Still Waiting To Exhale

Remember that movie? The one where the women go through romantic partners, all of them searching for the moment when they can stop searching.

Although it’s not a romantic situation, I’m still waiting to exhale. I think that will be the case for the rest of my life. When you have a child who is depressed, or has some other kind of illness, I think that’s just the new normal. You never relax, not completely. Even when things seem to be going okay, you’re always on guard.

You always listen for the noises in the night, be they the sounds of sobbing, or the movements that tell you she’s not sleeping. You’re always checking for cuts and scratches (overtly or covertly). Folded up pieces of paper on a bedroom floor are potential life-changers. Music is never just music. You’re always wondering if this time she steps out the door will be the last.

You learn not to let those thoughts rule your world, though. Sometimes. You learn to celebrate everything, and not take anything for granted; if there’s one up-side to having a depressed child, it’s definitely gratitude and a new appreciation for stability.

A year ago we were in such a dark place, and every day was an exercise in fresh fear (mine) and new lows (hers).

How far we’ve come in that year! There have been times where things are actually good. She’s worked hard to fight and be well.

There have also been lots of lows, where old habits creep back in, and vanquished demons try new disguises. She still won’t go for therapy, though it seemed to help last year. She’s still cutting, but trying not to. She says she doesn’t belong, but she’s working on finding ways. She still can’t talk and open up, but she can sometimes cry in front of me, and that’s huge.

I keep working on me, too. Trying to be a better parent, trying to be the parent she needs. Sometimes, though, I find myself wearing down. It’s not the absolute exhaustion of a year ago. It’s the steady erosion of comfort, the constant underlying tiredness. It’s not debilitating. Exercise, good nutrition, rest and writing are all helpful.

Sometimes, though, I have so much to write about, and can’t. Sometimes the chocolate wins, and sometimes I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and that’s just it for sleep.

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Always, always, I’m afraid. Even when things seem okay. Because the stats are frightening. Depression, especially if it occurs young, will likely return. December babies are 30% more likely to die by suicide than the kids who are older in their peer groups. (That’s a weird one, but chilling, pardon the pun.) Untreated depression is far more lethal than it is when it’s treated. (If she’s trying to be well but won’t go for counselling, does that count as untreated?)

She seems okay these days, and for that I am so grateful! The fake laughter still outdoes the real, and there are still lots of times when I know she’s struggling to keep it together. But she’s had some good times, and she has things to look forward to, and she’s pushing through. Every single day I am thankful for her, and every single day I’m in awe of her strength. There’s no handbook for loving a child who is depressed, but I’m doing my best to learn.

Friends who don’t have depressed children don’t get it, but they try, and that makes me grateful, too. They question my parenting, and not-so-secretly wonder why I hover, why letting her make her own mistakes has a much higher price than for another child. Truly, a failing grade isn’t just a life lesson for a depressed child. Sometimes it’s life. They don’t get that.

Despite that, I try not to hover too intensely, and try to let her experience small failures so that she knows she can. Because the life lessons mean so much more, the small failures and the big ones are lessons that can carry her through, but only if she remembers that during the hard times. Then, the lesson of the experience is forgotten in the list of yet another bad experience.

I love her with an ache that hurts my soul. I’m proud of her beyond measure, and frustrated with her behaviour to the point of wanting to scream, sometimes. She’s wiser than I’ll ever be, and more compassionate than anyone else I know. She doesn’t judge people. She’s generous and has a heart that feels so much that sometimes it can’t bear to be touched. She’s my baby and I don’t know where I’d be without her.

Thank God, Allah, goodness, the spirits and all the good beings combined that I haven’t had to find out.

So, for now, things are okay. I’m still waiting to exhale. All things considered, it could be worse, and I’ll take it gladly.