I typically blog about Microsoft data technologies, the overall Data community, and professional development topics. This is none of those. However, I think it will be the most important post I write.
Note: I post all of this with my daughter’s permission and assure you she has read it before I posted it. We agreed, together, that this story is too important to remain hidden. If we can help someone, anyone, by sharing this, then we’re going to do it.
My Goals for This Post
I have a few goals here. I want to lay them out at the beginning since the rest of the post will be organized according to these goals.
1. I wanted to provide a bit of insight on Depression for those that may not know much about it, or have only been exposed to common myths about it. As someone who has battled Depression, I hope I may be able to help a bit here.
2. I wanted to tell Paige’s story in the hopes that it might help someone else and even help chip away a little more at the stigma still associated with mental health issues, particular here in the US.
3. I wanted to provide a bit of insight for parents of depressed children. My hope is to have someone else benefit from my experience.
A Non-Clinical Primer on Depression
I have often seen/heard Depression described as being really really sad, typically by people who have not experienced it. I can certainly see why this may be the case since crying is often a physical symptom associated with it. A lot of people seem to think there is a continuum of happiness/sadness that has outright euphoria on one end and depression on the other. The idea being that as you move further down the Sad end of the spectrum, you move into the realm of Depression. This is not correct. Not even close, I’m afraid. Depression does not even belong on that scale at all.
Depression is its own separate thing, not just a subway stop in the city of Sadness. Depression has nothing to do with Happiness or Sadness. Depression does not care what great things you may have going for you in your life. It doesn’t care how much money you have. It doesn’t care who you are at all. Depression is the Honey Badger of the human psyche. Note, you can watch a funny video about the Honey Badger here, but probably best to do it without kids in the room.
Depression is a bully that knows EVERYTHING about you. Depression is a bully that goes EVERYWHERE you go. There is nowhere you go that it cannot follow. This just compounds the feelings of despair and hopelessness that Depression fosters.
We learned about six weeks ago that our oldest daughter, Paige, had been suffering with Depression for about six months. She had called me from the hallway outside one of her classes. She was sobbing and had no idea why. Having experienced Depression myself, I had an idea that it may be involved, as I encountered the same situation several times.
I brought her home and we started with calling the Nurse Line from our insurance provider. It was on this call that I learned that Paige had been fighting this for some time and that this included thoughts of suicide or self-harm. The nurse was super supportive and helped us get an appointment for Paige that afternoon. That started her down the path of getting some help. The immediate outcome was for some medication as well as some therapy.
Paige started seeing a therapist to help her, particularly since she had trouble opening up to us (my wife and me) about it. The therapy was helping and Paige was feeling better. Things were going quite well. While at one of the therapy appointments, I took one of the cards for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that were laid around the room and asked Paige to put it in the case with her cell phone so she would have it with her.
Last Friday evening, Paige came to me in tears, on a call with her cell phone, holding up that card. The Depression had almost won, pushing her very close to an action that is hard to think about. But Paige managed to stop and call the Lifeline instead. After joining her on the call, the counselor and I agreed that she clearly needed more help than she was currently getting and she needed it NOW. I took her to the Emergency Room where a young Harry Connick, Jr. (seriously, the resemblance was amazing) took great care of Paige. He was careful to involve Paige, still a minor, and us, her parents, in all decisions about her care. We all agreed that it was best for her to stay in the hospital for a bit to get deeper help with this more profound bout with the Bully.
Paige spent 5 days in a special unit of the hospital aimed at helping adolescents stabilize and learn coping skills for dealing with Depression, Anxiety, and related issues. The people there were amazing and Paige is in a much better state now. She came home Wednesday morning. There is still a long road ahead. Depression is not like a broken bone in that once it heals, you’re done. Paige will need to deal with this well into the future, but now that it is out in the open, and she has better tools to help her, we are very hopeful.
As I was thinking about this post and her story, I realized something I had not fully processed before: Paige is my hero. The Bully of Depression she is facing is so much stronger and more devious than anything I have ever faced. And while I have had to deal with Depression myself, I never had to do it as a teenage girl in a society that stills sees and treats girls as “less than.” I am in awe of how strong Paige is and how maturely she is approaching this fight. The grace, strength, and dignity Paige is showing as she stands up to her Bully are an inspiration to me.
The image at the right is one of Paige’s birthday presents. She’s a fan of David Bowie and we got her this poster and framed it for her room. It seems so fitting now that she have a poster about being a hero when she is one.
Paige kept her struggle from us for months. Even having experienced Depression myself, there was still no clear sign of what she was going through. As a parent, it is our responsibility to keep our children safe and healthy. It was very easy for me to fall into the trap of blaming myself for not seeing this earlier. Despite intellectually knowing that this is not my fault, it was incredibly hard to silence the voice in my head, especially the Bully of my own history with Depression, telling me that I had failed her. If you learn your child (or any loved on for that matter) is suffering with Depression, try to resist the urge to blame someone (including yourself) or something and, instead, put your energy into supporting them and working with their care team to get them the help they need. No amount of blame will help anyone.
Depression has no respect or adherence to logic you may try to impose on it. When letting my mother-in-law know what was going on, she was asking a lot of questions as she was honestly trying to understand, which was great. If the therapy and medication Paige was already taking where helping, how could Friday’s events have taken place? The best answer I could come up with was that there is still so much about how our brains work that we just don’t understand. And, once again, Depression doesn’t care. It won’t do what makes sense to us.
If you need to, reread the Non-Clinic Primer on Depression above. Read up on Depression from respected sources in the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry, the more recent, the better. Put effort into understanding it rather than relying on what seems to be “common knowledge” about Depression from decades past. Your child/loved one is worth the effort and needs you.
Try to remain flexible about options for care that may come up. Knowing someone who has dealt with Depression and did X to overcome it does not mean that X is the answer for your child/loved one today. It is vital to openly consider the options presented by the care team instead of pinning everything on the one tactic you think should work.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Depression, know that there is help out there. It can be as simple as talking to your primary care provider or even just a phone call to the Nurse/medical advice line. Although it can be hard to reach out for help, it is worth it. You/your child/your loved one are worth it.