Teen Depression and Suicide
Parents divorcing, moving to a different town, and attending a different school, my daughter Claire, was struggling. She wasn’t happy about all of the changes that were happening and I tried as hard as I could to make the transition as seamless as possible. I remained consistent in my ability to be available for her during this difficult time. Her father, on the other hand, immediately thrust her into the drama that was now his new life. See the below link to my post “How Divorce Effected My Child.”
Claire “came out” to me in September of 2014 (beginning of eighth grade). She was relieved after telling me she is a lesbian and I told her that I would always love her no matter what. See the link below to my post “My Angry Lesbian.”
In Spring of 2015, after Claire cut her hair very short – which made it more obvious she was a lesbian – her father approached her.
A Little Back Story
But before I tell you about that, I’m going to veer off a little and talk about Claire’s experience with religion. It’s critical to understanding all that contributed to her depression.
In the years leading up to Claire “coming out”, George and Nancy (George’s wife) became heavily involved in Christianity and expected their children to do the same. Claire joined youth group and attended church services when she was with her father. During this time, Claire was discovering her sexual preference to women. She became aware of the religious/political issues faced by the LGBT community. As a result, she frequently expressed her outrage about these atrocities.
Nancy was obvious about her dislike of gay people and wasn’t shy about voicing her opinions. As Claire educated herself to the atrocities of her “people”, she and Nancy got into several heated arguments on the topic. George never retorted when Nancy spewed her hate so Claire assumed he mirrored Nancy’s views.
Claire was baptized and raised Christian. As she grew up, it was drilled into her rapidly developing brain that God was patient, tolerant and loved all of his children unconditionally. As she got older, she realized God’s love is conditional – or at least the Christian’s interpretation of ‘God’s love’. Her Christian community collectively condemned certain groups of people. Specifically the group of people she was born into. Everything she had been taught was a lie so she got angry and fell away from the church. George was not happy about this and continued to push her to fit into the mold I spoke about in my post about “How Divorce Affected My Child.” See the link below.
Okay back to when George approached Claire about being gay. Now, understand Claire wasn’t planning on talking to her father about her sexuality. With all that had happened up until this point, she simply didn’t feel comfortable. To know George is to know that he isn’t the most tactful person on the planet and the way he approached her was very awkward. You see, when he’s uneasy, George tries to be a comedian but it always comes off as offensive and the receiver typically recoils. His “gay talk” with his daughter would be no different.
The “Gay Talk”
April 2015 (Claire is 14 years old) George took Claire on a very nice trip to Washington, DC. They were in a café and George blurted out, while reaching for the salt, “So when did you first know you were gay?” Claire, completely taken off guard, stammered “Uh, I think maybe around fifth grade?” George, in his infinite wisdom, replied, “Oh, so you were the last to know… “ I think this was George’s way of telling Claire that it was obvious to him, years ago, that she was gay. Claire didn’t know how to respond to this statement and instantly felt awkward. The entire conversation was extremely un-nerving for Claire and all she could think about was how she wanted it to stop.
When she got home from the trip she relayed the story to me and said that the tone of the conversation went okay. Claire said, “He didn’t get mad at me but he said that if I chose this path, it would be a difficult one.”
The months that followed were a struggle for them as she felt compelled to spread her wings and become as gay on the outside, as she felt on the inside. She wore t-shirts that expressed how she felt. One said, “Wish You Were Queer”, another “Equality.” She bought everything rainbow she could get her hands on; rainbow shirts, bracelets, flags, etc and made some artwork for her bedroom. She searched for and consumed article after article on the civil rights gay people were not entitled to. She watched documentaries about the evolution of the gay rights movement and all its hardships.
Claire was becoming more angry and her plight was causing more friction between her and her father. I remained supportive but admittedly I had a hard time understanding what she was going through – as she continually reminded me. See my post “My Angry Lesbian” where I talk about our experience.
My Daughter is Depressed
By the end of eighth grade, Claire had fallen into a deep depression. Her grades plummeted and she was angry at the world. She was tired all the time and rarely wanted to get off the couch. Claire hardly spoke and when she did it was to rant about things that made her angry; her father, Nancy, Nancy’s kids, LGBT issues, school, homework, the weather, etc.
My happy-go-lucky child was gone and she now had to face the reality that life is very different compared to three years ago.
Things I Thought Would Help
She was struggling and because of the situation at her father’s house, she didn’t want to spend the weekends with him and would start getting angry the Thursday before.
During this time George demanded to see her as much as possible and talk to her every night on the phone. He felt that his influence was critical and became agitated when I suggested otherwise. I felt he was making things worse by still seeing her as the sweet little, happy-go-lucky, nine-year-old she was when he moved out.
In a phone conversation I told George, “You’ve made it so that your daughter doesn’t want to be around you. I’ve been begging you for years to accept and love her for who she is…when are you going to realize the damage you are causing?” I suggested he back off a little to give her a chance to hit the reset button. Give her some space to cool down and when she was ready she would approach him. He resisted, which I knew he would, but I insisted and began making some changes despite his objections. He was not pleased, but I felt it was necessary for Claire’s mental health.
Claire told me many times that spending the night at her father’s house during the week was too much stress for her so I changed the schedule to dinner only during the week. When George wanted to re-arrange the schedule I was no longer flexible. This sometimes meant he would have to forfeit time with Claire.
For several months in a row, I arranged it so she only saw her father a handful of times. During this time Claire was able to be calm, gather her thoughts, and gain some clarity. She was seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor as well. Claire shared her frustrations with me and she freely expressed her anger towards her father. I continued to validate her feelings so she knew that I was on her side.
Claire just needed permission to be angry. I truly felt she had every right to be pissed off and it was okay for her to express it in a healthy, productive way. When she was with her father, he always made comments about how angry she was acting and made her feel that being angry was a bad thing. He wanted her to magically be happy without having to do any of the work it took to make her happy.
When I felt she had expressed herself to the point of exhaustion, I redirected her focus. If this was a friend that was causing all of this anger, I would have advised her to walk away and never look back. But this was her father and she would have to find a way to deal with her feelings about him. I explained to her that there are many forms of love and even though it may be difficult to see right now, her father loves her in his own way.
We had several discussions about how she will never be able to change him and she’ll just have to accept her father for who he is. I encouraged her to focus on the positive things about George. I told Claire that the only person she can control is herself.
As I had been for four years prior, I continued communicating all of these things to George. I told him “I am not raising a people-pleaser. I have, and always will, encourage her to be brave and express herself.” I repeatedly begged him to love and accept Claire for the magnificent person that she is.
Perhaps He’s Starting to “Get It”?
When it was time to get back on a regular schedule, Claire seemed to be more accepting. I noticed she wasn’t as angry and when I asked her how things were going with her father she said “He’s more chill lately.” Maybe the time away was what both of them needed. It appeared George was becoming more accepting of Claire, and her feelings about his new life, because he stopped forcing her to spend a lot of time being a family with Nancy and her kids. I think George is slowly embracing his daughter and realizing that if he wants a relationship with her, he will have to accept her for who she is.
Claire was still meeting with a counselor but she didn’t feel this person was helping with her depression. For almost a year, I tried to remedy her depression without medication. I recommended she journal her thoughts and I shared with her some tips I found online. She tried St. John’s Wart, vitamins, and exercise. And I did all I could to be available to her emotionally. I felt good about the things we were trying and kept in regular contact with a psychiatrist.
Even though she was not ranting about her father as much anymore, she still seemed a little “off”. I still tried to remain positive and if something happened at school that got her excited, I would think to myself, “Oh, okay that’s good, she is becoming more active in school activities; she’s doing well in her classes…” But sadly the depression still had a hold on her.
She's Contemplating Suicide
In April 2016, Claire and I were talking in the kitchen and she said to me in all seriousness that sometimes, when she’s at school, she wonders what it would feel like to jump over the railing from the 3rd floor. She also said “When I’m walking home from the bus, I sometimes feel like walking in front of a moving vehicle.” My once happy-go-lucky child was having thoughts of ending her life. She said that no matter how hard she tried she couldn't push away these dark thoughts that haunted her every other week.
It was 10:30pm and I immediately called the psychiatrist. Long story short, Claire started on anti-depressants and after three weeks of taking the medication, she said she hadn’t felt those dark feelings that had been plaguing her for the last year. She also said “So this is what it feels like to be happy.”
Claire has been on the medication for about four months now and she is a different person. She is happy, engaged, talkative, and seems to be enjoying life much more now. She’s a bit more accepting of her father and more tolerant of Nancy as well.
I am so relieved that the medication seems to be working. Claire is stable and is enjoying her life, for the most part. She still has hormonal days, she struggles with everyday life as a lesbian teen, and has the normal stresses of school, but she can cope with these things more effectively with her depression under control.
It’s only been four months so I will keep you posted on her progress.
If you want to read the posts in order:
1. See my post “My Mom-ission Statement” where I talk about my intentions for raising my child.
2. See my post “How Divorce Effected My Child”
3. This post “Teen Depression and Suicide”
4. See my post “My Angry Lesbian” where I talk about her “coming out” and what happened in the months before and after.
Let me know if you have questions or comments. I will help in any way I can.
Feel free to share this post if you feel it can help raise awareness and help someone else. Thanks!
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