May 21, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
The day you become a parent, your life changes forever. Instantly, just like that, everything in the world that seemed so important now becomes a faded background to the beautiful, vibrant, breathing child you hold in your arms.
The single most important thing as a parent is to provide for your child; to keep them safe. We teach our kids not to talk to strangers, to look both ways when crossing the street, to always wear their helmet when they are riding their bikes; but, what if that danger is inside their own head? Slowly, methodically stealing their happiness, security and self-esteem? That is what happened to our daughter, right under our noses. There was a thief hiding inside our daughter’s head, stealing away bits and pieces of her a little at time. We had no idea she was under attack until it was almost too late.
Depression is a slow attacker.
We don’t know when our daughter’s struggles began. Not really. Depression is a slow attacker. It sneaks up on you and, before you realize it, it has a hold on you. It begins pulling you under before anyone around you realizes you are sinking.
As parents we believed that as long as our kids had good self-esteem and felt safe, everything else would fall into place. They’d believe in themselves, they’d get good grades, be happy and make good choices. We hugged them every day, told them we loved them every day; we had a happy life with happy kids and a stable family.
We started to notice a change in our daughter at around the age of 12. Our daughter became withdrawn, angry and serious all the time. She lost her laughter and didn’t joke around anymore. She didn’t want to do the things she loved most and she fought with us all the time. We struggled with this, not knowing if it was simple teenage rebellion or something more. The thought of depression crossed our minds but we pushed it aside. How could our daughter, who was so loved, so full of life and so funny, develop depression? We did everything we could as parents to make sure our kids knew they were important, loved and felt safe and protected. How can you come from a home like that and have depression? It didn’t make any sense.
We felt like we had been punched in the chest.
When we saw the cut marks we could no longer deny her struggles. By the time she was 13 things really began to fall apart. We felt like we had been punched in the chest. We didn’t know how to feel to be honest. We were shocked, scared, angry, and confused. What did we do wrong? How did we not see this coming? How did this happen to our baby girl? Did we not love her enough, hug her enough, talk to her enough? We were so close as a family that the idea that she felt alone or sad or hopeless seemed impossible, yet that is exactly how she felt.
We took our daughter to the doctor, she went for therapy, and eventually she was put on medication. We spent the next three years fighting for her life. Every day we were watching for signs of cutting and other self-harm tactics she had developed, trying to figure out her triggers and how to avoid them, learning to differentiate between a good day and a bad day, when she needed to talk even if she didn’t want to, or when she just needed someone to sit beside her in silence, just for comfort.
I knew she’d had thoughts of suicide, though she’d never told me. I could see it in her eyes. On bad nights we would fall asleep watching movies together, just so she wasn’t alone, so I could be there, so I could keep her safe, so I could protect her. But how do we protect her from the demons in her own head? At 14 she downed a bottle of pills and climbed into the tub. I can’t think about what the outcome could have been, my thoughts just won’t go there – can’t go there.
We fought every day for our daughter.
We fought every day for our daughter and miraculously, ever so slowly, we noticed a change in her. She began to fight for herself. She started leaning on her big sister and on her father and I for support. She used our strength to give her strength. Finally, after three years, I felt like the struggle for her life was behind us. She was laughing again and beginning to believe in herself. She put her heart and soul into the things she loved and she found her coping mechanisms. I could finally say that, although her battle with depression and anxiety was far from over, her life was no longer in jeopardy. It felt like we could breathe again.
Shay is 18 years old now and she is happy, most of the time. Sometimes she is just okay, but okay is good. Okay is great. She still has bad days, but she controls how her depression and anxiety affects her. It no longer controls her. She now tours schools throughout Alberta, sharing her story of hope, perseverance and triumph over mental illness. As a singer-songwriter, she uses her music to connect with other teens, to show them that there is hope and that dreams do come true, you just have to fight for it. You have to fight for yourself.
“I am not my depression and my depression is not me” – Shay
*In a special first for SNW, we will be showcasing a piece written by Debbie’s daughter Shay tomorrow in our community section, entitled “Out of the darkness.”