As part of Mental Health Awareness week, I’m publishing a series of blogs telling the story of someone. This could be someone who suffers or someone who’s trying to help others.
In this one, I tell the story of someone who reached out to me after I published my first blog. Her touching email was the reason I carried on with the blog and why I ended up creating the support group.
This is the story of Julie.
So, would you like to say a bit about yourself?
Ok, I’m a bit nervous so if I waffle or go off on a tangent please tell me!
I’m Julie, I’m 45 and a mother of 3 daughters, my background is nursing, ITU and after taking time out to be with my family I’m returning to it.
I know some of your story, but would you like to explain some of what’s happened?
So last April life turned upside down, completely out of nowhere my middle daughter attempted suicide by hanging. There was no warning signs, nothing particularly eventful had occurred leading up to it and I had absolutely no idea A was depressed. Over the previous 2 years she had moved to high school and seemed to really enjoy it, she had lots of friends, engaged fully in family life and always talked really openly to me about everything. About 6 months before the event she ‘came out’ this was no surprise to anyone in the family and she had everyone’s love and support.
That’s a real shock for anyone to go through. How did your family react to the attempt?
We all coped in different ways I guess, my other daughters were in the house with me when it happened, my eldest had to help me cut A down, she then had to sit downstairs with my youngest who was 8 at the time. I was so aware that they were alone but I had to stay with A. My parents arrived after the first ambulance crew, they were naturally devastated and totally shocked. I was on automatic pilot, I managed to resuscitate A until the paramedics took over. After that we were bombarded with ambulances. It took over an hour to get A downstairs as she was fitting, she was intubated in my front garden.
No one knew what to do, we just had to wait and hope.
How was your daughter after the event? Was she able to open up to you?
She was confused, scared and so worried about how everyone else was feeling. She couldn’t remember any particular reason for doing what she did, she told me she just felt totally overwhelmed and needed to do something. She has always said she didn’t want to die, just didn’t want to carry on feeling the way she did.
That sounds familiar. Was she referred to a counsellor after that? How did you all cope with it?
She was seen by CAMS and by two psychiatrists whilst still in hospital, the initial plan was for her to go to a unit, I can’t remember where. I felt really strongly that this was a bad idea and fought to allow her home. From the day she was discharged we were overwhelmed with support. In a way I think that was one of the hardest things for A, all of these strangers turning up twice a day and getting her to talk about her feelings, hard enough for anyone but for a traumatised 14 year old it must have been so tough. From the start she engaged totally though, we had a core team of 4 from ICTS and 2 social workers. The visits were twice a day for about a month then gradually lessened.
It was a tough time but the team were totally brilliant. Many of the sessions included myself and my other daughters. At the time my husband (soon to be Ex) didn’t really want to take part, I think he coped by throwing himself into work, redecorating A‘s room and trying to be the provider.
So, there was a good support for your daughter, but what about yourself and the rest of your family?
The girls were both referred to a counsellor and one of the Social Workers was working closely with them. We also had amazing support from the safeguarding officer at other daughter’s school, she still works with them now. A select few teachers are told the full story so they helped. I think initially I was too busy in crisis management mode to think about myself, I felt very much like my role was to be strong for everyone else. My one little escape was the gym, I started weight training, I was there twice a day sometimes, looking back I think I was almost punishing myself. After a few months my marriage collapsed and I think that’s when I realised I might need some help. My GP was great and referred me quickly, the problem was no service seemed to think they could help so I was pushed around a bit before I finally got to see a therapist. By this point I was showing signs of pretty severe PTSD.
How have you managed to cope with looking after your family whilst also suffering PTSD?
To be perfectly honest I had no choice, I had to put the kids first and try to keep my own problems separate. I have always been conscious of the need to provide stability and security, I had to keep control and keep it together. I’m sure the girls noticed some of my moments, we have been pretty open with each other and both A and I suffered from insomnia, there were lots of nights where we sat together reading, talking, watching movies. Therapy did help me, it took a couple of attempts but when it started to click into place I felt a huge shift.
It’s pretty obvious that your family, especially A, are your main focus. How have you found it trying to support her? I take it that being open is a key thing with you all?
It really is, I guess we have all learned that keeping things inside can be dangerous. My girls are all incredible, the way they have coped is a huge source of pride and also motivation for me. Supporting A is tough at times, there have been some very dark and scary moments, I’ve felt out of my depth at times but I know however hard it is for me, it’s so much harder for her. I think we’ve found what works for us and at the moment, things are going well. One of the hardest things for me has been letting A have a life, it’s hard to explain but I think I’ve had to trust that she will tell me if she’s starting to spiral down again. One of the other things I’ve found very difficult is her self-harm, when I first found out I was totally devastated and couldn’t comprehend why she’d choose to do it. I’ve gained much more understanding now, I still don’t like it but I do know it’s a very difficult thing to stop.
Yeah, the whole feeling of not wanting to let them out of your sight is common, wanting to make sure that they’re okay whilst still finding a balance with their freedom is a fine line to walk. It may sound a bit weird but do you think it’s brought you both closer together with a stronger sense of trust?
It’s a very fine line! Actually that’s not a weird question at all, I think we all have a bit of distance and perspective now, obviously I’d rather it had never happened but I’m realistic and I can see that there have been many positives. The main thing is that A got the help she desperately needed, I know that there is a huge issue with support for kids, in many ways we are very lucky. Actually that’s how I feel most days, I came so close to losing my incredible girl but I didn’t, she’s here and thriving, my other girls are also doing well and, as a unit, we are stronger than ever.
How’s A doing now? Is she managing to cope okay?
As I’m sure you know it’s a day by day thing. She has lots of good stuff going on but when she feels particularly down it’s so hard for her to see them. She’s a tough cookie but she’s also 15 and battling a particularly nasty illness. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand how hard it can be for her, I see the changes in her when it hits but I can’t feel how she feels.
How do you feel you’re doing now? We all know it’s something that never goes away but do you find it any easier?
I feel really positive, there have been so many good things happening for all of us, little things and big. The girls are just so funny and interesting. I think there’s always this tiny voice in my head telling me how bloody lucky I am, my daughter survived, many don’t. That definitely gives me a certain perspective on life.
If I’m being really honest I will admit that I am a much nicer person than I was before, my priorities in life are totally clear.
Let’s start winding things up then. What would you like to say to anyone that’s going through every A went through?
I guess I’d say that talking to someone could help, that even if you don’t know what it is you feel, if you are hurting and struggling just reach out. It could be to someone you know or a phone line, just try to get it out before you feel you have no other options. There is always an option, and there is always someone, somewhere who cares.
And what about someone in your position? Any words for them?
That’s a tough one! Don’t let yourself be destroyed by guilt, having a child with depression doesn’t mean you’ve failed, having a child who has attempted suicide doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. And, once again, talking really does help.
Cool. And finally, any closing words? The floor is yours…….
I wish that I could turn the clock back and take away the hurt that my daughter felt and still feels but I think I’d like to keep the insight and understanding I’ve gained by supporting her through this.
Not very profound but hugely important to me!
Thank you Julie.