Kicking Stigma Back

When you give birth to a child you question if you can do it all. If you can raise them to be great people in the world. Feedings and diaper changes alone make you feel like you need to have a Masters Degree in parenting. Yet, no one prepares you for the emotions good and bad. There is no manual when it comes to parenting and there is no amount of data, research or books to prepare you for your child feeling scared, alone and anxious in their world.

Sometimes you overcompensate for their emotions. You want to erase the self-doubt, worry and hysterics. You just want to hold that little baby you carried and tell them all is right in the world. But, it’s not. I am a mother who has raised a smart, empathetic, feisty and insanely talented daughter. I am a mother raising a daughter with anxiety and depression.

KB was always a very emotional child and super attached to me. At times I would wonder if I did not do a good job of letting her spend more time with people outside her dad and me. Yet I did. She spent time with friends, family and a lot of time on the soccer field. So what was the need to cling to me when her emotions became too big? I was safe for her. I held a safe place for her. A place without judgement accompanied by a lot of love and reminders that I would always be here. Many nights she would fall asleep after being so upset by something she could not explain. I would break down into tears. Where were these emotions coming from?!

I knew it was deeper and bigger than just her being sad. What she felt ached to her core. She couldn’t explain it, and that was harder for her than it was me. Watching her struggle and yell “I don’t know what to do! I am sad and it hurts!” What do you say to a ten year old child or a 16 year old teenager as she points at her heart and the pain she feels.

As a parent you want to do everything in your power to make sure your kids are alright. You want to be the best role model possible but sometimes it is not that simple.

We have struggled through this together. I have spent countless hours making sure I find her the right team of doctors and therapist to help her through those feelings. I spend many nights awake worrying, praying and asking myself have I done all the right things for her.

KB’s anxiety and depression became more visible to me when she started high school. It looked very different and I knew I needed to do something about it before she went off to college. The pressures of school, sports and friends brought it out in a way that spoke loud and clear. It showed up different and dangerous.

It was not until her Sophomore year of High School she stopped fighting me on seeing a therapist. It took many tries but by her senior year we found someone that she felt safe with. She still stood the super funny kid with big personality, smarts and athleticism that excelled at just about everything she did. She was and is still the natural leader. Involving herself in school activities and always cheering everyone on. Yet, she would have times where she struggled internally not letting anyone in. How could one of the most outgoing, brave and popular kids be struggling so hard? Why did she feel so alone in a busy world or around a loving family? It was much deeper than what lived on the surface. She suffered tremendously.

I realized quickly I would do anything in my power to make sure she felt safe and this did not define her. Then you have bullies in the world who take advantage of this. Coaches, teachers, friends and family. In fact you would think they would be the biggest supporters throughout this. It’s true what they say. Hurt people hurt people. KB has had coaches and friends who should have been leaders and mentors punish or manipulate her because of her depression and anxiety. She has been left out of things because “she might not mentally be able to handle it.” If they only knew… Sure, she suffers from depression and anxiety but that does not define her. At her core, she is a beautiful strong young woman who wants to see people happy, succeed and doing what makes them happy. She’s the one you want on your team at the end of the day.

I worry and continue to have sleepless nights because she has embarked on a new chapter in life that comes with a new set of stress and worry. She’s away at college and getting to her is not just a drive down the hill, across I-90 or dash up 405. I have a 5 hour drive or an hour plane ride ahead of me. That feels like eternity when your heartbeat is suffering. So when I check my phone, answer it during a meeting or gathering it’s not to be rude. I may need to help her breathe through whatever she’s going through, answer a mom only knows type of question or do absolutely nothing, but say “hi honey” are you ok?

I will always want to fix it and I will never stop trying to remind her that it is OK to not be OK. I have to trust that she is alright while away at college and that when she is struggling she will let me know. I cherish every FaceTime call or “I miss you” text out of the blue because I know she’s needing the comforts of home. I know she just needs mom and sometimes that’s all you need.

To those who have said “you’re lucky you only have one child who’s doing great at everything. You have it easy”. You’re right. I am incredibly blessed but having one child doesn’t lessen the struggles one goes through. You don’t have to have a certain number of children in order to be approved by other parents you qualify to fit into the parent box. Each child comes with many layers of joy and pain.

I continue to remind KB that she drives the bus in her life. Let no one tell you differently. We are not everyone’s cup of tea, but at the least, we need to be our very own and embrace it hot, steep or cold.

KB is a fighter. She will continue to rise up and I am so proud of her for bringing awareness to mental health and being a part of something bigger. The vulnerability and fight alone makes for a champion. I say it often, I am so incredibly proud of who she is today. She is doing what she dreamed of as a young girl, playing division 1 soccer, getting a great education and making an impact on and off the field.

Parents, if the signs show up, don’t ignore them or brush it off as “they’re moody or just going through a phase”. Life events can trigger something that will forever change your world. Pay attention to the signs and don’t ever stop asking them questions no matter how much it gets on their nerves.

Mental Health looks different for everyone. Mental Health does not mean you cannot achieve your desired goals or live a fulfilled life. It may just require support along the way. So I ask, before you judge someone or put them in box, evaluate who you are as a person and what you might face in life.

There is more to our story…