*Knees creaking as I climb on my soapbox* (Get comfortable, people.)
To all you parents out there raising special needs children and doing your best every day – I am giving you the biggest round of applause right now, followed by a huge hug. You need to know that you are amazing. You need to know that there is beauty in the love and care that you give your children each and every day. I know that some days are beautiful while others are a struggle just to get to the end, but parenting means being what your children need and showing unconditional love. It means fighting for them, advocating for them, and wearing yourself thin oftentimes, to get them the care they deserve. I admire you.
We all have our individual struggles. Life is different for each and every person on this planet. What is hard for one, may be easy for another. What tears one child down may not phase another. We can’t compare hardships and struggles, we can’t make light of one person’s fight, and we can’t underestimate how difficult some things can be for others. We should strive to uplift one another, to celebrate victories together, and to recognize that the struggle is different for everyone. We should respect each other’s journeys.
I am overwhelmed right now. My heart is hurting because people that I expect should understand A-, people I think should know what she has been going through, don’t seem to get it at all. They haven’t seen it first hand, I suppose. They’ve been told about it. But they don’t even try to understand. They even make it sound like it’s something she is making up – using for leverage in a game she is playing. To people who don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of her situation, I say they should live a day in her head before making unintelligent remarks. Watch her for just one day and see the sheer mental exhaustion that comes from trying to get through it, and then make light of her pain. Not to mention the physical exhaustion from lack of sleep.
People tell me that A- can’t be “that” depressed because they saw her smiling. Don’t they know a smile is one of the biggest lies of depression? Have they never seen that the smile doesn’t reach the eyes? Have they never heard the fake “I’m fine” in a voice?
People say that when something happened recently in A’s life that was a positive change for her that they knew she would “immediately get better.” What? Really? Immediately? It doesn’t work that way. First, she has to trust that the thing will actually last – that she is being told the truth. Once she believes, then maybe she can work on healing. But that is going to take a long, long time. Are they suggesting that she is faking mental illness to get what she wants? I can certainly attest to the fact that that is not the case. And depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are NOT going to immediately go away upon the receipt of good news.
So to those who don’t seem to understand what depression and anxiety can do, let me fill them in just a bit. It could take a while to fill someone in on the entire seven years since my child first told me she wanted to kill herself, but there are moments that come to mind.
I am overwhelmed with sadness when I think of the childhood A- has missed out on due to her anxiety and depression. So many years spent with constant gnawing worry. The crying, the sobbing, the nightmares, the panic attacks, and the ever present desire to hurt herself and the wish to end her life. When you have listened to your child pray to die – to ask God to take her because she isn’t strong enough to keep living – you know in that moment that you would trade your life for hers if it would make hers better. The pain is unbearable. That is a helplessness you can’t even describe.
How many times have I physically restrained my child as she tried to hurt herself? When she was younger I’d have to hold her for hours to keep her from bashing her head on the floor. As she got older I’d catch her trying to burn herself, or cut. Not to mention the infernal rubber bands she now keeps around her wrists, snapping them up and down her arms until the angry, red, swollen stripes appear. How many sleepless nights have we shared in this house? How many hours has she screamed until her voice was raw and no sound would come out, because the voice in her head was screaming at her from the inside? How many hours of counseling, how much money in medical bills, how much worry?
How long was I afraid to cry, because I knew if I did I might never stop? I had to appear strong for her, even when I didn’t know how to be.
How long has she felt worthless? How long has she hated herself? The answer is too long. As A- recently explained to someone, depression can come from internal sources or external sources. You can be born with a predisposition for depression, or something can happen to you; like bullying, trauma or abuse that causes depression. Hers was caused by the latter.
Unless you have lived with a suicidal child, do not judge my child’s journey. When you have wrestled a razor out of your child’s hands in the shower, or searched for days for a shard of glass that you know they secreted away, or locked up your kitchen knives and switched to plastic dishes, when you can’t leave your teen home alone for even half an hour – then you have an idea of what it’s like.
A- often tells me that the only reason she is still alive is because she would force herself to think of how awful it would be for me if she were to do something to herself. She always keeps her promises to me. A while back I made her promise me not to kill herself. She didn’t want to promise. She told me it wasn’t fair of me to ask her – because I knew she wouldn’t break a promise to me, but I had to understand how much she wanted to die.
How do you cope when your child asks you to understand how much they want to die?
I told her that was the reason why I had to ask it of her; because I was confident she would not break the promise. Yet she almost did, just a short couple months ago. She found a knife. She had it hidden. She planned to use it. One day, during a bad episode, she appeared to become calm and told me she needed to take a shower. All the crying had her head hurting and she thought a shower would help. She went into the bathroom and locked the door and turned on the water. I was sitting right in the other room and realized almost too late that I had heard the click of the lock – she never locked the door because I asked her not to. Just as I was headed to the bathroom with a key, she came out, shaking. She met me in the hallway and sunk to the ground. I sank onto the floor beside her. She handed me the knife. She buried her face in my lap and told me she was sorry, that she almost did something stupid. I don’t know what stopped her, I really don’t, so I am going to give the credit to God.
I always thought as long as I had her with me I could keep her safe. I could watch her. At that moment I knew it was time to think about hospitalizing her. I was afraid I could no longer keep her safe. But they would only keep her seventy two hours at the most. Three days wasn’t going to change anything. (Hospitalization can certainly be necessary in some cases – as parents we have to make decisions, sometimes in a split second and we have to make tough choices based on our own individual children and what we believe will be best for them.)
I’m going to fast forward a bit and say that she IS getting better. When the thing that changed in her life happened, it gave her hope. Maybe she doesn’t quite believe it will last, but for the first time, she WANTS to feel better. She wants to stop living this way. The nightmares still plague her. But to those who think the change will be immediate, I have to say you are plain foolish. How can someone live in such pain for seven years and then have it magically disappear like smoke? That is far from realistic.
What the change will do is to continue to give her hope. It will give her a place to start. It has given her the DESIRE to get better. It has given her something to fight for. A friend told A- just this week that things were going to get better. She asked when? They told her that it was going to happen when she was ready. They told her that her past was not going to change, that it was already gone and the scars had already been left. They told her nothing was ever going to erase it, but when she was ready to feel better, when she was finally ready to ACCEPT feeling better, that that’s when it would happen. When she realized she deserved it and when she realized that she wanted it.
She’s starting to realize she wants it – but it’s going to take time. A- doesn’t trust that things will last. Past experience has shown her that she can’t always trust someone’s word. Maybe time will show her otherwise.
Don’t pretend to know what someone’s life is like when you haven’t been there to witness it. Don’t trivialize the pain of others. Don’t pretend to know anything about things you’ve never seen. Don’t belittle someone’s illness by erroneously believing that they can heal overnight. Don’t assume they are seeking attention or faking to get something they want. If you’ve lived with them for five minutes you know they are not faking. And I won’t even address the thought of attention seeking.
Be kind. Be supportive. Be a positive influence. Be a role model. Be a friend. Support parents. Keep snide comments to yourself, because believe me, we are just too exhausted to explain it all to you.
I know I haven’t been talking much about ADHD lately, let alone sharing the often funny stories of life as a non neurotypical, but it’s been a roller coaster around here lately, with depression ruling the day. Funny moments have happened. Good times have happened. Moments with my daughter that I would not trade for the world have happened. And I’m grateful. I’m hoping the coming months will see more of those good times – I’d like to concentrate a little more on the up side of living with ADHD.
I wrote this today for a reason. I wrote it because I couldn’t NOT write it. Today I am sick of hearing others judge my daughter. I am tired of defending her to people that I should not have to defend her to. I’m heartbroken over how she is missing out on some important relationships in her life because they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions, or refuse to accept her as she is. You know what? That’s okay. Because I do. I accept my child just as she is right here and now, and there is NO greater joy in this world than being her mother. Despite all of it, the depression, the anxiety – I have an amazing daughter. She has no idea how truly inspiring and wonderful she really is. My heart is full just thinking about her. And I will always have that. I will always have her. I have memories to look back on and I have memories yet to make.
And she is going to be just fine. It just isn’t going to happen tomorrow.
*climbing down now*