Keep an even pace. Smaller strides. Slower steps. Stay with her. Alongside her.
Typically, the organized events I go to that involve large groups of people taking off at the same time and heading in the same direction are races. But this is just a walk.
Never Walk Alone, the T-shirts say.
In front of us is a woman in a mobility scooter, and in front of her, two friends walking side-by-side. And in front of them, an entire procession is winding its way along the perimeter of the park.
My teenage daughter is at my side. She comes to just my shoulder; her stride is much shorter than mine. Plus, she’s a stroller. I’ve never strolled, always hurried. I can learn from her.
She’s the one who knew of this event. She’s the one who wanted to come. And she invited me.
Never Walk Alone, the T-shirts say. Suicide Prevention Walk 2013. National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI).
My daughter walks for peers who have considered ending their lives. She’s a good listener, a good friend. I’ve heard her on the phone with other teens, keeping them on the line, talking them through a moment, a day.
Mental health and mental illness interest her. She is considering a major in psychology.
But that’s not all. She has dealt with a bit of depression herself.
A bit. That’s how I describe it, not seeing it as anything, really, beyond the typical discomforts of the teenage years. I don’t get it. She has to remind me every so often that, for her, it’s been more than that, more than a bit. And she explains to me, again, that it’s frightening, overwhelming, debilitating. I still can’t relate, but I listen. And I believe her. And I learn from her.
I’ve asked her if she needs help or wants it. Professional help.
“Not yet, Mom. I think I’ve got it under control. But I’ll let you know.” And I believe her. She’s been to counseling in the past and found it beneficial. Enjoyable even. She’s thinking about becoming a therapist herself.
Admiration overtakes me. She’s so young, yet so aware, so open, so honest. So in touch with her feelings. I have much to learn from her.
We walk, slowly, bringing up the end of the line that winds its way around the park. As we go, I focus less on my pace; I don’t need to remind myself as often to slow down, to stay with her, to remain at her side. I’m learning.
We talk, nonstop, about important stuff – college, how she sees her life 10 years from now. She wants a career, wants to be a mother, too.
We talk about how she’s much more emotional than I am. I’m the practical one. This difference in us creates some friction. But we’re aware of it, and our awareness helps us understand one another and be more accepting of the other.
We talk also of suicide.
“You know,” she says, “I’ve thought about suicide before.”
“Really?” I’m not sure I want to hear this. But, of course, I believe her and thus, I need to hear it.
“Yeah. Not recently. And never for very long. I could never leave Amy.”
“Why, though? Why would you think about doing it?”
“I don’t know. Well, yes, I do. I just sometimes think that you guys shouldn’t have to put up with me.”
The tears fall. Mine. Not put up with her? I can’t imagine not putting up with her. And it’s not like she’s terribly difficult. She goes to school, gets decent grades. She worked all summer at a job that demanded a lot of responsibility. When that job ended, she went and found another one, all on her own. She’s never gotten a ticket, never been in trouble with the law. She loves to be at home – playing her guitar, singing, drawing, painting, writing in her journal. She’s a beautiful being, and she makes so many people happy.
My mind races with concern. What have I done to make her think that? Gotten after her for leaving dirty dishes in her room? Given her consequences and taken away privileges? Encouraged her to think about her disposition, as it fluctuates, and how it affects others? (Actually, my words have been more along the lines of, “Why are you being so b!tchy today? Even if you don’t feel the greatest, you’ve got to learn to manage yourself, think about how you’re affecting others.” Perhaps not the most encouraging words, I realize now.)
I can’t just quit, can’t stop with the expectations, the teaching, the consequences, the loss of privileges. That would be like giving up on parenting altogether. I don’t see that as an option. I guess I do need to be thinking more about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. And how my daughter is hearing it.
We walk. Not alone but together. And not just for others, but for her as well. I talk. She talks. I listen. I believe. And I learn. And what I learn is that I still have so much more to learn.
NAMIWalks Colorado 2014 is this Saturday, May 17, at Western Colorado Botanical Gardens. Check-in time is 8 a.m. and start time is 9:30 a.m.
Register here: http://www.namiws.org/
Randee Bergen is a single mother of two teenagers and an elementary school teacher. Read her every other Friday on Healthy Mesa County.