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Self-Compassion and PTWD (Parenting a Teen With Depression)

On a recent summer vacation I rode a chairlift up the side of the mountain. As it took us to the top we were provided beautiful scenic views. (And I never had to sweat!) However, my fear of heights reared its ugly head!

I watched the ground as the lift slowly made its climb. My mind measured the possibility of injury at different levels of the ride. When it reached the point of not being able to “drop and roll” I had to stop playing this wacky head game!

I focused first on my breathing.Breathing in slowly…1, 2, 3, 4. Then holding my breath I counted to 2. Slowly I exhaled counting to 4. I repeated this several times. Then I simply looked straight ahead instead of at the ground below.

These few steps brought me present to the beauty of the mountains and surrounding views. The sound of the Aspen leaves blowing in the wind replaced the pounding sounds of my heart.

This “coming present” allowed me to relax and refocus. No longer feeding my fear, I took in the beauty around me. I was able engage in conversation and laughter with my husband, Alan.

There are times when parenting a teen with depression feels like that ski lift. The fear takes over. The imagination runs wild. The joy and beauty around us can get lost. I do believe we can hold both the joy and sorrow and be present to both.

As often is the case, my older daughter’s senior year of high school was filled with exciting events and the anticipation of college. Lynn worked hard preparing for upcoming auditions in hopes of acceptance into Piano Performance Programs at several colleges.

I planned on traveling with her and was looking forward to our time together. I did not want to miss one fun-filled moment with Lynn. I felt such pride for her as she auditioned, striving to achieve goals she set for herself. These were truly thrilling times!

The other reality was that my younger daughter, Riely, was having a difficult time. Friendships were a struggle. Teenage girls can be the best of friends and the worst of friends all in the same hour! Adding the unpredictability of depression to the mix is like lighting a stick of dynamite! Duck and cover because it will explode!!! BOOM!!

To be fully present on my journeys with Lynn did not require me to push Riely to the side or push down my hurt for her. Neither did I need to feel guilty for the wonderful time I would have with Lynn. It did require intentional focus on my part.

I learned some helpful practices from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book "No Mud, No Lotus." He suggests that we look deep into our suffering. As a parent I felt pain. I felt torn between Lynn’s joy and Riely’s hurt. How do I honor and be present to both?

The first thing the book suggests is to acknowledge and name my “suffering.” I acknowledged my fear of short-changing Lynn of my full presence on our travels. I acknowledged my feelings of guilt that my thoughts were consumed with fear for Riely. I also discovered my guilt feelings of just wanting space from Riely.

Note these fears and feelings are not on Riely or anyone else…they are mine! No one else is responsible for my thoughts or feelings!

Once I acknowledged and recognized these feelings, I just held them. Yes, it was quite uncomfortable to just hold those thoughts and pains without judging them. I used an image offered by Hanh:

The “child” I embraced was my own pain, fear, and guilt. I felt sad that I could not take away Riely’s hurt. I questioned if I was there for Lynn during her senior year. My soul felt tired!

What emerged from the “embrace” was another reality. I love my daughters immensely and I am a good mother. That insight allowed compassion to enter. I held the guilt (warranted or not) with gentleness. My sadness could be companioned by my joy.

This exercise cleared my vision better than Lasik surgery ever could! The compassion allowed me to hold my suffering without judging it. Shame was taken out of the picture.

This is a practice I rely on again and again.

Thankfully, Alan was home while I traveled. Riely was great about honoring my time with Lynn. She seemed to grasp the importance of that time we spent together. Lynn and I created some wonderful memories on those college trips!

And truth be told, Riely and Alan created their own memories during that time! I’m also sure Riely needed space from me as well!

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