I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being….Hafiz
My daughter was diagnosed with depression in ninth grade…although the symptoms started in middle school (she actually says elementary school)…but they definitely escalated as she got older. Up until that point in my life I didn’t really know pain…not the pain that she had endured silently…or the pain of parenting someone with depression. As a parent you want to take the pain away, kiss it and make it all better. With depression it’s not that easy…for you, but mostly for your child…in fact, it’s really, really hard. When I think back on that time now I’m not sure if some of it wasn’t puberty and hormones, but does it really matter now? Here’s a glimpse of our journey through depression…from my perspective.
When she was in ninth grade, while we were away on a trip, she reached out to my dear friend and asked if she could talk. My friend came over and told her she would listen and chat with her, but that my daughter would have to tell me when we got home…which she did. I will forever be thankful to that special friend. This started a long journey of discovery…for both me and the was-band, but more importantly for her. As much as I wanted to go inside her and take away the pain, I could only stand by and support her as she navigated some dark thoughts and feelings.
She went to some great doctors and therapists (who helped me too…to be a better parent for her), she was put on medication and all of it was making a difference. Things seemed to be going well, although you never stop worrying and hope everything is okay….then junior year of high school happened.
As we lie asleep, she decided that life at that time was too much for her…and she took 16 Advil. Thank g-d she texted a friend, who insisted she hand the phone to us. She came into our dark room and it took us awhile to realize why she was handing us her phone. Obviously, we jumped out of bed and drove to the emergency room immediately. We waited for what seemed like forever…I kept saying “Don’t you need to get them out of her! You’re wasting time!” What I didn’t know is that they don’t “pump your stomach” anymore, they give you charcoal to ingest, which absorbs whatever toxin is in you. It was painful to watch her drink charcoal…gagging as she swallowed and me insisting that she finish all of it…her mouth turning black. I was trying to stay calm through the tears and talk her through it so she’d finish it all. The doctor came in, asked her a lot of questions and deemed her “safe” to go home, but to check in with her doctors tomorrow.
How weird is that? Your daughter just tried to kill herself and “you can go home!” like it was a routine trip to the emergency room. My life as her parent would take on a new focus. Again, I wanted to fix it, but have come to realize that the only person who can truly make it better is the person with depression. I printed out a list of all the people that would miss her if she wasn’t on this planet and affixed it to her visor in her car. A daily reminder of the people that love her. I reached out to family and friends for support and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done it without them. It takes a village!
I’ll try to fast forward from this point to now….
The psychiatrist switched up her medications a bit and eventually she was back on an even keel..but the worry is always in the back of your mind. She decided on a college in NY, 3000 miles away, and that was a scary thought for me. I had a conversation with her that basically told her that she was the only one who could manage her depression. It had to be her choice to find a therapist at college and continue the work she had started here. It was time to step back and let her be in charge of her health, and life.
I’m so thankful that she found an amazing partner, now husband, in her freshman year of college. It does take a little pressure off, knowing that someone is looking out for your little girl when you’re not there. She actually got some great therapy from a “brother” (kind of like a priest?) at her school. She really connected with him and he even did a thing called EMDR (eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing) that seemed to really help. All was good, until junior year of college, when she called me to say she had called her psychiatrist and changed her medication “cocktail”….because she had been having “bad thoughts”, which is what she always called her dark moments of suicide. Again, thanks to her boyfriend, now husband, she got through it.
After college she just started forgetting to take her meds and, eventually, weened herself off of them and stopped taking them completely…definitely not the recommended route, but it worked for her. Things were going well! She graduated, she & her boyfriend got jobs, moved in together and eventually married in 2015. All was right in her world!
….and then she recently had a baby. She had discussed her concern about postpartum depression with her doctor and was assured that they would keep an eye on her after she had the baby. She left the hospital seemingly happy to be a new parent. I didn’t mention that she always seems happy…even back in her junior year of high school and college…but she’s a good faker. I think part of it comes from not wanting to burden anyone and really wanting to be happy…and thinking that there’s something wrong when you have this new baby in your life. Let’s just squash that! Being a new parent is REALLY hard and those new babies don’t give you much feedback in those first months. Sure, they’re adorable, but it’s still very hard being a new parent. There were some really tough days where I was very worried about her and the welfare of the baby…but she had an incredibly patient and empathetic partner who stayed home from work when he had to and helped her get through it. Eventually she did go on medication and has passed through the fog. I’ll never forget the days she called and said, “Mom, I think the medication has kicked in!”….”Why?”…”Because when she cried last night I felt really bad for her!” She felt the empathy that had been lacking. That phone call was such a relief and I knew she was on the road to a more joyful parenting experience.
She recently said that she THOUGHT she liked being a parent from the beginning…but she was faking it…and that now she honestly loves her daughter and gets joy from being her mom. I do think that “fake it till you make it” can work, or at least get you through some tough times. As I’ve said to many new parents…every stage is a different kind of easy and a different kind of hard. It’s easier when they can interact more with you than when they were babies.
So, why a post on mental health now? It’s National Women’s Health Week , Mental Health Awareness Month and May 2nd was World Maternal Mental Health Day. I thought it was time to share, in hopes that it helps others (and Taylor agreed)…whether it’s battling depression, anxiety, postpartum depression or being a loved one of someone dealing with it. It’s hard…let’s talk about it and keep the communication going!
One of the things that has made me so proud of her is her willingness to talk about it. It’s not taboo to her and it shouldn’t be to anyone! Depression sucks, Postpartum depression sucks…but you can get through it, medication and therapy helps, and it’s getting it out in the open and talking to someone can really help! Here’s a link to phone numbers that might be helpful for those in crisis. Taylor also said that anyone can reach out to her if they, or anyone else they know, wants to chat about it…so email me and I’ll forward your contact info to her. Get the conversation started!