“I can’t believe you brought me to this horrible place. I will never, ever come back!”
I was standing outside of a counseling center with my 14-year-old daughter who was crying and screaming at me. We had just finished an intake appointment with a therapist there, and it didn’t go well. This place was not what I had hoped it would be. It was cold and sterile, and there were a bunch of girls standing outside smoking cigarettes and staring us down. She did not belong here. It was a little frightening.
How did this happen? How did we get here?
Two years earlier we were a happy family of four. Two loving parents and two beautiful daughters. Then one day our entire world came crashing down. My husband had a heart attack after going running. He died almost instantly. It was a nightmare from which I couldn’t wake.
In the blink of an eye, I found myself a single mother of two girls, ages 10 and 12 at the time. For me, those first few months were horrible and practically a blur. But my older daughter, Amanda, seemed to recover surprisingly quickly. Perhaps too quickly. She was busy with school and her social life. That was a relief to me but, at the same time, I felt something was terribly wrong.
Amanda was always a challenging child. She was the girl you saw screaming on the floor of CVS because I wouldn’t buy her candy. Or the girl who would throw a fit when asked to do her homework. She was also adorable and sweet and loving. But I didn’t have a lot of patience with her during those tough moments. They happened often and were difficult. Thankfully, there was someone who always understood her, someone who knew how to calm her – her dad.
Then one day he was gone. My husband's death was devastating to me, but I can’t imagine how horrible it was for my daughters.
Amanda appeared to handle it well in the beginning. But gradually she began to fall apart before my eyes. Amanda became quiet, spent more time in her room, regularly dressed in sweats, wore dark makeup, and her grades went from good to terrible. It was as if my daughter was gone and replaced by an angry, closed-off stranger.
I knew she needed help and I went looking for it. I was referred directly to a counseling center where the therapists specialized in depression. Supposedly they were the best. But there was a huge problem – there were no available appointments, and they had a waiting list that could take up to three weeks. We didn’t have three weeks. Amanda was getting worse, and I was terrified.
I found another facility with no waiting list. Perhaps the instant availability should have told me something. But I was desperate. A few days later, standing outside of this center with my daughter in hysterics, I understood why it was so easy to get in. It felt like a factory. We got shuffled from one aloof therapist to another. One of them even handed us a prescription without asking a single question yet wanted Amanda to see her for daily therapy. And let's not forget the cold white walls and those intimidating girls outside with the cigarettes.
I agreed with Amanda; the place was horrible. But I was at my wits’ end. I didn’t know how to help my daughter, and I was scared to death.
When we got home that day, I fell onto the couch and cried. I couldn’t stop crying. I was all alone and did not know what to do. I couldn’t fix this. I was at rock bottom and did not think there was a way out.
Amanda walked into the room and saw me crying. I believe this was her “aha” moment. She sat with me and hugged me while we cried together. She finally admitted that she needed help but wanted to find the right way for her. We made a deal that we would both try to keep it together until the original place called with an appointment. She promised to go with an open mind. For the first time, I felt a glimmer of hope.
A week later the first counseling center called. I took Amanda to meet with the therapists, and when we walked in, I felt like I could breathe again. The place was warm and inviting. The therapists explained their philosophy and how they would teach Amanda to help herself. They included me in the process and showed me how to help her best.
The therapists diagnosed Amanda with situational depression and one of the worst cases of anxiety disorder they had ever seen. But she was now open to help, and help was what she got.
Eventually, my Amanda came back and is now better than ever. She looks great, the dark makeup is gone, she smiles all the time, has an amazing group of friends, and her grades are fantastic. She has learned how to deal with her problems, not run from them.
Amanda is now 17 years old and going to college next year. I am so proud of her and how far she has come. I don’t think that either one of us will ever forget how horrible life was only a few years ago. Depression is an illness. I am glad that we found the right help for her. I am equally as happy that I was able to recognize the signs of her depression. It would have been easier to ignore them. When something feels wrong, it usually is.
This experience has taught me many things, the most important of which is to be aware of the warning signs. I pray that I will never see them again. But if I do, I now have the tools to help.
Note From the Editor:
When it comes to teenage depression, knowing what to look for can make all the difference. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Irritable or annoyed mood
- Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
- Low self-esteem
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
- Social isolation
The most important thing to remember is to trust your intuition: if something feels wrong, it usually is. Know the signs and get help.