An Ugly Truth

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

There is very little that I keep from Emily.

Oh, that is not to say that I allow her access to what I consider to be Adult worries or information. My own mother with her non-existent boundaries taught me that my child was not my friend and confidant. I had that role. I hated that role. I will not be repeating that particular role with my child.

I do my best with discussing the issues around her body changing and the changes she notices and feels. I won't pretend that it is easy or comfortable. There is a part of me that wants to run into my closest and close my eyes and LA-LA-LA-LA it until she has moved out. However, that role has currently been taken by Terrance, so one of us has to buck up and get out there and provide some guidance. Tonight, I read her an article by the fabulous Dr. Lissa from the BlogHer feed about what vaginas should smell like....and while she was vaguely horrified at my use of the terms "Fish Taco" , "coochie" and "pussy" ( and perhaps the ease in which her mother allows such terms to roll of my tongue) she was also curious and attentive. Par for the course in our house.

Nearly three weeks ago, however, I broke a barrier with her that I have held back until now.


My sister has made two suicide attempts. The first one, the tester one, was minor as these things go.  Em knew that I went to my home town and that her Aunt was sick....but nothing more. She knew that her grandmother and I had progressed to a fairly spectacular argument that sealed my decision to keep my mother at arms length. However, since we still encourage Emily to call and chat with her well as occasionally spend some vacation time with her ( all done without me being involved in transport or drop off/pick up) she doesn't think to dig any deeper.

I have not kept my own mental health issues from Emily. She is aware, for instance, that I am currently changing medications. That this may mean that I am slightly crabbier (or not) as I feel out the changes in regimen.  She understands that I manage depression. That I take medication for depression. She has known what the pills are and look like and that they are Not candy and Not for her.

I have always wanted her to know that Yes, Depression is real and it can be managed and that it is just a part of life for some people.  I wanted her to know that My depressions have nothing to do with HER, are in no way her fault and should not be held inside her as some kind of criticism of the wonderful person I know her to be. She also knows, from my comments, that depression is something that my "runs" in my family.

I have always been frank with her because I wanted her to be aware of  a predisposition within 50% of her genetic makeup towards major mental health issues. Mental Health issues that I know, from the copious research available, start to emerge in the age 14 range for many teens.

We were at a breakfast place with the television on in the background. I wasn't listening terribly closely, as I was waiting for my cup of coffee. She must have heard something on the television, however, which prompted the question.

"What's suicide?"

Unlike the inherent weird freaked out feeling that your child asking about sex gives you - like OH MY GOD THEY KNOW THAT THEIR FATHER AND I HAVE DONE "IT"!, this question sends a wholly different feeling through you.

Fear runs through you. Deep, Deep Fear. The same fear you felt when you were five and realized that your parents could Die.  That your force of will could not stop something from happening...that your existence in the world could not wholly protect people whom you loved.

Looking into your child's face; The person who makes you both crazy and utterly joyful and reaching for words to explain the urge to extinguish your own life? The desire to simply brush the question away with a deflection or a "You don't have to worry about that" is profound.  As is the desire to start to cry.  Which would be it's own type of deflection. For it is in those moments, I think, the moments when you sense your own parents discomfort that foundations of future trust are built or eroded.

And I want Emily to trust me, implicitly, for I know it is not going to get easier as she moves further and further beyond my influence.

I started plainly. Suicide is when people decide to kill themselves. Not by accident, but by choice.  This led, predictably, to questions about WHY anyone would want to do that.  Emily remains in that sweet spot of 12 when she is both old enough to understand some things, but still impervious to some of  the sorrow of being older.

I did the best I could, explaining that sometimes people feel that their problems are too large, that they are too sad and worn out to feel like they want to keep being alive.  That this can be caused by lots of different problems - Drugs and other addictions....and mental illnesses, like depression.

In a voice filled with incredulous indignity Emily said, "Yeah well YOU'VE Never wanted to kill yourself...."

I admit I couldn't fess up to it to her. I couldn't tell her of some of the worst parts of my depressions.  It simply isn't for her to bear at this point, just as the details of abuse at the hands of my biological father is not for her to bear.  Know someday? Yes. Burden her with it now?  No. I couldn't.

Instead, I told her the story of my sister. She remembers when her aunt was in the hospital?

I told her how she had drank antifreeze. How this had very nearly killed her and how she had to be air lifted to a larger hospital, dying at least twice before being put on dialysis to cleanse the poison out of her blood. I explained how her aunt had to stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks to recover and get her medications to a place where she was well enough to come out.  How all of this was due to the depression that we - as a family - must manage.

Emily was shocked. Her aunt, the aunt she loves and adores, the aunt who is bright and smart and young and beautiful....THIS aunt tried to kill herself?  She didn't want to live?

Yes, my beloved. Depression is a terrible illness and it can trick you into believing things that simply are not true.  I tell you this not to scare you, but to arm you against an enemy you may have to face someday. You may not. You may be  protected by some combination of genetics and luck....your uncle seems to have escaped unscathed to date....

But most importantly - MOST importantly, there is nothing that is so terrible that it can't be shared. That there  is nothing that she can tell me which would make me love her less or run away from her.  That everything changes in time - even things which feel unchangeable and insurmountable.

I explain that I tell her this not to scare her, but to let her know that I am willing to face anything with her.


11 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. I don't know what else to say.

Except good job and I love how you keep it real without making her your confidant.

Good job.

toquegirl said...

My boys face many of the same challenges that your daughter does.

In my family, there is a long history of addiction, abuse, mental illness, and suicide. I have dealt personally with all of them, and time and again have come head to head with the fact that most of my family flatly denies these problems exist.

I firmly believe that some of the people that I've lost to suicide would still be here today if there hadn't existed in my family such a stigma attached to addiction and mental illness.

It takes a lot of courage to face your own demons. It takes even more to be open and honest about them. When your family denies you by sweeping your problems under the rug, it can be devasting.

I will be doing much the same as you with my boys when they are old enough to understand, because I want them to know that they can be always completely honest with me, that I will be there for them no matter what, and that there is no shame in admitting that you have a problem.

No matter what.

Shannon said...

My husband's brother committed suicide at age 15. My kids know they had an uncle that died before they were born but they don't know the circumstances yet. They are too young to really care, especially since they didn't know him. We have talked many times about how we can protect our kids from ever getting to that point. I mostly want them to know that I will be there for them, to fight for them and with them against anything. That I will always be on their side and that I want them to be able to tell me if it ever gets anywhere near that bad. Like you, I want them to be aware of their family history of depression and be educated about it so that they will never have to get to that dark place. It's scary. You're doing the right thing. Making it a topic that is always open for discussion is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we can do to innoculate our kids against the darkness of suicide.

aussiehen said...

I found out my Mum had depression when she had to fill in a family health history for my sister's counselling. I was 18 and that was far too old. Yes she managed it well with medication and support from my Dad and medical professionals, well enough that she could hide it but having that information would have answered a lot of questions I had and probably made me cut her some slack.
Luckily I kept on a fairly even keel throughout high school and since having this information have sought professional help whenever I have felt off-kilter as a preventative measure but early disclosure allows kids to accept this as normal and makes them informed about mental health. I'm proud of my Mum and how well she manages her mental health, I just wish I knew earlier.

You might be doing the best you can but as far as I'm concerned you're doing an outstanding job of parenting and educating your daughter.
Btw thanks for the link to Dr Lissa.

Karen Bodkin said...

I wish my mother had been so honest. Great job Dawn.

La said...

I wish very much that my mother had had the courage to discuss mental illness with me when I was younger as you have with your daughter. It would have (and could still) save me alot of heartache.

You're a great mom.

Issa said...

I think you did a great job actually. All we can do is be a way that they can understand it and try like hell not to scare the shit outta them.

I had to explain this same thing to my girls last week. After an NFL player in my state killed himself. It wasn't easy. Or fun. One of those things I thought I had more time on.

A Good Mom said...


Thank you.

Dawn said...

Thank you - all of you. I actually hesitated to blog about this, as there is still a healthy dose of residual shame in talking about "Family" (Thanks for that, Mom) -
and it still scares the shit out of me that my sister did what she did...scares the shit out of me that we have this thing that is depression that lives in our family and pops its head out at unexpected times.

And I worry about the line between too much info and not enough info with Em. I mean, I didn't tell her when it was going on because - well - there was nothing she could do and worrying an 11 year old seemed cruel.

And I half expected the internet trolls to descend and tell me who I was essentially giving my daughter the new thought of suicide.....and that I was to blame for when she killed herself.

Parenting is really fucking hard work.

bipolarlawyercook said...

As someone whose mom was depressed and shared way too much and didn't try to manage her condition at all, all I can say is-- bravo.

Liz Jimenez said...

Clicked over from Schmutzie.

Amazing, amazing post. I think it took real courage to tell your daughter so much of the truth, in as factual a way as you could. She may not think consciously about it now, but I can only imagine she knows, deep down, that she is allowed to ask you big questions without fear, and know that you will do your very best to give her the answers.

You're so right. Parenting is REALLY fucking hard work. And my kids are only three.

Go you. Amazing.

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