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

I know it has been several weeks since I last wrote about what has happened with my daughter Zoe, who attempted suicide recently. I did not intend to stop writing, but I found that I got to a point where my stress level reached a breaking point. I was exhausted, I was suffering from symptoms of what I assume were PTSD. I got physically ill, and reached my limit when I was trying to work on only a few hours sleep and was still dealing with the effects of a stomach virus. I was a basket case. I was sobbing every few minutes and just couldn’t take any more. I left work after half a shift and almost fell asleep at the wheel several times on the way home. When I did arrive home, I fell asleep immediately and was able to sleep deeply for the first time since Zoe’s suicide attempt. From that point on things seemed to get better.

However, I have just needed to step back from the circumstances of that horrible period of time and try to gain some distance. Zoe has also been in Oregon since just before Christmas and I think that has been a good thing, giving me a chance to heal and recover.

She seems to be doing better in Oregon, being able to spend quality time with her mom, her brother and her close friends. She also has been able to enjoy some liquid sunshine that she has really missed since moving to our sunnier, much drier climate in Utah. She will be returning soon and hopefully we will be able to start a new, more positive direction in our lives.

In the meantime, we are working on selling our RV so that we can move into the beautiful home where we are parked — both the tenants who had been living there abruptly moved around the time that this crisis occurred, a fortuitous set of circumstances for us. Hopefully we will have it sold before Zoe returns, but our landlord is hoping we can wait until he returns around the 9th of January. That is our highest priority right now, getting out of our cramped RV and into a house. It will make a world of difference for all of us.

I will return to writing again soon. I just needed some time and distance to try and heal.

A Letter to my Daughter, Part III

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My beloved Zoe Lynn, We have some many things I would like for us to do together before our time is through. There are rocks and mountains to climb, rivers to kayak and swim in, ideas, hopes and dreams to discuss. I want to be there to comfort you when you go through your first heartache, I want to be there when you graduate from high school and college (although whether or not you choose to further your education is, of course, completely up to you.) Someday you may have children of your own, and I look forward to being a grandfather — as long as that doesn’t happen too soon.

Life can be hard, it can be cruel and capricious, yet there is so much magic, wonder, love and hope as well. My sincerest hope is that you can return to seeing this more positive aspect of existence. I know how hard it can be to see that side when you are depressed — I know that only too well. I also have been hospitalized because I was despondent, as you know, but I kept myself alive because I knew how much my death would hurt the people who loved me. I believe that now you know this as well.

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The last letter finished with you and your mom moving to Portland. She had quit her job as a nurse to return to school for acupuncture. This would prove to be the catalyst for your downward spiral. Of course, it was only part of a combination of factors that made for a potent recipe for depression. The move, you and I seeing each other less, a new school and city, your mom being really busy and not having as much time for you, plus the new addition of hormones, all of these contributed to your sorrow. But I believe that the thing that pushed you over the edge was you and your mom’s roommate, J.

She called you a slut(even though you are a virgin). She told you you were ugly and that no boy would ever want you. She insulted and dragged you down. Then she would lie about it to your mom and say you were making things up. I didn’t know any of this was happening until it was almost too late.

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I found out about this when you called me one night in May, revealing to me that you were struggling with bad depression. You told me about the situation and your mom and I agreed that I should come get you and bring you back to Southern Oregon for some extra time. However, it wasn’t until I called your school — to let them know you would be missing school for a few days — that I was informed that you were posting suicidal thoughts on Instagram. When your school counselor sent me the links to these posts I was beyond horrified.

I was in the last few weeks of my college career at Umpqua Community College, and I remember waiting for Brook to come pick me up so we could get you in Portland. I was like a caged, wounded animal, pacing ceaselessly, unable to concentrate on anything except coming to get you. I was so scared. Brook too was frightened, and she drove like woman possessed on the drive north.

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When I picked you up from school, I had already made up my mind that it was time for you to come live with me. I was ready to get a lawyer or go before a judge, anything I needed to do to keep you with me and keep you safe. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let you return to that house and be around that woman. You didn’t react well to the news, and neither did your mom.

Thankfully, Brook was able to calm things down between your mother and I and a short time after bringing you to live with us, we went to mediation where it was agreed that not only were you going to live with us in Roseburg for the rest of the school year, but that you would also be coming to live with us when we moved to Utah at the end of the summer. I really felt the change would be good for you.

I was wrong.

End Part III

A Letter to my Daughter, Part II

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My dearest Zoe, today I took a trip to Zion, which was badly needed. I dropped Brook and the kids of at the school around eight and headed east towards the park around 8:30. I arrived at the trailhead for Angels Landing around 9:40 and headed up the trail as fast as I could. I needed to be back at the school by 1, so I had to hustle in order to reach the summit and return in time.

The Angels Landing trail is considered by many to be one of the greatest in all of North America, and ever since I first reached the lofty summit of this magnificent peak in 2011, I have wanted to take you on it. (We got about 3/4 of the way up the trail about a month or so ago.) I sincerely look forward to the day when you and I can do it together. Of course, being that this trail has massive exposure, we will have to work on regaining a lot of trust before I take you on it.

I thought of you a lot as I hiked, but I didn’t once think of that terrible scene from a week ago. This is a trail that requires full concentration. Being freed from that God-awful mental loop was a major relief for me. This is one reason why I climb, it frees me from any and all issues I might be experiencing back in the “real” world. I think that you too will utilize this aspect of climbing as you grow.

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The famsters on the Angels Landing trail, in Refrigerator Canyon

 

I want to return to the thread I began in my last letter to you. I ended it by recalling how I ended up moving to Southern Oregon. Despite living about an hour from you, I made every effort to see you on the weekends, often driving over one thousand miles each month in order to do so. I am proud of that fact. I would have done it even if the distance had been further.

Shortly after moving to Roseburg, I met Brook and we fell in love and created a family together. Your brother Ryan was about a month and a half when Brook and I met, and you were so excited to be an instant older sister. You were six when this happened. For a while, you and Brook had a somewhat harder time bonding, but when you admitted to being jealous of her, everything changed. You guys grew closer and closer as time went on, something that made me profoundly happy. Eventually you even started calling her mama.

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This was during the worst period of chronic pain, as evidenced by my gaunt appearance.

 

These were some difficult times for all of us. My chronic pain issues reached their peak, and there were times I seriously considered suicide myself. I was in so much agony then, and it seemed like there was no escaping it. You were always so protective and compassionate to me when I would be wracked by pain. It was hard for me to be as good a father as I wanted then. Thankfully, I would eventually find the medication that would unlock the doors of this prison.

Despite that rough time, we still managed to find time to go climbing and hiking occasionally. I remember really well when you were seven, and Ryan was a year old, we hiked to the top of Mt. Bailey, an 8000′ mountain just an hour from home. That hike was a true mountain climb: 11 miles roundtrip with something like 3000′ of elevation gain. But you did it, and all under your own power. I was so impressed. On the way back down, you were so exhausted that you kept falling asleep on your feet as we walked.

Zoe, Brook and Ryan on Mt. Bailey

Zoe, Brook and Ryan on Mt. Bailey

Then a couple of weeks later we made an attempt on Union Peak, a smaller mountain in Crater Lake National Park. Again, you did great, but neglected to tell us that your ill-fitting shoes were forming blisters on your feet. When we were within a few hundred feet of the summit, the pain got to be too much and you had to stop just short of the peak. Unfortunately, your feet were so thrashed that you had to be carried out, something like five and a half miles. My friends Scott and Eddie took turns carrying you. Luckily you were small enough that this was possible.

Zoe on the way up Union Peak

Zoe on the way up Union Peak

During this period, we had a lot of financial struggles, and had to move several times. We lived for a time in a mobile home on the banks of the North Umpqua river and that was a magical time for us. Our good friends Amy and Erik lived next door, and their son Hagen and you really enjoyed being able to see each other that often. But all good things come to an end, and more financial struggles forced us once again to move, this time relocating to my Mom’s home.

Around that same time, you and your mom moved north to Portland, and my ability to see you on a weekly basis came to an end. This was probably the most difficult period we had faced, but again, we managed to stay close.

End part II

An Update

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Well, the news is better today. Had a really good talk with both Zoe and her mom today, and after some going back and forth, we decided that Zoe should start taking an anti-depressant, specifically Zoloft. So tomorrow she will begin, on very low doses and monitored closely by the staff at Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital. I am beyond relieved at this point.

Today was really rough before this decision was made, I was having horrible, horrible anxiety, wondering what we could do to truly help my girl. I felt so helpless and weak.

But now it feels like things might turn around. She will be staying for a little while longer while they monitor her and make sure everything is working properly. I miss her terribly and just want her to come home, but not at the expense of her health and her life. This is the right thing to do.

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Tomorrow I am taking a day to myself. I am going to drop off Brook and the kids at school and head straight there. I am assuming that I will probably be scaling Angels Landing via the cables route, but I may change my mind and do something else instead.

I really hope this is the shift we are needing. I really believe Zoe is a changed person after this. I pray that is true, and we can work towards building a beautiful future for her.

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.

 

Some reflections on a life of (mostly) failure

ImageI think I should be a success. I’m an intelligent, well-read person who seemingly has all the tools to lead a successful, healthy, happy life, but the truth is, I have failed in my life, repeatedly, over and over again, no matter how talented I may seem in that particular area of failure.

First and foremost in my mind is school. I went through basically twelve years of hell in school, averaging something less than a 1.0 average, despite all my test scores placing me in the upper five to ten percent in the nation. I was told I was lazy, I was told I didn’t apply myself (that term still provokes a feeling of nausea in me when I hear someone utter it.), I was made out to be something that I wasn’t, and as far as I know, not once in that time did anyone ever seriously consider that maybe, just maybe something deeper was wrong. Despite the fact that I had a serious head injury when I was five that required me to stay in ICU two nights.

Socially it was just as bad for me, I only had a few friends, a lot of my class- and school-mates regarded me as a strange, isolated kid who was obviously intelligent but indecipherable, so in addition to feeling like a stupid, lazy piece-of-shit, I was also left feeling like an incredibly isolated, stupid, lazy piece of shit. I used to stare at myself in the mirror and call myself all sorts of horrible names, I told myself how much I loathed me, I hated the ugly image in the mirror. It is no surprise then, if I admit that by the time I was ten, I has already seriously begun contemplating killing myself.

I recall clearly the first time I almost did it. We lived on this incredibly steep hillside in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, and we had this old Dodge pickup truck that was parked pointing straight down the steepest part of our hill, and I sat in that truck, all of ten years old, ready to pull the parking brake, put it in neutral and go to my fate.

It didn’t get easier for me as I got older. My isolation only increased when we moved to Oregon when I was fourteen and suddenly thrust into the country world of Glide, Oregon. The first two years at Glide High School were pretty bad, I was this tiny little dude and definitely got picked on a lot, but by the time I was a junior and senior, I wasn’t getting picked on too much, but I was just as isolated as ever.

Throughout this whole time, I was still essentially getting D’s and F’s, I was still just as baffling and confusing to the teachers and staff at the high school, and my depression was getting worse year by year. The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I was depressed. I just thought I basically sucked, no one genuinely liked me, and that I would never amount to anything. Actually, that is still my ‘default’ mode that I go into when the black dog visits. In any case, I wouldn’t realize that I was clinically depressed until after I was hospitalized at nineteen.

I ended up dropping out of school when I was six months from graduation, in part because I wasn’t going to graduate anyway. and I in part because I hated it so much I just wanted to get the hell out. I wouldn’t make a serious attempt at formal education again until this year.

Which brings us to my latest failure. I enrolled in UCC for the fall term, got approved for financial aid, and took a step I honestly didn’t think I would ever seriously try. At first, it went pretty well, I felt enthusiastic and energized, I was on top of things, but as the fall progressed, my pain issues increased, dramatically so at the end of the term, and I was in so much pain I began to struggle getting to class. It didn’t help any that I was also feeling anxiety about being around a bunch of strangers when I was hurting so badly that I wasn’t sure if I could suppress a groan when it struck. Plus, I had to take a lot of pain medication, which sure as hell isn’t conducive to things like focus and concentration. Anyway, I really struggled in the lat month, I managed to get caught up in my writing 121 class, and ended up, to my surprise, with an A. But my journalism classes I only got a C and a D, which officially makes me suspended from school.

How can this be? Well, when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I made a feeble attempt at school, but being the dumb-ass that I am, I ended up not going to them at all, mostly due to my then-overwhelming fear of being in any kind of group situation. The terrible part is this: I don’t always understand how systems work, I just don’t get it, and in this case I ended up going to maybe one or two nights, but never again after that. I didn’t, however, take the vital step of withdrawing officially from my classes, not understanding that it would mean three F’s instead of just a withdrawal. So now, with my D in writing for the media (getting this grade also came down to me not turning in one final assignment, which I stupidly did not realize was our final), I am officially booted from school. I doubt I will ever try again.

All I had to do was get a C.

When I was in wrestling, I was pretty talented physically, I was quick and could get take-downs on a lot of opponents, but as talented physically as I was, I was mentally incompetent. I would give up, beating someone but good, then getting tired and giving up, almost always getting pinned in the process. My friend Brandon told me it was the most aggravating thing to watch me wrestle.

When I joined Tae Kwon Do when I was sixteen, things began to shift, but not right away. I took to the martial arts, utilizing my quickness to rapidly establish myself as one of the best in our little dojo within just a few months, but when I went to tournaments, I initially was only able to finish second or third, I was usually too wound up, I was too blindly aggressive and could never get the win. This went from yellow belt through my blue belt. Then, when I was a brown belt, I finally went to a tournament with a relaxed attitude, and I not only won, I dominated. I became a more passive fighter, relying on my defensive skills and preying on my opponents mistakes. After that, something clicked in me and I went on to win five of the next six tournaments. But a tragedy was to soon alter my psychology for many years to come.

I had a friend in high school named Lynn Powell, we were never close, but for a time she babysat across the street, and we would hang out sometimes. She was always really kind to me, and I always felt cared about by her, not a common feeling for me in those days, and I always cherished her friendship for that. She had this vibrant spark to her, and one always felt a little better being around her, at least I always did. So when the news of her death in a horrific car accident reached me that terrible morning so many years ago, I literally went into shock, I couldn’t believe it, not her, not Lynn. I was shaken to the core by her passing.

After that, I really passed into a deep sorrow that I wouldn’t come fully out of for a long time, and I lost the joy I had for the martial arts, and most everything else too. So soon I wasn’t practicing, but I vowed that I would go back, and that I would win a tournament in her honor. After several months of sorrow, I did return, and trained for about one month before entering a tournament that just happened to be occurring locally, at Douglas High School.

What I most remember about this tournament was the fact that I was in a nearly unconscious state when I sparred, I was so fully in ‘the zone’, I remembered almost nothing of the actual matches. I know two of my three matches were stopped because I was beating my opponents by five points, a sort of ‘mercy’ rule some tournaments use. The next thing I know, I am being handed a trophy, I start crying, and I don’t stop crying for half an hour. I had done it. I had won it for Lynn. Later I would take the small trophy and leave it at her grave.

I never seriously trained in TKD again. I was less than six months from testing for my black belt, and I gave up, I quit, never to return.

My daughter Zoe’s middle name is Lynn, and it is partly in my old friend’s memory that she was given that name.

End of part I