Adolescent Behavioral Health Is Confusing AF (and other concerns)

3 min readJan 16, 2021


Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

Three days after we put the butcher knives out of reach because our son sort of halfway attempted to slash his wrists, I had my weekly therapy session.

“How does that make you feel?” she asked, after I finished telling her where we are in the excruciating process of maneuvering the labyrinth collectively known as Adolescent Behavioral Health.

In case you’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing it yourself, allow me to tell you: it’s terrible. Almost no one treats adolescents, first of all, and the blanket solution is always “go to the emergency room.” Maybe a 72-hour hold and paper clothes are fine for an adult experiencing psychosis, but that wasn’t the choice that made sense for our kid — this time, at least.

The system is so overwhelmed that trying to see a psychiatrist takes months. Approximately three months, to be exact. So ultimately we have to choose between going to the emergency room or waiting three months and crossing our fingers that he can make it until then.

Neither of these options were acceptable to me.

I was in the middle of talking about this when my therapist cut me off again and said that I wasn’t sharing feelings, I was stating facts. She wanted to know how I felt. As I stared blankly into the screen of my smart phone, which I’d propped up on pillows so we were at eye level when I sat cross-legged on the floor, I admitted that I wasn’t sure how I felt. Feelings are a thing addicts and alcoholics avoid at all costs, and even at one month shy of 4 years of sobriety, I STILL AVOID THEM AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

How does my son’s suicidal ideation make me feel?

Like I’ve done something wrong. Like I fucked up royally somewhere along the line. Like a helpless, directionless worm. I feel like I’m both paralyzed with fear and panicked like a bunny whose ear just got chopped off. I feel like I’m watching my son sink below water and my feet are cemented to the floor and I have to trust another person — a stranger — to rescue him from drowning.

Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

And also, I feel like I get it. The desire not to feel pain or suffering is a deeply familiar one. I keep trying to talk to him about it; starting by looking straight into his hazel eyes and then I open my mouth to say I understand but also death is never the answer but nothing comes out.



“What did you need?”

“Oh. I just wanted to say I love you.” And then I kiss him on the head.

I sent my therapist a message.

“I’ve been trying to identify my feelings and that shit is exhausting. WHO DOES THIS NATURALLY?”

Her answer: “Literally no one.”




Writer, mother, and recovering alcoholic living in the Deep South.