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Not the week I planned ...


It has been getting harder for my daughter over this last week or so. I noticed the toll of not being able to engage in activities which help balance out her mood: water polo, work and university, not to mention catching up with friends. All the normal activities we took for granted a month or so back.

As a mother I try not to be overbearing and only suggest things rather than push them; it’s a fine line I walk between encouraging activities that I hope will help lift the mood and being extremely annoying, I know this. This week was perhaps one of the hardest I have had. Perhaps, our close proximity for so many hours makes me notice things more. If you had asked me before I would have said that I have always been aware; that we have spent so much time together that I knew if she was up or down or somewhere in between. But I realise now that I’ve never seen her the way I have this week. This week, I watched her try to balance/’fight against’ her internal battle to die and be done with this painful existence and engaging with her cousins and throw herself into her studies with great vigor. As the week progressed, I saw the battle to let go gaining traction. Each night I peeled her off the shower floor, helped her into warm clothes, fed her and hoped and prayed that she would climb into bed and sleep so that she could have a chance of doing better the next day. Only to repeat the same process day after day. I hung on to the glimmer of hope that a positive middle of the night chat and laugh would give me belief that we were doing OK, even though things were bad, we would get back on track. Only to be confronted in the morning with this little face and big eyes looking up at me, telling me she can’t do it anymore. The meds don’t work! There is no point taking them. She is going to stop. My heart sinks, we have been here before; it never ends well. My mind is racing: how can I talk her around, knowing it’s not going to happen but I have to try. That’s my job. That’s what I do—I give her hope when she can’t find it in herself. If I can’t do that, what am I good for? I am the strength she needs when she loses her own. I am the annoying mum who just won’t leave, won’t give up, won’t let her give in. That’s what I have been doing for years. We both have our part; that’s why we work so well together.

I sometimes wonder: how long we can do this; how long will I be able to last; how long will she? But I can’t give up. I can’t give up.

I lose again. I never win this battle, so we continue down that same old well-worn weary road. The first day is not so bad but I know the night won’t be good. I know, she can’t sleep without her meds: her mind travels at a million miles a second and without something to slow it down it races all night. We don’t sleep, I have selfish thoughts of how tired I am, I wonder how I will teach my online class the next day, and then I remind myself it will be okay. We will get through; we always do. In the morning she is surprisingly connected, at this point it is quite normal for her not to be talking, but I see just how hard she is trying to fight. I teach with my door open so I can at least hear her move around, that puts my mind slightly more at ease. I hear her laugh and engage with the family, another unusual sign, but I cling to it again, hoping that things may not get as bad as I fear. I hope she will be so tired that she will sleep despite no meds. A strange text message from her just before I finish teaching: two hearts. Weird, I think, sweet, but not usual. The class goes over time, the students are asking questions and interested in the work. I finish up and look into my room to comment on the text, no one there. I hear the shower, her safe place. The door is locked, I knock and question whether it’s time to get out. No, she just started. I set about preparing dinner, thinking if I have it ready when she finishes the shower she can eat and head straight to bed, hoping, always hoping that some sleep will give us a chance. She might come around in the morning and decide to take those meds. It isn’t such a bad idea, after all. Her psychiatrist had chatted to her in the afternoon; they’ve discussed the pros and cons. She just needs time, I convince myself, a little more time is all it will take.

Then I hear a noise. Not particularly loud, not out of the ordinary but it snaps me out of my hoping, and I am now alert. I need to get into the bathroom. This I know. I’m at the door. I am yelling at her. She’s not answering, my heart is racing, something isn’t right. I get the door open and at my feet is her weekly pill box, empty, plus a variety of other pill packets, all empty, on the floor. I look across at her in disbelief, still hopeful she didn’t take them, still thinking they could be on the floor, but no. It is obvious as soon as I see her that she did. My mind rushes: what next? what do I do? can I get her to throw up? does that work? do you take charcoal? do I keep her awake? All the time thinking: I understand, I know why you’ve done this. All the time she is saying to me: let me go! let me go! NO, you can’t go. It may be selfish, but I can’t let you go. I see your pain; I see your struggles, but I can’t let you go! I just can’t let you go. You’re my baby. You will always be my baby. I feel bad that I’m having these thoughts, sitting on the wet shower floor holding her head. I am talking to her about stupid things like her dog, anything except what I want to be screaming. I want to be screaming: HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Do you know what this would do to me? Do you know how hard I have tried to make sure this never happened? The last six years we have struggled to keep you alive and you are giving up on me? This is not how it’s supposed to end! This is not how it’s going to end.

She is small in my arms—my baby—leaning into me, letting me close, making sure I am there with her. Once in the ambulance, I chat endlessly to the driver all the way to the hospital and for a moment hold her hand as she is taken into emergency. At the entrance, the reality of our new normal and COVID-19 hits; and, I am not allowed in. We have never been apart when she is in hospital. If she is there, I am there. That’s how this works. That’s how it’s always worked. Not today. Today, I am sitting outside the hospital waiting to be picked up while she is inside, alone, disorientated and all alone. I know in my heart she will be okay; but we have set a new low. A low, I hope we never re-visit.

We believe that our new series will give people living with mental health issues hope, remind them that they are not alone, and that there are others struggling and fighting to not give in. Fostering hope and courage is our goal.

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