How do you Care for your Mentally ill Child? Love them.

I was asked a question the other day that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. The person asked how I dealt with my daughter’s needs. “How do you do it?” They asked.

The short answer is quite simple.

I love her.

I love her through the pain. I love her through the bad days. Love. It’s all I have.

When the depression strikes and she doesn’t want to move off the sofa I sit with her. I hold her when she needs me to and I sit quietly when she doesn’t. When the nightmares come and she won’t sleep for fear of them – I sit in her room so that she feels safe enough to try to sleep. When she has a panic attack I try to help her focus on her breathing. When she has flashbacks, I rub her back. When the anxiety is too much for her I try to help her find a distraction. When she harms, I smile and tell her it’s all right. I tell her how much I love her. I tell her how brave and beautiful she is.

When my heart is breaking for her I go into my room, close the door, and shed the tears that need to be shed. I emerge dry eyed to help her through. I help her find the good and the beauty in every day. I direct her as best I can to find coping strategies to move her into adulthood.

I wrap her in warm blankets and let her cry. I watch television with her when I have “better” things to do because she needs me to. I color with her and let the dishes sit in the sink. I take her for drives to calm her down no matter the gas prices or the miles on the car.

It’s as simple as love. That’s all it is. I have no special abilities. I don’t have all the answers. I listen. I encourage. I do it again. It’s all I can do. Do I wish I could do more? Of course I do. All parents have that same wish. I rely on her counselor. I rely on her doctor. I do the easiest thing of all – love her.

Depression. Anxiety. Self Harm. PTSD. ADHD. Panic Disorder. Those are terms we are very familiar with at our house. We are also very familiar with laughter, gratefulness, respect, kindness, and love.

I want to teach her to be proud of who she is. I want to teach her to accept herself for who and what she is. I want to teach her that her mental illness does not define her. I want to teach her to shine her light brightly. I want to teach her to embrace the good days, feel the joy that is inside of her, and accept the magic that is found in the world and in her own humanity.

She is a survivor. And the only thing I have done – is love her.




A Beautiful, Iridescent Stranger


Forgive me for a moment because you are about to enter into a strange world of spiritualism, “new age hoo- doo” (as a few people have said to me – people who got annoyed with me when I tried to give them the definition of hoo-doo), auras, vibes, and premonitions.

This is also a very long story. I’ll understand if you don’t hang in til the end. Just don’t ask me to hurry it along. Because I cannot.

I believe in things that can’t always be explained. I believe there are those who are extremely in tune with the vibes of the universe and can see, hear, and feel things that others do not. While I myself have good intuition and feel strong “vibes,” A- has always been tuned in to something that defies logic and reason.

She senses things about strangers. She feels thing in objects others have touched. She can tell you about people she has never met by walking into the home they lived in. She can see people’s auras.

Maybe you don’t believe in such gibberish, and that’s okay. I never knew anyone on a personal level who had these gifts until I met her. I never discounted it, I just didn’t have any friends who owned up to having these talents. She doesn’t talk about it with many people. She feels embarrassed by it. She feels they wouldn’t understand, or would call her crazy. She’s a highly sensitive being, an old soul, and a tormented one.

I’ve made no secret here of A’s mental health struggles. Depression. Self Harm. Suicidal ideation. Anxiety. ADHD. She’s come so very far, but it has been such an uphill battle. She has worked so hard to claim the life she wants to lead. Yet underneath, there is always the fear. The scared little girl that just longs to be free but doesn’t quite know how to be. 

Things have been going pretty well lately. She’d gone a month and a half with no self harm, then had a setback. I knew she was ashamed of it, even though I tried to tell her there was no need to be. Healing takes time. She had to be kind to herself. It’s been about that long again, and I’ve tried not to get antsy, hoping she can beat her current record. It’s not a game, it really isn’t, but sometimes unfortunately you do find yourself counting those days “clean” with some sort of reverent hope that the number will just grow and grow without ever having a set back again. We hope. We pray. We try to help fight some demon we can’t even see. We love them through all the set backs and all the pain. We love them through the confusion and tears, the self loathing and the shame, the guilt and the desire. She’s battled her self harm. She’s battled her depression and anxiety, and she has battled her self loathing and the desire to just end it all to make it go away. I know how strong she is; I’ve just been waiting for the day that she knew it too.

Things have been better than they have ever been. She’s been involved and active in school. She’s made friends. She’s so much better that it’s frustrating when people see her and see “mental issues.” My child is not a mental issue. She is not something you can put in a box and define. She is a living, breathing person who has many facets to her personality. She is more than depression or self harm. She is a beautiful soul who is blessed and cursed with thinking too much, feeling too much, and seeing too much. She’s just a girl trying to heal from a jagged past, a girl haunted by memories and plagued with nightmares. A girl who wants desperately to be free. 

I’ve watched her on the brink. I see the longing inside of her for wellness. I see her grasping for it, then tentatively pulling her hand back, comforted by the familiar darkness. I wait – just wait for the day she will be ready to grasp at hope. I wait for the day she is confident and comfortable. The day she begins to love herself. I have watched it grow near. I’ve seen her battle with the old thoughts and the new that are crowding them out. It’s been an internal struggle for a while – holding onto the fear and loathing and yet seeking out love, light and acceptance.

Tonight I witnessed something I can only call a miracle.

I’m not saying “Pouf!” all is well and the problems and years of pain have dissipated into the night air, but I did witness something so strong it was almost tangible. Something that left me overwhelmed and filled with wonder.

Tonight I witnessed A- take a leap.

What follows will be a very bad telling of the events that transpired tonight. It will be a poor telling because no matter my fondness for words, I can’t find the right ones to express what I witnessed. I witnessed emotions. I witnessed… change.

A- and I went to a nearby shopping center to find her some clothes. She’s lost some weight and was feeling pretty good about herself and with spring coming and all, she decided it would be nice to add something to her wardrobe that wasn’t a band t-shirt. Don’t get me wrong, my Emo, Metalhead, Punk Rock chick will never give up her band t-shirts and black Converse, but like I said, facets. She’s ready to admit she has more than one side, and is ready to embrace the idea that sometimes, just maybe she isn’t in the mood for a band T and just might be in the mood for oh, flowers? Okay, let’s not go crazy…

So we were ambling along talking and I’ll admit I wasn’t really paying attention when she grabbed my arm and said, “We have to go in here!” pulling me almost violently into a store. At first glance, I wasn’t sure what kind of store it was, there was an odd assortment of many things. Once I was inside I saw it was one of those places with items from around the world. Handmade jewelry, rocks and crystals, purses and handbags, colorful hassocks, and all sorts of delightful treasures that beg a slow stroll. I usually don’t buy much from these types of shops, to be honest. I like to look at some of the items, but would rarely buy anything. A- is drawn to the eclectic. She loves curious and unique things.

When we walked in we were greeted by a lovely saleswoman. Friendly and warm, she welcomed us to the store. I saw A- falter when she looked at her, but I couldn’t read her expression. I knew it couldn’t be bad, because if she had read something ugly or twisted in the woman, she immediately would have had to leave the store. But the thing was, for a few moments, she and the woman just stood there. Both of them just looking at one another. The air felt strange.  In a moment A- seemed to shake off whatever it was that had her transfixed, and she went about happily exploring the store. The saleswoman turned her attention to three gentlemen who were interested in information about a Native American headdress that was in the window, and A- and I were left to our own devices to wander around.

We looked around, walking and talking and let’s skip to A- and the sales woman having a conversation about wolves. A- says they are her spirit animal. There was one wolf item in the shop, a garish turquois wallet with a wolf emblazoned on the front. It was in a glass case with other items, and while A- and the woman both said they didn’t like the wallet, she opened the case so they could have a better look. They smiled and wrinkled their noses in distaste. Then she showed A- the other treasures in the case; spy glasses, evil eye ornaments, and little notebooks from Nepal.

Yes, I know this is a long story. I told you it would be.

Here is where something extremely curious happened. There was a symbol on one of the little notebooks. The lady asked A- if she knew what it was. She did not. She told her it was OM. She asked if she knew what it meant, and surprisingly, A- told her she did not. Now, I didn’t ask her, but I’m not sure if A- really didn’t know what OM was, or if she just said she didn’t because she didn’t want to look like a know it all. Just seemed like something A- would know to me – but anyway THAT is not important.

She told A- that the store had had a wonderful cut out OM wall hanging that she had wanted to purchase for herself, but she showed it to a woman and the woman had loved it and snapped it up. She said she was a bit disappointed, but knew it was for the best. The woman was meant to have it. Then she smiled and she asked A- “Would you like to see something else I have hidden away?” She went to a drawer and pulled out a wooden cutout. She smiled and added, “Okay, I didn’t hide it. I found it in this drawer and I loved it and wanted it so I left it in there and put it on hold for myself. But I decided not to get it.” She held it up and said, “This is Masakra. It is the symbol for ‘I have changed.’  It’s about regeneration and how it comes from within.”

A- looked at me and our eyes locked and she whispered, “Change.”

I said, “You need that.” She nodded and reached out and gently touched the wall hanging the woman was holding and said, “I really do.” She looked at the lady and said, “I’ve changed a lot lately.” Her voice caught as she added, “So much.” And there, for some inexplicable reason, A-‘s eyes teared up. I put my arm around her and smiled. I told her I think we needed the sign. And something strange came into the air and my eyes teared up. I told A-, “You have changed a lot and I’m so very proud of you. Change does come from inside of yourself.” The saleslady looked at us, and the thing is, she didn’t look perplexed at all. She didn’t look at us like we had just lost our marbles, getting teary eyed in a store over a wall hanging. But it wasn’t the wall hanging at all. It was that A- identified with the symbol. She felt it. Then this woman said, “I believe things happen for a reason. I had put this aside for myself but decided not to buy it. It didn’t feel right. I’m a strong believer in feelings and letting the universe tell us what we need or don’t need. Something told me that wasn’t meant for me, that it was meant for someone else. You’re the only person I’ve shown it to. Something just told me to show it to you.” She smiled and held it out to A-. “I think I’ve been saving this for you.”

Now, you are thinking, she was just a saleslady trying to make a sale to two sentimental weirdos. Maybe she was, but I don’t think so. I honestly don’t think she really cared if we bought one single thing. I had a couple items we were getting already, so it’s not like we were leaving empty handed. Sure, the more they can sell the better, but I’ve been in that situation, thousands of times. This was not one of them.

A- just smiled a small smile and she told the woman, “The thing is, I have changed. Just this year I’ve changed so much and I want to continue to change.” The woman asked A- if she would share her story with her. She said, “You don’t have to, of course, but only if you want to, I’d love to hear a little of your story and in what way you’ve changed.”

A- looked at me and then looked straight into the woman’s face and said, “I was abused most of my life. I thought it was my fault and I hated myself. Just this year I’ve started to accept that it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve hurt myself for years and just this year I’ve stopped hurting myself.” A tear slid down her cheek and she kind of gave an embarrassed smile and looked at the floor. The woman looked at her and then just reached out and put her arms around her and hugged her close and they cried. The woman told her, “I hear you keep saying, ‘just this year’ but I look at it like look at what you have achieved. Look at the amazing thing you’ve done by starting to let it go. So many people live their entire lives wrapped up in hurt and the anger and the pain but you’ve decided you don’t want to live that way. I don’t know you, but I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you for accepting the change that can be yours. You are going to do amazing things with your life. You’re already doing amazing things.” She let her go and held out her hand and introduced herself. They shook hands and the woman said, “Thank you for letting me be a part of this moment. You don’t know me, but you’ve touched me. You have the power and the gift to touch the hearts and minds of others. It’s inside of you. I can see it and I can feel it.”

We chatted a few more minutes with the woman and then we left the store. I know there was so much more said, but honestly, I was so overwhelmed by the tangible emotions in that store, and by the things A- said after we left, that I honestly cannot recall much of what transpired.

A- told me that she really did feel herself changing. She said it had been an amazing start to the year because she really felt she was able to let things go and love herself. She felt that she had so much to live for and so much to do.

I couldn’t help it. I asked her if she realized what she said in the store. I asked her if she realized that she said “I USED to hurt myself,” or “Just this year I stopped.” She began to cry again and she said, “I’m crying because I feel like it’s over. I feel like I can let it go. I feel like I CAN stop hurting myself. I feel like that part of my life is over and I can move on to look forward to other things.”

We cried more. We talked more. We talked about her budding self respect. We talked about her desires for the future. Then she asked me if I wanted to know what she felt when she entered the store. She said we were walking along and something yanked her into that store. She said it was a strong pull, a sudden push to get inside the door as quickly as she could. Then she said once inside, she saw the saleswoman and she told me, “When I looked at her and she looked at me, I had this sudden overwhelming feeling. We had an entire conversation without saying a word. I don’t know if she knew it, but I think she did. It was like our souls had things to say to each other that we just understood.” Then she said, “And mom, she didn’t have an aura. I was so amazed when I saw her that I couldn’t move or even speak. She shone. There was no aura, but she was outlined. There was an outline around her of brilliant irridescent light. I’ve seen white auras before, and this wasn’t like that. She just shined.”

And then she told me – “She pushed me, Mom. I’ve been standing on that cliff for a long time now, too scared to jump and turn the page, and right then, in that conversation we had when we didn’t talk out loud, she pushed me. Before the Masakra before any of it, something in her being forced me off the edge.” She started to cry. Again. She was grinning from ear to ear and she was crying. She put her face in her hands and she sobbed. “She somehow let me know that it was okay to turn the page and close the chapter on everything bad. I don’t know how. I don’t understand it, I just know it happened. I felt it. Mom, she  somehow told me everything I needed to hear. She saved me.” She shook her own head in disbelief. “I sometimes try to block out this part of me, this part that sees things or feels things. I try to block it out not just because people don’t always understand it, but because I don’t know how to control it. I don’t know how to control the emotions when I meet someone and I can get overwhelmed. I felt in that moment we looked at eachother that she knew. I felt that she was like me, but in total control of her mind. She sees but, she can control her reactions. I can’t always do that.”

I cried too. The night was surreal. We talked about the woman, we talked about the encounter, and we talked about the change. She talked about how things felt different tonight – how she felt about herself, how she felt about her life. She talked about accepting herself and being at peace with who she was, what her body looked like, her personality and her tastes. She talked about confidence and understanding. She talked about a life that did not include self harm.

How can a stranger push your child toward a truth you’ve been begging them to see for years?

I wish I could explain the whole evening better. I wish I could remember more specific bits of conversation between us and the woman in the store. I wish there was a way to recount the look on A-‘s face. But it was a look of peace. We stood in that store and A- said she “used” to hurt herself and I saw a look of peace on my child’s face that I’ve never seen before. I saw her features relax and for the first time, her eyes cleared. There was no pain in them, no hate, and no sorrow. Her eyes were pure and clear and her features held no trace of pain and guilt. It’s a moment I want to hold onto for eternity. It was a moment in which I felt complete bliss as I looked into her eyes and saw things in them; unmasked and unafraid.

That is what I truly cannot put into words. The look in her eyes. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

I began this last night after the events and had to leave it. In the harsh light of day I expected to see it was all a dream, or hadn’t lasted. Although things are much more “normal” today, the light continues to shine in my daughter. She went to the beach with a friend and all I heard was laughter. She played in the freezing cold surf, she let go – and it was wonderful to see.