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What to do with a teenager who has shut down?


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My 17 year old son has totally shut down, is withdrawn, spends all of his time in his room, is up all night and sleeps all day, won't get a job, just has no interest in anything. He has a history of depression and anxiety and has had therapy on and off. He is currently under the care of a pdoc for meds and is up to 75mg of zoloft, after trying wellbutrin with no change in him.

As much as I am in favor of meds for depression and anxiety (I take them myself) I also feel that it is important to work on the underlying issues. However my son won't talk to anyone. He was in therapy from September until June with a wonderful therapist who seems to be able relate well to my son, and has a great reputation in dealing with adolescent boys. However my son won't open up to him. He never opened up to any other therapist in the past either.

I don't think it is unusual for teenage boys not to want to talk about feelings and communication. However in this case I feel that is the only way to get through to the causes of the depression and anxiety and deal with them.

Any suggestions? Has anyone ever had a child like this, or was anyone ever a child like this himself? I would love advice on how to help my son.

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Oh, goldfinch, I feel for you. There oughta be an island, preferably on another planet, for 17-18 yr old boys. They suck. Pretty much universally.

So, yeah, I've been through that and I think we've gotten through the worst of it. My son's 19 now. But he was pretty verbal and expressive about how bad everything sucked and how everyone he came in contact with was a fucking moron. And that's a quote. Here's pretty much how things were with him for the last two years of high school.

They're angry. Not necessarily at anything, but explosively angry nevertheless. All that testosterone, all that budding man strength, can barely be contained. They're scared. Everyone's asking them what they're going to do when they're out of high school, and most of them don't have a fucking clue, and the way that teachers, parents and society in general tells them that they have to go to college, have to have a plan, or they'll end up flipping burgers when they're 50. It's like an escalator and if you miss one step you're out of the game (sorry for the mixed metaphor). That's a lot of pressure for any 17-yr-old. On top of all that, most kids are figuring out that life isn't fair, that authority is rarely just, that our planet is pretty close to being irremediably damaged, and that for the first time in several generations, children are not expected to have a better, more secure life than their parents. It is very nearly overwhelming. It's the age when childhood ends, but adulthood has not yet arrived.

It's also a period when most kids become extremely disillusioned by adults. They don't want to turn out that way, get caught in the grind, so why would they want to open up emotionally to them? I'm not at all surprised that your son won't open up to a therapist.

All you can do is live through it and let your son know that this is one of the hardest years he'll ever experience. Truly. It WILL get better. Please assure him of that. Ask him what he needs. What can you do for him right now. Definitely keep him going to the pdoc. If he doesn't want to deal with a therapist, don't bother. If he won't talk, he won't, and you'll just be throwing money away. I know it sounds stupid, but get him a punching bag. My son spent hours in the garage beating the hell out of the heavy bag. And take care of yourself. It is exhausting and crushing to see your own child go through such pain. Stay close to him, not in a smothering way, but in terms of love and availability. It's easy to want to distance yourself because they can be so unpredictable, temperamental, mean and generally not very nice to be around. But he has to know that he can count on you to be there, to not reject him.

Somehow, within a year or two or three, most boys have found their equilibrium again.

I don't know what else to say. It's hard. There were many nights when I cried myself to sleep.

Greeny

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You know Goldfinch. I had just gone through a simular experience at my parents. Although, I hadn't lived there in ten years because, of the abuse there. I had no choice but to live there for a few months. During that time, I was 100% reclusive. I stayed online for 10-15+ hours a day and night. Never left the basement. Got into a major breakdown and lashed out eventually. I was bottling up too much.

Does you son play any instruments? cuz, this is the only thing that helped me through those hard times. and even though, I'm 26 and he's 17... Being at your parents, regardless of abuse can be depressing. I would love to hear his views on the subject.

Just how reclusive is he?

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Thanks everyone, its good to know he and I are not alone. I never had any brothers, but as a teenager I did have anxiety, phobias and panic attacks. My way of dealing was going out and being involved in everything I could find, I guess it was a distraction. He is taking the opposite course.

What would you consider very reclusive? He leaves the house a couple times a week when we can convince him to go out for a bite to eat with us, or if a friend can convince him to go for a ride or play poker. And when he is in the house he is in his room on the computer or watching TV or playing video games.

He recently got a drum set because a friend of his wants to form a band. So far that seems like all talk and no action, the drums are never being played.

As for college, we are going through that process now, but I will be surprised if he actually goes away to school. He finally told me last week that he doesn't want to leave the state (and we live in a very small state), and I'm thinking he might need to go to community college for awhile. I don't want to push him to go away if he has severe anxiety about it because that certainly won't work out very well. My husband and I tried to get him to go to two different summer programs at college campuses. One was 3000 miles away and he definitely did not want to go. The other was at a college 30 minutes away and it was for 5 days - overnight doing computer game design. He wouldn't agree to go.

Mentalcase - what happened when you eventually lashed out, and how did you get yourself out of the reclusive state of mind?

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GF,

I just stayed away from my parents house. You might not wanna hear that as an answer & I'm surely not saying it is an answer. Your son and I are obviously very different when it comes to life experience but, none the less. Maybe he is at a stage in his life where he needs to be somewhat forced to survive on his own. Just make sure you don't go about it in a wrong way cuz, that will only make things regress. Then he might develope a rebel additude.

I'm not fully sure what to do, I think the little info I supplied is ample.

Talk to your tdoc about this, if you have one. They could surely offer WAY better advice.

I can only imagine, having teens has gotta be hard. I was a fucking punk at that age. lol

God Bless you GF, you will need the blessings. ;)

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I never had any brothers, but as a teenager I did have anxiety, phobias and panic attacks. My way of dealing was going out and being involved in everything I could find, I guess it was a distraction. He is taking the opposite course.

GF,

He's probably an introvert. Somewhere around 75% of people are more extrovert, and the remaining 25% are more introvert. Extroverts are energized by being around people. Introverts are worn out and need recovery time after being with people. In high school, I spent most of my time alone in my room, door closed, nose in a book. I had exactly nothing to say to my parents at that point. It got better when I moved out. It will be hard, but try not to let him isolate himself too much. It just gets harder to get back into the world. Have you told his pdoc about this stuff?

Greeny

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I'm 23 (almost 24) and still act like I'm 17. (n.B. - I look the part, too.)

I left home at 16 for college, graduated at 20, moved cross-country to start a career, got floored by Zyprexa-induced akathisia, and moved back home at 21. And then left a few months later, spent a couple of years working, set plans for grad school, but then got extremely sick with some sort of chronic brain disease, and moved back home again, which is where my sorry ass is sitting right now.

So I think I can be a good spokesman for the age 17 crowd here.

As an (emeritus) 17 year old, I do know what your son is going through. It's just hard at that age to really want to reach out to anybody. Extroverts might lash out in rage, and introverts (I assume your son is one) will turn in on themselves. It's important to check on him to make sure that everything's okay. Just not too often, some, if not most, adolescents find that very irritating. It's a hard to describe sensation, but in general, we don't like anybody bothering us in an unsolicited manner.

The stereotype many of us harbor of our parents is that they're "uncool" -- no offense -- actually, you're cool, but we're just not interested in talking to you right now, our minds are deep in thought about other things. About what tomorrow will bring. About if this whole "college" thing is actually going to get us somewhere. About whether we'll just end up sitting around Mom and Dad's house, leeching forever and flipping burgers if we're lucky (and had a Master's degree minimum, as required by McRestaurant for that position).

All I can say is that 2007 is not a fun time to be a 17 year old (or someone who acts like one). That combined with your son's endogenous depression is going to be a difficult thing to get turned around. Perhaps I'm not as introverted as your son, but I do know why he feels the way he does.

I do have to add, though, that I do know a fellow who acts just like your son (except he's 20 and has almost finished his Associate's degree in community college). He lives halfway across the country, and he's even withdrawn from his online community, so there is little I can do to help him, so I guess I do understand how bad it feels to be in a caretaker's shoes at this point. Honestly, I don't know if I can give you any useful advice on how to get him out and doing something; I've yet to have been successful getting this particular friend to have a life.

Anyways, continued best of luck, please keep us posted. I apologize that my post was a bit incoherent, rambling, stream-of-consciousness, etc.... I'm not an evening person anymore now that my immune system shuts down by 6PM, taking my brain with it. I'll come back and post some more and/or edit this during a more coherent time of day.

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Thanks Herr, thats very helpful. Its good to know that he is acting somewhat normally for a guy his age and in his situation - but like you said we don't want him to withdraw too much. We went to see the pdoc yesterday. He's getting a bit frustrated at my son's lack of response to meds, we're trying our third one now. First was wellbutrin, then zoloft, now provigil. The doc says he needs something stimulating, but nothing that will aggravate anxiety. He also thinks that maybe group therapy might be beneficial, rather than one on one therapy.

And after seeing my son for a few months now he is suspecting Asperger's. He had a complete neuropsychological testing in October and the neuropsych specifically told me that he doesn't have Asperger's. I suspected it as well, since my nephew has Asperger's and my sister and I believe that my father had it. But my son won't have anymore testing, he says we need to stop finding things wrong with him - and I can't argue with that.

And I'm sorry that you are sick - you seem like a really intelligent caring person. Your post wasn't rambling at all, at least not when I read it which might be after you edited it.

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He recently got a drum set because a friend of his wants to form a band. So far that seems like all talk and no action, the drums are never being played.

I can guess some reasons why there was "all talk and no action".

Unlike guitar, which a person can teach themselves quietly and on their own, drums are an instrument that you really need lessons for. Also, it's more fun to practice drums with some other musicians who are also learning to play. Since drums are not usually played on their own, it is more than a little awkward to sit there and try to bang out rhythms when you a) have no other music, and b) are aware that everyone in the house can hear you making mistakes.

I would offer to send him to drum lessons (find someone good. Lots of people offer lessons, not all of them are good teachers). And encourage him to invite some other beginning musicians over to practice with him.

I would also refrain from saying things like, "all talk and no action" because that is basically conveying failure to your son. If he feels guilty for not living up to your expectations, he will probably want to avoid interacting with you.

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from a pharma point of view, my pdoc said that paxil is his drug of choice for people with any kind of rage issues, whether they be hormonally induced, focused inward, or focused outward. he said that he sees people transformed all the time by the right med combo, and he particularly likes paxil.

i'd talk to his pdoc about his meds. maybe they're not working as well as they could. we all need medication changes and monitoring all the time, and he's probably no exception. i'd try talking to his pdoc to see if what he's on is best and if he could use a switch or not.

as for life as a teen, life as a teenage girl isn't that much different. sure, there aren't aggressive male hormones, but there is a lot of pressure from society to be this or that and that might not be what you really are. kids are trying to figure themselves out, and face pressure to be something when they don't know what they themselves are quite yet. i hated those years. i hated my whole teenage life!!! ;)

i'm 28, almost 29, and still have my regressions into teenage land.

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I think a lot of times therapy is useless until meds start to work a bit. Hope you can arrange to have him try some different AD's for a couple of months each until something work. THe suggestion about drum lessons sounds great if he'll go. (And if he has more talent than I did...)

I wouldn't want to be a teenager these days. We thought it was bad back then but now I hear about this zero tolerance stuff. They might have locked me up for stuff no one even worried about then.

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I was withdrawn at that age. Then again, being labled a sociopath because I was involved in some property damage might have had something to do with it. My parents were clueless as well as not very intelligent, nor insightful, so you are so ahead of the game. Let him know you are there for him, but don't push him. I felt trapped a lot and withdrew even more. I have many aspergers traits, although never dxed. Late bloomers we are, I made strides in my 20's and now pose as a responsible adult with 3 kids.

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My son used to play drums in middle school. He took private lessons and he was in the band. After 8th grade he quit because he said that I made him do it and he never wanted to. So now he has a new drum set and I asked him if he would like to start lessons again and he said no.

He started a new medication last week - Provigil. It might be wishful thinking, but I'm noticing some very small changes in him. So maybe this will work unlike the wellbutrin and zoloft. One major thing is that he quit playing World of Warcraft.

Maceo - are you in therapy? Do you open up to the therapist or to anyone? Can I ask what prevents you from opening up?

My tdoc says I need to push him out of his comfort zone, but knowing his anxiety level and having been there myself when I was a teenager I'm afraid to push him too far. Right now I'm taking it one day at a time, and trying to be optimistic. My son and I went out to dinner the other night and we had a great talk. He told me about his friend that got busted and he asked me if I thought any of his friends were doing drugs. I rattled off a list of people he knew that I thought were doing drugs, and he was surprised that I knew. We talked about music, and concerts, and friends and it was nice. I thanked him for coming to dinner with me and told him that I really enjoyed his company. So maybe this med is helping him.

Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful and helpful responses.

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Hey, that's good news. Maybe more than you might reasonably have hoped for so soon. Did they explain what the Provigil was for? I'm not terribly up on it but I seem to recall hearing about it for ADD and for narcolepsy. Stimulants are sometimes used for dificult depression, but the effect doesn't last. Someone else who's more of an expert might chime in here.

Anyway, if your son is willing to talk about that much with you, I think that's a very good sign. I never would have had a talk like that with my parents, tho I might have talked about other things. (I WAS doing drugs, and I didn't want to lie more than I had to. As it happened, I don't think the drugs harmed me, but then, I wasn't a typical user, if there is such a thing. I was turned in the "wrong" direction by Aldous Huxley. My mother had left "The Doors of Perception" lying around!)

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Recently dealt with a similar situation. A lot of the self isolation and bizarre sleeping habits were going on before I became aware that my son was depressed. There were also drug usage involved that came to light later. I read the many post and thought in my mind things you should ask yourself.

1. Is there ANY underlying addiction you are not aware of? It may be great or small. It may involve substances or INTERNET etc.

2. Does my son take his meds as prescribed? Teenagers are notorious for non-compliance. I handed out meds for months until there was enough confidence he would take them on his own.

3. Why is my son not opening up in therapy. Please don't try to label the behavior with a condition. Simply ask why? Is he defiant? Is he ashamed? Is he guilty? And the list goes on and on. Perhaps only he can answer but it is the beginning to meaningful therapy.

4. What is my role in this? Do I empower my son? Do I cripple my son? Do I allow him to own his on illness?

5. What am I willing to do to shift the control of my Sons care back to him with my guidance?

Teenagers can fill very powerless particularly when someone is trying to hang a life long label on them. While laying down your guidelines, ex, you will stay in therapy, you will take your meds, the responsibility of your Sons illness must be returned to him. As a Mother myself who has Bi-Polar disorder this is very difficult. I felt and relived my experience thru my sons pain. I couldn't let go and set boundaries. Without them how could my son move on.

He still doesn't like therapy. I don't think he gets what I get out of therapy but thats OK. He goes because we require it and he learns little things for now. He hates the idea of a Pdoc and has been thru a few to find one who respected him enough to treat him and not a illness. But he also knows meds come from the pdoc and without the relationship he can't keep getting better.

You need to give yourself a break and have patients with this situation. Know the signs of suicidal behavior etc. Don't put blinders own. Run your list thru your head and gauge how well he is doing. Then let it be.

As for his non response to meds, after checking that he takes them don't give up. I was very med resistant. Also a doc who is frustrated after just a few tries is not necessarily the choice to work with a teenager esp one who doesn't respond.

One last thing you said your Son wouldn't take anymore test? Well that is not an option that should be included under your guidelines. Unless he is having excessive med procedures you are perfectly justified in expecting full cooperation in his recovery. Once again it goes back to empowering him to own his illness.

Good Luck, Ally

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  • 2 weeks later...

My son used to play drums in middle school. He took private lessons and he was in the band. After 8th grade he quit because he said that I made him do it and he never wanted to. So now he has a new drum set and I asked him if he would like to start lessons again and he said no.

He started a new medication last week - Provigil. It might be wishful thinking, but I'm noticing some very small changes in him. So maybe this will work unlike the wellbutrin and zoloft. One major thing is that he quit playing World of Warcraft.

That's great! MMORPG's are evil. I was addicted to Runescape and it ruined my life

Maceo - are you in therapy? Do you open up to the therapist or to anyone? Can I ask what prevents you from opening up?
I am in therapy and I am honest and open with them. The problem is they don't really have solutions for my problems

My tdoc says I need to push him out of his comfort zone, but knowing his anxiety level and having been there myself when I was a teenager I'm afraid to push him too far. Right now I'm taking it one day at a time, and trying to be optimistic. My son and I went out to dinner the other night and we had a great talk. He told me about his friend that got busted and he asked me if I thought any of his friends were doing drugs. I rattled off a list of people he knew that I thought were doing drugs, and he was surprised that I knew. We talked about music, and concerts, and friends and it was nice. I thanked him for coming to dinner with me and told him that I really enjoyed his company. So maybe this med is helping him.
Phobias get worse and worse the more you avoid them. Your son needs to gradually face his fears, start of with things which provoke a bit of anxiety but not much and move on to a more anxiety provoking thing. You have to do it regularly too.

Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful and helpful responses.
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