By Jeff Wood
At 14 years old, my oldest daughter developed depression. To this day, we still have no real idea why. She has talked a lot about this with me over the years, as dad is her go-to for this one. That has to do with the fact that too battled this when I was younger, so I know how it feels. It has been a rough ride for my girl through this. Not knowing what is happening. Feeling like life doesn’t matter. Pulling herself away from the world. All the things that happen when dealing with depression. Emotional changes and puberty made things way worse.
My wife and I started picking up on the changes. She was just finishing grade 9, had just started dating, and it looked like life was good for her. Then her anger started getting bad. Her attitude towards her family dropped. School started not to matter and she went from getting 90% on tests to getting 50%. She started pulling away from friends and things got tough. Her boyfriend was very controlling, which didn’t help at all. I tried to show her red flags with him, but all I got was anger and blame. My wife and I started talking about things and we agreed something was off. Maybe depression.
Then the stressor. She broke up with her boyfriend. This is hard regardless of age, but she slipped to rock bottom fast and couldn’t get out. That was it for us. We took her to our family doctor and sure enough depression had taken hold of her. My poor girl. So began treatment for her. She began taking anti-depressants and we were told the first two weeks would be down for her before she would go up. There would be some adjustments with the meds until the right dose is found.
About a week into treatment, she was very angry and taking things out on the rest of us. Her mom and I could deal with it, but her brother and sister were being affected badly. So I picked her up one day and had to stop at Costco before coming home. On the way, I gave her crap about her behavior and since we were in a vehicle there was nowhere for her to go. I told her there would be no more taking things out on us and she needed to start talking to us. I will admit my voice was raised. So into the store I went while she stayed in the van. When I came out, she was gone. My heart sunk and I had to make the hardest phone call of my life. I had to call my wife and tell her our daughter was gone. I did this. Dad was to blame. The thoughts going through my head as I was crying on the phone were unreal. My wife pulled me together, even though she was a wreck, and told me to find her. We would deal with the rest later. So, off I went with the help of her grandparents. About an hour later I found her walking down the street in the rain crying.
We got home and I hugged her. I told her we loved her and asked why she had run away. She said things became overwhelming and she felt she needed to run. We had a mini intervention for her and she
a breakthrough. She chose to talk to me, so I just listened. I also shared with her my own experiences, which to this day are still hard to talk about. That was what she needed, what we both needed. We now have her depression under control as much as possible.
This brings me to her anxiety. She has always had this. She’s never liked big groups of people and tests lead to stress. But when depression hit, the anxiety went haywire. She fully can’t beat depression until this gets under control. Right now, at 17 years old, her anxiety runs her life.
She has a way of thinking now that the worst will always happen so she never tries. For example: she wants to go out with her friends so in her head she thinks they are busy, they are working, they are mad at me, and she never ends up asking. Then she gets angry because she didn’t do anything and starts yelling or slamming around because she feels stupid. But she still never asks. It’s like this with school too. She gets so worked up on getting a good mark that she thinks it won’t happen, so she won’t even try.
Heaven forbid she fails at something. Most of us keep trying until we achieve our goals, but she just shuts down and gets mad because she didn’t do it right the first time. She is her own worst critic and it triggers her anxiety.
I tried to talk to her and give her coping techniques. She refused to accept the help, which stems from the thought process of ‘I have done nothing wrong.’ She can’t admit fault, because if she does her anxiety will take hold. This also brings on a lot of lying. As a father, this is hard to deal with. I can stand in front of her and witness her, for example, eat chocolate for breakfast and she will say she didn’t. I just saw you. Nope, it wasn’t me.
It has taken some time, but here in the last month or so I have made her see that this isn’t a way to live. I’m now showing her triggers, and telling her not to do it. Get out of your head and find out what reality is. Write things down and be organized. Tell your friends you need to plan things and not have spur of the moment plans all the time. Keep a daily planner and use it. Don’t bring work or school home; leave it there. Dad is a great listener so use me. Most of all, she has to admit fault and change. Everyone makes mistakes. It helps us grow as people and allows us to better ourselves. Know what triggers you and strive to omit those from your life.
Now, the hardest part of my daughter having anxiety for me as a dad is discipline. When you have to give her crap for something but already know it’s not going to end well. That’s when an argument can really flare up. It’s like always walking on eggshells. You know it will blow up, but still have to show her she is wrong. I tend to tell her where she went wrong and leave it at that. If she starts into the anxiety anger, then I tell her to take a break and once she is calm come back if she needs answers. No more engaging from dad. No more arguing. It’s very hard to do, but so far it has made a huge difference. Also, if behavior was the problem then I will say that. You are in trouble for attitude and not your actions.
Hopefully, now that university has started for her, things will mellow out. She has now seen her triggers and is working to avoid them. Dad is still there when she needs to vent. No judgment on anything said, even if it is about me.
I still have a lot of work to do for myself, too. The one plus for me as a dad dealing with my daughter’s depression and anxiety is that I have become a better father. More compassionate and a lot less likely to overreact about things. My daughter means the world to me. One day soon I will have that little girl back even though she is an adult now. It has been a long and painful road for everyone, but we are all stronger for it. Her brother and sister have always shown her love when she needed it most. They have dealt with it like champions. Their sister is a sister again and it is great to see.
I will leave you with this: Don’t ever feel like depression or anxiety in your child is your fault. This happens to more kids than we know. Watch for the subtle signs, as they won’t talk. Sometimes your gut feeling is right and it isn’t just teen crap. Please be an open ear to your kids, as just listening makes a huge difference. Make time to just talk; even if it’s only one-word answers, it shows you are there.
This isn’t their fault either. No one wants this or seeks out these feelings. It happens and can be beaten. Help is always a phone call away if it gets really bad. As a parent, all you want to do is hug them and take away all the pain, the confusion, and fog. You can’t, but you can be by their side. You can’t force treatment, but you can coach them to see they need it. It may take time, but don’t give up. Never leave their side, because it will get better.
To my daughter: Dad loves you to the moon and back. You are almost there. True happiness is right around the corner. No matter what happens in life you will always be my little girl, my princess, and my angel. I have your back, always.
loves her more every day. He is also a daddy blogger writing about his family. You can find him at https://droolingdaddy.wordpress.com. Interact with him via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: https://instagram.com/droolingdaddy
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- A Dad’s Guide to Helping Your Teenage Daughter with…”Woman Things” - October 15, 2016
- Teen Depression and Anxiety: The Difficult Road to Happiness - September 11, 2016