I have four daughters. When people meet me they are usually shocked to learn that I have a 15 year-old because I don’t look old enough they say. Technically, I am. My husband and I married young, and we were surprised by a pregnancy five months into marriage. It was “an accident”. It changed the course of my life.
My youngest daughter, who is about to turn nine, has an autism spectrum disorder. That has also changed my life. The life of my family. My husband’s life. My daily life is very challenging. I struggle. Sometimes I struggle a lot because I’m the primary caregiver. Sometimes I feel very lonely and misunderstood. My little girl is very bonded to me which is miraculous if you know anything about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). I’ve worked very hard and sacrificed what feels almost like my entire life so that she can flourish. I didn’t sleep for four years. I have a chronic health condition today because of that. Autism is enough for me to bear. Sometimes it’s too much.
Last year, my 13 year-old started struggling deeply with mild depression and anxiety. She needed to see a therapist. She needed to see a psychiatrist because she needed pharmaceutical supports, too, in the form of an SSRI namely Zoloft. I took a deep breath and did what was necessary. She’s doing well now after lots of therapy sessions and fiddling with the drug.
Currently, my 11 year-old is in crisis. I want to say that it came out of nowhere, and, in a way, it did. It started last September. It looked like a strange, neurological health problem, but it was really the beginning of a major depressive disorder. She is now in a partial hospitalization Day Treatment program. I get up early every morning, and drive her downtown to the university children’s hospital where she stays from 8:30 AM to 1 PM, Monday through Friday. She’s been doing this for almost four weeks. The only change in her condition is that she is consistently deeply depressed and unable to hide it from anyone. Everyone is concerned. I was asked yesterday how I felt about an inpatient program for my daughter because she is so severely depressed. They’ve never seen a little girl as depressed as my child.
I sat there with her therapist completely open about my feelings. “Do what it takes.” She’s languishing. My entire family is suffering from watching her suffer and from being on the receiving end of her behaviors. My little girl is suicidal at times. She’s hopeless. That’s the depression. That’s what it does. That’s its voice. Despair. Desolation. Pain. Unending pain.
Her therapist asked me what I was doing to cope. “I do whatever I can. You do what you are able to do. Control what you can control. Even if it’s vacuuming. Cleaning the bathroom. Talking to a friend, or making a meal. Folding laundry. You have to start somewhere when your life feels like it’s been turned upside down.”
Even when I was in captivity, I did what I could do. I faked seizures so that my perp wouldn’t rape me. That’s the truth of the matter. No matter how extreme our circumstances are, we are never left without options. This is what I’m trying to tell my daughter. Yes, her brain is being dominated by the Tyrant known as depression. It’s a cruel master, and she is fighting hard. We are fighting hard on her behalf. She is spending hours in a program designed to teach her skills so that she can fight for herself now and in the future. The question remains: What can I do today to feel better about my life? Even in the midst of deep, clinical depression my daughter has found options. She has written them down so that she doesn’t have to remember them when she is gripped by a wave of pain and despair.
I can’t control my daughter’s autism. I can’t control my daughter’s depression or her brain’s current resistance to medication. I can’t control my daughters’ rage. I can’t control a lot it seems. I can, however, control myself, my thoughts, and my responses to my current circumstances. What can I do immediately? I can:
These are painfully basic, but it’s just evidence that we have options when it comes to how we want to go about handling life in the middle of a crisis. I don’t have to fall apart. I don’t have to turn inward and get lost inside myself. I don’t have to lose hope.
I wrote a post yesterday on my other blog about ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). That is another option.
Examine them. Because I can guarantee that there are an army of ANTs marching throughout my house right now. For further reading on ANTs, check out that blog post–It’s Time To Call The Exterminator and this book:
It’s important to remember that we are never helpless even if we feel like it. Learned helplessness can be unlearned. Lies can be untold. The truth can be declared.
There are always options.