Slow Burn

Monday, May 11, 2009

I wrote this reflection after reading the book , "The Burn Journals" by Brent Runyon. It is part of my thinking about this line between childhood and adulthood , what drives adults to "forget" the experiences of being a teen. As Emily walks - no, runs - into this stage of her life, I struggle with my fears. As a parent, I use these reflections to remind me to Watch. Really watch. Not assume that no news is good news, or that her physical body in the house = everything is fine. My family is rife with depression (and other more exciting mental illnesses) and to ignore the clinical evidence that most depressions begin with the onset of puberty would be foolish.

Yes, Teenagers are kind of alien. I think it is something built into the human transitional phase that is kind of healthy. We need to experience this metamorphosis in order to emerge on the other side. It is my role as a "Guide" that I ponder. I do not want to throw up my hands and say "Oh, Teenagers - You Know How they Are!". I struggle with the distance to maintain, while never abandoning her to the durm and strang of being a teen.

One of the intriguing ideas that I have been grappling with following the Thursday evening discussion of The Burn Journals is my awareness of which “voice” I am reading.

Like many others in the group, I found myself frustrated at times with Brent's subtle refusal to look inwards as to why he attempted suicide, as well as his non-cooperative attitude towards the therapists who were attempting to draw these reasons out into the open. In my “adult reader” voice, I felt annoyed that Brent had so clearly cried out for help through the suicide attempt, and yet seemed to actively resist the help that he had finally attracted. Towards both his family members and his doctors, Brents inability to be honest about his motivations – while simultaneously taking pleasure in the attention he drawn to himself strikes my “adult reader” as incredibly self centered and solipsist.

However, once I have recognized that my irritation is coming from my reaction as an adult and parent, I must step back and look further into the source of that anger.

What is it about this young man and his internal dialogue that is rubbing me the wrong way?

If I examine Brent's story from the reading perspective of “teen Dawn”, I must admit some uncomfortable similarities in thinking. I, like Brent, believed that my events and tribulations were all encompassing and ever lasting. No mean comment, no heartbreak, no bad grade was ever going to be able to be overcome. Everything was all or nothing.

In fact, while preparing for the Picture Essay, I re-read my high school journals and was struck by the rollercoaster of my emotions. While the 38 year old woman wanted to reach through those pages and soothe the 17 year old girl, tell her that things aren't that bad, and that she IS lovely and talented and smart....I couldn't. In reading those entries in my own journal, I could once again acutely feel the turmoil of my feelings.

Frankly, the adult in me didn't like it very much. I didn't like looking backwards into that space and feeling so powerless, so out of control, and so self isolated. Upon taking up the mantle of adult, I have prided myself on my problem solving skills, my calm and my ability to weather storms. Seeing my inner teenage self laid so bare was viserally uncomfortable. I had left that person behind, and Brents' story brought her back into the spotlight of my gaze.

If I view Brents memoir through the lens of “teen Dawn”, I recognize the confusion, the lack of ability to describe the “why” of my actions. I believe that Brent is being truthful when he states that he simply doesn't know why he lit himself on fire, beyond being the result of a series of decisions which don't make a lot of sense. I believe that the pain he caused himself, and as an extension his family, seemed like a reasonable trade off to Brent at the time he did it. He made his inner pain external. Brent made it impossible for anyone to deny that he was hurting, all the while denying it himself.

This is where my discomfort lay. My role as parent steps in to reasure my inner voice that I would always know my child, and would certainly know if she was so deeply unhappy. My “teen Dawn” voice pipes up and tells me that I would ( and did) hide the depth of my despair carefully from the adults in my life. As an adult, I want to believe that I have control over my world and the people in it.

Brent's memoir, and it's connection with the inner voice of the teenage Dawn, reminds me that I don't have control, nor are there always concrete reasons for individuals behaviors.

2 Baleful Regards:

Laura said...

You voiced the fear that I already think about, before I have children. My family also has depression and anxiety running through it. Luckily my immediate family has become so open with it. My only fear is not seeing it in my children. My sister lived with her depression and suicidal thoughts for so long before finally being diagnosed and learning how to live with depression. I know it's an every day battle for her.

I can only hope that I will be aware and watchful of my children. I hope that being open with them about some of the challenges our family faces will make them feel secure enough to come to us if there is a problem.

Dawn said...

I think too, Laura, that the temptation is for me to not acknowledge the possibility of her sadness or feeling of disconnect because it is uncomfortable for ME to remember my own feelings.

Looking back on my own journal was a bit shocking. I intensely felt how "raw" I was - and it was painful to see - like a car wreak.

I hate to think of Em needing to feel that way, while also knowing somewhere in me that almost every person makes this transition in a somewhat solitary way.

My other reminder to myself to to say "Don't downplay it" - It is easy to say to her "Its no big deal" - and in the scheme of things, it isn't. But for the teen is a HUGE deal.

When you consider that we don't finish developing our pre-frontal cortex until our early 20's - which is where our rational decision making is centered - it makes sense that the teen brain is crappy at making long term decisions - or seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

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