My daughter Heather has a condition called schizoaffective disorder. It's a weird mix of schizophrenia symptoms, in her case voices in her head and occasional conversations with people who aren't there, and mood swings -- in both directions, lately it seems more often to the depressive side. But then, that could change overnight.
It's a rare condition, not much is known about it. It's very hard to live with.
Heather was an easy baby and the most perfect young child. In my arrogant 'first child' ignorance I interpreted her easy going attitude and pleasant manner as an indication of my parenting prowess and superb skills as a mother. Then her sister came along and that theory was shot to shit.
Heather sailed through grade school and middle school, played sports, got good grades, had nice friends. No problems.
In high school she became a bit withdrawn, spending more time in her room, hoodie pulled low over her forehead, eyes glued to her computer screen. Teen angst, I thought, we all go through it. This was also the time she became really clear with herself and the rest of the family that she was gay. I thought that she was having some social adjustments around that issue. Understandable.
When she called me from college, I knew something wasn't right. She was depressed and wanted to see a therapist.
She continued to see the therapist for the remainder of her time in college, graduated and returned home to regroup and plan her future. It was then that she told me she thought she had bi-polar disorder.
I know bi-polar disorder and Heather is the farthest thing from it! My mother and both brothers suffer from bi-polar and BELIEVE ME, they're nothing like Heather! TALK, TALK, TALK. Endlessly. And then spend a month in bed, almost catatonic. Those people are EXHAUSTING! And no way could one of my kids be bi-polar, I don't have it so how could I pass it along?
That stuff went on in my head for a while. Denial, it's a merry-go-round.
Heather's been through a few doctors and several different combinations of medications in the last few years. It hasn't been easy for her. The condition she has presents uniquely for each patient and it takes a while to find the right 'cocktail' that's going to be the best fit. She's handled it well. I continue to be in awe of her.
Of all the parts of her illness that are difficult to deal with, the depression is the most brutal. I think of it as a despicable, disgusting, evil creature trying to drag her into his vile lair. Sneaking up on her slowly, he snakes his long filthy fingers around her ankles, softly at first, so she doesn't notice, inching slowly upward, keeping the pressure light, so as not to draw her attention away from the beautiful day and happy thoughts she's enjoying.
He continues until he has engulfed her in his stench, sucked out all her joy, drained all her energy. Left curled on the floor in a corner, too weak to move, the voices start in her head. They aren't kind.
"You're a piece of shit."
"Look at you. Pathetic."
She had planned her suicide down to the smallest details. I know this because she told me.
The depression had gotten so bad, the pain too great, the voices too loud. Her medication was off. The perfect storm.
Depression hurts. Really, really bad. It's not just feeling sad, it's a pain that is, at times, indescribable.
I asked her why she didn't call me, text me, something, anything?? Her answer?
"I wasn't worth saving."
The voices had convinced her they were the TRUTH.
Today Heather is doing great. She lives and works in Portland, is owned by a cat and is thinking about getting into back into the film industry which she studied in college.
Taking care of herself and her illness is her top priority, she knows how important that is. She recently added a couple of new tattoos, the bipolar symbol and the suicide survivor symbol, a semi-colon.
That she choose to walk through that incredible pain to live another day, and another day after that is so amazing to me. It takes my breath away.
We have agreed on a signal now. It's a one action text. The SOS emoji. If she can get to her phone and just push one button, I can find her and help her. She did the hard part, I will do the rest.
My daughter has schizoaffective disorder. She is also happy, incredibly smart, funny, creative, nerdy, talented, so very kind and a good soul. She is not her illness.
Mental illness is hard to live with. Please be kind to those who struggle with it daily.
Heather blogs about her journey at FeathersofLeather.com.
This article first appeared on FiftyJewels.com.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.