Searching For Help

I started January of that year searching for a therapist for my daughter. The family doctor had listened as she and I had talked openly of her pervasive sadness and increasing self injury. He prescribed an antidepressant for her, and made it clear that mental health counseling was essential.

Besides the constraints imposed by insurance, I wanted desperately to find a mental health professional close to home. I was, after all, still a widowed single mom with two daughters. I had intense and constant worry about my younger daughter, not only about her exposure to her sister’s maladaptive coping skills, but also about her  getting lost in the shuffle now that my older daughter’s issues were taking virtually all of my time and energy.

I had to fit in my daily work schedule as well as transporting both girls to and from two different schools at different times. Their dad, who had left more than ten years earlier, had given some lip service to helping transport them, but claimed that he really couldn’t help on a regular basis because of his work schedule.

This left most of it to me, except for those rare occasions when I could find someone willing to carpool on our schedule.  So for better or worse, proximity to home became a factor for hiring a therapist.

I finally located a counselor whose office was close to us. She was kind, professional, knowledgeable, and not a very good fit for my 15-year-old daughter. Still, I pressed my daughter to give her a try. “She’s not here to be your best friend. She’s here to offer her knowledge and help work some things out.”

angry girl in therapy (google)

(Photo Source: Google Images)

And this is where I must say, that is a terrible attitude to take into therapy. Imagine telling your deepest pains and fears to someone you just don’t click with, to someone who may be very nice but with whom you really feel no personal connection. I wouldn’t do it.

But I mistakenly expected my daughter to. I was wrong. I wanted her to do it because I was scared and exhausted and weary to the core, but I was still wrong. I didn’t know how to be two places at once, or how to keep my younger daughter from feeling forgotten and lost, but I was still wrong.

I have since referred other people to this therapist. I meant it when I said she was kind, professional, and knowledgeable. But I also meant it when I said she was not a good fit for my daughter at that particular time. Still, for a few weeks, we made regular trips to see her.

During those weeks, my daughter began to feel the effects of the antidepressant she had begun. She was exhausted, felt physically ill, experienced increased anxiety, and ironically fell deeper into depression. Many days I would take her to school, only to have her call me in a panic, unable to stay beyond even part of the morning. By this time, her self injury was increasing in both frequency and intensity, as was my fear.

Both carefully crosshatched as well as untamed cuts often covered her forearms, etched with safety pins, push pins, or blades taken from disposable razors. Her anger would spew out in screaming rages, in torrents of sobs neither she nor I could help her to control. What had happened to the loving, affectionate, self-assured girl who had been my daughter?

One moment she would curse me to the four winds, and the next she would fall into my arms for comfort and reassurance. Her terror was matched by my own, but I did not have the luxury of letting mine be known.

Her moods and tirades ruled our home, and I grasped desperately for ways to quell the unpredictable storms. I tried reason. I tried consequences. I tried being emotionally neutral or removed. I tried tough love. I tried empathy and understanding. Always I tried to convey my unconditional love for her.

In truth, the deeper she fell, the deeper my heart broke. The more she pushed me away, the more I longed for her to know the love and safety that were ready and waiting for her. It’s not that I could have loved her more than I already did. It was that I ached more deeply for her to know the love that was already hers.


(Photo Source: Google Images)

There were many times when my daughter vented her anger that I simply laid down on the floor during our conversations so that she would not have any reason to feel threatened. I didn’t realize what I was doing until afterwards. I did it instinctively, recognizing that she felt susceptible to some deep, unnamed danger. What I failed to understand was that her biggest threat came from within.


© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

7 thoughts on “Searching For Help

    • Yes, thank you, we are well. Still in process, but doing fine right now. Here is the link for the first entry on this blog:

      It is an account of a recent day, less than two months ago, when I got to watch my daughter perform. I am sharing our story in hopes that those who are struggling with these same things will know that hope and healing are possible.

      My deep desire is to encourage parents of teens who are in crisis, and to help them connect to available resources. You will see as our story unfolds that the greatest challenge was finding the help and support we needed, and also feeling very alone in our crisis.

      If you check out my About page, you will find a couple of links to articles that share our story and some helpful resources. One article is from The Denver Post newspaper, and the other is from Family Circle Magazine. There are also resources listed on my Resource page.

      Thanks so much for your kind concern.


  1. It’s interesting for me to read about self harm from someone else’s perspective. I really only have my own plus what people said to me which usually wan’t nice but their way of trying to make sense of what was happening.

    • Thanks, Kristen. I value your opinion and experience. I appreciate reading about your perspective as well, and I love the Parent Space article you did. (I am going to link it here in case it can be helpful to someone reading this.)

      I’m sorry for the hurtful things that were said to you. I’m sure that even in my love for my daughter, I said and did hurtful things out of my own confusion and fear. I do know that there were peers of hers who did not understand, and they thought that being tough on her would help ‘cure’ her. And then there were those who linked their self injuring behaviors to one another. Both were harmful choices.

      Hope you are doing well, friend. Thanks so much for reading,

      • I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Finding that workbook was a big moment for me. Many of my friends gave me ultimatums, quit cutting or they wouldn’t be my friend anymore. It just doesn’t work that way. I try and remember also that we were all young. Thanks for being so open to sharing your experience 🙂

        Thanks for your support!

  2. One of my biggest fears is that my mental illness will impact my family in a negative way. My mom is amazing! My dad is trying his best to understand what is going on. My brother and sister are both very loving and supportive. I just worry about how this will affect them in the long run. Is your younger daughter doing well?

    • Hi Sophie ~ I appreciate your perspective and your concern for your family. The fact that you have ongoing concern for them speaks volumes about you and your level of empathy. I have great respect for that.

      My younger daughter is doing okay! Before I say more, let me first tell you some disclaimers. We have had more challenges than just my older daughter’s struggles. About a year and a half before she began to spiral down, my husband died. He was their stepfather, but they were very close to him and had known him more than half their lives. When they were very young (2 1/2 and 4, and their brother was 7) their dad left our family. It was a surprise to us all, not like we had had a contentious marriage with lots of fights or anythings. So more than once their worlds had been turned upsidedown unexpectedly.

      My daughters are 18 months apart. I did not grow up close to my sisters, as I am 4 & 5 years younger than they, but from what I hear, sisters who are close in age can be the best of friends and the worst of enemies. My girls have certainly seemed to experience that. Also, they have both claimed to struggle with some of the things they experienced at their dad’s, and if you couple that with going back and forth between both homes, it seems a recipe for difficulty. (Of course, I am nowhere near a perfect parent myself!)

      Having said all that, my younger daughter went through a preiod of time when she experienced panic, anxiety, and depression. Was she more susceptible to that because of what happened with her sister? Maybe so. Was it also tied in to current circumstances and things she was dealing with? Yes. Would she have had those particular diagnoses if her sister had not been through the difficulties she had? More than likely, to one degree or another. It’s really not possible to say with 100% accuracy.

      I think that with all of us, our futures depend in large part on how we address issues we are dealing with in the now. This goes for your sister and brother, my daughters, my son, you, me, and everyone else.

      I am a strong believer that whatever we experience, there comes a time when we have to take responsibility of our own experiences ourselves, when it really doesn’t matter what people we love have been through or even “done to us”, it matters what we choose to do with our own experience and the choices we make going forward. We can choose to blame others and be a victim with no power, or we can choose to acknowledge what has happened and decide what we do for ourselves moving forward from that point. (That might be a painful process to be sure, but it’s still something within our choice.)

      It seems to me that your family is loving, intact, and supportive. This obviously does not guarantee that there will be no difficulties. And no one can say what your siblings will deal with. But considering your willingness to face your problems and your opennness about them, coupled with a very supportive mom, I would urge you not to put too much worry into that scenario. If they do end up with struggles, then you all will deal with it at that time. If they don’t, I would hate for you to waste time worrying about it. Instead, use the time and energy to build good relationships – with yourself and with each other. (It seems like you are already doing that.)

      All you can do is what you can do, You cannot control any outcomes for your sister or brother (or anyone else!) but you can do your best to attend to your own health and wellbeing. You can set an example of doing the best you can at any given time, whether things are smooth or challenging. You can know that you seek health and balance first for yourself, and then for those you love. I think this is the greatest gift you are able to give your siblings – your authenticity and your genuine love.

      Well, THAT was a lengthy answer! I hope you don’t mind, but it’s an issue that I feel deserves a comprehensive and honest answer. And BTW, I am appreciating the perspective I learn from reading your blog. Keep up the good work!

      Thanks for reading, and take care,

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