We (the daughter and I) have decided to make February a month of sharing stories to fight stigma. So, along with our newly posted video on YouTube we are going to start sharing our stories and learnings on our blogs, starting conversations about it on our Facebook and Myspace site and commenting on it on our Twitter page. So, visit us, chat with us, and learn with us. Here is a piece of a very long story...
I had lost a brother to suicide. I knew to keep careful watch on my children’s mental health. I was qualified to do so. I dedicated 10 years of my life formally studying child and adolescent disability, and emotional and behavioral disorders in bachelors’, masters’ and doctoral programs. I have a vast amount of knowledge based on education, research and experience in the field of “transition services” for youth with disabilities. In other words, I know stuff. I have spent hours and hours teaching and working with kids who are failing in every aspect of their life. I have talked to parents as the wise woman who offered words of support and advice. I teach educators and school psychologists and school counselors as a professor in a graduate program. I teach them the skills to assess, educate and support children and adolescents with disabilities. I thought I knew a thing or two. I was not prepared.
Life was moving along and I was in a good space five years ago. Our youngest daughter, Linea, was off to college to study classical music performance and our oldest daughter was happily married and developing her own business in the world of art. My husband and I were ready to experience the empty nest. I didn’t know enough. I was not prepared.
Less than two years later I was flying back from Chicago one more time and I was crying. I sat in my seat and without making a sound the tears ran down my face over Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington. Why now? We had brought Linea home from college with a severe depression. She was hospitalized less than two months later. She was suicidal, she was non-responsive to medications, she was ill beyond my wildest imagination and all the training and education and wisdom that I might have thought I possessed seemed worthless. She dug her way up and out of that depression but to a flat and grey place. She was back in school nine months later. And then she was hospitalized again. Her meds were changed. Her treatment plan was all consuming. She went back to school after each set-back and she continued to talk to me with honesty and love and a dim spark to be well and to live.
I had not let go through all the days and nights of this battle. Her dad and sister and our family spent those months in a place of hell but I fought with all my might to keep her alive. On that flight home from Chicago after she was finally back in school it hit me hard that I could not fix her pain. I couldn’t stop her thoughts or change what she did with those thoughts. I couldn’t be with her every minute and I couldn’t get into her brain and chase the terrorizing illness away. I could be there for her and I could be physically with her but I could not be in her. This was her battle and we could only support her in that fight. We could bring her home from college, we could hospitalize her and we could find the very best doctors in two cities more than 2,000 apart from each other but I could not keep her safe every minute of every day. I felt panic and terror. I sat in my seat for the five and a half hour flight and I thought and thought about this. I went around and around in my head and finally settled on my trust in her. Hadn’t she proven herself a valiant fighter? Hadn’t she asked for our help to hold her and be with her and stay close to her when she was near losing the battle? By the time the plane landed I had it figured out in my own mind. All I wanted was for Linea to find peace and happiness. I wanted her sense of humor and her excitement and joy in living to surround us all. I let go of my fear of her and me and our family being judged by others and…I let go of my pride. I know that everyone who truly loves Linea would not judge her. I am even prouder of Linea than of her gifts. I am humbled by her strength. I can breathe. Perhaps our story will offer hope to even one family.
"self-portrait" taken in hotel bathroom,
(presenting at conference in Savannah)