Sometimes timing is ironic. A few weeks ago, I decided to write a post for Kidliterati on the nature of fear and how stories use fear as a driving force (You can read it here). But little did I know that just days after I started researching this topic, I’d come face-to-face with perhaps the greatest fear I've ever experienced. The kind of fear that shudders in your bones and makes your heart forget a few beats - it’s the fear of losing your child.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we could have lost our child to an adverse reaction to an antidepressant. However, I first want to say that I’m grateful for antidepressants. They’ve made my child’s life a lot brighter and happier. She is more successful academically and socially because of them. They are generally well tolerated by most people and they have improved and saved many lives. I would never say that people shouldn’t be on one if they need to. People, like my child, need antidepressants.
For months, she’d been one type of medication - the one that made her brighter and happier. But at the beginning of last month, her doctor thought it was time to try something else. An SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) because it was tolerated better over a longer period of time. But… as we found out, the black box warning is REAL. Most likely, if you take an SSRI, you’ll be fine. If your teenager takes and SSRI, he or she will probably be fine, too. But again, the warning is real - especially for teenagers and young adults.
My child was fine one day, then compulsively suicidal the next.
As for fear? It was in every direction I turned. That first night when we knew something was wrong, I slept on the floor of her room, my feet pressed against her door to keep her in, afraid of what might happen if she wandered the house at night. The next morning when she was worse and I was driving her to the emergency room, I was scared of how the staff would treat us. In the psych room at the hospital where they locked away all the medical equipment and locked us into the room, I managed my fear by reading out loud to my daughter for an hour and a half. But then that moment when the doctor told us she had to go to a behavioral hospital until the medicine had passed out of her system, fear turned my knees to jelly, my brain into a jumble of stunned neurons.
By then, I was emotionally exhausted and fear was clawing at my mind, and prickling along my skin. I called on one of my friends and my family to help me dig up the courage I desperately needed, because I could not afford to come unglued. No matter how afraid I was, I had to do the best I could to give my daughter every ounce of strength that I could before she went into a hospital that I could not enter. Where I could not protect her.
I knew she needed to go - her compulsions were so strong, and there was no way I could make my house safe enough. And, I realized, I could not keep my eyes on her every single minute for an undetermined amount of time. But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face. It was a week of constant stress. A week of fear. A week of pleading with God and begging the spirits of all four of her great-grandmothers to watch over her because I could not.
Over all, we were lucky. She never harmed herself. She’d suspected right from the start that this was from her medicine which helped her to fight against the darkness of her racing thoughts. The staff at both hospitals were wonderful. Even though the behavioral health hospital was literally falling apart, the nurses, therapists, doctors were kind and spent time with her and the other patients instead of brushing them off.
I am grateful I took her symptoms seriously and didn’t downplay them. I’m grateful that my daughter and I have a strong relationship and she could tell me what was happening and what she was thinking - instead of trying to handle it on her own. And I am so grateful for the medical staff that treated her and kept her safe. She told me a week later that she’d needed to be there - even though it was awful. She said that they’d saved her life.
Today is World Mental Heath Day, and my hope is that people are not afraid to seek the help they need. My intention was not to scare you, but to spread awareness. If a medication is prescribed, give it a try. But please - pay attention to the warning labels. Suicidal ideation is a rare reaction, but if it’s a possibility with a medication you or a loved one is taking, be aware that this can happen. And if it does, take it seriously.
Today, my daughter is still tired and has a lot of catch up work to do for school. But she is safe. She is on her original medications and is back to normal - healthy and happy. When you come through such an experience that causes so much stress and fear, you don’t take heathy and happy for granted. You see it as a true gift.