As a person who suffers from depression and anxiety, I understand how important it is for me to stick to routines. There are days when I literally have to look at my morning routine and check each item just to know how to function. Make coffee. Take meds. Check calendar. Get dressed.
In fact, whether or not I’m following my routines is usually an indication of my mental health. When I’m healthy, I stay the course. When I’m not, I try to wing it.
Similarly, when I follow my routines, I stay well. When I ignore them, I slip more easily into depression.
But for the past year, I literally could not. And needed my routines. My family needed a routine. But we were living in trauma. Because it turns out the only thing more difficult than my own mental health issues is watching my daughter struggle with the same thing.
My daughter was born “tox positive,” which I have learned is the clinical way of saying she was exposed to drugs in utero. We knew this when we adopted her at 12 days old. We knew it may have an effect on her emotions and behavior.
We couldn’t have known that at 6 years old she would be suspended from school. That she would become angry and violent. And that she would then feel so guilty that she would bang her head against the wall and tell us she wished she was dead. We couldn’t have anticipated that we would work less and less, because someone would always need to be home with her. Or that we would take her to a crisis center. Or that she would be admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she would have two stays totaling 31 days.
And the longer she was gone, the more we sat and stared.
My husband and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary the day our daughter was discharged for the second time. In all of our 16 years of marriage, we have never encountered something that shook us so deeply. That made us unable to access our true selves. That made us understand that we should clean the house. Or do laundry. Or eat. But made us reach for another episode of “Gilmore Girls” instead. Watching our daughter suffer this way- behaving in a way that wasn’t really her- it’s the most painful thing we’ve ever done. And we were powerless
Today, I spent the day with a friend, preparing freezer meals to feed my family for the month. The meals I spent several days planning, because I finally had the mental space.
Today, my little girl belly-laughed with a friend. She went to the movies and stayed up late and had some disappointments and navigated it all with the skills of someone much older than 7.
Today, I am finally able to get a few of my thoughts into words.
My baby is sick. And we took her to a doctor. And we got her some help. And we fought the shame and guilt and stigma that come with mental health.
Today, she has a diagnosis. And meds. And therapists who understand her. And a new school that’s just for kids like her.
And tomorrow, there is possibility.