I have to tell you all… I have struck the mother load of anxiety attacks over the last few weeks. Now… I know this is going to end up being so ridiculous and I will fully admit this is my crap.
As a side note, when I say something is my crap, it means that I’m trying to work through things. It’s my worry, my fear or my thoughts.
My daughter Haley is planning a trip to Boston for a few days. But here’s the thing… she’s going… BY HERSELF. Please don’t laugh! I know this isn’t a big deal. The kid is 18 years old and truly can handle it. The worry isn’t because she’s an innocent, sheltered child either. Quite the opposite. Haley is a warrior.
Haley is quite the kid. Her first word wasn’t mama or dada, it was “Hi!”, and she delivered it with personality. Everywhere she went she greeted everyone with her word, and people beamed in joy at Haley. She was always a happy kid and full of life. But the odd thing is when she hit school, kids her age didn’t appreciate her.
She was often outcast and bullied for her sense of humor, or how she did things, but they didn’t understand she was way ahead of her time. I received a message from a parent once that Haley was sitting out on the playground reading, a girl walked up to her, took her book and started hitting her with it. Haley never said a word to me. Even when I asked her about it.
Even some teachers didn’t “get” Haley and came to me and told me she should be on medicine because she wouldn’t pay attention. Really teacher? I find you quite boring and rude. Perhaps she just doesn’t like your attitude and lack of caring. I only said that to one teacher and she ended up retiring that year after Haley. I will chalk it up to coincidence, but secretly I hope we drove her to it because she was horrible. However, there were a few teachers that loved Haley, and she bloomed underneath their caring and nurturing.
Here’s my warning. This is where it gets heavy folks, but I promise you, that if you stick it out to the end you will see something amazing. These moments that I share are snippets because I could write a book on this subject.
School was tough for Haley in the social aspect. Even with counseling, therapy and everything else, I watched my sweet girl go sour. Haley was on a waiting list for a full psychological evaluation, but they told me it could take almost two years for her to be seen. She was angry and she attempted suicide a few times. Kids wouldn’t leave her alone and due to the level of bullying, we moved hoping she could get a new chance.
With the move, came new challenges. Haley started cutting. She was becoming violent and I wondered what I did wrong to make my kid go to this dark place. People said it was due to the divorce. I didn’t buy that because my ex and I were very friendly and explained to the girls how we were just better off apart. Just in case, there was therapy for that too. I explored everything I could for my girl. The lack of options was mind blowing and I didn’t know where to turn. The last straw was when she went after her sister and then tried to take her life. The state police told me that her only hope was to sign her over to the state. So I did so I could save her life. It was the most defeating moment of my life. I failed my kid and I couldn’t do anything for her, but I had to save her life and give her sisters a safe environment.
For almost five years Haley was in and out of group homes. She learned how to push buttons and would go for the gusto with staff and other kids so they would move her to a new program. The kid tried everything to get a charge out of me, and even more suicide attempts. I would lose it and would beg her to please stop. Every night I would sob myself to sleep, asking for some kind of guidance. When my phone would ring, I would have a lump in my throat, sure that it was the call that she finally was successful and killed herself. I’m a lucky mom and that call never came.
Over time, and through a lot of reflection, I began realize that none of this was about me and my parenting. This wasn’t about what I did, or didn’t do. I had given her everything I could and more. But if she didn’t have the hope within her to keep on living, there was nothing I could do. She had all of these tools in front of her, but I couldn’t make her use them. This was truly Haley’s journey and I was there for the ride. I knew though, that I had to change how I reacted to Haley and her antics. Because honestly… if she didn’t care about herself, why should I? I know that sounds so cold and I never stopped caring, but how I handled myself had to change.
I learned to pause and didn’t react to her button pushing. Family therapy was no longer me talking, trying to probe her for answers. It was her puzzled face because I was sitting quietly, waiting for her to share. I really began to not give two craps about her outbursts, and it bothered her. I hung up on her when she called home and started with me. She would try to punish me by not calling, and would wait for me to call. I didn’t and she would break down and call me, accusing me of not caring. It was actually quite the opposite, but I had to show her in another way. And it happened one day during a weekly visit.
We were sitting in therapy and she looked at me, a slight smile on her face, and held up her arm that was covered in cuts. I looked at her, totally bored and said “Well Haley… here’s where I’m at. Do it.” Her smile dropped a bit and she said “What do you mean?” I looked at her straight in the eyes and told her exactly this: “Kill yourself. Stop screwing around. I’m tired of waiting for it. Do it or don’t. But I’m tired of this game.” Her therapist just sat there looking at me, he was at a loss for words. Her father shifted nervously in his seat. It was the SCARIEST damn moment of my life, but it was my turn to get a reaction.
Haley looked at me and burst into tears. She came to me and hugged me as she cried and told me she didn’t want to die. All I could do is hug her as she let it all pour out of her body. I cried too and whispered to her that I loved her, but I couldn’t do this anymore. My little girl shook her head in agreement.
It took a little over a year, with more work, a failed attempt at moving home and more cutting, but no more suicide attempts. We worked together in a different fashion as we were working on goals to get her home. Haley worked hard. She had amazing growth! She learned to communicate better, she learned to stand up for herself, and she began to smile more and more.
The day we stood in court, and they released my kid back into my custody was the most amazing moment. I beamed as she told the judge about everything she worked on and her goals for the future. GOALS FOR THE FUTURE!!!! We smiled at each other in excitement as we knew this chapter was done. My kid had just had her midlife crisis a bit early, and conquered the shit out of it!
Haley went back into a real high school for her senior year and graduated! As she walked up on that stage, I lost it. I never thought I would see her reach this moment. I wanted to shout to the crowd “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS KID HAS BEEN THROUGH???? SHE’S AMAZING AND SHE’S AN INSPIRATION!” Instead I looked at my sister who was crying and laughed at her because we were such saps. I think she even told me to shut up when I looked at her.
We still experience rocky moments: There are calls from her in the middle of anxiety attacks and I talk her through it. Jokes about depression that make me catch my breath and then I tell myself to breathe. Fights that make me want to strangle her.
But even better are all of the amazing moments: Stupid humor that we share. Watching her learn to drive even though I want to close my eyes. How she shares silly videos with me on mutual things that we love. The best moment? Seeing her every single day.
Now… if my kid has conquered the biggest demons ever, why does a trip to Boston scare me? Is it because it’s right after my surgery and I can’t be right there if there is an issue? Is it because she’s a little mouse in a big city? It took me a while to answer this for myself, and answer it honestly.
It’s because my kid is starting to live. Haley is exploring life and everything out there. I’ve only encouraged her to do this since she graduated last year. My kid has such a big heart and I don’t ever want it broken. The biggie… It’s because I’m worried my kid is going to move… I can’t even type the rest of this, but I know I have to. It’s because I’m worried my kid is going to eventually move, and leave me and I missed out on her for almost five years and I don’t want to miss out on any more.
As I sit here crying, I know I want her to go live life, to grab life by the balls and live it to the fullest extent. I want her to wake up every damn morning and ask herself “What am I conquering today?” Isn’t that what we want for our kids? I look forward to the phone calls of “Guess what I did today!”
Haley talks about her trip daily. What she will do, what she’s excited to see and even what she will be wearing. She will go on her trip, and I won’t say much as I don’t want to burst into tears. It’s hard to see that my first bird is about to fly. So I will experience my fears as I watch my little girl, now young woman, explore life and see what’s out there.
So Haley… if you are reading this… I love you. I am so proud of you. You have always done things in your way and I don’t regret it for a moment. I may cry, but it doesn’t mean I want you to stop. Just be patient with your mom as she learns to let go.It’s not easy. You’ve got this bugs. Knock them dead.