In the “Snapshots of My Depression” series, I’ve shared vignettes from my childhood and adolescence when I experienced an episode of depression. Now that I’ve shared my hospitalization story, I’ve completed this part of the series. There are more snapshots to come, but these will be snapshots of my depression during my adult life. (I’m considering taking a break from this series for a while, though, before getting into that. We’ll see.) Anyway, my mother has been reading this blog, and she shared with me her perspective on what I went through as an adolescent. As is usually true with mental illness, I was not the only one deeply affected. My family suffered as well, just in a different way. She gave me permission to share her insights here. We both think that they might be helpful to another parent living with a child who has depression and suicidal thoughts. From here on, these are my mother’s words (lightly edited), not mine.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what you wrote in the past few blogs, not shining moments in parenting. Where were your parents in all this, I’m wondering? Didn’t they notice a pattern, a shout out for help going on? Why didn’t they do anything?
It’s not that we didn’t do anything, we just didn’t do the right thing. We did talk with people at school, administrators, teachers, counselors, and most told us it was a passing phase that you needed to work out. Angst or adolescent behavior that somehow on its own you’d grow out of. “Those who talk about suicide are the ones who don’t do it.” You hadn’t given away valued possessions, your behavior wasn’t different, you didn’t have the usual signs that are present with suicide victims. It was easy to say we’d tried and listened to the experts.
But during that whole elementary and junior high time there was a gnawing in me that someone who talks about suicide must be really unhappy with themselves. That perhaps that was something in and of itself we should be dealing with. I wasn’t sure how, but I thought that might be a place to start. But I never acted on it.
Then when we got the call freshman year that you had tried to commit suicide and that the school would not allow you back without a therapist’s signature we knew we had no options now and that the time had come to address whatever feelings you were dealing with. Dad called a child therapist friend, who I thought would say she’d see you and you’d have sessions. But instead she said that hospitalization was the way to go and that she’d make the arrangements right away. As scary as that whole time was, walking away from you, leaving you in a locked ward, I knew that now at least you’d know that we were, and so was Muhlenberg, taking you seriously. We were listening now to whatever you had to so say and wanted you to know that we were and ARE here for you.
I also learned a huge lesson that the teachers, doctors, guidance counselors may give you advice and tell you what they think is going on with your child. But you know that child better. Best. Read the books, listen to the advice, and then make the decision based on what your gut tells you. It’s advice I’d tell any parent now. And I’d also say that there may not be any signs, and that you may just have to rely on that gut feeling.