Semicolon: Nick, the Playlist and the Validity of Tattoos

This is my first guest blogger post. Please welcome my son, Henry, as he shares a true story about an experience he had recently had at college. I’ve been told September is also National Suicide Prevention month — although I vote every month is National Suicide Prevention month. Henry is also the subject of my blog series “His Journey UP” which makes it even that much more impactful. He has a voice, an incredible voice. Listen UP!


Guest blog post

I would like to preface this with the fact that this is the raw story, there are no facts spun in any way… Here it is, as it happened:

Around the internet lately, there has been the idea of a semicolon to raise awareness of suicide prevention… The idea is that an author can choose to end a sentence with a period, or keep it going with a semicolon… This is not a story of me getting a punctuation mark tattooed on my wrist… This is a story of how I, Henry, turned a period into a semicolon… This is the story of Nick:

Three weeks ago, I was at the school dining hall, and saw a visibly non-typical guy who was sitting all alone at lunch… I, knowing the feeling of sitting all alone at lunch, went up to him and asked if I could sit with him, to which he obliged…


I started talking to this guy, named Nick, and we have a couple conversations about school, how bad the university food is, etc. We share a few laughs, and we part ways


Fast forward to last Sunday, I see Nick, he is visibly shaken, appearing to be on the verge of tears. I went up to him and asked if everything was okay, to which he replied “my life is so fucked up”, a response that is normally only allocated for the most dire of situations… I asked him what happened. He tells me one of his best friends committed suicide and his grades are taking a turn…


At this point, I am visibly shaken. We talked for a little bit. About a half hour later, he is much more calm. We exchanged numbers, and I say if he ever needs anything, just text.


Later that night I’m about to go to bed, when I get a frantic text from Nick, he is having a breakdown. I throw on clothes and run to his dorm as fast as I can… I get there to to find that he had punched a hole in his wall, and he is crying on the floor…I ask him what happened, he tells me the events of that day. This is his account, paraphrased:

“Today, after we talked, my parents and I went to the doctor, and he took me off my antidepressants completely.”

At this point I interrupt,


He tells me it’s because of a heart problem the doctor found. I am completely shocked, as antidepressants have to be slowly dosed down, there is no cold turkey in medication.

I ask, still calm, if the doctor knew about his situation, he replied with one word, “yes.”

At this point i am holding back rage, no medical professional, knowing that a patient is grieving, should even think about changing a dose of any medication, let alone COLD TURKEY..,

Still calm, I ask what he’s thinking right now, he responds with a chant:


I am worried beyond belief, I try to assure him it is most definitely not his fault, he doesn’t budge…

I go through my personal toolbox, the coping strategy file comes out… I ask if he wants to take a walk, he says he texted someone else, an friend named Edmond, and that he is coming… We wait, I’m helping him take deep breaths… Edmond arrives, he is a smaller African American gentleman, and he is holding a bible, HE IS HOLDING A BIBLE…

At this point, I am further out of my comfort zone than voyager is from earth…

I am a staunch atheist, but I don’t tell anyone unless asked, out of respect, and for an avoidance of the so called “missionaries” who may want to convert an atheist… And here I am looking at a missionary…

I hold in my wrath and brief Edmond on what we’ve done this far…

Edmond, Nick and myself begin to walk, I think to myself “keep your beliefs out of this” and I succeed, as we walk, Edmond brings out his bible and begins thumbing to the whole “God loves you and is with all of us” schtick… I continue the breathing exercises, and it seems to be working, I say.

“it’s just Edmond, me and you, there is no world around you, just you and your breathing.”

Edmond interjects

“There’s actually 4 people here, you forgot about God.”

He begins reading scripture, I keep helping with breathing exercises, now, for both me and Nick …

About an hour and a half later, we get to a picnic bench, and have a seat…

I can tell the scriptures are going over Nick’s head, but I continue my scientifically backed approach. Nick is calm…


Nick gives Edmond permission to leave, and he walks away into the night. I am internally relieved. I remain by his side, asking him how he feels, to which he says “better”…

I offer to walk him back to his dorm, he says that it would be great… We begin to walk, him by my side… He says he doesn’t want to see people, so I take him the “non scenic route”, where the least amount of people will be seen…

We get to his dorm, I make small talk about how his room is way cleaner than mine, as his room is immaculate… I continue to comfort him, I ask if he’s going to be ok tonight… He says he is good.


That night I can’t sleep, I can’t stop thinking about Nick’s situation. I cry a couple times more than in willing to admit…

On campus, I am known as the Yoyo Guy, as I do the Diabolo in the courtyards of my campus, whenever I can’t sleep, I go out at about 5:00 in the morning and do it to clear my mind…

I walk to the dining hall for breakfast, it hasn’t opened yet. It’s about 5:30 a.m. I see Nick, walking around near it, and greet him…

I know there are not many options when you go to bed at 1:00 a.m. and are hanging outside at 5:30 a.m…. Either you thrive on little sleep, or you’ve haven’t slept that night…

I slowly inquire with the “how’d you sleep” approach, he says “not at all”. This is worrisome, as people aren’t normally forthcoming about their “all-nighters” and this was upfront…

I dig deeper, it turns out he hasn’t slept since his friend’s suicide… I vocally gasp, and say the thing that doctors have said to me countless times:

“You can take every mood stabilizer ever devised, you can take any medication as often as you want, but if you aren’t getting a good nights sleep, every drug becomes a placebo… Useless.”

He obliged, saying he would try to sleep tonight.

We eat together, he is visibly tired, understandably, we eat our food, we talk, I try to keep the conversation bright and happy, he laughs for the first time since I’ve seen him after the tragedy…


I try to go to bed early and wake up early to check if he is out there in the morning, three days pass, I see him all three days…

Fast forward to just a few days ago…

That’s when I decide to go to my school’s disability service building after my classes to tell someone about Nick’s situation… I make the half mile pilgrimage from my dorm to the disability services office and ask to talk to my case manager. I tell her his name, what’s happening, and specifically the events of the past week. I tell her I’m worried about Nick. She lets the correct avenues know about the situation, and I leave… Hopefully this will help him…

Later that night… a frantic text from Nick, I run over to his dorm at top speed, and find him sitting in his chair, grasping his wrist…. I ask what happened… He punched the wall really hard and he thinks he broke his wrist… I ask if I can examine his arm, he obliged. His wrist is clearly broken…

We walk to the health center, they see him. I refuse to let him go in alone, and they let me in and confirm, “His wrist is broken, but he needs an x-ray “…

We leave, he has a splint on, he calls his parents… I listen in on the call, as Nick suggested… The conversation went something like this:

Nick: “I broke my wrist”

Mom: “WHAT… HOW?!!”

Nick: ” I punched a hole in the wall again”

Mom: “WHAT!?!?! Well, you’re paying for that… Do you need to go to the hospital”

Nick: (crying) “YES”

Mom: “Well, you better find a bus, because I’m not taking you, and I’m not paying for this… Time to grow up”

Mom hangs up

My jaw drops. How could someone show so much apathy towards their own son… He has told me in the past that she is strict, but I didn’t think he meant EVIL, which is what she was… This isn’t just a lack of support, this is truly being on the other team, opposing your own child…

To this woman, who we will refer to no longer as Nick’s mom, but as Nick’s adversary: there are certain types of people in this world, you are the most lowlife scum in this world, you do not deserve the air that humans breath, you are inhuman, to put your finances first and you FUCKING SON last… I don’t care if you can’t afford it, love finds a way. I am so angry.

I’m holding this in, Nick is crying, to which I ask if he has an insurance card… He does, thank goodness.

Without missing a beat I take him by his non-injured hand and we get in the car… I quickly Google the nearest hospital, and we drive… After an hour or so wait, as I’m trying to cheer him up, he is taken back for an x-ray… And then I wait…

He comes out with a blue cast on, I shake the nurses hand and say the most genuine thank you I have ever given another human…

On the ride back, I ask what he does for fun… He says he listens to music… I take a look at his iPod when we get back to campus, he has 51 songs, and I look through them to get an idea of his musical tastes… I ask him if music helps him calm down when he’s stressed… He instantly reply with a yes…

This gives me an idea… I get back that night, and I begin going through my personal library, which contains 3000 + songs, of all genres… I create a 204 song playlist, in order to sextuple his music library…

I label the playlist “Nick’s Songs- from Henry” and load them all onto a green flash drive… I sit in my room, still writing this, more as a venting mechanism than anything…

I saw him later that evening… I ask if he has slept, he responds with the best possible answer, YES… I am excited, I grab the flash drive from my backpack and tell him the following…

Me: “In the past few weeks, you have gone through more than anyone should. I’ve been paying attention to your music tastes and I put together something for you. What was the size of your music library again?”

Nick: “51 songs.”

Me: “What’s that number times 5.”

Nick: (after a minute) “255, why”

Me: “Last night, I scoured my music library for some of my favorite songs, I created a playlist, and loaded a select 204 songs that I know you don’t have onto here.”

I hand him the flash drive

At this point he begins to cry, and I hug him.

Me: “it’s all gonna be okay.”

Nick: “Thank you.”

Me: “Thank you for being my friend.”


There is no better feeling in this world than knowing you saved someone’s life… Not everyone has gone through that experience, and I’m proud I did.

Back to the idea of a semicolon. You can tattoo your entire body with semicolons, but it means nothing unless you are willing to “walk the walk.” I saw many people walk right by Nick on many days. Going back to that first day I met Nick, I know many people with those tattoos that would not have done anything. That makes your tattoo worthless to me…

So I guess the lesson is cliché, but it perfectly describes this: DONT BE A SILENT BYSTANDER…

So that, mixed with the inherent pain, is why I will not get a semicolon tattoo, as the validity of such a tattoo is clouded by bystanders…

Looking UP! part VI

This blog post is part of a series called “His Journey UP” about my twice exceptional son’s journey through the complicated web of diagnosis, misdiagnosis, mental health and finally to understanding.


He  was completely mainstreamed into a fifth grade class. He was engaged. He participated. He started to laugh again. His witty sense of humor and desire to learn rose to the surface. He began attending a social skills group at school, as well as a private group across town. We were developing a great rapport with a new psychologist who specialized in children with autism and learning disabilities. He was learning appropriate ways to deal with frustration.

He had always been active in Boy Scouts — as far back as first grade they always excepted him for who he was. He started becoming more active in the local troop. This time his dad took on the role of Scout Master just to make sure he was always supported. He would always be supported. At 15 he would earn his Eagle award.

While he didn’t need to check in at the SED classroom anymore, he would still stop by on his way out each day to check on the boys. If anything came from his life experience it began to show through as an intense empathy for the underdog. He had a deep understanding for what went on in that classroom — and a deeper understanding for how it felt to be one of “those” kids.  Some of them would never leave the SED program, some would be hospitalized, some were twice exceptional, some would move onto more intensive therapies, and some just fell off of our radar.  Over the next couple of years, whenever he was back at the elementary school to see one of his sisters he would always stop in to check on the boys.

He had essentially missed an entire year of school. He had missed math, science, language arts, and social studies. He missed field trips, school dances, friendships and memories. We looked ahead to middle school and were hopeful.

Interestingly enough, his initial IEP where he was identified as a Severe Emotional Disorder child was revised three short years later in 8th grade. He never had a behavior issue at school again. He was still quirky, unorganized and didn’t like to produce a lot of work, but he was not a behavior problem any longer.

We left Children’s Hospital with a few diagnosis that felt like they threw some random acronyms at a wall and hoped something might stick. According to them, he was ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), Bipolar, Mood Disorder-NOS, PDD-NOS mild among a few others.

As we moved forward with our private psychiatrist, therapist and other professionals we learned he is actually a much different child. You will now see terms like ASD-mild (autism spectrum disorder-mild), ADHD Inattentive-mild, dysgraphia and learning disability in written expression, and a learning disability in processing speed after his name. I always tell people he is just Henry, and he is complicated. The school district provided a SWAAAC evaluation (Augmentative and Alternative Communication Evaluation) to determine he would benefit from the use of a keyboard. Now that he was on an IEP, he qualified for the services he was denied back when he was “gifted and was not failing enough.”

It’s hard not to look back and wonder, “what if they had just taken the time to support him?”

In 8th grade his IEP was reclassified from a SED to a SLD (Specific Learning Disability) label. He was in a general education classroom 100 percent of his day. He received some easy accommodations like extra time, use of keyboard, and, if needed, a place to take a chill break. His service hours for mental health were reduced to “as needed” by that time as well.

I’ve always said, a child with unsupported learning disabilities can become a behavior problem pretty quickly. We had a boy who was incredibly rigid in his thinking (that’s the ASD-mild talking). He was very frustrated by what he couldn’t do resulting from his learning disabilities. A keyboard, extra time, and some thoughtful teachers were an enormously successful strategy for him. He now had a tool box of coping strategies, some helpful medication, and series of supports built under him so we could catch him if he ever fell again.

We watch closely. Some say I am a helicopter parent. A few educators have rolled their eyes when I demand accommodations be honored. I’m not sure they fully understand the mountain he climbed to get back on track. I am not one of those parent’s who is looking for a short cut or fast track for my child. As a family we went through hell and back.  Now that the story has been fully shared, I encourage anyone to read this blog and understand what happens when you lose a child you will do anything in your power to support, support, and support some more.

He is not perfect, but he has had some amazing successes. He is funny, thoughtful, and kind. He is still a teenager (actually young adult), but we’ve learned to always react with calm, compassion and give space to process. My son now recognizes when rigidity and perfectionism are taking over. It may take a little time, but he always knows where to find his tools.

This young man, who metaphorically climbed out of a deep, dark hole and up a mountain to discover who he is, shared a story with me that filled my heart. He is in college now, a full time student living on campus and majoring in Computer Science/Engineering. If you met him on the street you would think, “tall, smart, engaging guy and pretty funny too.” He is fully registered with disability services and schedules his own tests in the testing center, has introduced himself to each professor and knows what he needs to be successful. Recently he came across another student in one of his classes whose head hung low. My son approached him and learned this young man had a disability and was overwhelmed, struggling, and feeling hopeless. Sometimes you just need someone to understand, to empathize, to listen. They talked and exchanged phone numbers. Later that evening a desperate text came asking if my son could come over and help. They talked some more. My son encouraged the young man to seek help at the various tutoring centers on campus and to check in with disability services. He followed up by walking over to disability services and alerting staff that there was a student in distress. Fortunately they already knew, but would follow up at the next level.

He has become an advocate. He knows. HE KNOWS!

In my hours of reading and research on many special education topics I ran across a quote that I have used over and over again. I think it helps educators, parents and other professionals who work with a struggling child find perspective.

“No child goes to school planning to have a bad day. Something else is going on.”
~anonymous educator

And, his eyes smiled again… part V

This blog post is part of a series called “His Journey UP” about my twice exceptional son’s journey through the complicated web of diagnosis, misdiagnosis, mental health and finally to understanding.

SED Centers-Based Program: a program for students in Elementary and Middle School who have significant emotional disorders which interfere with the student’s ability to benefit from existing school programs. The program focuses on appropriate social-emotional behaviors as well as academic instruction. Students return to their home schools as soon as they develop appropriate behavioral control.

We walked into the school we had left a year and a half ago to pursue better programming at the district’s gifted and talented magnet program. Our heads were held high a year and a half ago with great hopes that our quirky boy might find intellectual peers, challenging teachers and a program that would support and challenge a highly gifted learner. We now walked back into the school we had left with our tail between our legs. No one waved. No one asked what had happened. There was an eerie quiet surrounding the entire topic. Something I hope this blog helps to change. Our neighbors, teachers, and friends all knew we were coming back, but now going into the program for children with Severe Emotional Disorders. The program was housed in the center of the school with no light coming in from outside. It was the only classroom in the building with a windowless, padded room — a place for when things got tough and isolation was needed. It was the red-headed step child most students were unaware even existed within the walls of their neighborhood school.

We sat in a conference room with the principal, school psychologist, our psychiatrist, the SED teacher and the school social worker. I recall the SED teacher asking if our son was heavily medicated — because his head hung low, his eyes were vacant and he was very quiet. I responded, “He is very sad. He is broken.” Our son had come home from an in-patient psychiatric facility, was told he was no longer welcome in the gifted program and then was told the ONLY place left for him was not a lot different than the day treatment program he had just left. It was devastating. He was devastated.

We left Children’s Hospital with a child who was no longer vibrant, creative, or interesting. Something had, THEY had broken something inside him during those six weeks.

We, at least now had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for him. It would guarantee services for him within our district. It would define educational, behavioral, and social goals and ideally licensed professionals would work with him to achieve those goals. The hardest part was the new (IEP) also stated he had Severe Emotional Disorders. At that moment the only way he could qualify for it.

It was required that he “stabilize” within the centers-based program and prove that he was not a threat to other students or adults. The SED teacher was an older gentleman who had a quiet manner of speaking. He was very grandfatherly, charming actually, and promised weekly fieldtrips, time outside, engaging academics and if all went well maybe an elective with a general education class. He kept patting our son on the back and calling him “buddy.” We were fortunate, at that time the school had a pull-out gifted and talented program and the teacher in charge said she would love to pull our son out at every opportunity. It was a glimmer of hope knowing that he would be at least given some challenging work to do.

He could start school the next day.

We learned over the next three excruciating months that the sweet, grandfatherly SED teacher was only that way around other adults. He spent most of his time in meetings or on the phone. When he was available to actually teach the seven students in the SED room, he often yelled, put them in isolation, and talked down to them. He certainly never prepared a lesson or worked on IEP goals. We called, emailed, or stopped in every few days to see when our son could be transitioned into a general education classroom. The paraprofessionals were a stark contrast to the overbearing teacher. They were angels on earth who adored the children in that room. They nurtured, supported and provided some academic instruction. However, as paraprofessionals none of them were licensed teachers and could not legally teach.

There was never homework and we quickly learned his academics consisted of remedial worksheets. One was a coloring sheet, another a handwriting sheet on kindergarten-styled lined paper. He was given stamps and stickers on finished work. I honestly have no idea how he held it together during those three months. Sadly I think he was beginning to learn his future was dependent on his behavior within that hidden room. We always had perfect behavior reports from the staff. It was going well, at least as well as it could.

There were never field trips. As the other children in the program had behaviors that were far too severe to risk going out into the world.

One month. Two. Three. Finally, we were told, “We have asked the fifth grade teachers if they would be willing to take your son on for one class period a day.”

ONE, only one, said she would do it. What were the others afraid of?

Exactly three months after transitioning back to school my son walked back into a mainstream classroom for a science lesson. I met with the teacher beforehand and told her everything she might need to know about our guy. I told her about his learning disabilities, about how smart he was and about how hard he was working. The SED teacher sat between us and offered no more than the occasional nod. I don’t think he had any real insight into who my child was, how he learned or how far he had come. I’m not sure he really cared. The teacher, Mrs. Spaulding, listened and said she looked forward to meeting my child.

The next day, after having my son for only one hour, that amazing, amazing woman asked the SED teacher if she could have him all day. I wrote to her at the end of the year to tell her she had literally changed the life of a child that year. I was so thankful for her.

There are moment in your life you will never forget. This was one of those moments. That was the day his sad, vacant eyes lit up again. I often tell people, “His eyes smiled again.” And, they did!

” But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door”

~I Would Walk 500 Miles, The Proclaimers

Six weeks of hell… part IV

This blog post is part of a series called “His Journey UP” about my twice exceptional son’s journey through the complicated web of diagnosis, misdiagnosis, mental health and finally to understanding.
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Twenty two pages… part II


This blog post is part of a series called “His Journey UP” about my twice exceptional son’s journey through the complicated web of diagnosis, misdiagnosis, mental health and finally to understanding.


A twenty two page neuropsychological evaluation examining every inch, every corner of a ten year old’s brain. Academic, psychological, learning differences, Rorschach test, ADHD, ODD, PDD, autism, dyslexia, psychosis, mania, depression, and much more. A forty five minute meeting with a very qualified professional telling us the most important thing we needed to do was to find a child psychiatrist.

I look back and sometimes wonder if those four days were the most stimulation his brain had received in years. I wonder if he had fun playing with his answers, manipulating the results — or if in fact we had a very sick child on our hands. The psychologist was unable to make a diagnosis for us. She said he was in such distress he flagged positive for almost everything. His examinations of the ink blots were very creative, a bit dark, and sent red flags up in many areas.

Find a child psychiatrist! You better plan to make some big changes at home they all said. I asked what specifically should we change. I never really got answers. Maybe home was the only actual place he felt understood, safe and challenged. Fuckers.

Three weeks, so many phone calls I lost count… begging psychiatrists to take one more new patient. Could you refer to me to someone taking new patients. Do not go to Dr. X or Dr. Y… they take insurance and they’ve messed up a lot of kids. Leave messages. No returned calls. Desperation. Full days at school have become impossible. He was reduced to half days. No band, no electives, no field trips, no follow up on any actual schoolwork that would give him purpose. He was dying inside day by day.

Teachers refused sensory breaks. the school psychologist was useless. I lived in the parking lot at the elementary school waiting for the phone call to come get him. I personally provided him with much needed sensory breaks between classes, calmed him when he lost it, and became someone I didn’t know before — an advocate. I remember sitting on the floor outside his math class and the teacher asking what on earth I was doing. My response, “supporting my child.”

I recall one of those times sitting in the hallway and overhearing a very loud, male teacher who taught the 6th grade gifted class — the teacher my son would potentially have next year. He screamed at an 11 year old boy. I couldn’t believe how loud, how angry, and how sad I felt for this child. I secretly worried that my child may be THAT child next year. I recall the child’s name. It was Carl.  Many year’s later a chill and anger filled my soul after a student brought a gun to Arapahoe High School, killed one, killed himself, injured many more and shocked us all to the bone. The.Same.Carl.

Finally, a psychiatrist called back. Appointment made. A good fit. An hour later a call back from our city’s Children’s Hospital. Everyone said you have to go there. They know what to do . They have the best professionals. A world class behavioral science center. They can help. The new psychiatrist said, just go and see what they can offer. It couldn’t hurt. Those appointments are very hard to come by.

And so we went…

I just want to disappear… part I


This blog post is part of a series called “His Journey UP” about my twice exceptional son’s journey through the complicated web of diagnosis, misdiagnosis, mental health and finally to understanding.


“I just want to disappear,” he said.

Another call from the school saying he threw up seven times and begged to go home. A second pair of glasses dissected, pulled apart and twisted into an unusable form. A desk full of torn up papers, leftover snacks and a lot of unfinished school work.

“I just want to disappear,” he said when asked, “Why do you choke yourself until you turn blue in the cafeteria?”

Crawling out of the classroom on hands and knees when asked to participate in Language Arts. Bouncing, shifting, distracted. School should not feel this way.

“No, he doesn’t qualify for an Occupational Therapy referral at the school. He is in the gifted program. He is not failing enough to qualify for that.”

“I just want to disappear,” he said when he came home and put ropes, shirts, dental floss around his neck and pulled.

“The school psychologist will work with him — every other Friday if she doesn’t have a meeting.”

“I will create a behavior chart for him. Does he like stickers?”

How many ways can you get kicked out of school. Coping strategy? Yes. How many ways can they make me feel like a failure. Stickers, really? How many ways can they misunderstand. They promised to understand.

“I just want to disappear,” he said as I applied deep pressure prescribed by his private Occupational Therapist. Exhale. “It feels better.”

Wrapping up in a sleeping bag, typing out a soothing phrase on the piano. “It feels better.”

Explodes. Implodes. Pain. Fear. Confusion.

“I just want to disappear,” he said as his teachers said, “Just stop doing that.”

Weights, rolling up and down a grassy hill, jumping on a trampoline. Calm. “It feels better.”

You are weird. You have to be in the learning lab and do nothing all day. Brain atrophy.

“I just want to disappear and hurt everyone around me,” he said

“He can’t stay here,” they said. “It cannot be gifted education AND special education. We don’t know how to do that.”

Explodes. Implodes. Pain. Fear. Confusion.

He just wanted to disappear…








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