It was a hard weekend at home, and not precisely because of the endless amount of boxes still to unpack from the moving, the house chores –which I hate doing- the slowest Super Bowl game ever, or the 345 pages I needed to read for my graduate course.
No, none of these things made my weekend harder than usual, I can deal with that and much more but the look in her eyes, the melancholy in her smile and the overall sadness that permeated to the family all weekend long brought me down to my knees, made me curl on a corner of the walking closet and silently cry questioning every single decision I’d made since the moment my girls were born.
Two years ago my daughter was admitted into a behavioral facility because of major depression and anxiety… We almost lost her. I thought she was fine… a bit sad or angry at times, nothing out of the ordinary for a teenager, but I was so wrong.
With an “I’m fine” and a fake smile my girl used to bottle up all her concerns, her pain until there was no more room for pain or sorrows…
I remember the backlash I received from the family and friends: You didn’t know? Where were you when all of this happened? It happened because you didn’t talk to her! That wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed in Mexico! Forget about going back to study or work now… and so on.
To be honest, I didn’t care about the backlash, what would they know of what we were going through? The only thing in my mind was to keep my daughter alive and to make sure my little one was safe too while I was trying to make sense of all this. How was I going to explain an 11-year old that her sister was being hospitalized and the true reasons behind it? How to tell her that she was sick with wounds that no Band-Aid or cast could heal, and that we wouldn’t be able to visit until after the evaluation process was over… 72 hours later.
I signed the papers and my older daughter looked at me terrified, and without saying a single word with her eyes fixed in mine she got inside the facility. My world crumbled, my legs were not responding I couldn’t move –I didn’t want to move- I wanted to stay put just in case they come out and said some sort of nonsense for us to stay with her, next to her, comforting her.
It was surreal; I still remember the lack of air and the dizziness I felt, the fire inside me reminding me to stay strong for her and for my other daughter who was soaking her tears with my ribcage. Yes, I just took a very deep breath, and slowly walked back to the car.
The first 24 hours were the hardest moments of my life trying to assure my little one that everything was going to be ok, but I didn’t know, at that point, I didn’t know anything and doubted everything. The only thing real was that we were all alone at home, sleeping together holding on to each other trying to fill in the absence that my oldest daughter left behind, that my husband would arrive as soon as he could find a flight.
I remember I had to fill so many questionnaires to figure out why it happened, what triggered it, what was the root cause? They dismiss each of the social causes at home, family history, but there it was, silently in the last page of the report the results about the school environment: she was a victim of bullying.
Bullying, the repetitive intentional behavior to hurt, harm, isolate and humiliate a person.
They kept asking about family issues, relatives with a history of mental health conditions, but in the end, they concluded that yes, she had to be a victim of school bullying to the point of a mental breakdown putting her life at risk.
Her mind has never been the same after she got discharged; she stopped smiling for so many months, there was not a single spark or sign of joy in her eyes, hardly a smile, the vast quantity of anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and insomnia treatment has changed her completely, she is such a different person from the funny silly girl who used to play endlessly with her sister, enjoyed tumbling, and laughed at a butterfly because why not? She was a glooming figure always holding my hand -numbed most of the time because of how tight the grip is- no more play dates with her little sister and a look of resentment every now and then.
It has been two years and I still wake up to check if she is safe, it is my night routine, I don’t sleep more than three hours but now I have an assistant: her new puppy helps me to keep track of her, if there is something wrong before I wake up he goes and tells me and I go. That little fellow is an angel sent directly from dog heaven.
She wrote me a birthday card two weeks ago asking for forgiveness for all the hardship she has put me through –of course I cried my guts out- she talked about how much she changed and how her demons inside sometimes steal the best of her, she is aware of how much she has changed and it terrifies her to let me down again -she blames herself for not be as strong as I am and stand up to bullies- but I told her she could never let me down and we hugged as if there were no tomorrow.
It has been a long learning process for the entire family, to reconstruct concepts about mental health, dismiss biases, identify triggers, adjust to new environments, schedules and lots of routines and fix activities -often against my wild nature-
The only one who knows the demons inside her mind is she alone; believe me when I say that if I could fight them for her I would, but I can’t, I can only love her, listen and treat her with kindness so she can thrive within her new reality.