My heart died a little bit when my daughter got ill and my arms could not comfort her. When she looked at the light, and turned towards the darkness and ran. Now I feel like my daughter’s mental illness is killing me.

My daughter is ill. She is ill with depression.

It has worn me and our whole family down, and now we are all suffering to some degree the effects of her illness. It should be referred to as contagious, because surely no family could have immunity to this debilitating disease.

It crept in stealthily, silently infecting my beautiful teenage daughter. The symptoms got confused with other things like misbehaving, being rude and disrespectful, lying and not following rules. But soon the symptoms showed physical signs- the sparkle from her smile slipped away, the glint of joy in her eyes disappeared, and darkness infected her heart.

But it was my daughter’s own journey for too long – the sickness had already taken hold by the time I first smelt it in the stagnant air descending on us.

I found her diary- smeared with her blood- where she had bled her pain into desperate deathly wishes. I wanted to fix her, like a mum always fixes her child’s broken pieces and fears. But, despite my soothing words and my yearning desire to heal her, she wanted others to help.

She didn’t want me. Her illness made her angry and separate from me, and cleaved her from my desperate grasp.

Mental Illness Begins to Fracture our Family

Our family started to fracture as the illness infected our minds with anger, disbelief, blame, fear, and sorrow”.

None of us knew how to treat this disease of shame and failure; this defect which was the result of poor parenting probably (or so we thought). She started smoking, drinking, driving in cars with dangerous people and all the bad things you never want your children to do.

But these were things that living people did and we were pleased she had survived the illness so far.

Our son pointed out the unfairness, the selfishness and the lack of consequences; he wanted to leave to heal himself. Who was to blame for the bad parenting? The arguments began, and our marriage became a casualty of the illness; there was no time to treat it… there was a life to save that was more important than saving our marriage.

We Battle the Mental Illness but Where do we Turn?

We started fighting our battles separately. I desperately searched for the antidote. The school counsellor tried but had little success; she smiled kindly and pointed towards other paths. Our local doctor had seen this illness before too, and he understood, but the antidotes would only soothe and not cure. The Government services were stretched and limited.

All the time she just got sicker.

I searched everywhere for a solution. It’s going to kill her- I was desperate, pleading. My soul cracked and I attempted to heal her using pieces of me.

Other pieces were cried out in lonely corners so that the skeleton of my strength and normality were all that held me together. Long nights were spent delving into the deepest parts of me just to keep her alive through the darkness of another bad night.

I patched and weaved a lifeline from me to her, desperate to block out the dark illness that cast shadows over her heart, and blinded her, and it haunted me.

Exhausted, I would fall into restless sleep while I fervently wished with all my heart and soul that she would still be alive in the morning. Sometimes I crept in the darkness to check for her breathing.

Maybe, Just Maybe…

Soon the illness nearly took her, and the urgency and severity of that lead to medicine that soothes. The soothing began, and the medicine that she took helped the whole family to slowly get better, but we are still trying to recover.

The wounds are healing but the scars will never go away. My soul is like a jigsaw with some pieces missing, making it harder to put back together. They were taken to replace my daughter’s missing pieces. Hopefully, the scars hold firm and keep the darkness out; hopefully they don’t break open, ooze sorrow and steal my daughter’s life.

But maybe, just maybe, they will become a new artwork in the story of our family, a wisdom and strength that binds us together…

***If you have any concerns about your child’s mental health, please reach out and get help as soon as possible. There are many organisations who can help. Go to mentalhealth.org.nz for more information***

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Nith Ram

I hope your daughter is better now. I can relate to this as I know how it feels not to ever see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that this pain and uncertainty is a life long condition for us as parents. I don’t think I ever view each day without some dread in my heart – if all will be well or if some episode may happen.

Karen Pearson

I know that depression of a child has a significant impact on families as a whole. It would be more supportive for these families if the whole situation was addressed. There are things that cause depression that cannot be avoided, i.e. grief, bullying etc but there are also factors that have a profound impact on our well being and influence our mood. Looking at finding a suitable practitioner who can engage in talking therapy is essential, helping to get to the core of the issue. Families need to be taught the importance of making healthy food choices, so much processed… Read more »

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