TW: depression, mental illness, dependency (and yeah, this is going to look like a Dear Prudence question, I suppose.

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Spouse and I have a Child who has just turned 18. Said child is in transition, and also suffers from depression.

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Child has been diagnosed and is on medication for the depression, as well as hormone treatments for the early phase of the gender transition. They see a counselor at least two or three times a week. They were assigned to a special high school, fortunately paid for by our school district on the basis of Child’s gender issue (as a disability!), but have attended only about a quarter of the school days this year. The district would have paid for transportation to this school as well, but Child refused and so Spouse or I drive Child to and from (when they do attend).

What they do when they are not at school or with a counselor, (which is most of the time, from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM) is to watch TV and play video games. They will eat only a very limited range of foods, almost all of which Spouse must prepare (generally, toast, bacon, and eggs, the last of which they only eat parts of). They will also eat the mac & cheese that I prepare or the pancakes that I make. That’s about it.

Spouse and Child have worked out an agreement that Child will have reassignment surgery, and then will complete high school (a year late). Originally, our understanding was that Child would begin college, and then take a year off for surgery, but that seems to have slipped, since there is no chance that they will graduate high school this year. We have officially changed Child’s name and are in the process of changing their birth certificate gender assignment—all of which is time-consuming and costly.

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I am worried, in part, that a kind of co-dependency has developed between Spouse and Child. Spouse often tells me that I don’t understand how deep Child’s psychological issues are, but I don’t see much of a manifestation. Interestingly, Child has routines of “cuteness” and “neediness” with Spouse that vanish on those occasions when Spouse is traveling and Child and I are the only one at home. During those periods, I see a great deal more of what I would expect from a typical 18-year-old. Granted, I’m a skeptic, and perhaps I should not be, but I see someone who looks like they don’t want to be an adult and who enjoys being taken care of and playing video games. I am tempted to use the term “addiction,” but I don’t like that term in general.

Child is by no means unintelligent, and my experience with clinical depression is limited. However, to me, Child seems lazy, misanthropic, cynical, and self-centered/self-absorbed…and I don’t want to have this person in my life for more than another four years. If I could persuade them to learn programming or something, they’d at least be able to earn a living, but there’s no interest there at all (they don’t want to learn to use their machines for anything other than gaming). They have flirted with the idea of professional photography, and we spent considerable $ to get them good photographic equipment, but it’s usually dormant, and their interest seems to be sporadic at best. I suspect that being told by others that at 18 they’re not the ultimate photographer (i.e., finding out that one needs to study the craft a little) has been discouraging for them. They have set up things like an Etsy shop, but do little to generate interest.

My concern is that Child will never be able to leave the nest. That they have already become so dependent on other Spouse and a routine of having their needs me by others that they may never want/be able to become participatory in society.

So I guess what I’m asking is—are there facilities that deal with people like this? Eventually we’ll run off the end of our insurance (assignment surgery is, fortunately, covered) and we simply are not in a place where we can pay for multiple counseling sessions per week. And, TBH, I was looking forward to the point where Spouse and I are empty-nesters and can spend time with each other (Child monopolizes Spouse whenever possible right now, and I feel rather third-wheeled).

Long story short: By the time I was 18, I couldn’t wait to get out of my parents’ home and become independent. I was cooking and cleaning for myself and doing my own laundry, I had learned to drive and earned a license and while I didn’t own a car, was capable of cycling anywhere or taking a bus. I had worked at several jobs.

Child exhibits exactly none of this behavior, and that scares me. I’m 59 and Spouse is 55 and we’re not going to be around forever.

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Does anyone have any experience with a situation like this? How do people like my Child survive the transition into adulthood? Is there a path to independence for them? Are there group homes for people like this?

Or am I being the problem here?