We returned from the long afternoon trek to pick up my daughter at her school. I was ready for a little alone time outside in our garden, so when I heard my eldest say to her younger sister, “Hey, do you want to hear the new verse of my song?” I smiled to myself and exited the scene.
Outside I thought about how lucky I was to have these two daughters who enjoy each other so much. I grew up very close to my sisters, and I so wanted that for my kids. After having that first baby, I was not at all sure that another one would be in the cards. But I did take that leap into the unknown after four years of adjustment, and our second beauty was born.
In the midst of contemplating all this, that second beauty, our 11-year-old ball of compassion, came running out of the house sobbing. It was that deep eruption of sorrow that I hadn’t heard since the days of them tearing out each other’s hair—had her older sister hit her? Her teenage years have certainly been marked with mood swings, but not with violence toward her compatriot for some time now. The little one curled on my lap, as she hasn’t in years, and just let herself sob and be held in search of some solace for the thing that seemed to be tearing her insides apart.
When I asked, she shook her head no, her sister had not hurt her, but she didn’t want to talk about it. She calmed a moment and then erupted again, off and on for quite a while. Life and dinner and guests interrupted us, and I figured we would talk it through the next day.
When I returned home that night, the big girl told me that before putting her little sister to sleep, she made her talk about what had happened. It seems that the new verse to the song she had been writing alarmed her little sister. She heard in the words the very real story of a very real sister who is going through some very very real pain.
She has known about her big sister’s depression for a while. High school began and where there had just been a moody, developmentally appropriate angry girl, now there was a secretive and always surly teen. Since she had always been an intense child, the kind who woke from night terrors, and lovingly labeled as an “Indigo child” from therapists, I never felt concerned for her life, as we had always talked about everything. But one morning, our budding singer/songwriter/actress had been weirdly hiding her arm through breakfast, and wouldn’t show me when I inquired. I called the psychiatrist immediately.
We met him later that day. Turns out, her arm was host to a beautiful pattern of inspirational quotes, and not the harmful cuts I had feared. Nonetheless, this incident brought us into the medical world of depression. The doctor confirmed the diagnosis I had suspected with her current therapist, and put her on a low dose of Lexapro. The shift in her mood was nearly immediate, and our whole home environment became more positive.
Her little sister was most surprised, I think, by the shift in her sister’s affect. She is a child who is easily frightened by illness, but I tried to lightly explain that her big sister was getting some help from a doctor to unjumble some of the chemicals in her brain that were keeping her feeling so sad and hopeless. That it was not contagious. That we were going to find our way through it together.
We have a plan in place, and I am no longer afraid when I hear her express herself. But something had clicked for her younger sister this evening. Hearing her sister sing about leaving the world was overwhelming for her, as well it should be. Though the words of suicide or death were not uttered, the little one heard the picture differently, maybe in a way that was more real for her.
I tried to focus on my own breathing, though of course I was very taken by my eldest’s explanation of what happened to her sister that afternoon. Yet I was equally moved as she described to me her reassurance to her sister that she was not going anywhere, not of her own volition, and that the pure love between them was one of the anchors of her life.
Depression is a very difficult thing for a family to grapple with—especially teenage depression, because there is the need to both take it seriously, and to place it into the context of being a teen. We have since taken her off all medication, as we found it was not really helping in the long run, and started now seeing a psychologist who specializes in anxiety and depression for teens.
I feel a huge difference in her acceptance of her current state and a major shift in her behavior as she plans for her immediate future. She is articulate and loving, and under great care, plus she is an artist, and as I well know, that is simply part of the package.
Just the other day I overheard the little one asking quietly if there was anything she could do for her sister when she feels bad. The big one hugged her, slightly apologized for putting her through all this, and answered honestly, “Yes. Just be you. That is all the help I need.”