A little over four years ago, my son told me about a friend of his from school. He told me he was helping her study for math, as she was close to failing the class. As he proceeded to tell me a little more about her, he told me that she cut herself. Intentionally. She was actively self-harming. My first thought….the very first thing that came to my mind was……she must have a difficult home life. She must have absent parents. How could they NOT know what was going on with their daughter? The visions of her sad, lonely, parent-lacking life filled my head. I was not unique. I was among millions of other people who don’t understand, or have never experienced, self-harm, suicide, or suicide attempts in a loved one.
My family is your average nuclear family. My husband and I have been married for 26 years. We have lived in the same house since the oldest child was 15 months old (We lived in Shanghai for four years, but returned to our American home during the holidays and in summer.) We have two dogs, two cats, great neighbors, and a small-town-feel neighborhood in a large metropolitan area. We go to church. We take family vacations, go out to eat, to the zoo, museum, baseball games, and more. We visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The kids play sports, but not too many. They have plenty of relaxation time. We are always there for our kids when they need us, and at times when they don’t. However, regardless of all we do right, we cannot control what happens all of the time, and things can go miserable wrong.
This will be the first time I have said this publicly. Close friends and family know, but we have kept the circle close. This is very difficult to say, because of the stigma, and they way many of those who have never had to deal with it react. In February, 2014, my 10 year old daughter attempted suicide. More than once. Without my knowledge. She was taking my prescription medication. I noticed I was low on pills, but thought I had been shorted by the pharmacy. It wasn’t until she came downstairs to me crying, on her third try, and told me what she had done, as a result of bullying. As a parent, it was like being hit by a train. How could this happen in our family? What had we done wrong? How could we not know that the bullying had continued at school? What do we do now?
I immediately went into panic-mode. Bill wasn’t home yet and Ethan had just left with my car. I asked what she had taken and how much, then I called a neighbor to take us to the hospital which is luckily only a few blocks away. I didn’t not tell her why, and she did not ask. In the next few hours we would learn the extent of the situation.
I will not go into the details of what happen with the school and the bully, but you can get the story in my prevous blog post for which I attached a link below.
In the two and a half years since her attempt, my daughter, and our family, has had an amazing amount of support and growth. With the help of her phenomenal psychologist and her psychiatrist, and with education on the subject and guidance on looking for and dealing with symptom we have all learned. We have not just learned how to deal with suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm. We have not just learned how to create a new normal. We have learned that no one is immune.
I am walking in an “Out of the Darkness” walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I am walking for my daughter. I am walking for her journey from darkness to light. I am walking for my friend’s son, who gave up on life last October, who couldn’t find light in his life, and for whom I wrote my blog post linked below:
I am walking for all of those who have experienced any sort of mental illness in their life, or in the life of a loved one. I am walking for those who may experience it in the future. I am walking to raise awareness, to educate, to teach compassion and understanding. I am walking because suicide does not discriminate.
i am walking into the light.
There have been times over the years when I have said “Why me?” “Why us?” Why did this happen to us and not somebody else. Sometimes it just seems that no one else has the same misfortune. I know that isn’t true, and our situation could be much worse, so I don’t dwell for long. I thank God that it isn’t, and for the blessings He has given us.
A majority, if not all, of these events have been medical in nature. My health, and the health of my family. Severe allergies as a child, Crohn’s at the age of 29, which progressed at an alarming rate, cataracts at the age of 32, removal of my colon at the age of 33. Most recently, the Essential Thrombocythemia diagnosis at 42.
The last few years have been no exception to this question. It has floated in and out of my brain, off and on, for months, but after a few moments of self pity, I remind myself of our blessings. This time, though, it was the health of our children.
In 2014 my daughter was bullied, as I wrote about in the post titled, “Until the Scars Fade” (http://superfiveshanghai.com/2015/09/20/until-the-scars-fade/.) At the time, a number of the parents who learned how she attempted to cope were scared of her. They didn’t want their children to be around her. Their ignorance on mental health astounded me. These were well-educated individuals, who must have known that depression isn’t contagious. This is a 10 year old child we’re talking about. She was literally shunned. She had left for the school year and was being tutored, while receiving therapy, and I was encouraged NOT to bring her back for any school functions, so as not to upset other parents, while the bully continued in school with no repercussions.
It has taken two years to be able to take a deep breath. To feel like she is back on track to health. From the outside, it is not apparent. No one else would know what she has been through, and the resulting depression she experiences. No one would know the struggle it has been. As a parent, it has been stressful and heartbreaking. Why my baby girl? Why does she have to deal with this?
Last spring, my oldest son, who suffers from ADD, had some serious anxiety issues. This had never appeared to be a problem before, but it escalated quickly. He was working his first job, taking a few too many college classes, and the pressure and responsibility overwhelmed him. He has always been very independent, and doesn’t like to ask for help. Up until recently, he preferred that we didn’t. We knew he was skipping some classes, and calling in to work, and we had decided that it was time for him to learn the hard way. We had no idea it was due to anxiety until the end of the semester, when he finally told us. After four months of keeping it to himself, he finally released himself from carrying the burden alone. The semester was a bust, and he left his job, but we could, and would, help him.
He spent seven months after the failed-semester ended, in twice-a-week therapy, having medication adjusted, and spending hours and hours in his room. It was, once again, heartbreaking to see one of our children suffering. We spent most of 2015 worried that he might never come back up for air, while his therapist told us it would just take time. She had enough faith for all of us. She was right. In November, he got a new job, and he started classes in January. He comes home from work happy and talkative, something we have rarely seen from our quiet boy. He goes to class, and has been getting high A’s. Once again, I feel like I can take a breath.
After the events of the last few years, I look for ways to spread awareness about mental illness, and mood disorders. I need to do more. Obviously, I have written about some of it in the blog. I hope that readers will share my posts to spread the word. My Facebook page, Sunrise Strong-Mood Disorder Awareness and Acceptance, is a another step, but it is not enough. As stress at home continues to decrease (fingers-crossed and a bunch of prayers), I hope to have time to find other ways to spread awareness. Maybe that’s why……..why it’s me, why it’s us.
It pulls everything out of me, and I feel like a deflated balloon. I struggle to function. Hiding in a corner like that lone dust bunny, just trying to make it through the storm. Closer to March, closer to spring. January sucks. It sucks everything out of me.
In Michigan, it is a cold, wet, gray, month. Long gone are the sounds of college football blaring from the TV, and fall breezes wafting through the open windows. The trees are bare, and the neighborhood children have moved their play inside, away from the winter chill. The holidays are over, and it is too far to the next. There are more overcast days than blue sky days, and warm weather is too many months, or too many miles away. Going out to do errands, on wet and sloppy, or slick and icy roads, is unappealing. Crawling into bed with a good book, or a movie, and a hot cup of coffee, is much more so. Then again, being cooped up brings me down too. I waffle between the safety and comfort of home, and raging cabin fever. I have often felt that there is no way to win the battle of January, at least not in my world.
For years, I let January swallow me whole, but recently I have tried to find ways to overcome the vacuum. We have bought light therapy lamps, and when we consistency turn them on while waking up, they do help. On those days I manage to drag my body out of the warm bed, early morning workouts go a long way to making me feel better, as well. Vitamins. Music. Essential oil aromatherapy. I’ll get there. I’ll find the right mix, and eventually, we’ll move to a sunnier state. For now, I continue to fight for good, for light, and hope for the renewal of life outside my window.