My daughter is a bright, caring, empathetic, preteen girl. Most days she has a smile on her face that melts her mom’s heart. She is typical preteen, mostly caring about binge-watching shows on Netflix or catching up on her friend’s latest YouTube videos featuring her fave, Beanie Boos. She does well in school, is friendly to everyone, and is respectful of others.
She also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When she was diagnosed at age 6, I did everything I could to help her. I got her into a special group at her school, inquired information from her doctor and read up on anything I could get my hands on. I have plenty of experience with adult GAD, but I haven’t a clue on what to do for childhood Anxiety. The school group helped immensely and then she aged out of the program. She was doing well until a major life event occurred in our household. We were fostering-to-adopt but had to give this child back to DCF because of my declining mental health. Her GAD came back full force. This time we sought out therapy. While she got help, so did I for my Depression and Anxiety.
In the last 2 ½ years, my daughter has been doing great with only minor hiccups.
Then we decided to move to give her a better education as she starts Middle School, another major life change.
My husband and I do not hide things from her and she knew from the beginning about the move. She helped us in choosing where we would live (ultimately her input was minor). We wanted her to embrace this change. She was excited as she will be in school with her best friend now. We thought she was handling this well.
And then sleep disturbances set in.
My daughter has always been a good sleeper; I have never experience this before even with her past episodes of GAD. As the moving date approaches, her sleep disturbances have become full fledge episodes of Insomnia and I, as her mother, feel completely helpless. Here I am, a woman who has struggled with Depression and Anxiety for most of my life and I can’t help her. For me, the solution comes in the form of medication that I take nightly. For her, at age 10, there is no medicinal help. At first we tried simple solutions by telling her to read, it will tire her eyes. That didn’t work.
As night 3 was approaching, I became extremely concerned. I could vividly remember what I felt like and how I reacted to night 4 of Insomnia for me. I remember the tears and the strong desire to sleep. I remember the immense amount of thoughts that bounced in and out of my mind. I remember the extreme irritation and delusional thinking I had during the day. I was desperate to give my child relief.
I suggested she use my weighted blanket. She refused.
I suggested mindfulness meditation. She refused.
I suggested my Therapist’s 4-square breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, repeat 4 times) which has worked for me a few times. She was hesitant but decided to give it a shot. It didn’t work.
Night 4 brought on the only pseudo-medicinal thing I could try with her… Melatonin. I cut my 3mg pill in half. Nope, still didn’t work. She was in tears. She just wanted to sleep and I completely understood this all too well. I explained that she needed to distract herself, try not to just lay in bed. I suggested reading, writing, journaling, drawing, coloring and lastly, watching stuff on her Kindle (which I set to the night mode that turns off the harming blue light). She slept only 7 hours that night, barely enough for an adult.
Last night, night 5, I finally convinced her to use my weighted blanket. I thought we may have found the solution as all was quiet. Then I heard her come downstairs at 11pm. After about 15 minutes, she returned to her room. This morning she said that she sat crying in her room and eventually fell asleep around midnight. She woke up at 6:10am. 6 hours of sleep.
I don’t know what to do. She is declining rapidly. The recommended amount of sleep for a child her age is 9-12 hours. She has not had anywhere close to this in five days. My sleep is becoming disturbed worrying about her. I do not know how to help her anymore. I am struggling as I feel the sense of blame coming back… she is like this because of me. My GAD worries that she will never sleep again, always jumping to the worst conclusion. I cry for her. I blame myself for her struggles with this illness. I am pondering therapy again, but that isn’t going to fix her problem quickly. How can I help my daughter?
My daughter knows I hated her just two weeks after she was born. Pure hatred, where using the actual word ‘hate’ is valid and not taboo. She knows I wanted to leave her and never ever see her again. She knows I wanted to turn back time and never have her, completely obliterate her existence.
My daughter knows what suicide is. She learned this at age 8 because she overheard something on the radio. She knows that I have thought about committing suicide a handful of times and that one of those times I came very close to slitting my wrist with a case cutter I stole from work (and still have). She knows I was a teenager then, almost 18, a legal adult, only 8 years older than she is now. She knows that these ideations have blown into my mind like a breeze and have quickly left several times in the last twenty years.
My daughter knows I am sick. She has seen me at my worst, a vision I never wanted her to lay eyes on. She has seen me shaking, rocking back and forth, nails digging into my head spewing delusions out of my mouth left and right. She has seen the tears, witnessed the dry-heaving runs to the toilet, heard my self-loathing.
My daughter knows I have been hospitalized, twice. She accompanied my parents this latest time when they visited me, being forced to stay in the cafeteria with my father because she was deemed ‘too young’ for the short term psychiatric ward. The hospital feared the patients there would hurt or scare her by saying or doing something. This means they feared I would hurt or scare her too. She knows the emotional pain one feels when the only communication we had was through a phone… a phone that would cut you off if you moved wrong, a phone so desperate in need of replacement. She understands that the hospital is my safe place, when our home is unable to be just that.
My daughter knows she is an Only child because of me. She knows I was barely able to raise her in the beginning due to Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. She knows at times I have been unable to care for her in the episodes of Major Depressive Disorder since. She knows that she lost her little brother, my beloved former foster son, because my illnesses prevented me from being able to function, let alone parent. I became a third child for my husband then, a childlike creature in an adult body that my daughter started to take care of, becoming a Mommy to her own mother.
What I didn’t expect for this wonderful, kind, and loving child to learn was acceptance. Every time I had to explain these things, every time I hurt her, I expected anger and rage in return. I expected her to ignore me, shout “I hate you Mommy”, rotating the knife deeper into my back. I expected extreme tears over losing her brother, many more than she shed (and she cried quite a bit).
Instead, she shocked me by becoming my protector of sorts, a role I never asked her to take and tell her now she can relinquish. She truly cares if something will affect me, triggering me back to those dark dismal days. She has true compassion and empathy, two traits I am happy she learned, although I wish she learned them with something other than me as the subject. She is the Wise Fairy that her name, Sophia Faye, connotes.
There are so many things she has had to learn at the tender age of 8, 9 and now 10. These things I would have liked to have postponed. I have been called out by a select few saying she was too young for these strong topics. Yes, I know. But, I have to say, if by telling her about being mentally ill, suicidal & hospitalized has made her into the awesome kid that she is today, I am happy she knows. I am happy she knows, because she won’t have to live in the shame and stigma of it if it happens to her. She knows she has a loving mother who has been through hell and back that can help her. And she knows that although at one point I hated her, wanting to leave, I couldn’t bare to live without her now. She is my heart, my strength, my love, my Sophia Faye.
A few days ago I stayed home sick. No, I didn’t actually have a fever, but my nose was constantly draining as if someone forgot to turn the shower off and my body was achy everywhere. I was involuntarily stretching because of these aches and knew that I would accomplish nothing, zero, zilch, nada at work. I was lightheaded and nauseas. From the moment I woke up, I knew I was doomed. I texted my boss and informed him I would be out apologizing because I have a project deadline approaching. I then crawled up the stairs and informed my husband that he would have to drive our daughter to school.
“I’m sick. Can you please drive Sophia to school?” I voiced weakly, “I’m dizzy, achy, and my nose needs to be permanently attached to tissues.”
I should’ve known what his response would be, after all I have been married to the man for over 12 years and with him for over 20, but I was still a bit awe stricken…
“Ugh, do I have to?!” he whined.
I love my husband, really I do. He really is my rock. So many times my Depression and Anxiety have told him to leave, that he would be better off without me. But he never did. He stepped in as primary parent and let me get the help I needed whether in the form of visits to my therapist or psychiatrist, a phone call to my parents or even a couple of hospitalizations. He truly is my best friend and an awesome man with exception to this one thing.
During my hospitalization for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety 10 years ago, I finally learned I am not Wonder Woman, I cannot do it all. I mean ALL is a considerable amount. The media will have you believe that mothers can do everything. I haven’t met a mother yet that does everything and those that come close usually have large quantities of coffee or wine in hand. Once I arrived home from this hospitalization, I put the phrase, “I need help” to use. I mean, I honestly needed help.
“Jimmy, can you help me with this?” I asked my husband. For awhile, he did (remember, this was a decade ago). Then he would get whiny. Once he started to get whiny, I stopped asking for help. Without asking for help, my Mental Illnesses got worse, but I kept them relatively under control. After all, I was forever in debt to him for being hospitalized and leaving him with a newborn to take care of for 12 days… at least I thought I was. Then, I was hospitalized again and once released, he and my daughter questioned me how they could help me.
Ah, finally, they were asking how they could help, not waiting for me to beg them. This, unfortunately, didn’t last. I was once again asking them for help, not a lot, and I was using “please” and “thank you”. They are the magic words you know. My daughter usually obeyed, but lately, with prepubescence, it is becoming more difficult. My husband…
And we’re back to… “Ugh, do I have to?!”
I tried not to get angry by this response. I was completely drained anyway, but inside I was beginning to boil.
“Yes. Thank you.”
He proceeded to do as asked. I then called him at work around noon, after a nap and forcing some food into me, to make sure he was going to pick her up from school.
“You’re picking Sophia up from school, right?” I inquired.
“What? Me? Why me? You’re home. You pick her up.”
“I’m sick. I’m not leaving the house.”
And once again… “Ugh, do I have to?!”
When this is a response you constantly receive, it makes it hard to ever ask for help.
Then, he added, “What are you making for dinner?”
What?! Yes, I know I am home, but really, I don’t even have a desire to eat. After explaining if he would like his food with snot on it (because, hello, drippy nose), I hoped he would understand that dinner making was not happening from me. That wasn’t the end of it though… somehow he did guilt me into marinating the steaks I wasn’t going to eat. With tissues stuck in both nostrils and my hands lathered in antibacterial gel, I got the steaks marinating.
It didn’t end there. When these two people I love to infinity and beyond arrived home, their understanding of Mommy being unwell left the house. I was constantly needed for something. I don’t understand… the two of them functioned fine when I was away on business a couple of weeks ago. But somehow they can’t understand the idea of me becoming sick. To them, if I am present in the house, I should be able to function at 100%. This, too, was the case 3 years ago when I had the flu. They both couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t cooking and cleaning the whole house since I was home. At that time, I put myself in quarantine… for 3 days all I did was sleep, go to the bathroom, and munch on toast.
And now, the tables are turned.
Hubby left work early 2 days ago feeling icky, deep into a case of the ‘Man Cold’ with the symptoms I had. For those who are questioning what the heck ‘Man Cold’ is, I am pleased to tell you. ‘Man Cold’ is the common cold when it presents itself in male humans. Instead of acknowledging that they have a cold, they think they are dying. They believe their sneezes and coughs are much more than a common everyday germ. They somehow get the idea that this germ, the germ us females have just had, has mutated into a superbug. They will continuously whine about how awful they feel and try to make you believe that they deserve to sit on the sofa and binge watch Star Trek and Mythbusters.
He stayed home yesterday to nurse said ‘Man Cold’ and mainly because school was canceled due to a couple of inches of slushy snow and ice. He questioned why I wasn’t staying home too so I could take care of him and our daughter. I just looked at him oddly. Home all day and he didn’t even salt the walkway, driveway and sidewalk. Made for quite a theatrical performance for me getting to my front door last night after work.
This is the same person that only a few days ago was having me drive my child to school, make dinner, clean, pick up the child from school and wanted to know why I couldn’t go to work. But I don’t whine when he asks for help. Why? Because I am Mommy. I am the caretaker and my heart aches when those that I love are ill. I just want to help them feel better.
I am sure there are men out there that do not act like they are on their death bed, that do not suffer from the dreaded ‘Man Cold’. But, I haven’t met one yet. Anyone who is married or with one of this special men, hold onto them tightly. They are a rare species.
My Baby Girl,
Today you turn 10, a decade old. As I look at you, I see the baby face that I gave birth to and admire the preteen beauty you are now. I am not sure when it actually happened, when you got to this point that toys were no longer an “in” thing for you, that make-up tutorials and Minecraft tutorials were now cool. I am not sure when you decided to stop playing with My Little Pony, Barbie, and American Girl Dolls. Ten years, they just flew by. As I reflect on these stages of infancy and young childhood that I will never experience with you again, I want you to know a few things and keep them in your mind as you get older:
Stay Kind – Kindness is everything. You really do need to treat people how you would like to be treated. As you make fun of someone for the outfit they are wearing (and you will), remember that they are owning their style just like you own yours. Remember they are human too and no one deserves to be made fun of. Being kind opens up doors to future opportunities. No one wants to hire a rude person.
Be Your Unique Self – You will fall into peer pressure. I have not noticed anyone who hasn’t at one point in time. Please remember that you are the only you there will ever be. Exploit that. Show your style and your personality. Your friends like you because of who you are. If they are asking you to change or to do something you don’t want to do and threaten your friendship because of it, then they were never your friends to begin with.
Hold On To Your Imagination – Tether this one to your heart. As we age and become adults, our imaginations tend to dwindle. When I was younger, I was an avid story and poetry writer. Then adulthood kicked in… work, bills, getting married, having a child… I lost a piece of me. I lost my imagination. It took falling into a black abyss of depression and anxiety to get that back and at this age, it isn’t nearly as strong as it was. Crazy glue your creativeness to yourself. Don’t ever lose that. It is what makes life interesting.
Keep Dreaming – Always aim to achieve your dreams and goals. It may not be a quick process but never decide to let go. You have seen me achieve my dream of becoming a published writer with being a contributor to two published collections. You see me currently writing my own book… a book that has been in the process for years but I am not giving up. Do not let others tell you to quit dreaming. They are not living within you. You are capable of anything you put your mind to.
Challenge Yourself – Do not take the easy way out on everything you do. Strive to be as good as you can be. Try to read those novels in high school and bypass the Cliff Notes, you will be surprised at all that is in the actual novel. You do not need to strive to be valedictorian, just try to be the best YOU can be. Challenge yourself by drawing more, writing more, reading just one more page. You won’t regret it.
Loyalty Is A Blessing And A Curse – Always try to remain loyal to your friends and family, the ones that have your back, the ones that love you “to infinity and beyond”. Loyalty is a tremendous gift but, it can backfire on you. Just be aware. You may put out way more than you will receive in certain relationships.
Remember Empathy – Empaths are rare. To truly be empathetic to a person is to “walk in their shoes”. Everyone is going through something. It could be a physical illness such as cancer, a mental illness such as depression, neglect, prejudice, etc. No one, I mean, no one’s life is easy even if it seems like it. I am glad that I passed on this gift of empathy to you. Keep using it in all situations, but try hard to not let it stick with you for long periods of time. Once you feel empathy for a person or a group of people, acknowledge it, digest it, and then do not dwell on it. It can take over your mind and cause you depression and grief.
Not All Friendships Last – Friendships can end due to many reasons. Sometimes you may have said or done something and sometimes a friend may have offended you. Honestly, most friendships that end is just from the simple fact that friends can grow apart. Schedules get busy. Common things get sparse. It happens, and baby, it hurts. There will be a grieving process to mourn the end of a friendship. You’ll go through the stages of denial, disbelief, depression… and eventually, acceptance. What’s important is to realize that they were in your life for a reason. It may have been the extra shoulder you needed, or the ear you lent them. Understand that although you feel like it ended because of you, it most likely didn’t. With these friendship deaths, there are strengths. Friends you’ve had for years, decades, who are there for you. Friends you may not see or speak to often but when you do, it’s like you were never apart. Hold on to them.
Common Sense Is Just As Important As Book Smarts – Always aim to be the best student you can be but that is in two fields in life, school, and common sense. Listen to your instincts. Sometimes common sense matters more than what you may have learned in class.
Love Unconditionally – Always let love in. It can be in the form of your father and I loving you, you loving your friends and them loving you back, finding your future spouse, love for your future children and love for a pet. If you have every really processed movies, you will realize love conquers all and it does. Love is what saved Harry from Voldemort. Love is what let Anna and Elsa take back their kingdom. Love is what brings Darth Vader back from the Dark Side to the Jedis. Love is what makes us live and want to live. There is always someone out there that loves you.
I know I have told you most of these things before, but I want you to understand all of them. You are getting to a point in your life where you will not listen to me anymore (or at least for a few years). You will think you know everything and Mommy and Daddy know nothing. I have been there. Your father has been there too. But you know what? After those years of being “above all” you will come to treasure everything your parents told you. You will read this letter and know exactly where Mommy was coming from. Please process these now and keep them with you. Know that I see you, I see the strong, silly, sassy, smart girl you are. I see your beauty, inside and out. I can see what you are capable of.
You are a beautiful and unique young lady. You are you.