A Mother. A Daughter. And A Dance With Depression.

A Mother. A Daughter. And A Dance With Depression.
The writer with her daughter. September, 2015. Photo: Sophie Young

In this series, I plan to post as frequently and as honestly as possible about my own journey with depression -- and to share my efforts to support my teenage daughter (with her permission) as she battles the same disease.

November 22, 2015

Exactly one week ago today, I flew to Vermont with my husband and our 15-year-old daughter. We left her two brothers and the two dogs behind, and the impromptu trip took us nearly 1,000 miles from our home in Evanston, Illinois --  though not to witness the splendors of a leafy, New England fall. We'd gone to Vermont to help free our daughter from the suffocating grip of her severe depression.

For years now she's been struggling, in ways we've understood and have not, and after exhausting every therapeutic option close to home, we suddenly found ourselves in a desperate, free-falling scramble...inquiring, interviewing and listening...until we identified an intensive residential program in Vermont with a team we felt we trusted. Relying only on phone calls, emails, referrals and other parents' assurances, we concluded this was the place for our daughter. If we bring her there, we reasoned, we'll have the greatest chance of bringing her back.

And so, last weekend in Vermont, following an excruciatingly brief goodbye orchestrated by her new therapists, my feet somehow carried me through that graveled parking lot and into our rental car. The only sensation was a tearful emptiness, rising uncontrollably like the nearby Mad River -- what a horribly ironic name considering its proximity to therapeutic programming for people struggling with mental illness. Vermont's Mad River, with its history of swift and significant flooding, was once described in 1882 by a local resident as "sudden anger, overflowing its banks and devouring them at will” (Vermont Geological Society, 2003). And still, the Mad River's value is known by locals and vacationers alike for, above all else, its spectacular beauty...

As my husband drove us back toward the Burlington airport -- just the two of us now, instead of 3 -- I asked myself, "Who else but a mother like me could fail her child so clearly and painfully? Who even does this and how have I allowed this to happen? How does a family like ours ever recover?"

Our wordless drive to the airport -- away from our daughter -- was the most difficult journey I have ever known. Heaving sobs like an uncontrolled cough, my worry, my pain and my tears trailed my sorrow as we drove further and further away from the child we brought home from the hospital on Christmas Day. Visions of her brave, final smile flashed beneath my swollen lids which dried only momentarily after I'd cried myself to sleep.

Once we parked the rental car and crossed the threshold into the terminal, the waves of regret consumed me. Leaning my head against a brick wall, I could not take another step. What have I done? What am I doing? My husband, through his own agony, reached out to comfort me, and though I desperately wanted and needed his comfort, I pushed him away, shredded and devastated.

As our plane sped down the runway and cast us into the air, my body -- having carried this child within the solemn space near my heart -- was pulled, dragged back toward the earth where I'd just left her. My fingers on the window paid no heed to my pooling tears as the jet engines seemed to whisper compared to the sound of her voice in my head: Don't leave me here. I am so alone.

My baby girl.
My love.
How I know this pain and cannot bear to leave you.
How are you in this moment?
I miss you. I ache for you.
I want to ease your pain.

It's been one week since we left you among those beautiful rolling hills in the pine tree woods, a place you've never been. Has this also been the longest week you've ever known? Do we look up to the stars and see the very same glow? Each twinkle in the darkness is a reflection of your sparkling eyes. Don't cry. Please don't cry.

Just one week ago, our ears were filling and popping as Dad drove along those winding, ascending roads toward that space on earth that is now your temporary home. Remember how we used to read Goodnight, Moon and There's a Monster At The End Of This Book? Remember how you asked for spelling words to practice, just so you could be like your big brother who'd already started school? Remember holding your baby brother so sweetly, cradling his head with those perfect fingers, the ones you'd one day use to write and type and edit your feelings in journals and blogs? Remember how you pointed through the car window in Vermont, up toward the starry sky? Remember how you said to Dad and me, "Some of those stars have been dead for so long now...we only see their light because they're just so far away." Please, my baby girl, just keep looking up.

Keep your eyes on the light, no matter how dark the surroundings,
no matter how long gone they might be.
Whether or not there is life in those lights,
there is always hope.
So use that hope to find another star...
the very one I'm looking at tonight
as I think of you,
while we're so far away.


Despite a lifelong struggle with depression, Christine Wolf has been a freelance columnist for the Chicago Tribune Media Group's Pioneer Press and Patch.com. As a community activist, she creates platforms allowing others to share their voices. She lives near Chicago with her husband, their beautiful children and two dogs who cannot be trusted around food or dirty socks.

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RESERVE A SPACE during one of my weekend writers' retreats at Writers' Haven Michigan.


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