Tell Me About It: Some young men struggle with expressing emotions – fear, pain, loss and shame emerge as anger, rage and withdrawal, and this can be frightening for all
My son’s situation is killing me. He was diagnosed with inattentive ADD (attention deficit disorder) privately, at his own request, last June.
The appointment came up in the middle of his Leaving Cert exams. He had a very difficult time over lockdown starting in his TY year and, when school resumed, he found it hard to go back. His friends lived too far away to break the 2km and 5km rules.
We left the country together two days after his Leaving Cert on a great adventure, to rent abroad, having rented out our own house and living off the rent. I was happy for him to spread his wings and have an adventurous life of post-Covid freedom with me as a safety net.
Time in the sun was something he suggested the previous summer, and I felt we would both benefit from it, as I lost my income over Covid. I had been struggling as a self-employed artist and educator and I was divorced in November 2020.
School never raised any issues with my son, and it was my son who told me last year that he wanted a diagnosis for ADD. He didn’t open a book or study for his Leaving Cert. I was proud of him for achieving decent results despite Covid, divorce and ADD.
Roll on seven months, and he never leaves his room. He made friends at the beginning, who he remained private about, as he always has, never introducing them, etc, but it tapered off to once every few weeks to nothing now. He just remains in his room, very angry, always complaining of tiredness, eating junk, not eating food I cook, getting no sunlight, and just coding all day long. He may also have ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), a comorbid condition to ADD.
The only good news is that he applied to the CAO for college this year choosing computer science. I had to actively encourage him to get the forms in on time.
He is stuck, and I am his emotional punchball. I went back to Dublin last week to speak to the family doctor, who said he needed his blood, weight and blood pressure checked regularly while on the medication. He refuses to do this.
The doctor said there was a new support group for adults with ADD and ADHD in Dublin, and put him on a waiting list. We are returning to Dublin in a number of weeks, and I am so worried for him. He announced that he wanted to stay abroad alone for six more months, but does not have a job or a place to stay. He says he will be okay, but he is not well enough. I desperately want him to have this experience alone without me, but my gut and the evidence say he’s not ready.
His dad is in denial, saying I am overreacting, and that he sounds okay to him on the phone. However, they never discuss his mental health or anything relating to ADD. Just jokey stuff and computer talk. I encourage this nonetheless, and it is an important link to his dad.
The main problem is that although I actively encourage him to open up, suggesting going out for pizza, etc, he refuses. He is a wonderful, funny, intelligent, kind person, and so handsome, and I want him to see this. Instead, he locks me out. He knows how much I care for and love him, yet he refuses to talk. He is uncomfortable with any sort of discussion that might be about him.
This is okay and perhaps part of growing up and having his own identity, but it’s his lack of a fulfilling life, a life of friends, travel, concerts, parties, etc, that worries me. Even reading or walking or cycling – but he does none of this. It’s just his room with blinds down. He looks so gaunt and thin.
There is no doubt that your son is suffering, but there are reasons to trust him. He pushed for and achieved his own assessment for ADD, he applied for a third level course, and he persuaded you to take him to the sun for a while.
That he needs medical attention is undeniable, and your doctor will be the conduit for getting the support you both need to handle his condition and to get attention for his weight loss.
However, he is telling you clearly that he needs six months before he can pick up a planned life again, and there is a possibility that this is worth the risk. A deal would need to be struck with him about how this time is managed, and you can do this in co-ordination with him and ask him how he can reassure you that he is managing okay. It may be that you negotiate that he keeps in regular contact with you (by video call so you can see him), that he gets a part-time job, cooks decent food, etc – and in turn you can offer trust and calmness and if needed, financial support.
In order for your son to have the confidence to emerge from his three years of loss due to Covid, divorce and diagnosis, he may need this space and time for himself
You would of course need a risk management plan, ie that if you are seriously concerned you will call the emergency services or at very least he would have to allow someone to call and check in with him. These six months could force a digital detox on him in that he will have to fund himself (at least partially), go to the shops and to a part time job (or a course, if no jobs are available). You may need your ex-husband’s buy-in to support this venture, and while that might be difficult for you, both of you want success for your son, so there might be an opening for this conversation. Your son’s reality is going to change when he returns to Dublin, and it would be great if he could choose the timing of this himself.
Your son’s plan for a six-month time-out might call out his qualities of independence, intelligence and resilience as there are bound to be ups and downs in this journey. When he is ready to go to college, he can (himself) register with the college’s disability service and gain knowledge about, and support for, his ADD. He will find others with similar struggles and see that there is a path to success and wellbeing available to him if he opens up to it.
However, in order for him to have the confidence to emerge from his three years of loss due to Covid, divorce and diagnosis, he may need this space and time for himself. For yourself, it would be good to find an ADD support group for parents/carers (via your GP) so that you have a place to air your concerns and to gain some perspective. This will help you to trust your decisions and perhaps model help-seeking for your son. Your son is deeply loved and cared for, and this is a huge foundation for him to build on.
If you can negotiate a plan with him that offers you a sense of reassurance, and includes medical supervision for him, you might both gain a sense of trust and confidence that will lead to better outcomes for both of you.