Zack’s dad told his mom that he was going to 7-11 one April day when Zack was three. He never returned. Although Zack never heard from his father again, his grandparents reported that he was alive and well, living two states away.
Zack’s mother became depressed after his father left- or maybe she had always been depressed. Zack had never seen her any other way. She stayed in her bedroom most of the time with the blinds drawn only coming out several times a day to ask seventeen-year-old Zack to run to the store to get her something to eat.
Zack drove himself to my office and paid for his therapy with the money he had made working at McDonald’s. He explained that he wanted more out of life. More than his mother could offer him. He said that the kids in his neighborhood made money selling drugs. He thought about it for a while and decided that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder and wondering when he would be arrested or shot.
He explained to me that he was passing up an opportunity to make some quick cash. Zack said that selling drugs would get him the car of his dreams right away. But he wanted to go with a much slower route to money- attending college. Zack had an appointment with me the day after his high school graduation. He was upset with his mother for staying in her bedroom rather than attending the ceremony. He told me what it felt like to see all of the other kids with their cheering supportive families.
Zack said that he would not let his disappointment hold him back from moving forward with his dreams. He reported that he had big plans for himself and could not wait to escape his house and his neighborhood.
Zack spoke about his mother’s mental illness and understood it well. The isolation, the gloom, the aches and pains, the loss of energy, the loss of hope. Although he wished she would do more to help herself, he had not given up on her and shared with me his plan to one day buy her a nicer house in a better neighborhood.
After graduation, Zack applied for student loans and attended community college. He worked hard and eventually transferred to a four-year university. Zack was determined to break free from a childhood that was enveloped in pain, and move forward with his life.
I no longer see Zack for therapy, but think of him often. I will never forget what he said to me one day. It went something like this……..
“A lot of people blame their crappy life on their environment. Sure, life is unfair. I wish my dad had not left, and I wish my mom was mentally healthy, but I am ultimately in control of my life. I can break free and make things happen.”
*This is a true story. I changed Zack’s name and other identifying information to protect his confidentiality.