As I fight every day for my daughter's life and her ability to hold her head high with her illness I become brave, I charge into the flames of ignorance, and I get the briefest, smokiest wisp of the elusive scent of hope.
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My daughter has depression and a desire to self-harm. She was diagnosed at age 10. The fear cracked me open, like a watermelon thrown from the tallest wall as I lived in daily terror that I would find her dead. Humpty Dumpty could never be put back together again, at least not in the form of a fruit. The knives on the kitchen counter glistened with menacing teeth; her pillowcase plotted to suffocate her and belts shimmered like a diamond necklace worn too tightly around a beautiful neck. Would I find her swinging, toddler-like, from our tree out back? A strange fruit that would be cut down to shrills and inhuman howls. How do you protect your child from her sick brain that is trying to murder her?
She overcame her illness six months later with much therapy and medical treatments. It occurred to me that we did not throw her a party or hold a 10k run announcing that she was better. I physically couldn’t celebrate every ounce of me was exhausted to the marrow. We can blame mom, and Lord knows I do, I had never felt so alone as the guilt burned my soul. My genes had caused this and no one wanted to talk about what was happening with Audrey. Even my strong husband would break down into tears; after all his father had hung himself.
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“It's hard to find other parents of kids with a mental illness, because who the hell wants to advertise it?”
My daughter has depression and a desire to self-harm, what about yours?
My daughter was no longer invited to parties because her strange behavior did not match the perfect pictures at parties that were necessary to show the world. Even my friends would tell me everything would be fine and change the subject as quickly as if they were on fire. I was surrounded by good mommies with daughters with bows in their hair so large they could get a radio signal and play us a tune.
Good mommies have perfect daughters that cheer, get good grades and fit into the perfect mold society created for them. Yet these perfect children socially terrorized my daughter about her mental illness. Is it wrong to want to punch a child in the face as I hear my daughter mocked for her depression? The perfect mothers rarely speak to me now as I get comments of ‘we will catch up soon and I will call you.’
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It’s hard to find other parents of kids with a mental illness, because who the hell wants to advertise it?
Oh, your kid is on the soccer team? That’s great. My daughter was nearly institutionalized for being suicidal, and I had to take away anything sharp and anything that could be turned into a noose from her room. Want to meet for coffee and chat about it? No, not likely.
Audrey had a diagnosed illness, and she survived something that could have killed her, and there was no celebration only relief.
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Where is my daughter’s ticker tape parade?
We rejoice in the overcoming of disease but not a mental illness. It can’t be because it is recurring because cancer returns too – why no party? Why no ribbon or t-shirt saying she beat depression and won, this time? So where is her ticker tape parade? It was stolen by all the whispers of loved ones when we explained what was happening. Their noted absence all those months during her illness. I recall a time when cancer was whispered and not discussed.
The secrecy of mental illness is one of the enormous challenges of modern society. The shame of that burden. The shame of my burden. The stigma of having a mental illness. I have been mentally ill my entire life, but few people know this truth (some may have already guessed). I am afraid to tell people I am bipolar. I am worried I will be found lacking because of it and lose my job, lose my acquaintances or my children’s invitations to birthday parties.
I look at your insanity and recognize it
People hear bipolar and back away to give you some room in case you suddenly attack. Attack with what? A bundle of overly ecstatic facial expressions or sad sighs laced with depressed eyes? I do not understand people who live at the illusive equator, a pretend line where “normal” people dwell.
I am the dependent variable and live all over the earth. I am frightened of ordinary people, and yes, I use that term loosely because they live lies while judging me. I have been to your beautiful homes with the soup cans alphabetized and watched you count how many times you wash your hands. I see you triple check the alarm or have that fifth glass of merlot to relax. I watch you overuse hand sanitizer.
I used to think the fear was that I was contagious but I have come to believe the concern is that I see you. I look at your insanity, recognize it, and I think that is the real fear. As I fight every day for my daughter’s life and her ability to hold her head high with her illness I am no longer the watermelon in pieces but one of the Queen’s women, sword in hand. I become brave, I charge into the flames of ignorance, and I get the briefest, smokiest wisp of the elusive scent of hope.