By Christina Atkinson
Trigger warning: this post discusses mental illness and suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
This is the last of our three part series. Our story with our son, Nicholas. This has been the hardest and most traumatizing journey by far. I think that is why I have left it for last and wrote it so many times only to delete and start over. Putting it in writing causes so many flashbacks but I know I have to do this. Our story, his story may just help someone else.
In a nutshell, I feel like I have always been fighting for Nicholas' life. From almost losing him early during pregnancy, to an emergency cesarean because his little heart desatted and he wasn't getting enough oxygen, and him needing emergency surgery at 10 years old to remove his appendix that burst and made him extremely sick, I was always in fight or flight mode. Begging God not to take my child from me.
Nicholas has always been a kind, loving and happy kid. He was always the one to reach out to those in need or sit with the kid at school that was eating lunch alone. He has a huge heart, incredibly intelligent and the best sense of humor. He loved being around his family and friends until one day that all changed.
When he was 16 years old and met his first girlfriend, his personality changed within a couple of weeks. I remember mentioning to my husband something just wasn't right. I know all mothers sometimes don't think a girl is right for her son but I knew deep in my soul I was never more right.
I won't go into details to protect my son's privacy but I will say she emotionally tortured him until the point he believed these horrible things about himself. He lost everything....his friends, his grades, his beautiful smile, he lost himself. We did everything we could to keep her away from him but there is only so much you can do. Trust me. No one fought harder at it than me.
Nicholas began therapy but it seemed nothing was working for his anxiety and depression. He became so angry and withdrawn, he started cutting himself. Nothing tortured my heart and soul more than to have to take my son to an inpatient facility and watch those doors close behind me. I fell to my knees, literally in screams and sobs.
After 10 days of treatment, Nicholas got to come home. It was so incredible to hold my boy again and have him home where he belonged. Those 10 days without him, I didn't move, I didn't eat and I didn't sleep. I just prayed alot. I did get angry alot with God too....I won't lie but our God is a forgiving and loving God and He understands.
I thought the nightmare was over but I could never be more wrong. Sending him back to school is something I wish I never did. It progessed into more bullying, rumors and emotional torture but this time Nicholas was extremely good at hiding it.
Nicholas went away to college and in my heart I felt it wasn't right but everyone kept saying was something he needed. His first couple weeks were great. I, on the other hand, was lost without him around. He would come home a couple of weekends and then we would take him back. He even sent me the most beautiful birthday gift I have ever received (photo below). I cried buckets when it arrived but later that night I really the tears I was crying were a mixture of missing my son and fear I would never see him again.
Three weeks later on October 4th, 2017, he started sounding different...sad, short, not himself during the day when I was talking to him on the phone. Later that night I called him around 8:30 like I did every night and he sounded worse. I asked him if he was okay and his short response of I'm fine just told me he wasn't okay. I know my son. I felt sick to my stomach and I couldn't shake the feeling so I called him again in 15 minutes. The phone kept picking up but I couldn't hear him or he couldn't hear me. I really can't remember. I frantically started texting him and he would only reply "I'm fine. My phone is messed up". I didn't believe it so I kept calling. Finally he spoke but still I knew. I felt it. We said goodnight and I love you but I did not want that phone to hang up.
I instantly felt sick. I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned, looked at my phone, read our texts again and kept checking every social media app to see if he was online. I must have dozed off in sheer exhaustion but then was startled awake at 12:45 am to my phone ringing. It was a man asking if I was the mother of Nicholas Chewning. I only remember screaming and waking my husband who grabbed the phone from me. From there I remember us being in the car and driving in the middle of the night 2 1/2 hours away as fast but as safe as we could. I remember sobbing but I was also numb. The next thing I remember is being in a foreign area in a hospital being greeted by a hug by my son's best friend and it all came back to me and I lost it. Our son attempted to end his life, alone in his college dorm. He took over 80 pills that night; a combination of his anxiety and depression medication. If his friends did not go to his room that night to go get something to eat together, Nicholas would not be here. The man that called me that night was the EMS driver while the others were working on my son.
There is no doubt in my mind God was present during these series of events and He placed everything exactly as it was so that Nicholas would live to tell his story and help others. Today Nicholas is 22, happy and healthy. His life is worth living and he helps others know the same about theirs. Mental illness is real. Abuse is real. It happens to men too and it is time we end of the stigma.
Don't give up. We are here for you, we stand with you, and we will love you until you can love yourself.
You can read more about Nicholas' story in this news article: https://levittownnow.com/2018/08/26/self-harm-a-suicide-attempt-recovery-local-teen-shares-story-on-overcoming-bullying/ as well as reach out to Christina on Instagram @mama_advocatex3.