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A Letter to my Daughter, Part IV

My dearest Zoe, today is a very happy day for me. I just talked to your therapist at the hospital, and found out that you are, for certain, being released tomorrow. This makes me overjoyed. I have missed you so badly and now, after almost two weeks, you will be coming home, if only for a little while. After that you will be flying to Oregon to spend the break with your mom, and I am sure she will be overjoyed to see you as well.

Your mom told me that you have really been questioning what it was that woke me up. Both you and I believe it was some spirit that roused me from sleep, something that was markedly larger than either of us. She says you are more open to Christianity even, which is a major shift. I have to admit, even I, someone who has been really uncomfortable with it, am willing to have a more open heart about it. But we will open that door later. For now, I just want to get you home and work on making life more beautiful for you.

I stated in my last letter that it was a mistake in moving here to Utah, but after talking to some friends on Facebook, I realize that I should clarify what I meant. It was not a mistake in the bigger picture. This is a better place for us in so many ways: Weather, schools, family-oriented lifestyle, financial opportunities, etc. What I meant is that it was a mistake to bring an already depressed child so far from what she knew. And even that, I realize today, was not necessarily a mistake. I should have just been more aware of the difficulties it would present.

I know how difficult this move has been. Moving to a state where you didn’t know anyone, where the people have much different values than we do, would be difficult for anyone, but for someone already struggling with the massive changes of a thirteen-year old girl, it made for a very troubling transition.

But we have to be patient. Already so many good things have happened to us here. The friends we have made, the jobs we now have, and what the future holds are all very positive, and would not have happened back in Oregon. It takes time to transition, and we have only been here for a little over four months. More time is needed.

I believe we can really make it work here, and I think it can be a good place for you as well. We just have to be more proactive about what you are going through. We need to be more honest with each other about how we are feeling. No more being a people-pleaser for you! You have to tell us what you are feeling, no matter how dark or painful those feelings might be. That is the only way we can get through this.

(I wrote this at the end of December. I am going to leave it as it is and start a new, final letter to Zoe to transition to where we stand now.)

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An Update to the Death of Innocence

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Well, it has now been three days since my beloved daughter Zoe attempted suicide. She has been in the Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital during that time, and apparently, all is going well. She has been learning coping skills and seems quite happy there. Of course, at this point, I am somewhat suspicious of her happiness because she had pretended that she was happy in the weeks leading up to her attempt (and had been planning on it all along.) Still, I am hopeful she will find a renewed sense of purpose and life after her stay there.

As for myself, I am…okay. The day after this happened, I felt very, very positive and hopeful, and found a new sense of purpose. But I also went right back to work the day after we returned from Provo and worked something like seventeen hours in two days. By yesterday the cracks in the dam had begun to appear and my emotions started going on a roller coaster ride. By the time I got home yesterday, I was a wreck again. There is only so long one can be strong, and yesterday I needed to let down my guard, take off the armor and let some of that pain out. It felt good to do so.

Today we are going to drive north again and go see her. I miss Zoe so much, so it will be wonderful to see her if only for an hour or so.

 

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The death of innocence

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Right now I am a wreck, an exhausted, fried, emotionally strung-out wreck of a human being. Today is quite literally the worst day of my life, but the truth is, it could be much worse.

My eldest daughter, Zoe Lynn, my beautiful, talented, sensitive, creative girl hung herself last night. She survived, but as of right now, she is in the Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital in Northern Utah, where she will remain for as many as two weeks. Visiting hours (including phone calls) are from 4:00-4:50, and with myself and my family living three hours away in St. George (near the border of Arizona and Nevada), chances are I wont be able to see her too much over that time frame.

Zoe has been dealing with serious depression issues for about half a year now (in truth, they were always probably there, but she is pretty good at masking any negativity), the initial suicidal phase brought on by an abusive former roommate of her mother’s. Which is why she is living with me now (this was really no fault of her Mom’s).

As some of you know, we moved to St. George just about four months ago, seeking a warmer climate in a beautiful city in the desert, but the move has been fairly difficult for my thirteen year old daughter. Moving a thousand miles away from her friends and family in Portland, Oregon would be difficult for most, but throwing an already potent mix of depression to the mix has proved even more stressful for her.

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About two months ago, the school she attends contacted me to inform me that Zoe had been cutting herself. That was the start of me realizing this issue had gotten too big for me to handle, and so we got her into counseling immediately. This seemed to help, she still struggled with sorrow, but it really seemed like we had turned the corner.

Then last night happened.

Having suffered from severe depression from a young age (I was suicidal at age ten, and was finally hospitalized at 19), I have been on anti-depressants for about twelve years or so, and the drug I take really helps me sleep, so much so that I rarely get up once the pills take effect. Yet last night, something woke me up about an hour after I fell asleep, and I went out into the living room of our RV to discover that Zoe was not in her bed, the window was wide open and the front door was locked. I knew something was wrong immediately and yelled at my wife, Brook (my rock, my stalwart) that Zoe was not in bed. I went outside and started yelling for Zoe, and getting no response, started looking around the yard. Moments later, choking noises drew my attention to the tree behind the utility shed, and in the darkness I could see my daughter thrashing and kicking and I knew immediately the worst had happened. She had her hands at her throat, seemingly trying to stop the actions she had initiated.

I can’t get those moments out of my head: racing to grab her, lifting her up while Brook came running to help. We collapsed together on a chair. She cried “I can’t take it anymore!” while I wept (I think). Brook immediately called 9-1-1.

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The volunteers for the local fire department were at our house in less than two minutes, followed very quickly by the sheriff and an ambulance. I was truly astonished by their response time. The men that came to help were amazing in their compassion and kindness (unbelievably, one of the volunteers gave us $500). After about half an hour of talking to her, checking her vitals and discussing a plan with myself and Brook, Zoe and I ended up riding in the Sheriff’s cruiser to the hospital while Brook followed us in our car.

We spent about five or six hours at the hospital while the staff tried to find a place for Zoe to be safe. The Dixie Regional Medical Center does not have an adolescent crisis care unit, so they had to call around to find a place for her. That eventually was Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital in Orem, Utah, a four hour drive north. So at sometime after six in the morning, Zoe and I departed in an ambulance while an exhausted Brook took the little kids home to get a few hours of sleep.

So Zoe is now safe and secure there. Unfortunately, it also means that since they have such limited hours, I won’t be able to see her much over the next two weeks. My heart aches knowing I won’t be able to see her, talk to her or do the protective things dads are supposed to do in crisis situations, but that is something I just have to let go of. This is out of my control right now. I can only step back and allow the professionals to (hopefully) do a good job of helping my daughter gain the coping skills she so desperately needs to get past this.

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Zoe told me it was much scarier and painful than she was expecting. I imagine this is why she was clutching at her throat when I found her. I told her the story about how virtually every suicide survivor who had ever leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco almost immediately realized that their perceived problems were not worthy of dying over. I can only hope that this sinks in, and we can move on to happier, more peaceful times in our lives.

This was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I will likely never forget seeing my beautiful girl struggling and gasping for breath under that tree in the dark of night. I suppose if I ever get Alzheimer’s disease, the only good thing that will come of it is forgetting that awful moment. But until then, I will have to find a way to live with it.

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I am not sure what the future hold for my daughter. I have hope that this was a very real, painful wake up call for her. So far it certainly seems to be. But considering the masterful way that she was able to keep it from myself and my wife, I am apprehensive that this event will repeat itself. I am not sure how to trust my girl right now. I suppose only time and a more open, honest relationship between us will make the trust eventually return.

For the moment I am sitting in the bistro section of a local Harmon’s Grocery store. I am punch-drunk, having only gotten an hour’s sleep since nine last night. Brook is en route to get me, but I still have a several hour wait until she gets here, so I will sit and wait and pray that this is the worst of it, that from this point on, things will get better.