Blog Posts of Author R. S. Belcher
Of Scars and Shooting Stars
I sit next to my daughter Emily's hospital bed. She's finally sleeping, no longer thrashing in pain or hyperventilating. She's beautiful, my little girl; funny, sweet, sarcastic, kind, and she carries a wisdom from battling and living through things someone her age shouldn't have to. She turned 15 last month and she has been fighting this war for a little over four years now. I have lost count of the hospital rooms, the psychiatric rehab facilities, the endless parade of medicines, the cuts, the scars, the tears, but I know my daughter remembers every one of them, carries them with her.
Emily has what they call Major Depressive Disorder. She has other diagnoses as well, chief among them anxiety disorder. The labels and the medications have changed over the years, but her commitment to fight to see the next day, to get better, to live instead of die, to face the monster down and spit in its eye, that's always been there.
Funny embarrassing daughter story (sorry Emily, but you did tell me it was okay to write about you, so...): when Emily was very young we were at a baseball game for my son's little league team. While Jon played out on the field, and we sat in the bleachers, Emily was playing in the grassy area off to the side of the bleachers. She had met two other girls, a bit older than her and the three were talking. I think the other girls had some Barbie dolls and they were sharing. A few moments later I glanced over to see that the dynamic had changed. The two older girls were standing in front of Emily, they were clutching their toys close to them. Obviously, sharing time was over. One of the girls was being exceptionally nasty to my toddler. She was leaning close to Emily's face and taunting her, teasing her, “you're a little ba-by,” she said loud enough for me to hear it, “you still wear diapers!” I stood from my seat, ready to go to my daughter's defense, preparing for a flood of hurt tears from the older girl's taunts. Emily looked at the older girl, stared into her sneering face with the serenity of a little Buddha, and gave the girl a huge, wet, noisy raspberry, then walked away cool and calm. I couldn't help but laugh at it, and I felt a pride in me that whatever came Emily's way, my little badass could handle it
.I won't presume to speak for Emily as to the events in life that led her to have to wrestle with depression, anxiety, self-injury and attempted suicide. I do feel comfortable saying that it was many things, though, not a just a single event. Also, since Emily's mother, my ex-wife, and I, have had our bouts of depression, anxiety, and mental illness, ourselves, some component of it is biological. It didn't happen overnight.
My first recollection of it was when Emily talked to me about cutting when she was in her last year of elementary school. I was in alien territory and I had no idea how to address the issue. Emily saw a therapist and in time was pronounced “better”, whatever that nebulous label means. In the summer before she began middle school, Emily was given her first diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder. Within a year we had suffered a traumatic event in our family, the death of a loved one very dear to my children and to me, a woman Emily viewed as her step-mother.
This is the part where I wish I could go back and kick my own ass. I was so busy, so absorbed, dealing with my pain, with my own loss, running from it, hiding from it, I neglected to help my kids deal with their own. Emily flailed in the dark. There was more self-destructive behavior, a lot of acting out, and the first suicide attempts. It began a spiral that tore at my relationship with my daughter, saw her longtime love of academics crash and burn, and began a series of hospitalizations as she thrashed in pain, confusion, anger, and depression. Seemingly, to me, overnight, my little girl had become someone else, someone I hardly knew and struggled to understand, but the truth was she had come to this place over a long road, one that had been blind to. It also began our wandering through the tangled wilderness of the mental health system, trying to find her help.
I could write a freaking book on that journey and our misadventures in it. I won't dwell on it here, but I can say there are amazing, generous, and caring people in all levels of mental health and education systems and I want to thank them for helping my daughter and my family. There are also a lot of cold-hearted drones who speak disdainfully in acronyms, callous educators only concerned with how your “problem child” is going to impact their school's SOL test scores, and doctors and therapists more concerned with the latest fad in chemicals, or playing psychoanalysis parlor games than listening to your child, or you about what the hell is actually happening.
There are facilities that are more prisons than hospitals, storehouses for damaged souls, more concerned with quiet than healing. It can be infuriating, disheartening, and often a huge and disastrous waste of time, resources, and energy. Just remember, don't give up, NEVER give up. Fight for your child, fight for you. You will find the good people, you will find help and more steps forward than back. Just keep going and don't lose sight of why you're fighting, and NEVER stop fighting. A year later, Emily made a personal decision to seek out a residential program to find help. She told me one morning in a voice so weary and full of pain that she was tired of waking every day to thoughts, desires for death, for feeling hopeless, and at 12, not seeing a future for herself other than the grave.
My daughter is a warrior, she's fierce. I have often wondered that if I had to leave my home, my family for some unknown facility at the age of 12, if I could do it. I don't think I could. She survived a near-fatal suicide attempt and began the part of the hero's quest where the hero must walk alone and gain wisdom in that journey. Emily's journey through Residential Care would fill up another book. She met so many children lost to suffering, and despair, preyed on by selfish, unstable adult guardians. There were good times and not-so-great times, but slowly, with the proper help and with her own never-defeated desire for wellness, Emily made her way home.
She was gone over a year but she managed to make enough progress to come home for her 13th birthday, a truly magical day. She had set a goal for herself to not celebrate her first official teenage birthday in a mental hospital and she did it. I do recall birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmases in visitor halls and common rooms, but seeing my little girl's happiness at her friends and loved ones traveling so far to see her, made them some of the most memorable holidays imaginable, true celebrations of thankfulness, and love, and family.
Emily made it home to visit with my mother, her beloved grandmother, and they shared a lifelong memory beside a campfire roasting hot dogs, before my mom passed away. Emily was able to stand and share that memory at mom's funeral, my beautiful, brilliant, eloquent,14 year old fighter, afraid to be in crowds, to be the center of attention. Emily stood alone at the service and in a strong, sometimes quavering voice, shared how Granny's kindness and presence had helped her the day she tried to OD, had helped her to choose to fight to live, not die. She shared that she had such a wonderful memory of Granny with her that night beside the fire. There is wisdom and strength in pain. I have only to see my daughter, to hear her stories, to know that is truth.
At one point during her time in Residential, I was worried about Emily when she fell into a deep depression and I reached out to my friends and colleges on Facebook to send her letters of encouragement. The outpouring she received amazed her and me. So many letters from so many people, many folks I hardly knew, telling ;stories of their own battles with depression and other mental health issues. The letters encouraged Emily and showed her what I think this whole ‘Hold Onto the Light’ blog campaign is about, that she wasn't alone in her battle, that so many of us have fought these fights, seen our loved ones fight them, shared and gained strength from the sharing. For every letter, for every package, gift, note, postcard, I want to say it again, I will say it the rest of my life, thank you.
Emily has been home over a year now. There are still struggles and challenges, the latest being migraines caused by anxiety and stress that has led us to the hospital as I write this post. Emily has grown so much stronger, so more in control of her own life and her depression. She sees a future as a teacher or councilor. She wants to do volunteer work to help others as she was helped. She is a gifted and award-winning artist, praised by her teachers, and she is looking forward to learning to drive, to do more with her photography, and to attend college.
There are still struggles, still battles in the war, but she wins more now than loses, and she gains sagacity and fortitude for the next fight from each loss. I am so proud of her and I have learned so much from her. I keep learning every day. I'm honored to know her as a person and to call her my daughter.
Emily recently got her first tattoo, she insisted she wanted to have it on her wrist, to cover some of her old self-inflicted scars. She wanted to turn an old pain into a new beauty. I can't think of a better way to sum her, and her struggle, up. She made a scar into a shooting star.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight