Beauty in the Breakdown

Day 1

For those of you who have not heard, my daughter tried to hurt herself and has been in serious condition following this attempt on her life. As this happened in a very public manner, I do not see the need to try and pretend that this very devastating event did not occur. I am struggling to handle the calls, texts and emails from all of those who love her. Thank you for caring so much, and thank you to those who have stepped up to help us keep our lives afloat while we have been with her at the hospital.

She has now been released from the hospital and admitted into inpatient therapy. This looks like it will be about an eight-day stay.

Something very important occurred to me as I sat outside waiting for my ride home to pick up  things for her stay. I want all of you, all of her friends and family, to please know that this is not any one person’s fault. She has been struggling with sadness for a while now.

Please share my message with those at school who may think they said something to cause this – you are not to blame. You did not make this happen. All is forgiven and you are wonderful young people. Please take a moment to forgive yourself and one another because we don’t always know how badly someone may be hurting inside.


Day 2

This new unit is not really set up for parents, and last night was my first night away from her. I left her in high spirits, wrapped in her duvet and with some of her own belongings from home to comfort her. She has a roommate now, and last night she seemed optimistic. She giggled and told me stories about a boy across the hall who threw a huge tantrum.

Leaving was difficult, but I needed to restore my energy for the work we have ahead of us. Last night was the first night I have slept in my own bed since Sunday. It really was the first night I have slept at all. My adrenaline and anxiety have been completely overwhelming. I slept the best sleep of my life with my sweet dog. I am feeling rested and better-equipped to handle the rest of the day.

This morning was a little different from last night. She does not have the same level of energy and I think that the reality of what is happening is hitting her. I expect this will happen often. The psychiatrist team we spoke with this morning explained that she will not pull out of this overnight, and she may leave treatment still feeling low. The difference will be in her having coping tools and a community that will be there to help her through the lows.

We have meetings today to discuss her treatment and what our goals are for the duration of her stay. I can’t help but keep thinking that my time this week could have been spent planning for something very different and very final. Sobering. Terrifying. These thoughts are hard to shush. I am so grateful.

Here is what happens next: she is going to be very busy in therapy every day. There is almost no down-time. I will be active daily in her therapy, as will those who are part of her caregiving. I anticipate ups and downs and everything in between. I think most of us have felt like we are all over the place emotionally. I am told this is normal, so I say we embrace it.

We made a conscious decision to be candid about our journey. Many of you may not know that this was her second attempt at taking her life.

Yes, take a minute to register this … it was a second attempt.

We did not share it with many people the first time, and I think that was a mistake. We were completely and utterly alone in our grief and confusion. This left our family with a secret, and secrets bring shame. There is no shame in this. This is our opportunity to stop enforcing the shame.

Writing to all of you has helped me personally by giving me the opportunity to share her status, while also providing a forum to release my thoughts and feelings. It is just too difficult to say the words out loud, to say what happened and how she is doing.

The kindness you all give to me and the love I feel is almost too much – I just feel too much. You know that feeling when you are emotionally fragile, and you know you are keeping it together just enough to not alarm the people around you? I call it feeling like “the only thing holding me together is hairspray, bobby pins and a flimsy bra strap.” I am fine until someone asks me how I am doing. For whatever reason, that is the undoing of the Elmer’s glue I imagine keeping me together.


Day 3 

Today she is pretty happy, but she is still tired. She is now officially in the “C” group, which is what we have been hoping for since arrival. It is a great group of teens who have all connected really well. Many of them – in fact, all of them – are suffering from depression. I know from some of the comments they made that they too were hospitalized last week after attempts on their lives.

The kids are all so sweet, and so supportive of one another. I just wanted to hug them all for being so good to her. She really likes her roommate, and the feedback I have from meetings today is that she is a very active participant.

We are now in the steps of diagnosis, medication and an intense crash course on what she is learning in inpatient therapy. I can’t imagine not being involved in my daughter’s therapy, learning what she is learning. There are so many kids in the group who have had no contact from their parents, not even a phone call. I just wonder how they will have support when they leave. But I can’t worry about that.

I have to keep digging into what is happening inside my own sweet daughter’s mind. I have to try and figure out (with her help) what kind of signs might let us know when we need to help her. There are so many subtle signs, ones that are easy to chalk up to her being a 13-year-old girl.

I have to make my house “safe.” I have to construct a safety plan and a plan for outpatient therapy. I have to try and reconcile what has happened in my home without my even seeing it. I have to make sure my other two daughters don’t get left behind in this process. This week has devastated us, pulled us together, and made us feel like one of those rubber tires you see after they have blown out on the highway.

As a result of what we know now, she will not have the freedoms she has had in the past, and this is for her safety. This is not punitive; we just have to take all precautions. Over time she will earn back her freedoms. This is not forever. This part may be hard for her, but it is because we all love her.

To the young people (you know who you are) who had the maturity to call me when you thought there was something wrong, and went to our house and did everything right – please know I cannot thank you enough. There is nothing that can express how much I appreciate you.


Day 5

Yesterday was a rough one, for several reasons. I try to keep you posted on her progress, and I want to report it as factually as I can – but a day like yesterday, well you just didn’t need to know about that. I really hoped that the rainbow I saw last sunset was a sign of something positive.

I needed today to be different. I needed it to be better in some small way. I needed to be able to focus on my oldest daughter and her graduation day. I wanted to remember every second of her moment. I needed to be able to be around many people, my family and friends, and not talk about what everyone is worried about. I needed to not break down.

I’ve been exposed to very few people outside the hospital since this happened. In a way, being at the hospital has become easier than being anywhere else. Nobody thinks twice about seeing a parent cry over their cafeteria tray or gives a second glance when they haven’t showered in a few days or slept a wink in longer.

Today though, we all did it. We made it. It was hard to start, but we did it. And after graduation, I went to see my daughter. We sure missed her today, but we are so happy to have the chance to share the future with her once she is better.

Tonight I saw a hint of my sweet girl. I was able to pick up on some cues that I have been working on learning from the care team. I felt like I knew where to start and when it was time to move on to something else. Tonight felt a little like progress.

My dear daughter, when you read this, hopefully soon, this is the night I stayed late to braid your hair and tucked you in. We played the “I Spy” game for an hour, and played “Sorry” with a few people in the group. We talked a little about what happened for the first time since it happened. We talked about the things we missed doing together. You talked and I loved hearing everything you said. I just loved hearing you talk.

Tonight I will try and relish the overwhelming pride of watching my firstborn walk in cap and gown, moving on to college. I will remember my youngest daughter wanting to be the first to hug her oldest sister. I will remember the gentle surprise of how much I love braiding my sweet middle daughter’s hair.


Day 6

Her homecoming is pending. I admit that while I look forward to this, I am anxious. Small decisions about her day could be overwhelming. I will have to work with the care team on these details in the days to come.

She is responding so well to her medication (or lacking complications) and she has been actively participating in her therapy with stable feelings during her stay at the hospital. I think acclimating to being home may be more than she is ready for, but they feel it is time for her work to begin on an outpatient basis. We are being advised that immediate return to school is actually favorable. Supervision will continue to be of importance.

She has learned so much, and so have we. This is only the beginning, but it’s a good start. Thank God we have each other, and that we have all of you surrounding us with your love and support. We feel it. You are all part of our story.


Day 7

We are finally home, all five of us, for the first time in what feels like forever. We are soaking up the love and enjoying a warm meal that was waiting for us here. The meal came with a card that quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” I get that quote in a more complete way than I did eight days ago.

For better or worse, we are learning.

Our return home was a transition. The hospital was safe, it was predictable and I had an entire staff to help me ensure that her safety was priority number one. Home is different. It is home, which is comforting, but it is also exposure to so many different things that were not in the hospital: cell phones, TV, internet, freedom to come and go … all things that are paramount in the life of a 13-year-old.

Our family is not really able to be a unit yet. We are all processing and handling this in different ways, the only ways we know how. We are unable to really lean on one another yet, we all feel so broken. I hope we can be a stronger unit soon.

How is she doing? I think OK. I know not great. I know she is trying. She is really trying. And I know I will not stop worrying for a very long time. Therapy is good – she likes her therapist but she dislikes going. She does not seem to feel any changes with the medication, but it is still early.

She is staying very busy, and this seems to be the best therapy around. Her friends are amazing and our community support has not wavered. We are optimistic. We are still healing.

I try and reconcile this event that happened; the attempt that almost happened and where we are today. The only way I can describe this from a parent’s point of view is feeling shaken, broken and no longer confident in things I never thought twice about, and I am still incredibly sad. I’m working on this. I have distractions: going back to work, helping plan my 20-year high school reunion, and just day-to-day things that eat up the minutes. I draw upon these things to keep me in the present and to keep me from dwelling on what might have happened, and how that worry still hangs over me like a dark cloud.


Eight Months Later

It has been eight months since we almost lost her.

I am so proud of my family for the strength we have shown through all of this. People often ask how we are doing and comment that they can’t imagine how we could have gone through this. The process was not pretty; I will be candid about that. We nearly fell apart in the midst of our pain. We were no good to one another for quite some time.

Upon our return home, I closely followed the recipe for how to make our return successful:

* Medication – See a psychiatrist: check.

* Therapy – Find a therapist: check.

* Hide all knives, guns, neck ties and medications: check.

OK, check, check, check…this is a project, right? Follow the instructions and you will succeed.

But, it wasn’t that easy. The jig was finally up. All the feelings my daughter had been stuffing down were now released freely, loudly and often. My daughter’s new self no longer played the part of the peacekeeper, the easygoing member of the family. This transition was difficult for all of us.

During this time, I learned that if my daughter didn’t want to go to counseling, she simply didn’t have to go. She was a new girl, and she no longer went to a therapist she didn’t like. She spoke up for herself. This was good, but I was frantic. No therapist will work with someone who doesn’t want to be there. I became convinced she would fall back into a deep depression. I became scared of everything.

This is what it was like for me. For a time, I became someone I didn’t recognize. The self-loathing I had for myself was destructive. I hated happy people. I made choices that were irrational.

I had nothing to give my spouse; I expected him to leave me and I didn’t even blame him. I had nothing for my kids; I just went through the motions of providing the bare necessities. I was as good as an empty place at the dinner table.

Before all of this occurred, I knew exactly what my reaction would be to anything. Afterwards, I no longer knew how to react to anything. I hid from people, I spent time doing things that were meaningless. I watched entire seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” and drank countless bottles of wine. I sought numbness. Not a black-out, but a soft gray out, something to blur the edges.

I carried on in a shell of my body, a paper face with a bit of lip gloss. I loved my family but couldn’t help them. I couldn’t help anyone. I couldn’t help myself. I forgot my youngest daughter at gymnastics practice, the first time ever. She was devastated. I ordered $1,200 worth of knives from a door-to-door salesman and sold out my friends’ contact information for a free cutting board and an ice cream scooper. (I returned the knives and still feel like shit for the knife referrals … sorry friends; I will never sell you out again.)

I sought Wonder Twin Powers and took the form of an ostrich, burying my head in the sand until the fear passed. I wanted everything to go away. I wanted to wake up and have everything be as it was before. I wanted bacon without fat. I wanted impossible things. I wanted to run away.

In a fugue state, I drove my daughter everywhere, to every appointment she needed. The appointments, the phone calls seemed to be countless. I was scared of leaving the house. I was scared of going back to work. I was scared of leaving her alone. I was scared if she sneezed and it sounded weird. I thought I would never be able to feel normal again.

I walked through the steps of getting my daughter the help she needed, but I was dissolving into thin air. I finally asked for help. As they say on the airplane, secure your own air mask before trying to save someone else. I needed to take a time out if I was going to be able to help my child in a meaningful way.

We are surviving this together. We are clumsy and imperfect, but our family is slowly finding our way.

We found a therapist she connects with. She has medicine that helps her manage her depression. (She has bipolar manic depression.) She is discovering her spirituality and her strength through her relationship with Christ. We are learning to trust our life again, and to trust one another.

The alarm on our phone goes off at 8:30 each night to remind us to give our daughter her medicine. We are adapting to caring for and living with a family member with a serious mood disorder.

I know that my daughter trusts me to do everything I can to help her. For her I am a one-woman army. This she has seen first-hand. She was afraid to worry me before. She now knows that she can worry me and I will be OK. I am strong. I can be strong enough for both of us. I am her advocate and strongest supporter. A mother’s heart can do this.

We are fortunate to have the chance to help her. This is sheer luck; we did nothing extra or better or different to deserve this. We could be any other family who has lost their child to suicide. We knew nothing. We suspected nothing. The difference is that we were able to take her home. And because of that, we are going to fight for her, for our family, and never give up.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry, but I will not allow the fear to take over or diminish the joy I feel when I think of how far we have come and where we are today. I know there is much more work to do, and that this is a life-long commitment, but I have confidence in our strength as a family.

I will allow light to fill our house and our hearts again, without fear, without hesitation.

Remember: Be kind to each other. Then be just a little kinder. Young people out there, talk to your parents, talk to each other. You are wonderful beings. Never forget this. Love to you all.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please talk with someone. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – there is always someone to share with.

Visit Erica’s blog at Mom’s Need Wine blogspot. 

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About the Author | Erica Barlow

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5 comments to "Beauty in the Breakdown"

  • Joanne Dunn

    Beautiful story and thank you for sharing. Every one of us has a cross to bear and some, it seems, have a bigger cross. I certainly wish people were more open and less shameful when I was a young teen suffered with horrendous lows. Early intervention is key. Your daughter will be ok. More than ok. She will shine. In large part to you and the rest of your family.

  • Lisa

    What a poignant and heartfelt post! Thanks, Kelly, for sharing it. It reminds me of one of my very favorite sayings which is, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Plato) When we are courageous enough to share our battles, we can find support, encouragement and compassion from others. There is nothing so meaningful than to share our lives if only to provide assurance to others who are struggling that they are not alone in this world. Blessings to the Barlow family.

  • Christy Stickney

    I am speechless in what your family has endured. I am in awe at your courage. I am reminded of the power of a mothers love and dedication. I am reminded how precious life really is. I am humbled by your strength and honesty. I am grateful that you shared your story so openly. You are incredibly brave. Thank you.

  • Thank you for sharing. As a therapist this story is sadly familiar. I applaud you for putting it out there; silence is shame and furthers the stigma. Bless you and your family, bless your daughter for her struggles. What strength you all have.

  • Amorita

    Thank you so much for sharing your touching story. Mental illness is a topic that has been silenced too long. Your jouney is a true inspiration to us all.