My daughter suffers with a silent tormentor. It shows no mercy. It holds her in its clutches offering no rhyme, no reason, no warning. Her reality changes from hour to hour, sometimes minute to minute, and on the bad days, second to second. Most people take their lives one day at a time. We take ours one breath at a time, while her silent tormentor lays in wait, ready to strike.
Bronwyn is sixteen. She’s beautiful. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s active in her school. She has friends. She’s a saxophone player in her competition band.
She lives with bipolar disorder.
Her tormentor wound its way around her in middle school. Unbeknownst to us, she stopped feeling. She went numb. In order to feel something—anything—she started cutting.
The guidance counselor called to tell me she had cuts on her arm. He told me not to worry too much about it; most girls her age were doing it.
Don’t worry about it? My daughter resorted to marring her beautiful skin because she was hurting, and the school didn’t want me to worry about it? That’s the day I learned I could never trust the school system again.
The cuts were shallow. Until they weren’t. When we started watching for more cutting, she turned to other areas of her body. Areas we couldn’t see. She cut deeper.
We tried therapy, to no avail. Finally, we turned to a psychiatrist. Believing it was depression, he prescribed an antidepressant. We watched her get worse. We tried a different antidepressant. Worse again. Suicidal thoughts crowded her. We told her often, “Remember, it’s just chemicals messing with your head. If you ever feel like you want to die, come to us. We’ll help you through it.”
Thank God, she did. Because one night she went into a downward spiral so horrifying, she cried and begged me to let her go. Let her die. I can’t put into words what that does to a mother. She held my hand, cried her heart out, and begged me to just let her end it.
We took her to the emergency room where they transferred her to a psychiatric hospital. She stayed for a week. For a few days it worked well for her. They changed her meds, things appeared to improve, and she came home. We continued with therapy and her psychiatrist appointments. When things started to decline, the doctor added a mood stabilizer. We were lulled into a false sense of security because studies showed people who take this medicine are six times less likely to try to commit suicide.
That false sense of security is a fickle bitch, and I’ll never trust her again.
On the day of my first book release, my daughter came home with a smile on her face and went out for a run. I got a call about twenty minutes later from her best friend who said Bronwyn told her she swallowed a handful of pills. I found my girl in the woods and dragged her butt home. I was furious. We had a deal. She promised to come to me. Only this time she didn’t. This time, her tormentor was stronger than she. Stronger than me.
This was the day I realized my sheer force of will would not be enough to keep her tethered to this world.
We went back to the emergency room, and they transferred her to another hospital, this one three hours from home. I was forty-eight hours away from traveling to the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference. I decided, right then and there, I wasn’t going. Bronwyn told me she wanted me to go. She said she would feel worse if I didn’t.
Left with no choice, I went. She was in good hands. My husband booked a hotel room next to the hospital so he could be there for every visit. Me, I wouldn’t see her for four days. Four. Long. Days. Four days of drowning in guilt for not being there. Four days wondering if she was really feeling better or if she was plastering a fake smile on her face for her father. Four nights lying awake, tears rolling down my face, wondering if she missed us, if she was crying herself to sleep. But it’s what she wanted. And I would do just about anything she wanted. Anything but stop fighting for her.
I showed up at the conference with a dear friend who is suffering troubles of her own. Her husband is dying. We held each other up. We leaned on each other. When worry and fear crowded in, we reminded each other of our goals. We forced smiles and networked the best we knew how. I told a small handful of people what was going on, but no more. Not because I was ashamed. Never that. But because I didn’t want what I was going through to become the focus.
Besides, we’ve been living in this reality for four years. We’re doing everything we can, and we’ve learned that this is just the way our lives are now.
Bronwyn is now on her fourth medicine, this time an antipsychotic. Turns out one of the worst things you can do for someone who is bipolar is to give them antidepressants. Every time we try a new one, we pray it’s the one. We watch our beautiful daughter and pray she’ll find the way out of her nightmare. Every morning, I worry she found a way to end it in the middle of the night. I pray I’ll find her awake and getting ready for the day. Every time I call up to her room, I hold my breath until I hear her call back. Every. Single. Time.
I count her pills at least once a day. I carry them into our room at night so she can’t get her hands on them in a weak moment. Moments when that silent, invisible son of a bitch grips her by her throat and tries to squeeze every last vestige of hope and peace out of her.
I can’t imagine a world without her, so we’ll keep fighting.
To rally around her, our family has committed to each getting a variation of the semi-colon tattoo. Go to this link here to read about Project Semicolon: http://www.projectsemicolon.org/our-vision.html For those unaware, the semicolon is the point in a sentence where the author might place a period to end the sentence but chooses a semicolon to continue instead. This is a powerful symbol for those stating that the sentence represents their life, and the semicolon is their commitment to continuing their own lives and story.
We told Bronwyn, this is the one tattoo we will sign for before she turns eighteen so make it count. She did. It’s four by eight inches and incorporates the semi-colon and a music note. It’s big, bold, and makes a statement. And it’s gorgeous! Below are the tattoos done thus far…
Bronwyn always jokes about how she sucks at writing. Her sisters are both wonderful writers and from my reviews, I guess I’m not too bad myself. That’s an awfully big shadow to stand in.
However, I don’t think she’s in the shadow at all. During her last stay at the hospital, she wrote a poem. It’s raw. It’s edgy. It’s brilliant. And I hope committing those words to paper provided her a few moments of peace.
Bronwyn and I think it only appropriate to share it with the world. For others who might be suffering. For those fighting their way free from their own demons.
I still vividly remember the first
and only time I was called to guidance.
I walked quickly,
pulling my sleeves over my wrists.
I didn’t need to be told the reason for being called down.
Somehow, I already knew.
The new teen trend is what he called it,
as if the scars on my wrists were normal; as if cutting was an okay thing.
To him, he was saying what he thought was honest.
To me, all of my problems were minimalized.
Frankly, the term teen trend
should be shoved up the ass of
senseless enough to say something
so stupid about
Cutting is not a teen trend.
Cutting is spending your days
shaking and sweating,
itching for a razor blade.
Cutting is hiding blades and bandages in a box
beneath your bed,
hoping your parents won’t stumble upon it.
Cutting is distancing yourself from friends
because you have a new best friend.
It’s cold and silver, providing your only relief.
Cutting is addicting,
slowly taking over your life,
because you’d rather bleed than be numb.
Cutting is not a teen trend.
It’s a toxic coping habit
that if not stopped,
can, and will,