How a depressed mom talked to her kid about suicide

Opening my eyes at 6:20 this morning I am happy to be able to straighten my legs and stretch. For once the 8 pound dog isn’t taking up a third of the bed. Despite my efforts to unplug I realize my phone is in my hand without even making a choice to pick it up. I decide to start the day at an inbox of zero. I almost didn’t swipe right on the letter from the Denver Schools. For some reason I opened it, expecting to be invited (along with 45,000 of my closest friends) to sit in on a superintendent meeting.

Instead I read about a 9 year hold boy taking his life allegedly because other fourth graders bullied him about being gay. The note also referenced an unnamed teenager who was hospitalized and in critical condition because of a self inflicted gun shot.

These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large efforts, individually and as a community — to consistently support our most vulnerable children. We must do everything possible to protect our children.- Denver Public School letter 8/28/18

Fifteen minutes later our bed was made and Oliver was lying across it on his side, blue fuzzy jacket on. He wears this jacket to cover his stomach. He is worried people notice his weight. Now though he is not worried. He is cooing at a picture of a puppy in a burrito. He is 13.

This summer he sent his father and I a long text which started about screen time and ended somewhere darker. (He has given me permission to share this text.)

Ok so I’m writing you this text because I honestly don’t know if I can just clearly say and explain this in person.
I think my recent increase in screen usage stems from two main things and some other factors that all combined to result in this overuse.
The first thing and probably main culprit is puberty, it affects everyone differently and I believe that for me the hormonal swings are mainly amplifying my already present anxiety and introvertedness this makes it so right now interacting with others not only completely drains me of energy, but actually freaks me out and scares me. Additionally mood swings have generally brought me to darker places then ever before and lowered my general happiness and energy which only gets worse when I spend all day on screens.
Also I believe that summer and it’s extensive freedom and no real purpose has made my lifestyle worse in other ways, my sleep is completely off and I’m eating more unhealthily then ever. But mainly I’m lost, I don’t have school to distract me or focus, on and while I do have Colin here I left a lot of my life in Denver. As much as I love it here right now I’m struggling.
Of course this could just be a negative mood swing, but there is certainly a serious problem and I need to fix my life right now, but I just don’t think I can do it alone. So I want to ask for help, because I’m worried about where this might go. I’m sorry for causing you trouble.
The opening of this text gave me a valuable insight. Oliver is clearly able to think about and analyze his feelings (see above.) But he DOES NOT talk about them.  After I got this text this summer I suggested to a few friends that they invite their kids to text them with problems if that was easier than talking. Guess what? It was. Screentime might have started as his problem, but it was part of his solution as well. The night we got this text Steve and I sat down with Oliver right away. As much as my 20 years of talk therapy made me want to turn this into a difficult conversation about his mother I decided to follow his lead and write instead of talk. I asked him to break down his concerns into different areas and gave him paper and markers to draw and write. He wrote SLEEP, EXERCISE, FREE TIME, MOOD, SOCIAL ANXIETY, and EATING. Then I asked him to list what these things would look like in their very best forms. His mood began to change. Listing them out into small steps made them seem like something he could tackle. We picked two areas to work on that week. Sleep, and social stuff.  He gave himself two challenges. Getting into bed at 10:30 with lights out and laying in his bed waiting for sleep. And texting 3 friends. Within days some of this mangled mess of concern started to clear up.
Of course we also talked about therapy (I am a HUGE proponent) and I have a recommendation lined up for him, but we decided to wait a bit and see how things shake out. We also started a book group reading Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. We only met twice and then we just started drinking wine. I kid. It was ovaltine.
In any case Steve and I responded with lists and plans and Oliver responded to us.
This was not my approach this morning.
I walked over to the bed, rested my arm on his fuzzy blue shoulder and told him the facts of the letter from DPS.
“There are two sides for us to think about.” I told him.
He rolled up to sitting, eyes on mine.
One, of course, is keeping ourselves safe. You know I am depressed. You know I am in treatment. You know I take medicine and have therapy and have faced some real darkness. But despite that I am here with you and even when I am sad I am happy every day that I made it here. Even when I feel loathing or unaccomplished I can still go to sleep glad that I made it here, to you. I want that for you.” I tell him.
He is nodding.
“This summer you told us you were in a dark place.”
He has cast his eyes down. Maybe I should be texting this. But I continue.
“Sometimes you are not kind to yourself. Sometimes you expect to get 100 on an assignment and a 70 feels like a whole piece of your identity has been taken away, instead of just three incorrect bubbles on a computer.”
He is looking at me now. We have spent the past two nights with him in tears, me telling him that he is more than just a grade and him almost believing me.
“There are lots of worries in this world. Some are about problems that we should try to solve, like not getting enough sleep. Some are anxieties that we can notice and try to treat like background noise, like feeling as though being 15 minutes early for school is not early enough.”
Now he has a smile.
“And then there is that dangerous worry. When all of our fears and upsets come together and tell us the big lie that no life is better than this life. I know that feeling. I tell him. I will help him. If he ever feels like he wants to be numb and do nothing I will understand. I won’t tell him that he is just 13 and all of this is just temporary.  I will get him treatment. I will slash away the things that feel as if they are closing in on him. I will give him a break from responsibilities.
Because at the worst of times our only responsibility is to stay alive.
He hears me. He is patting my hand on his shoulder.
There is another side too. I tell him. The side where you can save a life other than your own.
I used stats the article I read this morning that said LGBTQIA teens are three times more likely to report attempted suicide and four times more likely to commit suicide. Amongst those who didn’t have an attempt they cited having just one person helped.
He can help. He can tap into his incredible well of kindness. He can recognize people who are fragile and stand by them. Even just physically. He can remember that also people’s pain can be buried into a small ball invisible to everyone but corroding them from the inside out. Smiles, eye contact, greetings. These little things add up. After all, we all want to be seen.
I finished with this second part and he was sitting up straight.  “I can do this.” He tells me. I am scared of talking to people but I can smile. I can sit at a different desk or lunch table. I could make someone a drawing. Maybe once a week.” He likes this.
So once again, despite my emotional speech, we have landed at a behavioral approach. It is not the way I would do it. But it is his way. And I imagine there will be some kids over the next week that feel seen by him and maybe will see him back, and maybe at night when they are lying in the dark there will be something about their day to enjoy instead of nothing. And that is something.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Fear and upsets come together and tell us the big lie that no life is better than this life.[/Tweet]

Giving In to Depression

I have been reading the local and international stories with sadness over recent suicides after long battles with depression.

I haven’t been writing or talking much about it. Ok I give.

Then I read this on a friends facebook wall:

Robin Williams was a great man. His death was disturbing. As We all grew up adoring his movies. The one thing he is not is a role model. A self inflicted death is selfish and cowardly. R I P mrs. Doubt fire

To which I quickly responded:

I think everyone can agree that suicide is not an end we would wish for. I’m glad to be able to interpret from your post that you have never suffered from mental illness. I have. Suicide is a choice made from the darkest most desperate place, and the individual should not be judged. Perhaps the society that keeps us from asking for and receiving the right kind of help. But not the person suffering. Great sympathy to an amazing man, and even more to the people he left behind.

But of course there is more.

I have been writing and talking about my depression for years. More years than this blog shows. I am in therapy, and have been medicated and re-medicated since 1998. For the entire calendar year of 2014 I have been stable. Good, even.

I know this will be temporary. I grow used to meds. I need to find new ones. This is a painful process that can take years. In retrospect I can tell that I spent 2011-2013 in a state of clinical depression. But it takes perspective. The kind of perspective I didn’t have then. It is a battle.

Here is one of the very best visual and literal descriptions of depression I have read. And here is her book if you want to support her and you should.

This is what I sound like when I am mildly depressed.

And this when I am coming out of a major patch.

But I cant link to a period of real despair. Because my fingers don’t work to type. And my brain doesn’t work to form words. And I go one breath at a time. Fuck the day hour or minute. I just need to take this next breath. And worry about the next one following. You know that commercial about “Where does depression hurt?” “Everywhere” Who does depression hurt? “Everyone” And you see a small child’s hand trying to comfort a mother who cant get off her stoop. That slays me every time. It hurts in my belly and my chest. My lungs dont open wide enough for a full breath, my diaphragm collapses with deoxygenation. My arms feel like flu noodles and my legs are too stiff to operate. Light hurts my eyes like a migraine.

My kids come visit me in the bed as if I were Debra whatever her name is who played Shirley Mclaine’s daughter in that cancer movie.

Depression is as insidious as cancer. But we don’t see it that way. We are pressured to hide the fact of depression. And that sends people away from treatment and care. Towards suffering. And sometimes directly to the thought that the only way to end this misery is to actually end it all.

And this brings me to the point that I want to make. That I feel obligated to make.

I have been writing about depression for years. Because I CAN.

I don’t have a job that I need to get to every day.
I don’t have a boss at a job from whom I need to hide my stigmatized condition.
I won’t sit in front of a hiring committee and hide a regular part of my life.
I don’t have future in laws who will talk their son out of marrying me.
I am out of the public eye. Very few people will judge my backslides.
I don’t have a fiance who will rethink blending his DNA with mine.
I don’t have parents who are afraid of me.
I don’t have to try to get into the USA on a visa.
I won’t have to wait for a public hospital bed in underfunded mental health wards.
I won’t get turned down for the best depression medication because I CAN prove that I have been treated with everything else.

I have money. I can pay for a private hospital. I can choose not to work. I am already married to someone who has taken this on in the “sickness and health” portion of our vows. I am an American citizen, so I don’t need to worry about crossing the border.

Does this make depression easy? No. It just makes me lucky. Really lucky that I get to talk about this and ask for help. I can be honest, because there is not much in my life that I need to be delicate about. That is not true for most people. Many people have school boards, employers, or family members that they try to shield from the reality of their condition. Which means at the time they are going down, when they still can exercise judgement, they let the opinions and needs of other people factor into their choices for asking for help and care. This is the most critical time, and it is when they are most alone.

Because I am outspoken about my disease I have heard the prejudice first hand. Here are some of the things I have heard:

-You are just bored. If you had anything to keep you busy you would not be depressed.
-You are fat. If you exercised you would not be depressed.
-It is self indulgent to be depressed. If you had to get up you would.
-I couldn’t hire you. You are so smart and have great ideas but I know you would never be able to follow through full time.

These are things that people look me in the eye and tell me. It is easy to imagine the sorts of things they think but don’t say. So this is why most of us hide it. Perhaps underneath we feel weak and fat and lazy too, that depression is a symptom of some fatal flaw. At its worst literally so.


I have not stopped the battle. I am here to write this. I am well medicated and in regular therapy. I consider working at therapy something to be proud of for anyone, depressed or not. Trying to understand ourselves and our patterns to become better partners or parents or co-workers should be lauded, not looked down upon.

Being depressed is not something that can be cured by taking a jog. A complex pattern of treatment and behavioral change can minimize the symptoms. But biochemically I will always be depressed and I will be on guard against its effects.

If you consider suicide cowardly then you are lucky enough not to have experienced the depression that can lead to it. We need it to lead other places first. To supportive workplaces and friends who speak out for us, and borders that allow us to cross into other countries. We need to have sponsors with stories that you can come out the other end. That darkness is not forever. We need survivors to speak out, and our society to listen without judgment.

Then maybe we will not give in.

giving in- thinking about suicide and depression