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Trigger warnings. I’m going to talk about mental health, suicide, hospitals and a whole lot of emotionally heavy stuff. My daughter has given her permission for me to post this. If you or someone you know needs help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
My daughter attempted suicide two years ago today. She’d been in crisis for six months and I’d been fighting to keep her alive. I’d also been fighting to convince her to fight to keep herself alive. There were therapists, psychiatrists, doctors. Helping her through this was my full-time job. And I’d thought she was finally starting to improve.
She was in the bathroom for a long time with the water running on a Tuesday morning. She wasn’t able to handle school that day. Water soothes her. I thought it was a good sign she was using a coping tool by taking a long bath. She was 17, a high school junior.
She came out of the bathroom and threw up before she made it to her bedroom. It was blue and foamy. I knew something was seriously wrong. I knew she’d ingested something. I knew my worst fears were happening.
I didn’t know how. I kept all medication locked up. I thought she’d been doing better. I didn’t understand or know the specifics, but I knew my sweet girl tried to leave this world with me sitting at the computer just a few feet on the other side of the bathroom door.
Her father walked in the front door right after she threw up and I yelled for him to call 911. I tried desperately to keep her awake, but she’d slumped to the floor and was totally unconscious long before the paramedics arrived (which felt like an eternity, but I know it was only minutes). The paramedics tried to wake her up, even doing what I later learned is known as a sternum rub, a painful stimulus meant to shock people awake. She didn’t flutter an eyelid.
I was allowed to go with her in the ambulance but had to sit in the front seat. I sent matter-of-fact messages to her psychiatrist, therapist and school alerting them of the situation. I also copy and pasted messages to my own therapist as well as my closest friends. I knew I was going to need my support system.
I felt like I was doing this work for someone else. I felt totally disconnected like I was watching someone else ride in an ambulance, sirens blaring and her child unconscious on a gurney in the back.
I was sent to the ER waiting room while she was rushed back to be seen. My girl had volunteered as a candy striper at this hospital full time the summer before. One of the older lady volunteers recognized her name on the admission forms and went back several times to see if she could gather information.
Each time she’d come out, sit down next to me, hold my hand, wait for me to meet her eyes and then say, “She’s still asleep. They’re still working on her, trying to figure this out. She needs you to stay strong for her.”
Eventually, I was brought back. My little girl looked so tiny in the bed, unconscious and hooked up to all sorts of beeping machines, tubes everywhere.
I couldn’t answer questions about what or how much she took. A police officer who showed up along with the paramedics found some pills at the house and was able to research the numbers on them to determine they were Tylenol PM. We didn’t know if she’d taken other things or the amounts.
The doctor told me the situation was very serious. That she might not wake up. That she might not survive. That there might be permanent brain damage.
I sat beside her and held her hand, trying to fill her with positivity. There’s no way I was accepting the possibility of her not pulling through this, of her no longer being her.
I made arrangements for a friend to help me get my car. I just felt like I needed it there with us. The friend told me it was all my fault, that I didn’t do enough to help my daughter.
Everything still felt like it was happening to someone else.
Actually, even two years later as I’m writing this it still kind of feels like I’m telling someone else’s story.
The nurse came in to explain they didn’t have the resources to treat her and she’d need to be transferred to a children’s hospital two hours away. Her father had driven himself to the hospital while we were in the ambulance. He went home and packed a bag for me.
The ambulance came to transport her. Her father went home. I drove two hours by myself. There wasn’t room in the ambulance this time..
This was the day I knew my marriage was over. I didn’t know when or how I’d take the steps to end it, but I knew it would eventually happen.
I realized about 20 minutes into the two hour drive I was in no state to drive myself – and that I also didn’t have enough gas. I stopped to fuel up and quickly responded to messages from my support network. One friend offered to leave her house immediately to drive me, but it would have delayed my trip half an hour and I just couldn’t wait.
So I hit the road again. I actually don’t really remember the drive or the walk from the hospital parking garage to my daughter’s room, except feeling a lump in my throat when I was told to head to the intensive care unit.
My friend Heidi was vacationing in the area and met me at the hospital. My daughter was still on the transport gurney when we got in her room – BUT HER EYES WERE OPEN. She was speaking – not in sentences that made sense, but she was AWAKE. She was completely unconscious for over 12 hours. I was so happy to see those eyes open, even if she was so weak she couldn’t lift her own head.
The doctor made it clear she wasn’t out of the woods yet and there were a whole lot of unknowns. There were some really scary days. She was in ICU for 11 nights and in the hospital for 14 nights total. I slept next to her in the hospital every single one of those nights. Then she spent a week in a mental health facility where I wasn’t able to accompany her so I got a hotel room because I desperately needed time alone to sleep and cry.
She had a lot of recovery to do after leaving the hospitals – physically, emotionally, mentally. And so did I.
I left her father soon after we returned home from the hospitals/hotel. I just couldn’t stay. I’d been unhappy for many years. It wasn’t good for me and this was making it an unhealthy situation for my daughter.
My daughter has made a miraculous recovery in every way. I was told she might not survive, that she might never wake up, that she could have permanent brain damage, that the best-case scenario was she’d need a liver transplant. She beat all odds. Her liver healed itself. Doctors were amazed at her progress. More than one doctor told me “she shouldn’t be alive.”
She also made significant mental health healing. She graduated high school and is thriving at college halfway across the country. She’s a warrior. A fighter. A survivor. The strongest and bravest person I know.
My recovery has been slower than my daughter’s. My world completely shattered two years ago today. I’m still picking up the pieces and trying to figure out who I am. I’m still recovering from the trauma that happened on this day two years ago, and in the hospital during the weeks after. And in the years that led up to it. And all the changes that have happened in the two years since her attempt.
I’m still processing it all. Writing this was a step in healing. It’s taken me two years to get this out.
I joked with my daughter this week that it was the one year anniversary of our ankle tattoos. You see, last February 27 we both got our first tattoos. She at 18 and me at 41. Arrows above our right ankles to signify moving forward. The tattoos were to create a positive memory on the first trama-versary of her attempt.
Trauma is fascinating. I thought I was okay on this day last year. Then I was folding laundry and was overcome with a wave of emotion so strong I had to sit down as sobs took over my body. It was 10 a.m., the time she came out of the bathroom and puked up blue foam.
We Facetimed today about how glad we both are she’s alive.
I’m going to be gentle with myself today and do things that feel good to my soul – a bike ride, some time at the beach, a fancy latte, maybe yoga class later if I feel up to it.
I’ll continue working on healing and trying to figure out my place in this world. Left foot, right foot, breathe.
But mostly today I celebrate my daughter. And our arrow tattoos.
Again, if you or someone you know needs help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.