things, Connor likes to learn from his own mistakes, and he likes to go big. Like life-threatening big. When Steve and I visited for parents weekend we knew he was struggling, and we made several great communication break-throughs. Connor shares a ton about this time in our three part podcast series, so take a listen if you are interested in the details. By the time he came home for the holidays in 2019, I knew he was turning a corner.
Even though Covid hit and he had to come home in March for five months, he continued to do the work, to figure out what lights his soul on fire and who he wants to be in this world. Honing in on his major and actually wanting succeed academically was just one piece of his puzzle. It has been a truly beautiful process to witness, especially as his mom, and having been so close to every other expereince!
I feel it is important to note here (although I will add more in greater detail on the mental health page) that the pandemic has pushed both of my daughters' mental health struggles to the forefront. Between remote learning, isolation from friends, the uncertainty, the loss of their beloved grandfather, and typical teenage development (mental, physical, and spiritual), they have both been hit hard.
Late summer and most of fall has been spent trying to figure out how to best support them - with talk therapy, medication, and understanding and validation from us. It is not easy to be an adlescent, teenager, or young adult right now.
Even with all of this, though, I can say I am grateful. I know that sounds nuts, but I am. We have become closer and stronger as a family. We are all much more aware. We are better communicators. We laugh a lot, and authentically love each other - unconditionally.
It will be four years in February 2021 since our journey began in earnest. It is lovely to recognize how much we have ALL grown since then. And celebrating it, messiness and all.