It’s the time of year when many of us reflect on all the events of the previous year: the highs, the lows, the mundane, and the unexpected. As many of us look back on 2020, we are likely to see more time spent in the valleys than on the mountaintops. Storms ravaged my state followed by a pandemic that put the globe on pause, yet despite all this year has thrown our way, one day stands alone as the most unforgettable day of the year and perhaps, my life. August 20, 2020. My family and I have kept the events of that day close to our vest because honestly, it kept us all reeling. We’ve spent months trying to put the pieces of our brokenness back together, to undo the damage of careless words, overlooked pain, and a heart so heavy and hopeless that it wanted to die.
How do you recount the events of something so pivotal and life-changing? How do you give words to a day that shattered what you thought was a normal life and revealed a deep wound that was festering into heartbreak, and you were too busy and overwhelmed to notice, and once the discovery was made, you couldn’t at first see through your own shock and heartbreak to be the mother your daughter needed. She was clinging to the cliff and you selfishly felt betrayed. She needed a life raft, and you were blinded by hurt and a breach of trust. On August 20th normal came crashing down when my precious daughter felt so overwhelmed and hopeless that she tried to take her own life. Even now, the words echo hauntingly in my mind. Even though we lived it, the reality still seems hard to believe. But, ours is a story of redemption and hope.
And Annie and I know so many people need to know that hope lies in the midst of even the darkest of days, and that’s why my brave daughter and I have decided to share our family’s story: the good, the bad, the regrettable, the ugly, the beautiful, the harrowing, and the redeemed. Because our story could be your story, and you need to know that you are not alone. To the mom who has uttered careless words and lives with regret, who missed the warning signs of her child’s depression. To the child who is reeling from a pandemic shutdown and can’t see the light at the end of this, who just wants life to return to normal. We share our story for you. This post will be unusual in that Annie and I will both be sharing the story each from our unique perspective, so you will her from her and from me. My portion will be regular type, while Annie’s contributions will be in italics.
The pandemic hit each family uniquely. At first, the quarantine allowed the kids and me time for read alouds and card games. It seemed a nice change to the frenzied pace we to which we had grown accustomed. Soon, though, reality began to set in. My husband and I, both entrepreneurs, saw our businesses shuttered indefinitely through no fault of our own, as so many others. To ease our financial struggle, I took a job with VIPKid and tried to maintain as much of a normal tutoring schedule as I could. Balancing this with homeschooling and my duties as Teaching Director of Community Bible Study and being on the leadership team of my church, I felt I was one of the few who was not getting any time off during the shutdown. In fact, my schedule seemed to be more overwhelming than prior to the pandemic, as I sought to balance countless Zoom meetings with meeting the needs of my family. Some days I was at the computer for 5-6 hour stretches working while the kids tried to maintain a normal school schedule. I was stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.
What I didn’t realize was that Annie was also stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, but she was keeping it to herself because her big heart was trying to protect me from any more stress. I began to notice that she was withdrawing to her room more, watching more Netflix on her computer, and just not being her usual self. Annie has battled anxiety disorder for years, so I thought perhaps she was just feeling anxious. For her, life had almost stopped completely. Her beloved theater company stopped rehearsing. Her best friends were unable to see friends. Co-op had stopped meeting. Even church had been canceled. I thought my introvert would be thrilled with the quarantine, but even introverts need interaction and normalcy. A few weeks before August 20th, Annie came to me and asked, “Mom, have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” I immediately set aside the afternoon to talk to her and called her counselor for an emergency session for the next day. This was the first time I saw any evident signs of depression, but after a few days, this mood seemed to pass, and her counselor didn’t see anything that raised any more red flags.
In our house we had a rule. No social media for the kids. I have studied the effects of social media on teen girls, especially, and felt it was unhealthy for my daughter who already struggled with anxiety. Once, I had caught her trying to open an Instagram account, so I relented and allowed her to open an account to showcase her edits under my account, so I could monitor any messages or comments from strangers. The caveat to allowing this Instagram account was never, never, never have any contact with strangers on social media. August 20th I noticed a strange message on my phone and asked Annie about it. She denied any knowledge of the message. Outside of the one Instagram incident, my daughter had never given me any reason to doubt her or mistrust her. She was usually incredibly honest, but in my gut, I knew this was a big betrayal.
Annie later confessed that she had been messaging and corresponding with other “friends” who also liked to edit for over a year. A year of hiding and lying. I was stunned, saddened, and surprised and in my stupidity and frustration, I said to my sweet child that I wouldn’t have felt more betrayed if her father had cheated on me. What an utterly stupid thing to say? If only I could take that back, but I had allowed it to flow in an impulsive moment of hurt and surprise, and even though I instantly regretted my careless words, it had hurt my girl deeply. I had trusted her so implicitly and lost sight of the fact she was just 14 and likely to make poor choices like every other 14-year-old in the world. I was also scared of what I might discover of who had been saying what to my precious daughter, so I allowed emotion to overcome my rational brain, which always tells my own children that our words matter. I’ll let Annie take over from here:
I have always had anxiety, always. Sometimes I would see it creep up in the little things like, being scared to go to church, birthday parties because of all the people, or even going to see my family. I started going to counseling when I was 10; my anxiety has been pretty low since then, but then Covid happened. Yeah, not good. At first I didn’t mind it. Me being an introvert, I was like “yes!” I get to be home not going anywhere. I can edit all day or read or watch Agents Of Shield, but soon I missed seeing my friends and family. I missed going to eat out with my mom, dad, and my younger brother, Connor. The way I found friends was through Instagram. My mom had always told me talking to people on the Internet was a bad idea. I told myself it was okay, because I would be super careful. Soon enough I had a group of friends that I had so much in common with. When I was talking to them, I felt so happy and not alone, but when I put my computer down, I was back to the dark world that I hated so much. I felt myself getting a little more depressed each day. I never thought anything about it; I just thought it was a part of growing up or something. I started pulling myself away from my family. When they would watch a movie or just hang out in the living room talking about football or basketball, I would be downstairs on the computer talking to my friends. And whenever anyone would come downstairs, I would close the tab. I knew it was wrong and I wanted to tell someone, but then again I wouldn’t just lose my friends, I would be even more alone. Soon, I had a feeling people would find out. So I was being even more careful. I wouldn’t talk to my friends unless I was super sure no one was around. Everything was going okay until August 20th, which is a day I will never ever forget.
We went to Target that day and mom looked at her phone and saw something that caught her eye. She looked over at me and asked, “What is this?” I grabbed the phone and saw the username of one of my friends. I started to panic, “Ummm,” I said, “its probably someone from that group chat I was apart of a while ago,” and I deleted that notification. I thought everything was fine, when we got home I got on our Xbox and played Minecraft, and my mom went on a walk. But when she got back she sat down next to me with a look on her face, and I knew what was coming. “Anna,” she said, “I looked up that name in Instagram and found this user.” She showed my the phone and sure enough the account she showed me was my favorite out of all the friends I had made over the course of a year. I just said nothing and looked down. To tell the truth I don’t remember everything she said, but I do remember me showing her my secret account; she started freaking out and crying. She told me to log into the account. I did, but tried the wrong passwords on purpose. I ran outside when my mom grabbed the phone and looked at all my posts; I grabbed it back and ran to the bathroom locked the door and deleted as many conversations as I could. I ran back outside with the phone after I logged out of my account. Mom grabbed the phone back and told me words I would never ever forget (before I tell you, I did forgive her for saying this) she said, “I would have felt less betrayed if you father cheated on me,” I stood still, I truly could not believe she said that. I dropped the phone, ran upstairs, and looked for the one thing that could get me out of the situation. I would lose my friends and I’ve lost my mom. I grabbed the pills from the counter that I took for my anxiety and took as many as I could before my mom could stop me.
I had not realized how dark the world had become for Annie, that she would reach out to complete strangers for connection or that the fear of losing that connection would lead her to this. I also never imagined that she could ever think that she could lose me, a possibility that doesn’t remotely exist, but here she was desperate and so sad. Her doctors explained that it was her depression coupled with the fear of losing the few connections she had made this year that created a desperation serious enough to want to take her life. But I was scared of who she’d been speaking to; what they’d been luring her into, and I truly didn’t know what to do. Praise God, all of her friends turned out to be teen girls, and none of the conversations were dangerous, but the what-if still haunts me. My not knowing this was happening still haunts me. How could I be so blind? How could I have been so caught up in work and volunteering that I missed seeing the pit my daughter had fallen into? I thought I had never felt as helpless as I did watching my daughter take a huge handful of pills before I could stop her, but this was just the beginning of a long journey.
Annie was as emotional as I had ever seen her and with her history of anxiety, we had witnessed some major outbursts. As she ran and locked herself into her room, I called her counselor for help. She recommended I take Annie to the emergency room, making sure I knew that Annie would most likely be admitted into the psychiatric hospital for attempted suicide. I hung up, said a brief prayer for wisdom and strength, and explained to Annie that we had to go to the hospital. Surprisingly, she complied, and we drove to Children’s hospital, where Annie was admitted to the emergency room. Travis met us at the hospital, but because of Covid restrictions only one of us was allowed to go with her. He took Connor, who had witnessed this entire episode, and Annie and I spent 26 hours in the emergency room, where they evaluated her for any negative side effects from the medication.
It’s amazing how in the midst of trauma, you are able to push your emotions aside and just do what needs to be done, but the Holy Spirit kept me calm and capable and able to be there for Annie as best as I could. My fourteen-year-old daughter was living the worst day of her life, and I couldn’t fall apart, though my heart was breaking and my soul was shattered, so was hers, even more than mine because she was scared and unsure and probably more terrified than she had ever been, so it was up to me with the grace of God to be the rock upon which she could fall apart. I’m still amazed when I look back and see the strength God gave me to do what was required to help Annie in this moment. Throughout the night, counselors and psychologists came in to talk to us. Amazingly, the staff gave us the option to go home that day, or we could have Annie admitted to the teen section of the psychiatric hospital. Stunned they had left the decision to us, I turned to my daughter and asked her what she wanted to do. I’ll never forget her brave response, “Mommy, I think I need more help.” I choked down the lump in my throat, took a deep breath, and told the doctor that we wanted to have her admitted.
I believe relief flooded Annie’s face because she was afraid of what she might do if she came home that day. You don’t just walk through the front door and return to normal after the day we had experienced. After almost 30 hours in an emergency room, Annie and I gathered her things and rode in an ambulance across the street to the psychiatric hospital, where we were escorted upstairs. I spoke to the doctor while a couple of kind nurses reassured Annie. I embraced my sweet girl, holding back a flood of tears, and walked away, leaving her alone at a psychiatric hospital in a room full of strangers. At that moment, she was the bravest person I had ever met because she was doing the hard thing she needed to do in order to get the help she needed. But it took everything within me to walk out that door. I fought the urge to pick her up and carry her out with me. Squeezing her hand and walking away is a moment that I will never forget. I walked outside into the warm, dark night, stumbled to the parking garage in a wave of grief and sat in my car and wept. This is a place that when I held her as a helpless infant in my arms just a few years before that I never in my life imagined we would be.
When we got to the hospital they gave me a bracelet and that calmed my nerves a little bit, I love bracelets. It took about ten minutes until they took us to a room. One of the nurses brought me and Connor some DVDs so we could pass the time. I picked out some Agents Of Shield (me and my mom watched the 1st season in one sitting that night). My dad came to pick up my brother about 20 minutes later. The rest was a blur. They took my blood, gave me an EKG, took my blood pressure every so often, gave me a Covid test. I saw two teams of psych people. The reason we saw two was because the first ones told me I could go home, but one of the nurses called another person to talk to us because she felt I should not go home yet. And to tell the truth I wasn’t ready either. After 26 hours in the Vanderbilt children’s hospital, they took me to the psych hospital across the street. I held onto the stuffed tiger that would be my friend through this time and walked in. The people there asked me and my mom questions and then it was time to say goodbye; mom told me she would come see me tomorrow and bring me some more clothes and my pillow. I gave her a hug, and I never wanted to let go. One of the nurses took me to my room who I would be sharing with another girl. I did not like her, but she didn’t like me first. While I was looking out the window, I heard her tell the nurse who was there for the patients on eyesight that she didn’t like me (eyesight is for the people who still want to hurt themselves or just got there for about 24 hours) I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it made me cry.
We were able to visit Annie twice a day, and the doctors stayed in regular contact with updates on her progress and details about therapy, but it didn’t ease the fact that she was bravely facing this on her own. Though I knew this was for the best, it was difficult to continue life as normal with Connor, knowing Annie was at the hospital. After six long days, she was able to come home. It has been four months since that harrowing day, and looking back, I think this moment was a turning point in helping us truly understand Annie’s anxiety and depression. I am not saying that I’m glad it happened, but it is one of those moments that I believe changed the trajectory of our family’s and Annie’s life.
Through family counseling, individual counseling, and proper medication for Annie, we are discovering how we can best support her. We are learning how to operate as a healthier family, as an even safer place for each other. Not that we weren’t a loving, safe family before, but when you have a child with anxiety and depression, sometimes you feel helpless, alone, and incredibly ill-equipped. As a society, we don’t speak openly about mental health issues, or as we like to say in our family, brain health. We focus on heart, muscles, lungs, etc., but the brain is off limits. It’s as if cancer is beyond our control, but the illnesses of the brain are things we bring on ourselves. It is preposterous. Even the church fails to adequately address mental health. It’s as if struggling with brain health is a defect we should keep quiet lest anyone think less of us.
The past few months have been equipping us not just to help Annie and our family heal, but it is also equipping us to become advocates for others who suffer in silence, embarrassed by the stigma. I am a firm believer in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that the Holy Spirit comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort that we ourselves receive from God. God allows us to walk through moments in our lives, so that we can graciously walk alongside others who face similar moments. My incredible, brave 14-year-old daughter sees this and is becoming an advocate for others who have also walked through anxiety and depression.
August 20th was a wake-up call for me. God used that day to open my eyes to flaws in my own parenting and character. It was the moment where I truly learned to appreciate the importance of margin. Counseling has revealed my own struggle with anxiety and how it manifests itself in taking on too much. The day after this happened I stepped down from CBS and stepped back from tutoring, so I could focus on Annie. Suddenly, my priorities aligned, and I felt no fear in saying no because my children were the focus God had given me, and I finally felt permission to put them first.
I’m often asked how I know God is real, how I know He loves me and is with me. God has proven so faithful in the past few months. When this first happened, I was beside myself. It was as if everything was unraveling before me, and I didn’t know what to do. Doing is my go-to, and I had no idea what. to. do. I felt utterly and completely hopeless and helpless. Part of me wanted to just crawl in a hole until the storm had passed, but I needed to be right in the middle of the storm fighting for my daughter. And then, how was Connor going to handle it all? Thoughts swirled, the world was spinning, and despite my needing everything to just stop, so I could collect my breath, the world kept going. August 21st was almost as harrowing because I felt overwhelmed by all that needed to be done. We needed to overhaul our routines. Annie needed structure and extra counseling and constant supervision. I was buying a safe to lock away all medication, knives, scissors. I was having to cut strings off of hoodies and consider ways my daughter could harm herself then think one step ahead to prevent it. I also didn’t know how to interact with Annie at first. Here was this little girl God had entrusted me with, and I felt like I was starting over. It was utterly overwhelming. How do you not know how to interact with your own flesh and blood, yet here I was.
But God. Truly, in the midst of all this turmoil, grief, and uncertainty, I felt an incredible sense of peace. Even though, I had no idea what to do or what to expect, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that one day, I would. That at some point in the future on the other side of this, we would look back and see His providential hand guiding us through, and I still believe that. Truly, I haven’t felt myself since August 20th. I have moments of extreme guilt, berating myself for allowing this to happen. I have anxiety wondering if the other shoe will drop. It’s been difficult to feel normal, but that’s ok, and I know it is part of the healing process for Annie, Connor, Travis, and me. Because of the ways I have seen God work in our situation, I know I will feel like myself again. And I know God will use this to help me be more empathetic, compassionate, loving, patient, in other words, more like Christ.
God was with us through the countless calls, texts, gift cards, hugs, judgment-free friends and family. His love emanated and pierced the darkest days of our lives. He gave Annie the wisdom to seek help when everything in me wanted to bring her home. He was with me when I had to tell students and my CBS sisters that I had to step down. He was there when they lovingly wept with me and supported me. He has been with us in counseling. The Holy Spirit has been beside my daughter and me as we pray together desperately seeking the faith we need to get through this. As my daughter struggles to trust in His goodness, I see the ways He reveals Himself to her and how when her faith wavers, He gives me faith enough for the both of us.
I see Him in her healing, in her confidence, in her happiness, in her joy. I see Him in the way He is working in mine and Annie’s relationship in the way He has given Travis tremendous compassion for his sweet girl in the way He has brought laughter and openness and meaningful connection to our family. In four short months, I’ve seen my daughter emerge from the darkness, and while she will likely always struggle with anxiety, I’ve seen the tender way God is using this to equip her with the tools she needs and we need to live a healthy, whole life.
And now it is our turn. It is our turn to take this gift of a second chance, a renewal, a redemptive story in the making and share it with others who are facing their darkest days. Because we have walked through the night, we have crawled, attempted to stand, stumbled, and risen again. There are still hard days, but we are beginning to see how these past four months are threads in the beautiful tapestry of my daughter’s life, and I praise God that He is showing us how we can make this a story of triumph and not despair.
No one is immune to heartache, trial, and trouble. This isn’t a punishment for our lack of faith or devotion to Christ. This, my friends, is life, and when we find ourselves in the midst of a fiery trial, we shouldn’t be surprised. Our precious Savior told us that in this world we would have trouble, that the enemy would attack that which is most precious to us, but He also promised that He had overcome the world and the He would never leave us nor forsake us, and I have lived that promise every day; my family lives that promise every day. We can be assured that God is there with us, fighting for us because He is for us not against us. He is also giving us the courage to push back against the stigma of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. This pandemic has seen a rise in mental health disorders like no other time in history, and my brave girl is eager to share her story as a way to give others the courage to seek the help they need, so I will allow her to close with words of encouragement.
I fell like this experience has helped me a lot. Even though it might not seem like that to you. The hospital was scary at first, but I liked the nurses (well, most of them; there was the one that didn’t give me medicine for my head even though it really hurt) They helped me with my depression and other things. Mental illness needs more attention. More people have died in Japan from suicide in December than Covid all year. And who knows the stats in other countries. It is my hope that this experience allows me to help others who need help to have the courage to get the help they need for anxiety, depression, or any mental health issue. You should never be embarrassed or feel bad about having a mental health issue. I am grateful that my parents and family have always helped support and encourage me. If you are struggling with mental health, I encourage you to reach out to someone you trust and know it is ok to not be ok and it is ok to ask for help. One thing I have learned is that you don’t have to struggle alone.