In a fleeting moment of despair, Benjamin Giovangelo, our beautiful, intuitive, creative, sensitive and loving son, chose to end his life on April 16, 2009, just six days after his 18th birthday. Benjamin struggled with Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) beginning early on in his life, and so did his family, both with him and the stigma of mental illness.
Ben Speaks Louder Than Words was born through his loss and today is a powerful voice in the world for change through the team at Ben Speaks Louder Than Words.
Everyone knows a Ben . . . an at-risk youth in your community.
Together we can support all Ben’s to thrive.
A Ben is:
Labelled with a mental illness or learning disability at an early age.
Artistic, creative, intuitive, sensitive and empathetic.
Someone who feels like a misfit.
An easy mark for the bully or becomes one himself.
Someone who tends to self-harm in some way as a teenager.
Isolated and left out.
A Ben is NOT broken. A Ben has gifts to bring to the world. There is a little bit of Ben in all of us.
From the beginning, Ben was given medication to attempt to manage his behavior to fit him into our current education and social systems. He received the message early and often that there was something wrong with him. He experienced much ostracizing and bullying. As his parents, we did our best to find alternative ways to work with Ben and, over the years, we had learned many tools to deal with this bright, sensitive, intuitive, and energetic child.
Our family suffered greatly with little to no resources to support our son. Over the years of raising Ben, although his life ended tragically, he made great strides through a combination of supporting strategies. Through medicine, therapy, yoga, breathing techniques, the power of intention, positive channels for the emotions, monthly massage and more. We created a powerful toolbox for change for our mentally ill son, beginning with seeing and focusing on his gifts. With this combination of support and shift in consciousness, Ben, between the age of 12 and his last day of life made marked changes.
Those major shifts include going from…
Being a student behind in school with many learning challenges to catching up and passing his MCAS exam
80 mgs of Prozac to less than 10 mgs of Lorazapan for anxiety and 10 mgs of Ritalin for focus.
Being overweight and low energy to growing tall and gorgeous.
Being alone, friendless, unpopular and sitting alone for over a year at the lunch room table at his high school to growing more and more comfortable in his own skin and attracting girls like he had never known.
So what happened? Well, in addition to his other challenges, Ben was a child who “brain-locked”, a term used by Ross Greene, PhD, the author of “The Explosive Child.” Dr. Greene is the Director of Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology at the Clinical and Research Program in Pediatric Psychopharmacology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. This book describes “brain-lock” as the clinical and physical response to the ability of the OCD brain to process immense frustration. Brain-locking adequately describes the thousands of times when Ben would come up against situations where he couldn’t get what he wanted and acted extremely inappropriately. He would literally fight to his death in opposition to controlling forces. Those of us around him had to find creative, innovative approaches to move through whatever issues arose on a daily basis. He wanted things to be fair and just.
Whenever something came in the form of force or “power over,” he was a counter force to be reckoned with and would push back even harder. It was very difficult for Ben and us as his family unit, stress-filled and intense on a daily basis, but we had made great strides by the time his 18th birthday arrived, so much so that Ben was finally making and holding onto friendships, getting better grades, and holding a job. Socially, he succeeded in becoming a kid that was loved after many years of “not fitting in.” He was on top of the world.
An incident occurred on April 16, 2009 that resulted in Ben’s suspension from school and from attending his prom, which must have felt like having the rug pulled out from underneath this one major success in his short life - social acceptance by his peers. On the day he took his life, we believe the loss of his prom caused him to brain-lock. We wish that this decision had not been made so quickly and do not understand why, given Ben’s history, we did not have a chance to meet with his team collectively before his sentence was handed down. If we had, I believe that Ben would still be here with us now.
Ben went home and took his life that day. His last message to us included the line “I just don’t see the point.” Resignation at so young an age, after 18 years of pushing against an antiquated system… and currently we have an epidemic of suicide amongst our young people. Since his death, Ben has been speaking louder than words to me, his mother. I am taking a stand because we must find better ways to support these gifted, sensitive, and exceptional children.
There is a lot that I still do not know or understand. But what I do know is this: every day is a choice and each of us, no matter what life challenges we face, get to choose life or death in every moment and that we are powerful creators without measure.
Through Ben, I have become a role model for change and a teacher, mentor and voice for accountability and growing oneself strong from the inside out. I live my life in gratitude for this opportunity to serve through the countless lessons and blessings I have learned in the raising and loss of Ben Giovangelo, who continues to be my greatest teacher.
With All My Love,