Like so many people with the beginning of a new year, I think about what I want to accomplish. I feel like some people have moved away from resolutions and focus more on words or goals. I’m in that camp and decided my words this year were going to be tenderness and care.
And as I sat down to write about them and how I wanted to implement them – for my family, myself, and my friends – I was stymied.
I couldn’t get there because I had another story that was fighting to be told that led directly into these two words.
One year ago, our youngest daughter tried to kill herself. We’d known she was struggling, and she’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She was on meds. She was in weekly therapy appointments. The knives and medicines were hidden. But one Sunday afternoon, while I was in Rock Hill for a volleyball tournament with my other daughter and my husband was playing tennis, the urge was too much for her.
And before your outrage overtakes you and you think “you never should’ve left her alone,” please know that we regularly checked in with her about how she was feeling. She gave us no indication that day was going to be a problem. In fact, earlier in the day, we had all been on a FaceTime together laughing and joking about getting a hamster, and what we would name it. This surprised us all, even her.
Throughout the year and especially on the anniversary, I relived it all.
Answering her call, and the absolute panicked dread when she told me what she’d done.
Feeling my brain turn to ice as I immediately figured out what I needed to do. (I have always said I am great in a crisis. If something major happens, I’m absolutely your girl and am stone-cold methodical in handling it. If, however, someone knocks a pitcher of ice coffee off the counter because it’s too close to the edge, and I’ve mentioned that a couple times, I will lose my ever-loving mind.)
Calling a nearby friend to get to her. Every day since then I’ve thanked God above that this friend not only lives right down the street but sadly knew exactly how to deal with a situation like this. I said seven words to her, and she said, “I’m on my way,” and hung up. I knew my sweet girl couldn’t have been safer with anyone else.
Tracking down my husband on the tennis courts.
Coordinating with the Rock Hill police officer who heard me yelling at her that I would call the police if she didn’t let me send a friend because she wasn’t safe to be alone right now. The tournament was almost over, and we were one of four teams still there, so the arena was nearly empty. He approached me, asked what was going on, and then worked with Rock Hill police to call Columbia police to dispatch officers for a well-check.
Deciding to wait until my older daughter’s match was over (there were only four more points to play) before I told her what had happened. Of course, I wanted to yank her off the court immediately, but I also wanted to put off imploding her world as long as I could.
Telling my oldest that our worst fear had happened.
Waiting for my husband to call with an update. I’d envisioned the two of them sitting on the couch, cuddled up, with everything going to be alright. Instead, when he called, he said he was following the ambulance to the emergency room.
Wanting to break down but knowing I had to keep myself together since I was driving and still 60 miles away from Columbia.
Showing my other daughter how to stay strong in a crisis and do what needs to be done.
Enlisting her help to cancel plans with a friend, calling the pediatrician, getting Google maps up and running.
Seeing my youngest in the emergency room and trying not to freak out or make her feel worse than she already felt.
Watching the nurse walk away as she took her for the night and thinking, Wait. I just go home without her now? Just like that? I just… leave her?
Finally getting home and unloading the car.
Collapsing in tears in the hall.
Washing my face (and repeating I still have to take care of myself the whole time I did it) and crawling into bed, and my husband’s arms, without her in the house.
Feeling a sad sense of relief knowing that at least for that night, she was safe.
Talking to the hospital psychiatrist, agreeing she should be admitted to an inpatient program, and getting instructions on how we could transport her from children’s to the inpatient program.
Packing up her bag, not knowing how long she’d be gone.
Watching her and her older sister see each other and their tight, maximum-contact, minutes-long hug.
Checking her into the inpatient program and driving away again.
Calling our families to tell them what had happened.
Checking on her each day and having a quick phone call with her each night.
Getting the news on the eighth day that she was being discharged.
Being both thrilled to have her home and terrified we couldn’t keep her safe.
Feeling the scabs on her tender wrists under my thumbs.
Watching her work so very hard this past year to climb out of her pit of despair.
It’s been a lot, y’all. We’re by no means the only family fighting this battle and know many are dealing with harder things than this. It’s exhausting and also the most important fight we’ll ever fight. And when you think you can’t do it for another single minute, well… you do. You have no choice.
But it is a relentless struggle.
So as we turned the page on 2021, I tried to figure out how to keep doing all the stuff I’ve got to do (wife-ing, mothering, adulting, daughtering, friending, etc.) but also give myself a bit of a break. Last year was hard and extreme from the very beginning to the very end and felt like I had adrenaline coursing through my body the whole year through. And now I live with a weary exhaustion I never could’ve imagined. I can’t continue life at that same intensity and be okay.
Enter: tenderness and care. For me, for my family, and for my friends.
Here are some of the first things that sprang to mind when I thought of tenderness and care(and this is by no means an exhaustive list):
- Slowing down
- Nurturing myself however it feels right (Reading on the couch instead of making dinner? Maybe. Taking a bath instead of finishing up the dinner dishes? Probably.)
- Creating reasons for people to get together and hosting them here
- Working out
- Taking walks – alone, with The Professor, and with friends
- Wearing makeup again regularly, not just when it’s a ‘special occasion’
- Doing stuff around the house so the Professor doesn’t have to
- Surprising the girls with something fun
- Finding my own therapist
- Sending flowers to friends far away
- Eating foods that make me feel good
- Having more fun
- Burning candles that smell good in my office
- Getting back to church
- Seeing my parents more
- Lying in bed and listening to my house wake up
- Making a favorite meal (or ordering in a favorite meal)
- Buying flowers for local friends
- Luxuriating over a cup of coffee, covered up in a blanket, and reading
- Sending someone a handwritten note
- Playing more tennis
- Reaching out to people more regularly
- Looking out the window and admiring the blue sky
- Swallowing a tip-of-the-tongue-not-so-nice comment to one of the kids
- Breathing deep
- Resting between those deep breaths
- Taking more baths
Everyone’s going through something, whether you know it or not. Especially eleventy hundred months into a pandemic. Even if there’s not something major going on, people are still exhausted by all of the decisions surrounding everyday life now. And most of us have something going on, either with us or our kids or our aging parents or our friends.
So be tender and treat yourself and people with care. Do the best you can and accept that some days your best may not be very good at all. And that’s okay.