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From Baby Step Faceplants to a Suicide Attempt

Learning to walk . . . in a new way

Wobble, wobble . . . tumble! Wobble, wobble . . . tumble. Assess your position, struggle to stand, begin again! Oh, the work that goes into learning to walk!

With out-stretched arms Alan and I waited to break the fall from those first few steps. Encouraging, anticipating, delight, and laughter created unforgettable memories of those early attempts to walk. They weren’t graceful! Just a string of 2 to 3 tottering steps. What pure joy I felt as both Lynn and Reily fell into my arms after each try!

Walking progressed to efforts to run. Eeks! I hated the feeling that rose in my stomach as their bodies leaned forward ahead of their legs! I saw it coming but couldn’t stop it . . . that awful faceplant.

Reily was motoring across the den one day, picking up more speed than her stubby legs could handle. The attempt to run ended with her face meeting the edge of the sleeper sofa. I saw it coming. I couldn’t get there in time. The cries poured from her mouth as did the blood from her split lip.

A variation of this scenario played out as Lynn and Reily grew. They made friends, only to be hurt; they put off homework, and paid the consequences; caved into peer pressure, and I got the phone call; they tried their best, and still fell hard; the list goes on. My parental instinct wants to play interference and protect them from the “falls.” I am sure I have done this a time or two, or three or four. . ..

Logic tells me these are all necessary lessons to be learned. My heart wishes this wasn’t so. The falls get harder and often more costly as time goes on.

Much like the faceplant when Reily was 2, I saw this one coming. I knew she was depressed and grasping to hold on. I also knew she would not accept any suggestions or offers for help. Her current counselor was not the right fit, she was skipping her appointments. She was barely hanging on in school, relationships, and life in general.

This is the image that came to me during this time: Picture a very large flat surface, much a like a plate. Reily seemed to be living on the edge of this “plate.” When a bump in life came along, she would struggle not to fall off. It felt as though I would pull her back up or push her back up, just to keep her on the surface. I longed for her to find the “center.”

Being in the center of the “plate” when life’s bumps come along, would allow her to “fall” on a stable surface. Rather than falling off the edge, she could assess, and get back up… just as when she learned to walk. In the center is easier to maintain one’s footing, the bumps are not felt as strongly as on the edge.

But, Reily was 21. She didn’t trust the mental health system of in-patient care or intensive out-patient care. Nor did she have time to “put her life on hold.”

So came her scariest faceplant.

She attempted suicide.

Alan and I were enjoying a long weekend get-away in San Diego. After a conversation with Riely Sunday afternoon, we decided it best if I saw her face to face to check on her. The last flight to Dallas left in 2 hours and I was on it. I spent Sunday night in her apartment.

The next morning, exhausted from the late night, I went for coffee. When I returned with my morning jolt of caffeine, I heard a quiet, “mom.” Then another, “mom.” From her bedroom door I saw a half empty bottle of mixed pills on her bed. Reily took pills, lots of them.A brief exchange resulted in an unsuccessful attempt to throw them up.

We reached the ER in 10 minutes, maybe less.

Oddly, I was much calmer when I was telling her to throw up the pills and driving her to the ER than I was when she faceplanted into the edge of the sofa.

I had gone through this in my head on my late-night flight. What steps would I take? If she fought me, I would simply call 911. If there was a suicide note, I would make sure the doctors saw it so that there was no question about her intention. I would not advocate for her release into my care. (Not what I ever imagined would be my thoughts as a parent.)

As we drove to the ER my mind was playing out the next scene… she would have her stomach pumped, be psychologically accessed and placed in a mental health facility. I did not anticipate the need to intubate and sedate her. I didn’t imagine three days in ICU.

The suicide note is all too real. So articulate. Straight from her broken heart and crumbling self.

How did we get from a “learning to walk faceplant” to a “suicide faceplant?” I miss those baby steps. I miss Reily falling into my arms.

In-patient care was followed by outpatient care. Tears, talks, and humor were mixed with the hard realities of withdrawing from classes and moving back home. Looking for an outpatient facility was a draining and difficult task. I only thought finding a good preschool was a hard!

I moved from the term “she took some pills” to “she attempted suicide.” Sounds like a small thing, until the words come out of my mouth. Usually a lump filled my throat and tears crept into my eyes as the words forced their way off my tongue.

The progression from a full-on faceplant, to a steady walk, to jogging, to running, to looking forward instead of down comes slowly and in spurts. Moving back home seemed like a step backwards to Reily. The decision did not come easily!! Eventually, it allowed her to regain some footing, one step closer to the center, readying her to take a next step.

On my part, there is the adjustment of having my child in the house again. We were empty nesters. I’d grown accustomed to having my space. I liked finding things just as I left them, not messier! Why are these extra pair of shoes here? Why is the notebook left on the counter? Fact is, I am grateful they are there at this point. The alternative, well . . . I’ll take the mess.

I find myself wanting to speed up the recovery process (Hello! Faceplant waiting to happen!). I am a bit remedial in learning this. I get tired of having to measure my words and temper my frustration.

I realize, for the 567thtime, the need to shift my focus to away from Reily to my own spiritual grounding and self-care. I constantly remind myself what is mine to work on and what is Reily’s to work on. The reality is, I can only “do me” and somehow it frees Reily to “do her.”

I rework my schedule in order to begin my days with some quiet time and settling my deeper self. Sometimes I read scripture or other inspirational reading. The quiet and peace I find in the Spirit, in God’s love and grace, helps to re-center me when the day’s events come storming my way. It is as if I create a reservoir of peace within me.

Sharing my frustrations and thoughts with Alan is also crucial. Sometimes I forget to do this and end up exploding at the most insignificant things. His experience is different from mine. To hear his perspective is helpful. He too experienced the pain of his daughter wanting to take her own life.

I have friends who have children with depression. Some have also gone through child’s suicide attempt. I find my thoughts aren’t so different from theirs. This makes me feel less crazy!

From this steep tumble, Reily is offered the gift of rising. The treasures of wisdom, discernment, compassion, self-confidence, and grace wait to be claimed. Not that this will happen in the moment, month, and even year that follows. But they lay just under the surface waiting to be discovered. And she is discovering them bit by bit . . . and so am I.

This is hope.

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