That Kind of Breaking

The guidance counselor was kind and calm. Anyone who can maintain those two qualities while in the confines of a public middle school all day has my immediate respect. I sat and listened as he began to speak.

“Your daughter tells me things have been rough at home, that your family has had some pretty big challenges.”

“Yes. That’s true. We certainly have.”

It had been about two years since my husband’s traumatic and failed fight for his life, and though he was a stepfather to my children they loved and missed him deeply. I had returned to the workforce, my son had moved to his dad’s and his sisters didn’t often see him, we had made the transition from homeschooling to public school, and my older daughter had recently been released from a five-day stay at the psych ward.

Yup, I’d say those were some pretty big challenges.

“Well, she’s been having a tough time dealing with it all, as you can imagine.”

Teenage Problems, Social Issues and Bullying

This was the coming-to-life of some of my deepest held fears at the time. In all fairness, I had quite a few fears, pretty much all of which included my kids. I knew that my older daughter’s struggles and rages were traumatizing our family. I knew that her continuing self harm and relentless thoughts of suicide were more than taking their toll.

I knew that I tried so hard to protect my younger daughter from her sister’s struggles, even as I didn’t know how to define or predict what those struggles might be. I knew how frightened I was, and I could only imagine how terrifying it must feel to a 13-year-old girl whose world had been shattered long before her sister’s mental balance had.

I knew that my youngest was getting lost in the shuffle of psychiatric appointments. I knew she felt invisible and dispensable as so much of my time was spent talking her sister ‘off the ledge’, cleaning and bandaging her self-inflicted wounds, walking on eggshells, trying to find an answer, a balance, a cure.

I knew that the older often goaded the younger, then immediately wanted her sympathy and compassion. She showed us all macabre, dark drawings she’d made, somehow expecting us to praise the depictions of death and blood she produced.

I could make no sense of it as an adult. I certainly could never expect my youngest teen to have the ability to process and make peace with all that was going on. And yet I felt powerless to guide her. How can you teach someone to do what you are unable to do yourself?

And so here we were, in the school guidance counselor’s office. I was waiting for what I didn’t want to hear, but what I needed to know.

 Worried

My daughter had ended up there after having had a particularly rough day, and she’d thankfully confided in her counselor about the unfathomable mess that was our family. She’s always been one to think she can tough her way out of anything (I have vivid memories of a three-year-old determined to swim in the deep end of the pool, working hard to hide the panic on her face) and I was so glad to see that she’d taken the chance to share her confusion and pain with a trusted adult.

The counselor continued, gently breaking the news to me that my daughter – the one here with me, not the one (hopefully) waiting in the car – had been cutting herself as a way to deal with her distress and pain.

My stomach dropped then just as quickly threatened to jump up out of my throat. I was facing my daughter, whose eyes were filled with many things, including fear. I knew she’d seen me deal with her sister and that she’d seen me be both gentle and brusque in trying to stop the ongoing and escalating self harm. Of course she had to be nervous about what my reaction to this news would be.

Outwardly I pretty much held it together, meaning I didn’t curl up in the corner in a fetal position. I fought the sudden nausea I felt.

But inwardly I was breaking, as if there was a  tire screeching, metal crushing, glass shattering  75 car pileup, the kind where you know things are so out of control you are clueless as to where or how to start administering any kind of aid. The kind where you are the lone witness and all you have are Band-Aids and the phone lines are down so try as you might you can’t call for the 50-plus ambulances that you need.

That kind of breaking.

 Car pileup

Tears sprang to my eyes.

“Oh, sweetie.”

It was all I could say.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2014
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Curiouser and Curiouser

I tried hard to be a voice of reason to my daughter. But how does one reason where there is no willingness to receive it? It didn’t work for Alice after she fell down the rabbit’s hole, and it wasn’t working for me. Still, it seemed all I could do.

alice in wonderland confusing

(Source)

Tuesday night had seen a change to my daughter’s medication. The two SSRI anti-depressants she’d tried in the previous weeks had served only to take her deeper into rage, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

She was switched to a medication initially developed to treat seizures but used off-label to treat mood disorders. As those with mental health issues often find, medication is not an exact science. Not at all. But the aim at this point was to stabilize her, which (ironically) meant taking her off anti-depressants.

She soon found out that the term “72 hour hold” was a misnomer, more a guideline than a declaration. This was first a rumor she heard from other adolescents in the unit, and then she found out it was to be her reality.

I tried to explain the reasoning behind the need for her to stay in the psych ward longer. “They’ve switched your meds. The old ones obviously didn’t work well for you. They need to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction to this new medication. It’s a safety issue.”

Predictably, she was not receptive. For the record, I’m not so sure I would have been either if I’d been in her shoes. Also predictably, her anger flared. She was not allowed contact with any friends while she was hospitalized, and even if the support system she’d built for herself was terribly dysfunctional and harmful, all she knew was that it had been taken from her. And she was mad.

There were some curious things I realized about myself in those few days, difficult things that made me sad and confused.

 alice in wonderland sad

(Source)

I knew that I was afraid for my daughter to be released from the psych ward and sent home. I was fearful that she would quickly return to her previous behaviors and that I was just too worn down to be an effective parent anymore. I was scared that there would be no lasting changes resulting from this awful ordeal. And I was so out of ideas.

I knew that my goal was not to keep my daughter from getting angry nor was it to have her like me. My goal was to keep her safe, even if she came to hate me in the process.

I knew that I wanted to put up all kinds of roadblocks so that her choices were limited and she couldn’t make decisions that would be harmful. But I knew that would be a disservice to her, that it would mistakenly teach her that she could not be responsible for herself.

I knew that, in the bigger picture, I couldn’t and really didn’t want to control my daughter; I wanted her to learn to control herself.

I knew that  for that to happen there had to be boundaries and consequences in place, and that she had to choose her actions and thus her own outcomes. This was a source of great pain for me, because I knew some of the choices she would make and that their results would be very hard for all of us.

But I had to let that go. Even though I could see that she was not yet willing (or able?) to face some of her bigger issues, I had to let her choose for herself.

I will once more refer to an email I wrote to my small and trusted circle of support. This was yet another middle of the night message, a bit disjointed and bearing witness to my fears and frustrations. This was written on day three of my daughter’s stay at the behavioral center, the day she had mistakenly decided she was going to be released and sent home.

* * *

I had a meeting today with C and her dad and caseworker.  There was a chance for C to have her say and a chance for us to, then time for us parents to meet alone with the caseworker.  We were told early in the meeting that C would not be released until Saturday (day five of her “72 hour” hold). We really lost her at that point. She wants to come home NOW.

She was not forthcoming about some stuff she’s been lying about lately, nor about what might have been bothering her that led up her hospitalization. She’s been telling me for weeks about some things that are just driving her crazy, but she never even mentioned them in today’s meeting. I told her that I’d learned about some of her deceptions but she would not acknowledge anything, just said she had no idea what I was talking about.

I tried to prepare her for the fact that things will be very different when she gets back home, that boundaries will be tighter, and privileges will need to be earned back.  I don’t think she has any idea what that means or thinks it will really happen anyway.

I am feeling extremely overwhelmed at the thought of her return home.  The caseworker had all kinds of thoughts and ideas, and while some of them may be helpful, the work of it all feels like it will bury me.

When her dad and I walked out of our meeting with the caseworker, C came straight over and asked me why she couldn’t be released sooner.  She was very angry and confrontational and kept demanding answers that I couldn’t give her.  I gave her the only answer there was to give, but she wanted more and I told her that was all I had, I couldn’t make anything up to satisfy her.

She directed all her anger and frustration towards me. I don’t think she even made eye contact with her dad for that 5 to 10 minute conversation.  She made vague threats about not eating (that’s her choice if she wants to make it) and swore she was better and ready to come home.  It was really pretty awful.

She chose me to be the one to pick her up when she is released on Saturday. She told me she wants me there at 6 in the morning. I told her I’d be there between 9 and 10.

I know there are many strategies to deal with her in the days ahead; I just honestly feel like there is nothing left in me to do it – to learn what I need to learn as a parent, to find her a new psychologist (her request and the caseworker’s recommendation), to drive her across town how many times a week for those appointments, to find extra-curricular activities & get her enrolled & to the activities, to meet with her school counselor and teachers and try to help her not fail her freshman year.

I am just spent, which may be exactly where I need to be but it doesn’t make any sense to me and I can’t see how it’s all supposed to get done.

I did tell her dad that with these added commitments I cannot logistically do all that needs to be done for both girls during the week (always on ongoing battle for me), and he said he’d be available but the truth is that he works during the hours these things are going on. I will have to continue to change and arrange my work schedule to take care of things.

I don’t expect him to make any sizable contribution to handling those details because he hasn’t before. It would be helpful if he actually had some input or action of his own; I feel like it’s up to me to take the lead on these things because he simply will not and we are at a critical juncture where action must be taken.  He does not seem to accept the seriousness of the situation. (Caution: ex-wife frustrations are surfacing!)

Again, the ideas for help and change sound really good in theory but the reality of it feels nearly impossible to me. There just isn’t enough of me to go around.

The diagnosis the caseworker gave for C today was General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Disorder.  I don’t know if a new therapist will reach a separate conclusion.  C says she hasn’t been suicidal for about a day and a half.  She says cutting is stupid and disgusting and she’ll never do it again (which she’s said before), and she swears that she has learned all she needs to know and will be fine.

She also says she wants to “help” her friends who cut to stop cutting, which basically translates to her taking responsibility for their actions – which scares me especially when she cannot take responsibility for her own.

After today, I cannot imagine a conversation with her that is not angry and confrontational and manipulative.

I do get that her choices are her own and that my job, after assuring her safety, is to allow her to deal with the consequences of her choices.  I know very well what some of those consequences could end up being, and I can honestly say I hate that.

Maybe that is where so much of my anxiety is coming from and I need to work towards what is acceptable and adequate, not what is perfect and guaranteed (those two options really don’t even exist).  But I selfishly look at those consequences, should they come – and I know some of them will – and I know that they will result in even more being put on my plate and I feel frustrated and angry about that.

Well so there it all is.  I am too tired to make this (or me) sound nice. I have no neat or tidy wrap up for this message; I’m just continuing to ask for and appreciate your prayers and hoping that my ranting and venting haven’t been too offensive.

In a few hours I start a very busy day, not only working on my taxes, etc., but also working out C’s discharge, contacting her school, trying to track down and interview therapists and stuff like that.  I appreciate your prayers and support.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013
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A Friday in February

+++ SELF HARM TRIGGER WARNING+++

*****

“Can you step in to my office, please?” It wasn’t unusual for my daughter’s therapist to ask me back for the final part of the session, so I followed her. My daughter sat sadly in a leather chair, and I took my place next to her.

“She has something she needs to show you.” I was puzzled as my daughter stood part way and started to unzip her jeans. Still hunched over, she pulled down one leg of her jeans further than the other. I winced as my eyes began to water.

There, etched in large, crude letters covering most of her thigh, carved not with a pin but with the thick blunt end of large household scissors: FUCK

My hand instinctively went to my mouth in deep grief. My heart raced and my stomach began to churn with anxiety as my daughter quickly zipped her jeans and sat down.

She had not shown me this damage she had done to herself, and she had purposefully not cleaned the cuts.

I kept thinking how badly it must sting, to have tight denim on the open scrapes she had self-inflicted only the night before. She’d worn those jeans all day; I imagined how every time she’d moved or adjusted her pants, the wounds would have ruptured anew from the bond they’d made to the fabric.

girl in jeans

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Her self harm and self hatred had become unmanageable.

I wanted to scoop my daughter up, to take her home, to clean her wounds and make her pain disappear. But weeks’ worth of trying had made it abundantly clear that such a thing was beyond my capability. And on top of that, my daughter deeply and openly resented going to any type of mental health counseling.

Her stock was placed firmly in the peer group she had chosen, and any efforts to intercede for her safety were complained against. She went to therapy because I made her go, but her emotional loyalties were to those who had taught her about self harm and with whom she was dangerously emotionally enmeshed.

I believe that a small part of her was hoping desperately for help and rescue, though the larger and more visible part of her was resentful and angry at the intrusion of counseling appointments twice or more each week. But what choice does a parent have? It was soberingly clear this was not a phase she would outgrow.

“We’ve been talking,” said her counselor, “and while I think she is right on the cusp of needing to be hospitalized, we have come to a compromise.”

To the best of my understanding, while my daughter was saying she wanted to die, she did not have a specific plan to carry out that desire. And that’s how we ended up in the therapist’s office on a Friday afternoon in February, planning a long holiday weekend of what was basically house arrest.

jailcell door

(Photo Source: Google Images)

“She has to be with someone 24 hours a day. She must sleep, eat, and be in the same room with you all the time. She cannot be alone except for short bathroom breaks.”

My mind raced to take in all the information, envisioning how we would put the plan into action. I’m nothing if not a planner, but even I was overwhelmed by this. “We’ve agreed that if she will stick to this plan, she won’t have to go straight to the hospital when you leave here today.”

I nodded as I looked at my daughter’s therapist, trying to take in the details and instructions, but inside of me there was a thunderous voice of fear and uncertainty: “WHAT??? Are you nuts?!? I think she should be hospitalized! NOW! How can I do this? This is impossible! I cannot keep her safe!!!”

I looked over at my daughter, who had disappeared inside herself. She was definitely angry, but she was more frightened by the thought of actually having to go to the hospital on a mental health hold.

sad_girl_by_majed_ahmad-d33oeft

(Photo Source: majed-ahmad, http://fav.me/d33oeft)

Despite my own fear, I chose to believe the part of her that was the frightened child, the part that felt trapped and afraid and just wanted to go home. So we went home with plans to return in four days.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Uncertain

+++ SELF HARM TRIGGER WARNING +++

*****

“She needs to have her medication changed.” These were the words of the therapist who had been seeing my daughter for a few weeks. “And I’d like to arrange for some testing, too.”

There were mornings when, in a panic, my daughter had had to leave school. Thankfully, on some of those days, I was able to miss work and take my daughter to an emergency therapy appointment. Her dad had even left work a time or two to pick her up and take her when I was unable. Oftentimes she calmed down and was able to return for part of the school day.

crowded high school hallway

(Photo Source: Google Images)

The steepness of her downward spiral was becoming painfully clear. Still, I worried that she was being rescued in an unhealthy way, unsure of what was in her control and what was not. I felt uncertain as to whether she was just manipulating me, or if the bulk of her actions were really symptomatic of things beyond her control.

Was she just trying to get out of classes she didn’t like? She was skipping so many of them anyway that maybe she was just using panic as an excuse. I looked forward to psychological testing, hoping it would provide some answers. I didn’t realize that it would not happen until months down the road.

The anxiety was believed to be caused by medication, thus the therapist’s advice to switch to something else.  The change was made from one SSRI antidepressant to another. The side effects were no different. Panic and anxiety grew. Physical ills plagued my daughter. Depression deepened to a place far beyond blackness. And I began to see more clearly that what she was experiencing was very, very real.

I felt that despite all my best efforts to provide stability after her dad had left years earlier, after my attempts to address and allow for grief following her stepdad’s death less than two years prior, I had failed. Miserably. I only knew that I was at my wit’s end. I had no more ideas, only a deepening panic. My heart broke for her struggle, but I felt powerless.

Anger and rage poured from my mild-mannered, fair-skinned, introverted middle child. Although she was at her dad’s at least pretty much every other weekend and then some, she saved her raging for me. She has come to tell me in the ensuing years that it was a safety issue to her, that she felt I was a safe place for her to unload her fury and frenzy.  At the time, I was simply bewildered and deeply hurt.

angry teen girl (google)

(Photo Source: Google Images)

She self harmed daily with much more than just a single cut. There were times when, after she cut, I would calmly clean and bandage her wounds. I would offer her my tears as a cleansing balm, hoping she would see the love I had for her, and that it would somehow fill the chasm of her need. Other times, I would remain detached and aloof, thinking that if I approached this matter-of-factly, the emotional dysfunction she was seeking to feed would instead be starved out.

Although she often cut while alone in her bed at night, I reminded her that she needed to be sure to clean her wounds to avoid a dangerous infection. (These types of conversations are not covered in parenting books, by the way.) After all, my late husband had succumbed to sepsis, his body unable to fight and overcome a serious infection, which had ultimately taken his life.

While she would at least sometimes attempt to sanitize a cutting instrument with a lighter, the concept of death by infection seemed to somehow intrigue her as she began to allude to her own demise. In fact, at least once she said she welcomed the idea of such a manner of death.

Her bed sheets and pillowcases became bloodstained. She left bloody tissues or clothing lying on the floor, evidence of the previous night’s anguish. I hated to go to bed every night, truly fearful that on any given morning I would find my daughter dead from one cut that had accidently gone too deep.

I remember wondering for a while if she was cutting on purpose, to manipulate me, to see how she could get me to react or what kind of sympathy she could garner. So sometimes I simply didn’t engage with her after she had self harmed. I told her to find the bandages and soap and take care of it herself.

And then there was the time I had just had enough. I was so fed up, so terrified, so OVER it. I was furious with panic and confusion. And I told her so. And that’s the time she remembers. Of course.

I can’t undo it, but it still feels shameful to me. I didn’t know then what I know now, and I try hard to see it as one incident in the scope of the whole journey. But I’m still embarrassed and deeply saddened by my behavior that evening.

(Source)

One memorable night she came downstairs to my room and showed me her arm. The fresh carvings were somewhat erratic and still bloody, so it took me a few seconds to decipher what I saw.

U  R  SHIT

There it was, on her arm, under my nose. Still wrestling with my own culpability in her struggles, and because she had presented herself to me for inspection, I asked her slowly and as gently as I could, “Um, who are you saying that to? Are you trying to say that to me?” Because if so, I would have much preferred she just declare it to me, not carve it into her body as a permanent reminder.

I remember the tears in her eyes.

“No, mom. It’s to me.”

And so we wept together as I silently begged for some kind of help to save my daughter from herself.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Do you have a teen who is self harming? Please see Responding to Your Teen’s Self Harm. Information regarding self-injury (cutting, burning, biting, bruising, etc.) can be found at  S.A.F.E. Alternatives, Self Injury Foundation and Self Injury Outreach and Support.

Searching For Help

I started January of that year searching for a therapist for my daughter. The family doctor had listened as she and I had talked openly of her pervasive sadness and increasing self injury. He prescribed an antidepressant for her, and made it clear that mental health counseling was essential.

Besides the constraints imposed by insurance, I wanted desperately to find a mental health professional close to home. I was, after all, still a widowed single mom with two daughters. I had intense and constant worry about my younger daughter, not only about her exposure to her sister’s maladaptive coping skills, but also about her  getting lost in the shuffle now that my older daughter’s issues were taking virtually all of my time and energy.

I had to fit in my daily work schedule as well as transporting both girls to and from two different schools at different times. Their dad, who had left more than ten years earlier, had given some lip service to helping transport them, but claimed that he really couldn’t help on a regular basis because of his work schedule.

This left most of it to me, except for those rare occasions when I could find someone willing to carpool on our schedule.  So for better or worse, proximity to home became a factor for hiring a therapist.

I finally located a counselor whose office was close to us. She was kind, professional, knowledgeable, and not a very good fit for my 15-year-old daughter. Still, I pressed my daughter to give her a try. “She’s not here to be your best friend. She’s here to offer her knowledge and help work some things out.”

angry girl in therapy (google)

(Photo Source: Google Images)

And this is where I must say, that is a terrible attitude to take into therapy. Imagine telling your deepest pains and fears to someone you just don’t click with, to someone who may be very nice but with whom you really feel no personal connection. I wouldn’t do it.

But I mistakenly expected my daughter to. I was wrong. I wanted her to do it because I was scared and exhausted and weary to the core, but I was still wrong. I didn’t know how to be two places at once, or how to keep my younger daughter from feeling forgotten and lost, but I was still wrong.

I have since referred other people to this therapist. I meant it when I said she was kind, professional, and knowledgeable. But I also meant it when I said she was not a good fit for my daughter at that particular time. Still, for a few weeks, we made regular trips to see her.

During those weeks, my daughter began to feel the effects of the antidepressant she had begun. She was exhausted, felt physically ill, experienced increased anxiety, and ironically fell deeper into depression. Many days I would take her to school, only to have her call me in a panic, unable to stay beyond even part of the morning. By this time, her self injury was increasing in both frequency and intensity, as was my fear.

Both carefully crosshatched as well as untamed cuts often covered her forearms, etched with safety pins, push pins, or blades taken from disposable razors. Her anger would spew out in screaming rages, in torrents of sobs neither she nor I could help her to control. What had happened to the loving, affectionate, self-assured girl who had been my daughter?

One moment she would curse me to the four winds, and the next she would fall into my arms for comfort and reassurance. Her terror was matched by my own, but I did not have the luxury of letting mine be known.

Her moods and tirades ruled our home, and I grasped desperately for ways to quell the unpredictable storms. I tried reason. I tried consequences. I tried being emotionally neutral or removed. I tried tough love. I tried empathy and understanding. Always I tried to convey my unconditional love for her.

In truth, the deeper she fell, the deeper my heart broke. The more she pushed me away, the more I longed for her to know the love and safety that were ready and waiting for her. It’s not that I could have loved her more than I already did. It was that I ached more deeply for her to know the love that was already hers.

TEEN-BEING-HELPED-BY-MOM-copy1

(Photo Source: Google Images)

There were many times when my daughter vented her anger that I simply laid down on the floor during our conversations so that she would not have any reason to feel threatened. I didn’t realize what I was doing until afterwards. I did it instinctively, recognizing that she felt susceptible to some deep, unnamed danger. What I failed to understand was that her biggest threat came from within.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Darkness Descending

After my husband’s death, I took over the off-site property management of an apartment complex he’d managed for years. I did my best to learn the job without the benefit of a teacher, and even managed to figure out some of the many details he’d kept brilliantly within his own mind, thus taking them to the grave. (I had plenty of one-sided conversations with him about this, believe me!)

But a year and a half after he died, the apartments were sold and the new owners brought in all new staff. Not only did I have to lay off some dear and hardworking people, I lost my own job as well.

I found more work relatively quickly, but the stressors of a sharp learning curve and constant change, both personally and professionally, were wearing me down. I missed the calming reassurance of my husband’s presence the most in the quiet, solitary hours of nighttime, so my sleep schedule was often erratic at best.  I was weary and worn, pulled on every side, knowing there wasn’t enough of me to cover all the bases that needed to be manned.

I felt that I was leading my little family into a new school year in about as unsettled a manner as I could imagine.

schoolbooks

(Photo Source: Google Images)

The previous fall, less than 6 months after my husband died, we were of course all still reeling with the loss. I had homeschooled both of my girls up to that point. They had always been involved in enrichment programs, youth groups, parks and rec activities, and/or homeschool co-op, as well as having friendships with neighborhood kids.  In the interest of allowing them to honor their own grief and needs, I let them each choose whether or not they would stay home for school.

My younger daughter had chosen to no longer homeschool. But my older daughter chose to remain at home for one more year, her final year before high school. She was an introvert to be sure, but had always made friends easily and was fierce and loyal in her friendships. She was compassionate and empathetic, with a heart quick to love, give, and forgive.

A year later, in preparation for high school, she had gone to freshman orientation. Later, we had walked the empty halls to find her classrooms so as to ease her in to her daily schedule.

As I dropped her off that first day of school, she was anxious and tense. “Mom, I just want to throw up.” I did my best to lovingly but firmly send her on her way, confident that she would make friends and find her place. After all, aren’t the majority of high school freshmen nauseous with worry on the first day of school? Don’t we all have to learn to make our way, to take a big, scary leap into the world at some point, and learn that we will indeed survive?

I watched with curiosity and concern while she went about making her way. I came to learn later that because of her quiet nature and unique style, other students made erroneous and unkind assumptions about her. Like all of us who were not in the popular crowd in high school (which by definition is most of us), she was misunderstood and unfairly mislabeled by adolescents whose opinions I wish hadn’t mattered to her. In response, she latched on to the first crowd that welcomed her.

They wore, for the most part, black clothes, black hair, black makeup, and hair in their faces to obscure wounded and mistrusting eyes. I observed relational dysfunction, adolescent angst, and the deep longing we all have to find a place where we feel loved and worthy.

They talked of things dark and macabre, and from them she learned of self harm and the relief they claimed it offered. While some of them had blonde hair and wore neon colored clothing and toothy smiles, they all shared a brokenness that drew them together. And I could fault none of them for the wounds that had been visited upon them.

I was sad for their pain, heartbroken and even angry for what my daughter was exposed to through them, but I understood that they were really just a group of wounded souls, holding on to one another for dear life. They were brokenness begetting brokenness. Still, when your child is in the quicksand, you don’t just feel sad that she has fallen in. You fight through hell and high water to get her out.

quick sand

(Photo Source: Google Images)

As we neared the end of December, my anxiety increased as I realized my daughter’s depression, confusion, and self harm were increasing. She had written a lengthy and scathing diatribe of a suicide note to her sister shortly before Christmas. And while many siblings may go through times of severe dislike and perhaps even loathing of one another, this note was particularly troubling. It was rambling, coherent, precise, and inconsistent all at the same time.

My younger daughter had the sad and scary task of first reading it, and then bringing it to my attention. I will always be proud of her for summoning the courage to do that.

Chaos, despair, and self injury were enveloping my daughter’s first four months of high school. The road ahead looked more desperate and steep to me than any I’d ever seen, darker even than the realization less than two years earlier that my husband would soon die.

In an effort to bring order to the chaos, my daughter and I went to see the family doctor who’d treated her for most of her life. He prescribed an antidepressant and made it clear that mental health counseling was not optional.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

I Didn’t Know How

It’s not that I didn’t want to believe it. It’s more that I didn’t know how.

I’d had plenty of “Believe this and figure out how to live with it” challenges up to that point. I really had.

Years earlier my first pregnancy had ended in a complicated miscarriage that landed me in the Emergency Room. The graphic nature of the loss was jarring and disconcerting, to say nothing of the accompanying pain, both physically and emotionally. The grief was intense and stayed with me for what seemed like a long time, even though my son was born a year later.

But there was a mental file cabinet for that, helping me to make as much sense of it as possible: Miscarriages happen. This isn’t the first time in history, and life can move forward from here. It really can.

Eight years and three kids later my first marriage came to a devastating and difficult conclusion that landed me in my first therapy session. The surprise nature of the circumstances caught me more than off guard as the truth of my husband’s infidelity and willful departure from the family we had created together left me wounded, but wiser.

But there was a mental file cabinet for that, helping me to make as much sense of it as possible: Marriages end. And I will take this chance to learn and grow, and figure out ways to make more prudent decisions in the future.

Nine and a half years after that, my six-and-a-half-year-old second marriage came to a heartbreaking end when I was widowed, landing me on my own once more. The life changes were monumental, to say nothing of the heart changes that I had to face.

But there was even a mental file cabinet for that, helping me to make as much sense of it as possible: None of us will go through life untouched by the death of someone we love. And among the many gifts my late husband gave me was the fact that he believed in me before I was able to believe in myself. And so I knew that to honor him well, I would have to learn to live a new life without him next to me. It would not be an easy thing to do, but it would be the right thing to do.

Fast-forward about a year and a half, when my fifteen-year-old daughter began a supremely intense wrestling match with life, with herself, with all of us. And then she began to cut, to carve her beautiful porcelain flesh with sharp objects, leaving blood stained sheets and pillow cases, tender scabs that became fleshy scars, and an absolutely terrified and bewildered mother.

There was no mental file cabinet for this, nothing to help me make any sense of it at all.

It’s not that I didn’t want to believe it. It’s more that I didn’t know how.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013