Parenting a teenager with major depression is an exercise in learning to parent through fear.
To be fair, I guess all parents feel afraid for their children.
I remember when my husband and I left the hospital with our brand new daughter, less than 24 hours old. We were amazed they let us leave. Didn’t they know we didn’t know how to care for a baby? We could barely get her in her car seat in the hospital parking lot.
In those early days as a new mom, my anxieties crept into my sleep. I dreamed of a flood. As waves of water thundered against the walls of our house, I held my daughter close while screaming that I couldn’t take care of her with this storm raging. It was terrifying.
But not nearly as terrifying as bringing my daughter home from another hospital, thirteen years later, knowing I really couldn’t keep her safe. I couldn’t swaddle her like I did when she was a baby or bring her into my bed to keep watch over her in the darkness.
She was no longer dependent on me to keep her free of harm. Instead, I was dependent on her and on her willingness to live.
If I’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that there is no one way to fix depression. For Shawn Achor, positive psychology worked for him.
I first learned of Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage and founder of GoodThink Inc. at The Globe and Mail’s Executive Performance Summit in 2016. Achor was the keynote.
He was easy to spot in the crowd. In a room full of type A personalities, all suited and taut, he was dressed business casual. He had a friendly air and a hypnotic smile that he would cast on anyone within five feet of him. My immediate thought was that he was either on something or on to something.
Right off the top of his presentation, he asked the audience to turn to the person next to them and smile at them for sixty seconds. Everyone shifted in their seats reluctantly, clearly somewhat horrified at having to do this, but equally determined to succeed.
About twenty seconds in, the silent room started to get noticeably uncomfortable. Staring into someone’s eyes, a stranger’s or worse, a colleague’s, smiling, for twenty seconds is a really weird thing to do. At thirty seconds, hearing they were only halfway there, a few people started snickering. When we hit the one-minute mark, the room erupted with relief. People were laughing and chatty. They looked happy and satisfied, proud of what they’d just accomplished.
I’ve been over dozens of checklists for depression dozens of times. Still, I’m not sure I would have recognized signs of depression in my own daughter.
Years ago, I worked with a woman who had a teenage daughter who had dropped out of school and refused to leave her basement. In the morning, over coffee, she’d give me the latest on the home front, jokingly referring to her daughter as the basement dweller. On the odd occasion, that same daughter would come to work, curl up and sleep in the corner of her office.
Withdrawal from everyday activities. It a classic sign of depression.