My daughter almost died three times before I even knew that there was a problem.
To think that she attempted suicide three times before I could get her help is the reason why I lie awake at night.
I can’t help but reflect on all the small things I would fuss at my daughter about like not tidying up her room, not cleaning the kitchen counters properly, or her forgetting to take out the garbage. At the time I blamed her behavior on her being “lazy.” It never occurred to me that these “lazy” moments were actually manifestations of her profound sadness, anxiety, and ADD.
How could she tidy her room if her mind was cluttered with unwanted thoughts? Cleaning the counters was a big chore if everything around her felt gloomy. And taking out the garbage is easy to forget when the only task on your mind is finding a way to feel better.
It’s so hard for me to reflect on these memories, but when I look back, I am more proud than I’ve ever been of my daughter. I marvel at how well she managed to function before she was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and extreme social anxiety.
My daughter spent two weeks in the Child Psychiatric Unit where she was supported by a new psychiatrist who helped manage her Zoloft prescription, a therapist with whom she could share her feelings and experiences, and she even received an additional medication to help control her ADD.
Despite all these supports I was able to provide for her, I still felt like I wasn’t helping enough.
I feel deep guilt that my ignorance and lack of preparation for parenting under these conditions ultimately led to her fourth suicide attempt. After this attempt, I finally realized that to fully acknowledge my daughter’s mental illness, I needed to acknowledge my own. So, I decided to go to therapy.
My therapist has helped me tremendously. First, she helped me to understand how the depressed mind works. This insight gave me invaluable information that informs how I parent my daughter. It encouraged me to stop fussing and communicate differently. It helped me not to take her mental illness personally and stay focused on parenting. Most importantly, this information helped me to understand that “parenting while angry” is not parenting at all.
These realizations have played into the mental health practices that are active in my household. My daughter and I still attend therapy and each session has helped us in more ways than we could have imagined. Together, we’re learning to embrace her condition, treat her mental illnesses and learning disability the way that best suits her truth, and know that it is okay to not be okay.
Today, you’ll hear me apologize to my daughter a lot more than I used to because I now recognize when I am not getting it right. And I’m so thankful that my daughter is very patient with me! Parenting with mental illness takes a deliberate, intentional effort and a tremendous amount of energy. And while hard, I’m so grateful that I still have a daughter who needs me to do better.
There are so many children and parents struggling to live with various forms of mental illness. Before assuming someone’s motivation, or lack thereof, remember not all illnesses are visible. It is better to extend grace and patience to others. You never know what they are going through.
In that same spirit, do the same for your children. I almost missed my opportunity to do better by my daughter. I would not want you to miss yours.
By Tara Brown, Ward 8 PLE Board member