In the beginning of our daughter’s journey, the grief was minimal because our hopes were high. I was sad to find that, by establishing my own recovery and working in the field of mental health education, I hadn’t inoculated my children against the family curse of depression. It was a crushing blow to find that I didn’t have that kind of power. But every parent at one point or another learns that they don’t have the power to protect their children from every misfortune. So we filled the prescription for Lexapro and went about our business with hope in our hearts.
When she started refusing to attend school in 10th grade and began having suicidal idealizations, the grief got real. Awash in fear for my daughter’s safety and overwhelmed by the torrents of emotions that she displayed, it was months before I realized that what was truly eating away at my heart was grief. I mourned the loss of the dream of the happy teenage daughter who can’t wait to drive, joins theater and math club, grows increasingly independent, gets accepted into college and has a fulfilling life. I mourned the notion that I could control these outcomes for my children; that by parenting them in just the right way, I could guarantee they would turn out happy and healthy and ready to take on the world.
As her illness progressed, her diagnosis changed from Major Depressive Disorder to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was months before we were able to get her into a treatment program where she was put on different medication. By this time she was seeing a therapist twice a week and had left school completely. Everything in our family was centered on making sure she didn’t have an “episode.” And for this I grieved the loss of a mostly calm, stable home life. Inevitably her behavior caused problems for her younger brother and I mourned the fact that my son was growing up with a “crazy sister” just as I had.
Since treatment, our daughter has known great improvement. Suicidal idealization has decreased significantly, she spends more time with the rest of the family, she gets out of the house and interacts with her peers, and she’s started back at school. We’ve seen real progress for which I am grateful. But as the more flamboyant symptoms of her illness have receded, others have taken their place and her diagnosis is shifting again towards the more insidious Borderline Personality Disorder. When her therapist first mentioned BPD, my heart didn’t just sink. It packed its bags and caught a bus because Borderline Personality Disorder is notoriously hard to treat. So I grieved – and I still grieve – the loss of my hopes and dreams for our daughter’s future and my future. I grieve that I will never get my carefree daughter back, the one with the endless sense of curiosity and joy. My daughter can know happiness, of course she can, but emotional stability will be a struggle for her.
I grieve over the financial instability that the mounting medical bills have caused. We no longer have a college fund; what little we’ve saved has been spent on hospitals, therapists and ambulances. I grieve for the loss of the friends who find our daughter’s mental illness just too scary. I grieve not being able to provide a more stable environment in which our son can grow up. I grieve not being able to make this better.
At the same time, I have hope. Because we are working with a team of therapists, including a case manager, who are helping the entire family, not just focusing on our daughter. Because we have friends who do understand and support us. I have hope because I have seen progress in my daughter. But mostly I have hope because — and with NAMI’s help — I am learning to let go of my preconceptions and to accept my daughter for who she is and what she brings to our crazy quilt of a family.