Part and parcel with my middle daughter’s high sensitivity comes emotional storms, great highs and devastating lows. I have always worried about this child, most often because she’s a lot like me. Like me, she intelligently (and sometimes frustratingly) questions everything. Like me, she is highly creative. Like me, she is highly sensitive. Like me, she is highly emotional. Like me, she is highly demanding and somewhat of a perfectionist. Unfortunately, like me, she is also melancholic at times.
Because I struggle with low-grade depression, due to a very abusive and damaging childhood, I struggle with mothering my daughters. I am quite the opposite of sunny sometimes. I brood, I cry, I get overwhelmed, sometimes with simple decision-making as to how to spend my time while the kids are in school (such as cleaning the house or getting my intellectual or creative fix for the day), or more complex long-term planning (such as, job re-entry into the STEM field after being home for 8 years).
Needless to say, just a few weeks ago, I was absolutely scared and saddened to hear that my few-days-shy-of-being-8 year old daughter told her father when she was frustrated and attempting to rip the curtains in half, “I want to hit my head on the window, maybe I’ll die and I’ll stop being so sad.” I didn’t hear about this until after she had gone to bed, because I was on a mommy-and-me date with my oldest daughter.
I immediately thought, “this is somehow our fault” (husband and I have been struggling with unemployment and some personal discord). Then I thought, “maybe she inherited my depression, or just picked it up from being around me”.
I talked with her about it the next day. I made sure to spend extra cuddle time and one-on-one art time with her. But I still really have had no idea how to handle these negative emotions, especially since I struggle with my own.
The topic of self-harm or suicidal talk is not the kind of material talked about in most mother’s groups, or the coffee klatches of church bible studies, or at with other mothers during play dates. I think many mothers are afraid to bring it up, and afraid to be stigmatized. Consequently, we are left to grapple with these issues alone, further isolating one in this quagmire of uncertainty and sadness. I struggle with overwhelming sadness and suicidal ideation sometimes too. Because it tends to freak out others, I find it difficult to talk about.
I suspect, particularly within the subset of individuals who possess high sensitivity, creativity, or giftedness (or some combination thereof), there is a higher prevalence of thoughts of self-harm, but very little being of these things are actually being addressed out loud. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, society tends to discourage open, honest communication about self-harming thoughts and the emotional pain that precedes them.
I grappled with the question of how to talk to my kids about sadness and anger. In my home, I try to instill the idea that “Happy is not the only acceptable emotion”, yet still come up short with how to handle eruptions of anger and the torrent of tears that flow pretty heavily in this house.
This is why I really, REALLY appreciated this post called Helping Our Kids When Clouds Are Gathering from the Mansted Family Project, hosted by an Australian mother – a homeschooler to her gifted daughters, and former counselor with many years of experience dealing with suicidal and self-harming clients.
She wrote a post on the subject of suicide and self-harm in children, following a television show about a teenage girl who committed suicide. She wrote the post to help other parents recognize the early signs of depression and anxiety, along with tips to communicate with your children about these very difficult things.
“I want to die” is often the way of saying “I want the pain to stop”… try, if you can, to respond as though you heard the second statement rather than get caught up in the horror of the first statement. Don’t be afraid to reflect the feelings of your child – “I can hear when you say that, that you are feeling really overwhelmed about…”
Make an available space in your lives for this big stuff to be talked about – washing up, hanging the washing out, cooking together etc where busy hands help loosen tongues rather than “I want to talk to you…” formality.
Resilience is the number 1 survival tool for kids (indeed, everyone). Accentuate the positive, but also when you are through the negative – “whew – we got through that!”.
Being “good enough” is to be real, and flexible, and forgiving of self and others.
A thought about depression: some believe that it is “old, frozen anger”. In my experience, this is quite a helpful way to look at it, as working on ways to express the anger/frustration usually attendant in depression can really move it along.
I encourage my readers to read her entire post. If it helps you, leave this wonderful mom a note of thanks. Perhaps if you blog about your family experiences, you might share it on your blog, because I think the message she gives needs to be spread.