I’ve toyed with the idea, of making this post. It’s so personal and raw. But if I can help just one person, then that will suffice. I’ve read, watched and listened to a lot in the last week from beautiful, strong women, in relation to the Channel Mum YANA (You Are Not Alone) challenge. I do get mixed voices in my head, when I hear “You Are Not Alone”, I either want to break out in a Michael Jackson song, or I hear the 118 moustache men off the telly reciting it.
If you read my An Introduction post, you will know I have a beautiful 16-year-old daughter, Shannon-Jo (I’ve hyphened your name, if you’re reading this xoxo). On the 22nd September, 2000 at 12:05am, she entered the world weighing 7lb2oz. She made me who I am today, because today, I am her Mam.
She is a kind and caring soul, with a huge heart. She always puts others needs, before her own. She has always been quiet, very much like myself. She assesses the situation before taking part. She has taken on a lot, in her young life. At times, too much for an adult to cope with, let alone a child. Perhaps, at times adult life took over so much, that I neglected her thoughts and feelings.
A baby brother, Nursery, School. Moving house, moving schools and trying to fit in and make new friends. Her Dad, with countless health problems and hospital stays. My health issues. Her cousin, being involved in a bus crash, on her way to school. Family conflict and the health of her much-loved Grandparents. Losing her beloved Auntie, to cancer. Condensing it, into a few lines doesn’t appear all that much. But to a child, who shouldn’t really have a care in the world other than what game to play on the school yard and whether to wear her hair in a ponytail or plait. It is a lot. For that, my precious girl, I apologise.
A little over 2 years ago, I noticed a change in my girl. A withdrawal from life, little interest in our usual TV show routine. There was no smile in her eyes, the sparkle had gone. A dark cloud loomed over my baby girl and I wanted more than anything to blast it away, with my Super-Mam powers. My baby was diagnosed with adolescent depression and anxiety.
What did I do wrong? Why did I not see it sooner? She started to see a councillor, in-school, at first. She would talk to Nancy, on a weekly basis (I don’t know why, but I always thought Nancy, was this young, trendy mid-20’s girl. Turns out, she could easily be my Grandparent). But if talking to her, helped my baby, then Nancy could be any age.
Now, around a year ago things changed, dramatically. I was leaving work one day, walking out of the school building and across the yard with my co-workers (friends, more so). It was a Spring day, unusually mild, for March in North-East England. My phone started to vibrate, as I have to keep the tune off, while I am at work. SCHOOL, lit up my screen. As a parent, in seconds, every ridiculous possibility flashes through your mind, at the sight of one word. It was Nancy, calling.
Her words cut through me and I still hear them now. “I’ve had a chat with Shannon, today” I can barely remember responding, but obviously did. “She’s been telling me, that she is having dark thoughts”. Dark thoughts? “She no longer wants to be here, on this earth”. As they are now, tears pricked the corners of my eyes, they turned swiftly, into huge puddles that my eyes could no longer hold in. My bottom lip began to quiver. At this point, I am still stood on the school yard, with my co-workers. They all seemed to simultaneously turn to me, not knowing how to help me and not knowing what the voice in my phone was saying. I remember ending the call with Nancy and muttering the words “give me a minute”, should I tell them? They were all so worried that something had happened. Perhaps, a freak accident in school. I think I may have blurted out “Shannon wants to die”. They hugged me, they reassured me and calmed me down and gave me a lift home.
I was greeted, as usual, by a howl from Miya and Skye, two wet noses and eagerly wagging tails. They knew something was wrong. The tears were cascading down my face. With my back against the kitchen units, I slid down to my hunkers. Skye nestled under my arm and licked the salty tears from my cheeks. Sitting there, like a mad woman saying “I’m okay, girls” to my dogs. After several long, deep breaths. I rang my Mam. How I got the words out I don’t know. All I heard was “We’re on our way!”. Shaking I managed to make myself a cup of coffee and sat on the sofa, my girls by my side. My Mam and Dad arrived and I went over the conversation I’d had with Nancy. Time was slowly slipping by, Shannon would be due in from school. My parents, remarkably calmed me down and we agreed that we would say they had just popped in and not to draw attention to the matter, until me and Shannon were alone.
It wasn’t a conversation any parent would be prepared for. Nancy and the School Pastoral-Care teacher, had told me previously, not to bombard her with questions. Simply because, she didn’t know the answers. Shannon and I talked, we cried and we hugged. Then cried some more. The days darkened and become somewhat stormy, the kind of storm that a meteorologist would name. Telling my husband was heart-breaking. He felt useless, he didn’t know what to do, to help me or to help Shannon. But he did and he was there.
I remember a crisis call to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) just days after my call from Nancy. They informed me to have a clear out, not a Spring clear out or a minimalist clear out. A danger clear out, a suicide attempt clear out. “Remove any potentially dangerous object, from her reach”, (she was 15, her reach was almost the same as mine). Medication should be in a locked cupboard, with only adult access to the key. Move knives, scissors and razors. Going through potential dangers, in my head. I had an excuse, I suppose for everything. Shannon, wouldn’t try to overdose, as she physically cannot swallow tablets and cannot get the lid off the Calpol bottle, herself. Shannon, would not try to cut herself, as she can’t stand the sight of blood. CAMHS told me, that very few people, young or old, actually think long and hard about suicide. It is very rarely pre-meditated. More of a spontaneous thing, so if that dark thought popped into her head, to do something. Don’t make anything readily available. “By the time she finds something, the thought should have passed”. Really? That’s your theory, my daughter is contemplating ending her life and you think, she’ll get bored and stop looking for something to do it with.
The weeks that followed were dark and quiet. She learned how to put on an act some days (obviously, for my benefit) mustering a smile and the occasional laugh. Explaining to her younger brother was difficult. But Shannon had told me that his certain ways, triggered her anxiety. His playful, joyful ways and silly little noises bugged the life out of her. For a while, we just said “Shannon is poorly, she needs space and quiet time”.
A month after the heart-breaking phone call from Nancy. I received another phone call, this time, after school hours but from them. I was flitting around making tea (it’s a northern thing, we have dinner and tea. Not lunch and dinner). Shannon and Reece were sat in the living room. This time it was the Pastoral-Care teacher, she’s a lovely lady. Some girls had approached her, after a conversation they’d had with Shannon. “Mrs Dixon, Shannon tried to drown herself, at home last week”. I didn’t cry, at first. A whole new wave emotions washed over me. I was angry, more so at myself because I didn’t know.
Why I did what I did, I’ll never know. I went out to the shed and got my husbands cordless drill, you know the ones that’s also a screwdriver. I took it upstairs and removed the bolt from the bathroom door. Why did I not think of that a month ago? But I had an excuse, Shannon wouldn’t never try to drown herself. She had always been one of those children who hated water on her face. Hair washing night, could be a nightmare. Turns out, she had tried to drown herself. While I sat watching soaps, downstairs and Reece, no doubt sat watching mindless Minecraft videos on his iPad. Dad was at work.
Doctors appointments led to CAMHS appointments and regular sessions with a councillor. Slowly and very slowly, we began to get a glimpse of getting Shannon back. It’s easy to slip in to mundane routines (and actually, I feel us doing it again. So we need a kick up the bum). Work/school during the week. Grocery shopping on a weekend or visiting family. Not a lot of ‘US’ time and it’s that Shannon was finding difficult. We made a family pact, that we would do more of what made us happy. Drives out, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything to just spend time together. I was determined to take more photographs, capture family moments, to cherish forever. We would talk to each other more. Listen to each other more.
On a trip to the coast, one day; there was laughs and smiles and silly times. In an instant that changed. The storm clouds lingered and we sat like a family of three, with a stranger a few feet away from us.
Shannon hadn’t realised I had taken this photo. She wasn’t a stranger sat a few feet away from us. She was and always will be our baby girl. But she needed space, she needed quiet. But she knew we were there.
Fast forward a year; we’ve had ups and downs. Good days and bad. As a parent, it is heart-breaking and soul-destroying to know your child is hurting and you can’t help. Shannon is 16 now. She has her GCSE exams starting in May, something that is bringing a bunch of emotions and anxious thoughts, for her. My daughters mental health, is more important than her grades. We are proud of her, no matter what. She has her Prom in June, she looks absolutely stunning in her dress. Yes, we have it already. We bought it in February. We still need shoes and a clutch bag. Pinterest boards for hair ideas, have been made.
Shannon, you are my rainbow. You are my stars. You are my baby girl. You always will be. You, made me a Mam. Without you coming into my life, I would just be Lisa. From the days of walking the floors, rocking you in my arms and singing along to Boyzone or Westlife. To the days of girly chats and laughing at the state of some girls brows, on TV and every day in between. ILYNMW xoxo
If you’ve made it to the end of this post. Thank you, for clicking on it. Thank you for reading it. If you are going through a similar situation; You Are Not Alone. Reassurance, is the key. Love your young person, unconditionally. Be a shoulder to cry on. Be an ear to listen. But find someone for you to talk to, also. Find a shoulder, for you to cry on. Find an ear, to listen to you. L.x