I have thought long and hard about how to become “open” about this subject. At first, I was a bit defensive. I thought to myself, “This is no one’s business but my immediate family. No one needs to know. I don’t want family and friends talking about it, or us. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to embarrass my child.” I maintained this stance for a while. I felt like it needed to be a “Behind closed doors” subject.
Then, I realized how WRONG that is. I realized that it’s reactions like this, that almost push children and teens to view mental health as something they are doing wrong and can’t come to us about, openly. I read an article the other day and I can’t remember the source or where I read it, but it was a thirteen year old teen who posted on Twitter, “When you go to your parents about your stress and depression and they tell you to get over it and chill out.” That killed me. This is NOT something you brush under the rug and forget about.
Here’s my story. I hope to GOD that it helps even just one other parent to not take the approach I almost did.
My daughter is fourteen years old and she attempted to take her life on Friday, March 2nd, 2018. Why? I may never fully know “Why” or fully understand but I know that some of her reasoning was stress. Depression. Bullying. Anxiety. She felt ready to give up in that moment and decided that death was most definitely her best option. Her attempt was unsuccessful and she is currently receiving the help and care she needs at a facility, equipped to handle this very sensitive case.
What I hope to share with you are my mistakes. The things I wish I knew back before this happened, that might have helped things not escalate to the levels that it did. I am guilty of chalking up a lot of behavioral and emotional problems that my daughter went through, to “Teen Adolescent Behaviors”. If she was randomly moody, I would convince myself that it was her, being a teen girl. I’ve been there. Done that. I assumed that’s all it was. When she would come to me and say things like “I am stressed, so stressed that I just want to flip out.” I would look at her and think, “Why in the world are you stressed? You’re a kid. You go to school. You don’t have bills and jobs to worry about. What fourteen year old really even knows what stress it?!” I never stopped to realize that stress in an adolescents life is VERY REAL. And if excessive, can lead to depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and more.
When the problems began to seep into her school life with her friendships and relationships, I began to worry a bit more but again, my mistake is that I didn’t choose to take immediate action RIGHT THEN and there. I tried to soften the issues with small changes. Because of the depression and rapid change of moods my daughter was going through, she began to snap and start damaging her current friendships. The loss of close friendships began to spiral her into an even darker place, which aided her depression and anxiety. Grades started to slip and she began to stay in her bedroom more and more and I went to her school to speak with the counselor. While that step was necessary, it was most certainly not all I should have done.
When your child begins to close themselves off into their own protective shell and slip away to their room, barely making an appearance throughout an entire day, we need to be taking action! Another mistake I made was finding this new behavior “easier” to deal with. The crying, misbehaving and snapping had stopped. I mistakenly took this as a small victory, thinking that things surely have gotten a little better, now she just wants to be alone. That wasn’t the case. In fact, things were worse than ever. I’ve finally stopped beating myself up over the should have, could have and would have’s. There’s a LOT throughout this journey I could and should have done. What I will strive to do is learn from my mistakes and hopefully share with others, to ensure they don’t make the same one’s I did.
Long story short, when she began to act terrified of going to school, (Due to severing so many friendships and having many peers angry with her for the way she began to treat them) she asked me to home-school her. At first, I wasn’t on board completely because I had the idea that I would be teaching her the wrong kind of lesson. When the going gets tough, you can run from the problems. I felt like pulling her out of school would demonstrate just that. You’ve made a bed of lies, gossip, drama and then began to treat other students poorly and now they are all upset with you and you don’t want to face it. I battled with this theory for about a week and after speaking with my daughter’s therapist, I learned that I can still have her home-school, to hopefully remove her from the stressful atmosphere that was aiding her depression and anxiety, while reminding her that this is not running away. This is regrouping and learning how to cope, before returning.
It was when I withdrew her from school that we discovered she had been cutting on her arms. That discovery broke me, that day. I began to panic, I thought that surely something else, something BIG, had happened because it would have to be rock bottom or close to it, to want to cut yourself! I sat her down at home and questioned her aggressively. “Why would you do that?! Surely, something else happened that you’re not telling me. What is it? Don’t lie to me, tell me what happened that made you want to do that to yourself!” Again, wrong approach. While we may feel panicked and frustrated and scared and worried, we need, WE NEED, I repeat, WE NEED to remain as calm as possible when discussing with our children. Do not get angry. Do not get accusatory to any and every possible scenario you come up with. (Because believe me, when they are not forthcoming with their answers, we being to speculate and assume because it’s all we can do. And then those thoughts fire us up even more.)
We, as parents, need to remain calm. Supportive. Caring. Concerned. Seek help sooner, than later. If it’s simply adolescent teen emotions, hormones, whatever, then we can be grateful that is all it was. But if it isn’t, you will be so glad you took action sooner, than later. Never let it get so far that suicide becomes their answer and perhaps their way out. Stay in touch with your children’s teachers. Ask about changes in behavior and if things seem off at school. Keep in contact with the school counselor. Start a therapy program immediately. While they may not always agree or understand why they need to go, it DOES help and after a short time, it becomes a wonderful outlet for your child.
Speak to your children! Daily! Let them know that feeling stressed is okay. Feeling overwhelmed is normal. Life as an adolescent in this day and age is tough! Bullying is out of control. Social Media can be cruel. Let your child know that you love them and they can come to you about anything. Tell them that feeling these foreign feelings of anxiety and stress and depression is NOT something they will ever be in trouble for. Don’t make them feel like they’ve done something wrong.
I will forever be eternally grateful that my daughter was unsuccessful that night. I don’t know what I would have done. To even think about it breaks me down into tears that can’t be stopped. We received another chance. A chance to take action the RIGHT way and get her the help she so desperately needed. Let this be your chance.
Thanks all for listening.