And she was madder than a hornet even though she may not look it. She’d been away at her birth father’s house for the 2 weeks before her sister was born. She wanted so desperately to be home for the baby’s birthday, but he didn’t care what she wanted. Those were his two weeks and she could just fucking deal with it. She was only 8 years old.
Between 6 and 8, she suffered from night terrors, running the halls, wailing, screaming and crying out – so broken. She’d look right through me, crying so hard, lost and alone in a frightening walking sleep. Then, came migraines. And she’d break down crying when he’d phone the house and want to talk to her. Between 9 and 13, she didn’t want to go. And we didn’t make her.
By 15, she was noticably suffering in silence. Not just angry, but raging. She experienced debilitating panic attacks, had difficulties with school and lived in a cesspool of self-loathing. Day by day, little by little, she slipped further away from me, adrift on endless waves that constantly tried to pull her under.
She tried therapy, had a mental health counsellor, (we) paid for hours of private psychotherapy and had family counselling. She had a psychiatrist that never asked her a single question about her feelings or thoughts, only her symptoms, and she started anti-depressants.
At 17, a friend called me, begging secrecy and told me that she’d put a belt around her neck and hung in the closet just to see what it would feel like, and if she could do it. We were battling an enemy unseen. She was giving up and I was terrified.
Over the course of my life, I’ve made mistakes. Saying “I did the best I could” feels a little like a cop out; a big shrug and a ‘fuck you, I tried.’ Thinking back, I can admit I failed her in so many ways.
When she was born, I was harder on her than I was her brother. She was a feisty and firey red head, stubborn and smart. And she was a girl. I thought she was resilient because she seemed unflappable. She would toe the line in the sandbox, knew exactly what she wanted and could make people laugh. But it turns out she wasn’t as tough as I thought.
She was only 18 months or so when I started allowing her to stay overnight with her brother and birth-father. Here she was also undervalued. As the female, she was expected to serve, to clean and to do as she was told. The result of rampant alcoholism and drug use meant that in the first 8 years of her life she was neglected, abandoned, isolated, unheard, not safe and felt unloved there.
At home, there was a new marriage and a baby sister. She’d been bumped in the birth order. Real fear or childish fear, she’d better damn well be good. Would the ‘bad’ girl be sent to live with dad? The thought was terrifying.
She was about 8 when I first understood she couldn’t control her feelings or emotions. I remember being frustrated by her clingy, neediness and tears, and crouched in front of her exasperated and angry. But, this tiny little red haired girl was so broken-hearted. And she couldn’t help it. And some of it was because of me.
After that realization, I became relentless in my analysis and approach to her mental health. I read voraciously, sought help, went online, asked questions, routinely consulted doctors and professionals. I listened to her and asked lots of questions. Made safe places for her to share with me, and pulled out all the stops to get her some kind of help. She received hours of therapy for anxiety disorder, OCD and depression. I made it my job to treat her with as much love and fairness and listening and kindness as I could.
She persisted in her own battle. She was open and truthful. She forced herself out of bed when the desire to just go to sleep wouldn’t leave. She bravely looked at all her shit. Talked about her feelings, journalled and participated in group therapy and one on one sessions. She tolerated my prying eyes and incessant check ins and committed to treatment like a fucking boss.
I outed my mistakes, owned up to my parenting fuck ups with honesty and apologies. I figured accountability from me might give her validation and permission to let some of it go. But, depression sunk its teeth and claws into her shoulder and back and hung on with merciless power, robbing her of her energy, her laughter, her hope and, bit by bit, her will to live.
When Robin Williams was found a couple of days ago, an unseen hand punched me in the gut. If this genius comic blessed with legions of fans and the love of so many can be defeated by the cruelest of invisible opponents, then what does that mean for the rest of us?
What does it mean for my sweet, red-headed, baby girl?
I’m sad that my love isn’t enough to make it go away.
I’m sad that the darkness is so heavy.
I’m sad that even on the pretty good days, depression lurks in the shadows and I’m sad that she knows it’s there.
I’m sad that I don’t have the power to make her heart feel full.
But, I will not fucking give up.
I will be a light when it seems dark.
I will keep my arms open.
I will pray for angels to hover over her everyday.
I will be present for her and to her and I will ask and I will listen.
And I will love her.
Just as tenaciously. Just as ferociously. Just as mercilessly. /
Love is all I have to give.