As a parent, our greatest joy is seeing our children smile and be happy.  During the COVID quarantine, I watched as my happy-go-lucky son slipped away into a very dark place.

Angel here and most of you know I have five kiddos.  Parker, 18, your typical oldest child.  He has a dominant personality and doesn't really ask for much from his dad or me in the way of needs.  The late Kathern, who passed when she was just shy of two months old and would be 17 in May.  Braden, 15, who I love to refer to as my sunshine child.  This kid is all smiles and fun and really sweet pretty much all around.  Tuck, 8, my crazy youngest son.  Full-speed all the time and all boy.  And lastly, Miss Charlotte, the baby of the family and spoiled rotten to the core.  Sweet and very lovable.

While I love sharing my kids with you today we're gonna focus on Braden.  He's my fun-loving kid.  Super chill and never meets a stranger.  In fact, he thrives on social interaction.  He is like the male version of his momma. So no one would have ever imagined what was to come when COVID hit.

Cue worldwide pandemic with a shutdown.  At first, it was like a vacation because let's be honest who really thought we would deal with this for as long as we did.  Certainly not a teenager.  For the first few months, he did his work and carried on as he was supposed to and then I noticed a decline.  He began slacking off and showing no interest in doing anything.  Then came the call from a guidance counselor about him sending a message to another student about suicidal thoughts.  Not my sunshine kid I thought to myself.  I had a conversation at length with Braden to which he assured me he was ok and not going to do anything.

To be totally honest I just thought it was because he was a teen and pretty much pushed it down.  I didn't want to think my kid was struggling.

We were super strict about the kids going anywhere through the summer and stayed to ourselves other than swimming and Braden attending Football when allowed.

As we approached the start of school I began to see Braden get a little of his spark back.  He was excited about sports, seeing his friends, and being at a brand-new school.

Then the rug was pulled out from under all the kids when they were sent back to virtual full-time.  I saw my son slowly decline and shift from excitement to depression.  He grew angry, aggressive, and very distant.  He spent a lot of time in his room or down in our basement playing games and watching tv.

Braden did not fend well with virtual  One thing I haven't mentioned is he has ADHD.  We don't tell a lot of people especially his teachers because we don't want him to be labeled.  We try each year to go in and just work hard.  He struggles even without a pandemic.  Throw in virtual learning in a home environment, your siblings learning in other rooms, dogs and cats, parents in and out, and the uncertainty of times and see if that doesn't make you want to lose your mind.

My boy essentially began to lose his mind and very rapidly.  His anger went to rage and I didn't recognize my own son anymore. He started eating for comfort and had no desire to do anything.  In case you were wondering this is a full-blown recipe for disaster.

Still, I didn't see what was happening.  I grew frustrated with his behavior.  I would yell and correct when I should have been trying to understand his pain.  Even my husband, Joe, chalked it up to teenage behavior and dismissed it.

He cried and I mean a lot.  I am not sure from the time Braden was three to now I have seen him cry more than a few times.  He has always had the most wonderful smile and attitude.  Watching him melt broke my heart and you would think I would have scrambled to fix it.  I tried in my own way only failing him.

I prayed daily for his mental health.  I prayed we would return to school.  To no avail.

We made it through the holidays, went on vacation in hopes everyone would have lifted spirits.  Although he knew when school started it would be the same old way.  I tried early on getting him in more than just the two days a week.  I was told if they did it for Braden then they would have to do it for every student.  I get it but it didn't help the situation.

I had just hoped it would all fix itself and we could go back to normal.  It didn't.  Instead, the snowball effects were much worse than I imagined.  I contacted the school counselor to express concern and to see if he could see the school therapist.  Which he began too.  Then two different friends of Braden's contacted me apart from one another to tell me they were worried about some comments he had made and they couldn't forgive themselves if they didn't tell me.  I was frozen.  How is it that my son, my happy little boy could have in his head leaving this world?  All the while forgetting he isn't little anymore and he was battling some major issues.

He was so far behind in school and covered up with missing assignments he began to feel like he may never ever dig himself out of the hole he was in.

Finally, I made a plea on social media:

I was surprised to find out the number of families dealing with the very same thing.  Normally, happy, well-adjusted, resilient kids falling apart in the midst of the pandemic.

One amazing teacher and friend, Heather Cavitt, answered our plea and came to our rescue.  She messaged me and said, "I want to help".  Reading those words immediately calmed the chaos.  Just knowing someone cared and wanted to help my son made a world of difference.  She was a godsend and we are forever thankful for Ms. Cavitt and her love of students especially ours.

Braden began attending school four out of five days.  He seemed relieved to have human contact and a hope of better grades and a light at the end of the tunnel.

We weren't quite out of the dark yet.  I got a call from Braden's school counselor last week and she had him in the office.  She told me he was having suicidal thoughts and when this comes up in conversation she always calls the parents.  She said he didn't have a plan.  He told me it was because he didn't want to cause others problems with what he felt might be a solution to how he was feeling.

Thankfully today we have a plan worked out and we have sat down and talked about what he needs to do when he feels this way.  We have a plan as a family and have made sure Braden knows he is loved, supported, and cared for no matter how he is feeling.

Joe and I were having a conversation about it all and how we could have done better for Braden.  Who were we to decide how he should handle the stresses around him or even tell him how to feel?

My son is smiling again and I believe he feels a sense of relief.  He talks about the future, and excitement for Football season, and is cracking jokes and aggravating Tuck and Charlotte again.

From one parent to another don't ignore the signs of depression or anxiety.  Don't dismiss your child's behavior because you don't think it is validated.  Don't expect them to respond to a situation in an adult-like manner that even adults can't handle.  And most importantly listen, love, and look to help in any way you can.  Ultimately the mental health and wellness of our children is more important than homework assignments or grades.

As always thank you for letting me share my family with you.   I was given permission from my son, Braden, to share this story and recall the events that took place over the past year.

I am so proud of him for being brave enough to share his story.  I love you my boy~

Angel Shares How The Pandemic Nearly Stole Her Son Braden's Life

As a parent, our greatest joy is seeing our children smile and be happy. During the COVID quarantine, I watched as my happy-go-lucky son slipped away into a very dark place.

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