I wrote this after my daughter faced a second bout of depression. It broke my heart when she was first diagnosed, yet gave me a sense of power to call it by name. She identified her foe at an earlier age than I had. Determined to help her not become depression, I wrote my thoughts down. She’s become an insightful, intuitive and compassionate young adult embracing all of who she is in ways I can only dream. With her permission and intent to support others, this is shared today.
You cried the first time I left you. I knew what you didn’t — I’d return. I held your little body as you wretched the first time. Your tiny voice begged, “No, mommy, no.” I couldn’t stop the upheaval. My hands held you, my heart broke. It would pass, I knew. But only after you went through it.
The summer before kindergarten you begged, “Please, let’s homeschool. I don’t want to go all day.” I wrestled with the decision, yet told you it’d be fine. We chose an intimate school with shorter hours. The pre-K teacher said you were ready.
I saw a flash of something. An anxious, sensitive part wary of transitions, scared of new things, and afraid to be less than the best. I stood by you, stayed at school until you settled and surrounded you with trustworthy nurturing adults. You flourished.
When you wanted to dance, fears of something new and not-being-good overwhelmed you. I encouraged and maybe pushed a little the first class. I sat outside the studio door. Uncomfortable with first tries, who could blame you? That fear, that hesitancy, keeps some from ever trying. Soon, you no longer walked or ran. Twirls, leaps and jetes (accent over the second “e”) propelled your steps. At 7, you said, “No matter what, momma, I have to dance.”
In spite of hesitancies, you’re driven. First steps can stop you, or slow you down. You want to be sure. The thing is, we’re not always sure. Sometimes, the only way to know is to try.
Do you remember your first Nutcracker audition? You went back and forth. You wanted to do it, you didn’t want to do it. I strongly encouraged you to try. I’d a feeling you’d love the stage. (The audition environment was safe, nurturing and fun with adults you knew and loved. Puhlease, I’m the furtherst thing from a dance mom.)
Finally, I said, “If you get a part, you don’t have to take it.” Freedom and control, the back door and safety net now visible. You could say no. But, to have the choice of no, you stepped outside your comfrot zone and tried. You made it, chose to be a dancing mouse. More auditions followed and you loved every moment.
It’s hard being a mom. I constantly weigh encouragement vs. pushing. Sometimes, my heart knows you should try something and I give a bigger “encouragement”. I usually read your signals and give you room and respect to dig in your heels. I listen with my heart. I help find back doors so you can walk through the front ones.
Remember kindergarten – the place you didn’t want to go? You loved it so hard you didn’t want to transition to first grade. There were tears. There was clinging. Your kindergarten teacher saved the day and you went early to your old classroom. You helped set up and she walked you to first grade. It was magic. My confidant first grader found her way through a difficult time. She came in through the back door.
Transitions are challenging. They feel so abrupt. I swear, transitioning from wake to sleep takes a toll on your little body. I know. It does the same for me. I learned to give you the right amount of “heads-up.” Too much and anxiety ate away. Too litte and it’s becomes so big, jarring and overwhelming. Just enough and it’s smoother sailing.
A nurturing guide helped you assimilate well into Montessori elementary school. But, mid-elementary, your world fell apart. Your lifelong furry companion, Kadi, died. Your heart broke. A new best friend moved into town and moved out just as fast. It was all too much for your big heart.
The part of you that came alive when you danced, the part that gets lost in a book or movie, the part that sees beauty in the ordinary is the same part that shattered when Kadi died and a kindred sister friend moved. You lost the beauty, the silver linings, the sparkles and threw yourself into dance.
Your head in my lap, you cried. You wanted to be like everyone else. Happy. I found notes saying “I want to die.” I learned you didn’t want to die. You wanted everything to stop — a break from the heaviness of unhappiness. It drowned.
I looked for a way to make it better. There are no chapters in general parenting books about such notes from 8-year-olds. My strong hands held you as I shook within. They weren’t enough. You felt alone. The absolute worst. Feeling alone in a full family.
We searched for an answer, a way through the darkness. You went to where I’d found help before — a therapist, a gentle psychiatrist. We gave the unhappiness, the heaviness, a name. We boldly and unashamedly called it aloud. Depression. This, alone, brought immense relief. You weren’t crazy, a misfit, or broken. You were depressed.
Most people bounce back from the curve balls and sadness life throws their way. People with depression fall harder, deeper and longer. They often need help bouncing back. A life line, so to speak.
Depression isn’t evil. It’s not a curse. Not anyone’s fault. It just is. I’m sorry it is, but I can’t change that. I’m sorry there are tornadoes, cancer and scary ghost stories. My sorrow won’t make them disappear. (How I wish it would.) They don’t go away if we ignore them or hate them.
Naming took some of its power and gave you back some control. Some nights, you sleep through a thunderstorm. Some, you lay unafraid and listening, knowing storms won’t hurt you safe and warm inside. And, sometimes, you crawl into bed with another who makes you feel safe until it blows over. Maybe, you turn on the light. When the storm of depression hit so big, we found shelter in good therapists and helpers.
Your beautiful curly hair (even though it’s made you cry and you’ve spent hours straightening it) is your Grandfather’s; your brown eyes and fine features are your Grandma’s. Your overbite and the sparkle in your dancing eyes from another Grandma. Your stubbornness? Straight from your dad and his dad. (Okay, maybe a little from me, too.) You ability to tune into animals? It’s easily inherited from many in our family. Your flat chest? I’ll claim that one — sigh, sorry. A risk for heart disease? Cancer? High blood pressure? All come from family members. Unfortunately, depression came from me, maybe others, too. We can’t change these things. We can face them and accept them. We learn to deal with them and when to get help. Together.
When you don’t feel well, everything goes wrong and homework sucks; when it’s hard, overwhelming and you feel you’re under a pile of wet wool laundry with no way out; depression can strike. It’s your kryptonite. Your weakness. Like a horse with an old ache from an injured leg – overwork that horse and the stress first appears in a limp or stumble in that leg. You’ll always have to remember that leg and be aware. You’ll watch for red-flags before the limp is is too bad. You’ll learn what builds it up and what makes it wobble. You’ll take care of yourself. You’ll keep the kryptonite at bay. I’ll help. Others will, too.
Do you remember the magic glass story? It was only half-full. A thirsty little child refused to drink it. It wouldn’t completely quench the thirst, there wasn’t enough. Another child came along happy to drink what was there. The second child learned the glass was magic. As soon as the child drank the water, it magically refilled.
Sometimes we need help to see the glass is half-full. Maybe it’s a chemical thing in the brain changing your perspective on the glass. Medicine or talking with a professional may help. The first step is realizing your perspective — how you see the glass. Taking care of yourself — make sure you exercise, eat well, journal, etc. may help the perspective and change the focus on the glass. You’ll learn what works for you.
Your curly hair isn’t your fault (unless you pay big bucks for a bad perm). You didn’t choose your brown eyes. Depression isn’t your fault, either. You’ve a separate life from me, yet we share many characteristics. Those brown eyes and depression remain. Individually yours and mine.
We also share people who face it with us. They’re not afraid to call it by name. As you grow up, you’ll still need them. My heart isn’t getting smaller. There’s plenty of room to love you all the way through. I’m by your side. I’m not afraid of your curly hair or your depression. (Ok, sometimes on grouchy running-late mornings, your curly bed hair is more than slightly intimidating.)
Growing up has ups and downs, emotions and hormones on every turn. You’ll soon distinguish depression from life’s normal growing pains. It can be hard, I won’t lie. Sometimes you’ll need help. Keep talking, keep hugging. Keep showing up. You’ll get through it.
Throughout your day, plant little things to make you happy. A little time for you to work out, read, watch netflix, walk on the beach, play with a dog or be with a friend.
Never forget, I am here. I can listen, lend a strong supportive hand and encourage (even push a little). You’re doing well on a difficult path. It’s getting better. Depression isn’t a punishment or weakness. It’s not caused by you or anyone else. It just is – like a thunderstorm that hits the farm up the road but leaves another one high and dry a mile away. Some struggle with it. Others don’t.
I hope for you sunshine, rainbows, and gentle ponies. But, I know there will be rain, clouds, and bumps along the way. You’re surrounded by those who love you and will lift you up. You will make it through. Coming out the other side may not be exactly how you envisioned it, but you will come through –breath by breath and day by day.
If you learn anything from me, I hope you learn to be gentle with yourself. Seek others when needed. Turn away shame. Love yourself, my child. You’re sensitive, compassionate and loving. You’re the perfect you.