I have intractable epilepsy so it wasn’t a big surprise when I realized I was having a pretty big partial complex seizure while flipping pancakes this morning. When my teenage daughter saw what was happening, she came to me and put her arms around me to help me get grounded. The feeling of her arms around me unleashed something unexpected and I began to sob uncontrollably. I tried to push the emotions away but that only caused a panic attack and I was left holding onto my daughter for dear life while the sobs erupted from me like a wave that would drown me if I didn’t let them flow through me and recede. I felt like falling to the floor and letting the sobs overtake me but my daughter made me sit down in a chair and go through a guided imagery in which I let the emotions flow through me and then down into the ground where they would be absorbed by the collective consciousness. Once I did this everything resolved pretty quickly and I was back to making pancakes a few minutes later.
While waiting for the pancakes to cook, I began to think about the seizure and the feelings it unleashed. This wasn’t the first time this week my body did something completely unexpected and I felt the need to be curious about it. A few days ago I woke up with really intense hot flashes and nausea. I felt waves of heat rush over me and leave me sweaty, cold and shaky. I felt empty inside and nauseous. Seizures, panic attacks, sobbing, and hot flashes.
My body is trying to get my attention and it seems pretty obvious what it’s all about. Last week one of my daughter’s classmates (also my husband’s student) went missing. Within twenty-four hours the police found her body. She had jumped off a cliff in a mountainous area very near town. My daughter goes to a small high school so everyone knew this young woman. If this were any other time, I would have felt very sad, shocked and a lot of empathy for the parents. But this isn’t any other time. Two months ago my daughter told us she wanted to be put into an psychiatric inpatient facility because she’d been cutting uncontrollably and had very detailed plans of how she was going to kill herself. We immediately took her to the ER and she was admitted to a crisis center for 8 days.
I felt like falling apart and wallowing in my fears, my grief and memories of my own teenage struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. But I have two little boys to care for and we had to make trips two and from the crisis center every day and figure out how we were going to get her the care she needed once she was discharged. I wouldn’t send her back to the county mental health facility where she’d been going for two years without making any progress. So I trudged through all of this, breaking down here and there for a few minutes and then pulling myself back together.
In the end, we raised enough money to send my daughter to a very good therapist who would help her process her trauma from being bullied and then teach her tools for living a meaningful life without being overwhelmed by depression. The weeks went by and I began to see small changes; she was singing again, playing her ukelele and drawing, and her panic attacks seemed less frequent and more manageable. But I continued to feel like I was holding my breath and waiting for the worst to happen.
I began to cry at random moments. I felt like crying all the time. I lost interest in my sewing projects. I started feeling low level anxiety as I went through my daily activities. I couldn’t fall asleep easily and once I did, I woke frequently feeling really anxious and worried. Everything I did became rote and dull. I kept thinking that I felt like I had when I was postpartum with my youngest son. I recognized the symptoms of depression, started taking an anti-depressent and seeing a psychologist for the purpose of holding me accountable for using my coping skills. The heaviness of depression gradually lifted as the medication began to work and as I began to implement my emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills. But I still felt this nagging sensation that there was something I wasn’t addressing. Deep feelings of sadness persisted. I felt like I was grieving but I couldn’t figure out why. My daughter had planned to kill herself and that was incredibly frightening but she wasn’t suicidal anymore and she was getting the help she needed. So what was there to grieve?
When my daughter’s classmate went missing I felt intense panic. I hadn’t known her but my experience of almost losing my daughter was so fresh and raw. When the girl’s body was found and it was determined she had committed suicide I began having intrusive thoughts and feelings about what she must have been feeling when she walked up the road to the mountains, what she may have felt standing at the edge of the cliff, how much emotional pain she must have felt to have the will to jump off the cliff. I started thinking about what the girl’s parents must be thinking and feeling. And I would cry and pace around.
Of course it all leads back to my daughter and how very close she came to taking her life. My mind keeps telling me that she’s going to be ok now but my heart knows we could lose her and the death of her classmate has given credence to my heart’s warning. So that’s what’s hanging over me: the fear and panic that my daughter could once again be so depressed and hopeless that she would attempt suicide and we would lose her forever. And I’m terrified to let myself feel those feelings. So I’ve been avoiding them and am stuck with the feeling of something heavy hovering over me.
Iron & Wine wrote a song called ‘Waiting for a Superman’ and it sums up my state of being right now:
I asked you a question and I didn’t need you to reply
Is it getting heavy?
But then I realize, is it getting heavy
Well, I thought it was already as heavy as can be
It’s as heavy as can be. And these feelings I’m avoiding will not just dissolve. It’s like being postpartum. You have this miracle of life who is infinitely helpless and fragile and it’s your job to protect it from all the dangers of the world. And you know from giving birth that the line between life and death is sometimes tenuous. My daughter’s brush with death reminds me, in a very visceral way, of how impermanent life can be and the feelings that knowledge elicits are huge and overwhelming.
Because I have not been facing these feelings and touching in with them, my body is in a state of revolution and is finding its own outlets for them. And I’m left with the question “how do I grieve for my daughter when she’s still here?” I believe that’s the work I must do, I just don’t know how to go about it yet.
Tomorrow, we go to the Celebration of Life for my daughter’s classmate. Perhaps I’ll find answers there.