Depression sucks, as cliché as that sounds it’s so true. As a parent of a child who deals with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, I would do ANYTHING to relieve my daughter of this illness. Correct that, mental illness. There, I said it. My child has a mental illness. A professionally diagnosed mental illness. And we deal with all aspects of that mental illness the best way we can. There have been and will continue to be years of therapy and medication for my daughter. This is not something she will grow out of, but something she has been learning to cope with and live with.
Early this morning as I was getting ready for work I was vaguely aware of the local news team reporting on the day’s top news. At one point they cut to a political figure speaking about a recent tragic event and I actually laughed (it was a cynical laugh) out loud when I heard this person state that help for mental illness has been and will continue to be available to anyone in need. I call bullshit on that statement. And this is why.
My daughter was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety about six years ago. My daughter was offered a wonderful opportunity to attend a very prestigious private school in our area. The reviews and history of the school are very well-known. She attended during 6th and 7th grade. Talk about a parenting decision I wish I could undo. There was an extreme amount of pressure to be perfect, along with so many other horrible things my daughter experienced. My daughter did not return to the private school, but started back at public school, which was another very hard adjustment. The friends she had when she left had made other close friendships, some had gone down different paths. She was never able to find her place in the school.
We started to notice her withdrawing from school activities and events. She wasn’t the same happy kid she had been. Regardless of what we tried, she just couldn’t seem to shake the blues. We decided it would be best to reach out and begin therapy to help my daughter deal with all the recent changes. She started therapy with a wonderful psychologist. After a year or so of weekly or bi-weekly therapy the psychologist suggested an anti-depressant would probably be a benefit to my daughter. That meant finding a reputable psychiatrist to help determine what medication would be best. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we were already familiar with a child psychiatrist who I felt very comfortable with. Our middle son has a chronic illness, which was diagnosed at a very young age. He dealt with depression for a number of years and at one point required medication to help him cope. I called the psychiatrist’s office and was told there was a six month wait, so my daughter as put on the list. In the meantime, I spoke with our family doctor who was willing to help in whatever way possible. He spoke to various colleagues and recommended an anti-depressant. The first one had some nasty side effects, but the second medication was very well tolerated, so we waited to see if it would help. After a few months on the medication, my daughter was not jumping for joy and singing happy songs, but she was happier than she had been and we were all thrilled. She was being seen regularly by her psychologist and the family doctor, she was handling daily life, and was generally a happier person. When the psychiatrists office finally called to schedule an appointment I declined. Remember that was a six month wait to get a call to schedule an appointment three months out…..Looking back now, I feel like a fool and wish I would have scheduled the appointment.
Fast-forward to mid-2014. My daughter’s freshman year of high school and it was proving to be a very rough transition for her. Her depression and anxiety were at an all time high. There were issues upon issues she was dealing with and we, as her parents, were dealing with. We had increased therapy sessions and were doing everything possible on the school and social fronts. Everyone agreed it was time to re-evaluate the medication. I called reputable child psychiatrists (because my daughter was/is under 18) in five surrounding counties trying to get my daughter an appointment. When I called the offices I was first asked what insurance my daughter has. I gave the name of the private insurance company and was told by EACH of that the office was not accepting new patients, unless the patient has some type of medical assistance. However, I could call back in a few months to see if they were accepting new patients. I was outraged, furious, and pissed off. I am not here to debate medical assistance. I do have to question why a child on medical assistance is able to be seen but my child isn’t. What sense does that make? Oh, I know. The same political big wheels who think help for people with mental illness is just a phone call away create the rules that dictate what the hospitals/doctors can and can’t do. Explain to me how that is making mental illness help available to anyone in need.
We continued to trudge forward, dealing with the daily depression. At one point our family doctor told us about a new child psychiatrist that joined a mental health organization in our area and told us he had heard only good things about the doctor. I immediately called and made an appointment. My daughter first had to meet with an in-take nurse who gathered all the pertinent information and had her fill out numerous questionnaires. The next appointment would be with the psychiatrist – FINALLY! I was so hopeful. When we got to the appointment my daughter was called by the doctor, both my daughter and I got up. I was told the doctor wanted to meet with my daughter first and then I would be called in. That was fine. As I sat in the waiting room I prayed this would be worth the wait and my daughter would finally have the help we had hoped for. About 20 minutes later my daughter came to the waiting room to bring me to the room. I instantly noticed she was in tears. I couldn’t tell if it was from being upset, maybe it was from being relieved to know she was getting the help. But she wouldn’t look at me. After I sat down the doctor introduced himself to me and proceeded to tell me about how wonderful he was. From his education to his experience to his colleagues who adore him. He was talking down to me and was extremely cocky. Still, I was hopeful that all that cockiness meant he was a genius and would help my daughter. No such luck. He reviewed her current medication, which included the anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety medication. She was also taking birth control due to frequent ovarian cysts and extremely abnormal cycles. First, I was told he would now be in charge of all medication, regardless of what it was and who prescribed it and he would be prescribing Prozac for my daughter in addition to what she was already taking. I questioned if that was necessary, and told him we were hoping to perhaps try a different anti-depressant or maybe a different combination of medication. I was dismissed and told he knew what was best. He talked over me when I tried to question why he would prescribe birth control and not my daughter’s gynecologist. This is not the outcome we had hoped for. So the answer I waited three or four years for was Prozac? I was given the prescription, another appointment was made and we left. My daughter made me promise her I would never make her go back to that doctor. I asked why she was crying when she came to the waiting room. She told me the doctor was mean and nasty to her. She felt like he didn’t believe anything she said and made her feel like her feelings were unsubstantiated and didn’t matter. Awesome. I just subjected my already depressed child to a doctor who was supposed to HELP kids. I made that promise to my daughter and we never went back. I checked with both the family doctor and psychologist regarding the Prozac prescription. My feeling was why am I giving her something on a daily basis that just makes her feel numb. How will she learn to cope and manage the feelings that will always be there when the Prozac wears off? Both doctors agreed that was not the answer to helping my daughter cope. I never filled the prescription, but now we were back to square one. My calls to the reputable child psychiatrists started and ended with the same message, not taking new patients – unless she has medical assistance. I continue to call on a monthly basis. Deep sigh.
My daughter has dealt with and continues to deal with self-harm issues, suicidal thoughts, extreme self-esteem issues, self-worth issues, social anxiety and of course the depression. We are very fortunate that she chooses to talk to us about her issues. I am not naive enough to think she tells us everything. But she knows she will not be judged when she opens up. This girl is a funny, kind, smart, talented and beautiful young woman. She wants to see her future, but there are times where that is very difficult for her. A few months ago we were at a therapy session. The psychologist asked her if she could believe how far she has come in the last few years. My daughter admitted she never thought she would be around for her senior year. She just couldn’t imagine she would make it that far. But she did make it to her senior year, through tears and hard work.
I could tell recently that my girl was struggling. It’s amazing what depression can do to a person. Getting out of bed takes an extreme amount of effort. Getting dressed, showering, cleaning her room, everything is affected – everything. It’s horrible to watch someone you love struggle to get away from their own thoughts.
Yesterday, I received a call at work from my daughter’s school nurse. She wanted to reach out to me because she was concerned my daughter was feeling more depressed and felt she might benefit from a new medication or increasing her current dosage. My daughter bonded with the school nurse and stops by and talks to her on occasion. I was very glad the nurse reached out to me and I explained what we have in place for her care and what I am trying to do. It also scared me even more, thinking will my beautiful girl make it through her senior year? What can I do to make her see that there still is beauty and love in this world? Feeling like I am failing her is beyond heart breaking.
I talked and talked and talked to my daughter last night. We talked about many different things. She expressed how she wants to do more, she wants to be happy, but she just doesn’t feel like she is worth it. I try to get her to look at things from a different side. Trying to break the cycling of thoughts in her head is so very hard. Trying to get her to see she is worthy of love, she is a good person, the people in her life that have made her feel useless or worthless are wrong, very, very wrong!
After she went to bed, I finally sat down to chill in front of some mindless TV. My husband had the remote and stopped on the show Intervention. If you are not familiar with the show, they follow the stories of known drug users and their families. The end result is holding an intervention in hopes the drug user will agree to treatment. On this episode they were following a young woman who was about 21 years old and was addicted to heroin. The young girls mother made a statement that I could completely relate to and instantly brought me to tears. The mom was pulling up to her house and her daughter’s car was in the driveway. She was happy her daughter’s car was at home, but scared to go into the house because she feared what she would find when she went inside. Every single day I am the first one to get home and my daughter’s car is always in the driveway. I take a deep breath and say a quick prayer that I find my girl safe and alive. It’s a feeling I can’t describe.
At times like this I want to keep her with me 24/7. I want to be able to see her and touch her and know that she is physically okay. I want to help her let a little bit of light into her dark, dark world. There are so many things she hasn’t experienced. I want her to experience walking across the stage to get her diploma, and feel proud of herself. I want her to experience life outside of high school, spread her wings at a new school, and feel accomplished. I want her to experience her first love and all it brings with it. I want to her to imagine herself in a beautiful white dress walking towards the love of her life. I want her to experience life!
If you believe in fate, as I am typing this I received a call from a new behavioral health facility that I have been trying to get my daughter an appointment with. She is scheduled for late April. I am relieved, but still worried.
Mental illness isn’t a one size fits all illness or disease. As a community we need to stop treating it as such. We need to stop labeling each other and start helping each other; stop ignoring and try understanding. My guess is that if you personally aren’t dealing with mental illness, you know someone who is. Reach out, let them know you care, let them know you are there to listen and not judge.
Thanks for reading and not judging!