That Kind of Breaking

The guidance counselor was kind and calm. Anyone who can maintain those two qualities while in the confines of a public middle school all day has my immediate respect. I sat and listened as he began to speak.

“Your daughter tells me things have been rough at home, that your family has had some pretty big challenges.”

“Yes. That’s true. We certainly have.”

It had been about two years since my husband’s traumatic and failed fight for his life, and though he was a stepfather to my children they loved and missed him deeply. I had returned to the workforce, my son had moved to his dad’s and his sisters didn’t often see him, we had made the transition from homeschooling to public school, and my older daughter had recently been released from a five-day stay at the psych ward.

Yup, I’d say those were some pretty big challenges.

“Well, she’s been having a tough time dealing with it all, as you can imagine.”

Teenage Problems, Social Issues and Bullying

This was the coming-to-life of some of my deepest held fears at the time. In all fairness, I had quite a few fears, pretty much all of which included my kids. I knew that my older daughter’s struggles and rages were traumatizing our family. I knew that her continuing self harm and relentless thoughts of suicide were more than taking their toll.

I knew that I tried so hard to protect my younger daughter from her sister’s struggles, even as I didn’t know how to define or predict what those struggles might be. I knew how frightened I was, and I could only imagine how terrifying it must feel to a 13-year-old girl whose world had been shattered long before her sister’s mental balance had.

I knew that my youngest was getting lost in the shuffle of psychiatric appointments. I knew she felt invisible and dispensable as so much of my time was spent talking her sister ‘off the ledge’, cleaning and bandaging her self-inflicted wounds, walking on eggshells, trying to find an answer, a balance, a cure.

I knew that the older often goaded the younger, then immediately wanted her sympathy and compassion. She showed us all macabre, dark drawings she’d made, somehow expecting us to praise the depictions of death and blood she produced.

I could make no sense of it as an adult. I certainly could never expect my youngest teen to have the ability to process and make peace with all that was going on. And yet I felt powerless to guide her. How can you teach someone to do what you are unable to do yourself?

And so here we were, in the school guidance counselor’s office. I was waiting for what I didn’t want to hear, but what I needed to know.


My daughter had ended up there after having had a particularly rough day, and she’d thankfully confided in her counselor about the unfathomable mess that was our family. She’s always been one to think she can tough her way out of anything (I have vivid memories of a three-year-old determined to swim in the deep end of the pool, working hard to hide the panic on her face) and I was so glad to see that she’d taken the chance to share her confusion and pain with a trusted adult.

The counselor continued, gently breaking the news to me that my daughter – the one here with me, not the one (hopefully) waiting in the car – had been cutting herself as a way to deal with her distress and pain.

My stomach dropped then just as quickly threatened to jump up out of my throat. I was facing my daughter, whose eyes were filled with many things, including fear. I knew she’d seen me deal with her sister and that she’d seen me be both gentle and brusque in trying to stop the ongoing and escalating self harm. Of course she had to be nervous about what my reaction to this news would be.

Outwardly I pretty much held it together, meaning I didn’t curl up in the corner in a fetal position. I fought the sudden nausea I felt.

But inwardly I was breaking, as if there was a  tire screeching, metal crushing, glass shattering  75 car pileup, the kind where you know things are so out of control you are clueless as to where or how to start administering any kind of aid. The kind where you are the lone witness and all you have are Band-Aids and the phone lines are down so try as you might you can’t call for the 50-plus ambulances that you need.

That kind of breaking.

 Car pileup

Tears sprang to my eyes.

“Oh, sweetie.”

It was all I could say.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2014

13 thoughts on “That Kind of Breaking

  1. Thank you for bravely sharing your story. So many challenges. I just want to hug you all. (I don’t know if it my browser, but none of the pictures in the post are displaying)

  2. I’m sorry to hear things are hard for you and all your kids. I’m not sure if this is out-of-bounds for someone who just knows you via internet, but having been that little art-damaged self-harming teen with the disturbing artwork (and to some extent still am), when your daughter shows you those drawings “expecting praise”, have you ever talked with her about her the art she makes at all, or, if she’s got some talent at it, praise her for doing it well, even if you don’t care for the content? Art may not always be pretty, but it can be a way to express something, or work through something, or explore thoughts one wouldn’t act on in real life, all sorts of stuff. In seeking “praise”, she may in an unconscious way be seeking acceptance despite the facets of her that are darker or more difficult.

    • Hello, Jenny ~ you are not out-of-bounds at all. Your concern and kindness are much appreciated. I need to clarify that I am writing about the past. When this was all happening I am sure I could hardly string together two sentences! Thankfully, my kids have given me permission to share our story in hopes of encouraging those who might be in a crisis similar to what we experienced.

      I love your thoughts about the artwork. I came to understand the significance of it on many levels. My daughter continues to be an amazing artist; her talent has only grown. And I do understand that in many ways she was working to put her pain onto paper. There were certainly worse options, though she was using some of those as well, or threatening to, and I think that’s what made it so hard at the time.

      I think your insight is spot on. I have always worked to encourage my kids’ creativity (and still do, even though they are all young adults now; I was “that” mom who gave my kids big ol’ boxes of arts and crafts supplies for Christmas when they were little. 😉 ). While I could see what she was trying to do with her artwork and worked to praise the effort and talent involved, there was still a level at which it pained and scared me, but so did most of the ways in which she was acting out at the time. It’s interesting because I can see the same type of artwork done by others, and I know it was much harder for me to see my own child do it. I’m sure it was tied into my worries as her mom.

      Still, your words and wisdom are very valid. I appreciate you sharing them, and part of yourself.

      Take care,


      • Thanks. I hadn’t realized it wasn’t in “real time”. I’m glad to hear that you were encouraging of your kids with art, and that your daughter is still at it!

  3. Monica, I am so sorry that your daughters are both having such a difficult time, and that you are left alone to manage it. Thank goodness for caring adults like the school counselor who take notice and step in to offer support and intervention. I have nothing to offer you but my concern.

    • Sharon, thanks for your kind words. I need to clarify that I am writing about past experiences. Thankfully we are not now in crisis, though it was a very tough one. We are still in process (and that’s a good thing). I will admit that it was an indescribably difficult time, and I did in fact feel utterly alone in many ways. That is a huge part of the reason I write about this now (with permission from my kids), so that those who are currently in the crisis will know they aren’t alone. Even when I write about these things now I am brought to tears, so deep is the lingering effect. But that’s not a bad thing at all. The good news is that I can actually think clearly enough to write now. At the time it would not have been possible, I’ve no doubt. Brain lapses can now only be blamed on age, for better or worse. 😉

      Thanks again. Your kindness is so appreciated,


    • Thanks for your compassion, Cristi. Ours is only one story of many, as I’m sure you know. No one has the market cornered on suffering; we all have our challenges to face. But I do believe there is power and healing in sharing our stories, for both the storytellers and the readers (she says to a fellow-blogger who is more than amazing in her own right!).



  4. So terribly sorry. Hope that you will find help and support with the encouragement of others who have found their way through similar tragedy. Each situation is unique, as is the pain, but empathy and compassion is universal in humanity.

    • Thank you both Morguie and CJ. To clarify, I am writing about past occurrences – thankfully. I fully agree with you that “the encouragement of others who have found their way through similar tragedy” is essential. This is precisely why I write about what we’ve been through, because so many are still experiencing it. And so many believe they are alone.

      Hope you are well; appreciating your heartfelt kindness, and looking forward to reading what you write next on your blog ~


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