Monday, June 6, 2016

Success, Failure, and Perspective

One of my 2016 New Year's resolutions (okay, maybe my ONLY 2016 New Year's resolution, since the usual ones about losing ten pounds and being nice to people on Twitter never seem to work out for me) was to start publishing essays from guest bloggers. I made that resolution in part because I wanted to share this poignant and heartbreaking story from my friend Shauna Robinson, an extraordinary mother with a lovely, brave daughter. Both Shauna and Renae agreed to let me publish this story of Renae's descent into depression and how it affected her mom. We changed Renae's name at her request.

Also, I realize that it's now June--six months past my initial resolution to kickstart this blog. What does that say about me? I prefer to think that it says I always get around to the important stuff, as soon as I can. Those of you who know what's been going on in my personal life will understand.

If you have a story you would like me to share, please contact me on Twitter @anarchistmom or Facebook.  

Here's Shauna's powerful story of parenting a teenage daughter with mental illness.--Liza

Success, Failure, and Perspective

It can be hard not to feel like a failure when your child
is suffering, and you don't know how to help.

by Shauna Robinson

"It killed me inside to walk away from my child. I was desperate to keep her alive and find help for her to be happy again. All I have wanted for her was to be happy and alive."

I remember the moment as if it were yesterday.  In fact, I had been anticipating this exact point in time for just shy of a year and was so curious to see the little life that had been growing inside me, face to face. About a week prior to this day, she almost put her tiny foot through my stomach while stretching, in an effort to let me know she needed more space, so I knew she possessed some spunk.  My labor flew by before I even knew what was happening, and then all of a sudden, I held in my arms the most amazing creature I had ever laid eyes on.  

Nothing, and no one, could have ever prepared me for how I would feel as I gazed upon my baby girl for the very first time.  In a flash, I was flooded with so many emotions; I could not take my eyes off her slimy little face, and I could not keep the lid on my heart.  It burst and the tears poured down my cheeks; pure joy.  This little one in my arms had to be the most beautiful gift I had ever received, and certainly, her birth, the greatest success of my life. 

Renae (name changed) was born a redhead, but not that bright orangey red.  Her eyes were brown, her skin creamy, and her hair auburn.  When she had been in the sun all day, she would tan instead of burning like most redheads with fair skin.  I was always amazed at how perfectly God had put her together and blended all her colors.  From the first time she was able to hold a crayon in her wee little fingers she was a full-fledged artist.  Over the years, as she grew, she dabbled in several different mediums of art, including musical instruments.  I have loved everything she has ever created and enjoyed watching her blossom.  She grew into a lovely, kindhearted, creative, hilarious, talented, and feisty young teenager.  

Sometime during Renae’s 16th year of life, I started sensing that something had changed.  It was subtle, and I could not be sure I was sensing things correctly; so I would lie on her bed with her at night before she would go to sleep and talk with her about her day.  I enjoyed those moments together.  Occasionally, I asked her, “Is everything okay?  It seems like something is bothering you.”  

“I’m fine,” she would respond adamantly.  

I felt her pushing me away, and my heart hurt.  “Okay, honey.  I do not want to pressure you, but I want you to know that I am here for you if or when you want to talk about anything.  I love you so much.”  

“I know, mom,” she would reply.  This continued on occasion for about three months.  I knew something was wrong, but I could not force her to confide in me.  I could not figure out what had changed in our relationship.  We had been so close and could talk about anything.

One night my husband came to me and told me that he heard Renae crying in her bedroom. He went in and asked her, “What is wrong, honey?”  

She could not answer him because she was sobbing uncontrollably.  He thought she might be willing to talk to me. Unfortunately, that was not the case.  We lay there and I held her for an hour or more while she sobbed so hard she would begin to hyperventilate.  I kept holding her and coaching her to try taking a deep breath in order to help her calm down.  I felt so helpless, and was puzzled as to what could possibly have her so upset. Everything was great. She was a normal 16 year old junior in high school looking forward to her future—so I thought.  

The next day we began looking for a counselor so she might be able to talk about whatever it was that was bothering her so deeply. We interviewed a few before she found one with whom she felt comfortable.  She met with this counselor a few times before the counselor told me that Renae was severely depressed, and she thought it would be a good idea for her to see a doctor.  

I took her to the doctor, and they began to try her on various medications and various doses of those medications. Renae seemed to be getting worse instead of better.  In a matter of months, I watched a vibrant, creative young woman, who was only two years from beginning her life as an adult, sink deeper and deeper into a black hole. It was as if something had come along and sucked her very soul right out of her body.  There was no life left in her eyes. She would not talk to me.  I was scared.

During this time, I felt the extent of my own powerlessness.  The beautiful life I had brought forth into this world now threatened to be taken out and would exist no more.  My husband and I both lost hours and hours of sleep, our stomachs in knots. I would creep into Renae’s bedroom to make sure she was still breathing several times a night. I was going crazy. He was going crazy. Our days were spent researching every drug, depression, mental illnesses, talking to counselors, doctors, and psychiatrists. No one knew the answers to make our precious girl okay again.  No one knew what had happened; not even Renae could explain why she felt this sense of despair.  Nothing made sense.

Then one day, I received the phone call.  My stomach dropped as if I was on one of those rides at the fair that goes up high and then drops from 100 feet in the air.  Renae had plans to kill herself within the next couple of days, and she had a specific plan on how she was going to do it. In fact, she had two different plans. 

The next 24 to 48 hours were a blur.  Within that timeframe, we met with Renae’s counselor and we contacted a treatment facility that said if we could be there by 1:00 the next afternoon, they had a bed for her. This was a home-like atmosphere instead of a mental institution, but had the care for the specific things with which Renae was struggling. We packed her things, got in the motor home, and drove all night long.  The 12 hour drive was quiet and heavy. We arrived in the nick of time.  

Once we had toured the facility and talked with the admissions counselor and some of the girls who were living there, we felt this place was our best option to keep our daughter alive and get her the help we thought she needed but could not provide for her. Everything within me screamed, “NO!!!  This cannot be happening!  How did this happen?  How did we get here?”  

Renae was so angry.  She sneered at me. I had gotten in the way of her plans to die, and now, I was going to abandon her when I had always been there for her. My husband, our son, and myself all wrapped our arms around Renae, hugged her tight, and we all cried.  Renae stood there, hard.  We told her we loved her and said we would be back when we could visit, then began to walk towards our vehicle. She cried in a barely audible voice, “Don’t leave me here. Please don’t leave me here.”  

As we kept walking she grew more and more desperate to change our minds, but we could not.  It killed me inside to walk away from my child. I was desperate to keep her alive and find help for her to be happy again. All I have wanted for her was to be happy and alive. It was either walk away in that moment and trust these people to help us, or risk that we would wake up one morning, or come home one day, to find the beautiful “gift” we had been given, now 17 years ago, gone forever, no longer living.

This moment, too, feels as if it were yesterday. Sadly, Renae has never been as fully alive as she was during her first 16 years of life, which causes me to ask this question:  If her birth was my greatest success, would her death, even figuratively, be my greatest failure?  If I were to make a hypothesis based on my experience with my daughter, I would have to say yes. However, would that hypothesis be proven true or false?  I believe it is a matter of perspective. Success and failure are in the eye of the beholder.


Arlee Bird said...

Such a difficult for any parent to face. So much helplessness, but with that strong burning desire to somehow make everything right. It's what we as parents see as part of our job, but sometimes there is no adequate answer, no perfect solution.

I offer a prayer for your struggles and those that your daughter is facing.

Thank you, Liza, for sharing Shauna's story with us.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

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