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Lies I Told Myself as the Parent of a Child Who Self-Harms

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Editor's Note

This story was published with permission from the contributor’s daughter.

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Neither being a mental health care nurse nor having my own mental health struggles could fully prepare me for my daughter to have her own struggle. I am not proud of how I found out nor do I recommend it; I happened upon and read one of her private emails. I do not regret it though. That email started the journey that may have saved her life. What I regret is that the lifesaving part of her journey did not start sooner. But how could I have changed the timing? I could not have and that is the thing I had to learn most.

Here are some lies I had to challenge in my internal dialogue:

I should have been telepathic.

I should have known what she was going through. I should have seen the signs. There were some signs. Why could I not see them? I am a terrible mother for not being more in tune with my child, for not knowing.

It’s all my fault.

This is happening because I did A, B and C (insert a moment in time or a decision) and I did not do X, Y or Z. I should have known better. I should have…I should have… I could have…If I only…

I can fix it.

I slept in her room on her floor every night for more than a month afterward to make sure she was safe. I did not sleep much actually. I had to track her every movement. If she did not answer the phone, I called all her friends asking if they had heard from her recently… like within the last five minutes. I called her work. I blew up her phone. I gave myself panic attacks doing these things. I locked up every potentially sharp object that was in the home in box I bought just for this purpose.

I want other caregivers to know that while these are lies, it is OK to go through the process. It is OK that you may have told yourself one or more of these lies, in fact, it is normal. What is not OK is staying stuck in believing those lies. Staying stuck in believing those lies could hinder healing for you and the one you are caring for.

Here is what else I have learned:

I had no way to know.

It still hurts that my daughter did not tell me what she was going through for so many months. She hid it from me. She didn’t tell me. She didn’t want me to know, and she had her reasons. Therefore, I had no way of knowing.

It’s not my fault.

It’s not my fault that our family has a genetic disposition to depression and anxiety. It’s not my fault that the world around her has sent her negative messages, nor is it my fault in how she has received messages from this world. I do not control the world nor will I ever be able to. I have done my best in raising her. One self-talk session like this wasn’t enough for me to believe it. Talk therapy with trained professionals helped me understand this. It took multiple sessions and lots of time.

My loved one is fully capable of fixing themselves.

I had complete trust in my daughter before she harmed herself. I completely lost trust afterwards. This loss of trust not only made healing harder for her, but for both of us. It took both time and counseling for me to trust my daughter to care for herself. I can remember the feeling of trust returning during a counseling session, it was slow but by the next day, my soul had faith again. This counseling session was together, both her and I. We had been doing counseling separately, which I also think is important, but that session together is something I needed. There was a palpable improvement in our relationship and communication after I regained trust in her.

We are still so close.

The fact that we were so close tore at me. I questioned if I even knew her or if she knew me. I thought we were close; I questioned if we really were. That closeness should have protected her and it didn’t… but really it did. I was there for her. I helped her get the care she needed. It’s not a lie that you are close to the one you care for.  You may question everything you thought you knew about your relationship, but ultimately what you knew was and still is the truth. The greater truth, however, is that you will be closer in the caregiving journey. There was a lot to learn about her, me and our relationship. Learning these things brought a new closeness that is real, raw and growing.

The most important thing I can tell another caregiver is to seek care for yourself and your loved one. You are not alone and you should not be alone. Helping your loved one talk to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor doesn’t mean you are any less of a parent, friend or family member; it means you are a supportive and loving.  Mental health care providers have dedicated their lives to helping you in this moment. They are there for you and your loved one. Verbally processing your situation is a part of healing; you deserve healing too.

You aren’t telepathic, it’s not your fault and you can’t fix everything. Your loved one can learn to cope and so can you, both together and separately. It’s a journey and a process that is doable and worth it.

Getty image by Shironosov

Originally published: August 10, 2021
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