I’m writing to you as a parent of a child who lives with mental illness.
At age 7, my daughter was a cheerful,inquisitive and playful child. She ran around outside and was loud and boistorous. I encourage her
joie de vivre. Like many parents of active children, I indulged her spontanity and creativity. I enrolled her in ballet classes, art classes and music classes. She thrived in music.
When she hit puberty, things changed. It was like a dark cloud visited our house and never left. Like many who go through the onset of puberty, we perserved and pushed forth. I remember being a teenager and the angst that puberty brought. I also remember coming out of it relatively ok.
I remember her singing “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie in the downstairs bathroom and I cried upstairs. I could hear her angst and anger and frustration. Her body was changing and she was angry at the world. She was angry at me. At herself. I heard her sadness and I wanted to run downstairs and wrap her in my arms and turn back the clock of change.
Change happened. First in little increments. She developed a new set of friends. Girl friends who were just as dark and moody as her. She hid things from me. I hated this. We were thick as thieves and close. Now she chose a new set of friends.
At first, I didn’t notice the cuts on her arms. She hid them by wearing arm warmers. Punky style she fashioned from striped socks. I also noticed she lost her her baby cheeks. She started looking sleek. I didn’t say anything because she still ate just as much as she used to.
What I didn’t recognize was the tell tale signs of anxiety and depression lurking around her like a dark presence. A stranger you invited into your house that never left.
She struggled in middle school. Her academic achievements were amazing. Her draw towards danger and rebellion sky rocketed. In my effort to reign in the control, I enticed her with enrolling in an alternative high school.
I moved our little family out of suburbia into the inner urban city. She once again thrived. Thrilled with the idea that she would be among the creative people.
Let me tell you about symptoms of anxiety and depression. Highly creative people struggle and mask their struggle with it. They will often hide their true feelings by resorting to a time of their former life before symptoms started to take over. As a parent, you are lulled into thinking that everything is ok. Everything has reset back to an earlier, better time. You want to believe that everything is ok. But looking at this 10 years later, there is no ok. There was really never normal. You start to question if there really ever was a normal.
A little after we moved to the big urban city, my daughter came out and told my then husband and me that she thought there was something wrong with her. She had been forcing herself to throw up after she ate. She started controlling what she ate as a way to maintain control of her emotions as well as cutting herself with razors that she swiped from our bathroom cabinet. She came out and told us after she had gotten caught shoplifting snacks from Uwagimaya, a local Asian grocery store. We cried and held each other and I told her everything was going to be ok.
Eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Those three things are linked together and often go hand in hand with each other. They are a vicious, never ending circle that often disguise themselves with other mental disorders.
The thing you begin to really start to understand is that this cycle is now the new norm and maintaining the health and integrity of your child becomes the new normal. Maintaining this mode of operation is exhausting and the thing you begin to understand is that it starts to take a toll on you as the parent. Something has to give.
As a parent, I took a hard look at what was around me and started to break down. Everything I once believed in. If I worked harder and brought home more money. If I took care of everyone first, things would fall into place naturally. I had to rethink all my internal processes and reset myself.
As my daughter was going through recovery, she attended therapy. DBT. Dialetical behavior therapy. Mindfulness. It is the one thing that attributed to her getting back to state of calm. I too, started down a path of my own.
Somewhere along the months after her getting out of Children’s hospital, I stumbled upon an article on a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Greenwood area. I became intrigued with the idea of meditation and decided to visit the monastery. Something compelled me to attend. For me, this was the turning point that helped me maintain the calm during the rough patches and helped me continue to provide comfort for my daughter as well as myself.
The practice of meditation. Breathing. Inward reflection and mindfulness was my way of maintaining.
There was a moment during her recovery when my daughter came upstairs demanding I make her breakfast.
I learned from the doctors and specialist from Children’s that eating disorder patients follow the Maudsley method. Meaning, the control of food is no longer theirs but they must eat everything that is on their plate. Food is medicine and every bite of food will bring them back to physically and medically healthy.
So she came stomping up the stairs demanding breakfast and I was starting my morning meditation practice. She barged in and I look at her.
“Make me breakfast. I am hungry!”
I looked calmly at her and said “I’ll make it after I am done meditating.” She went from zero to 100 with that statement.
Screaming obcenities that I was a bad mom and I was starving her. I smiled and said “I love you. I am meditating right now.” and I firmly shut the bedroom door on her. There were definitely a few scuff marks from her kicking the door but I continued to turn my attention to the lit candle and the breathed in the heavy perfume of incense. I could of rose to the bait of her yelling at me but I turned up the stereo that was playing a playlist of Tibetan monk chants.
Ohm Mani Padme Hum. Ohm Mani Padme Hum. Ohm Mani Padme Hum.
It’s not that I am choosing to ignore my daughter. On the contrary. I am learning to let her grow by letting her go. She is an adult. She has been for a while since she left my home at 18. She has struggled for sure. And I have been there to pick up the pieces when she has fallen.
The thing that I am learning. Still. Is the re-focusing on myself will eventually get her to focus on herself. Perhaps, she will learn by watching me focus on maintaining the calm and compassion that paints my life, that her own life will follow suit.
Anxiety and depression will continue to follow and remind her that they are her constant companions. Perhaps she will learn that they are not her only companions.
The main takeaway from this experience for me is to constantly remind myself that all things move on. It’s time for me to move on as well.