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 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

A letter to my daughter

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On Thursday, December 4, 2014, my daughter Zoe Lynn attempted suicide. It was only by intuition or divine intervention that I woke up and found her struggling with a rope around her neck. I was able to prevent her from dying, but there is much work that now must begin to heal her, myself and my family. I hope this letter is the beginning of such a healing.

Dearest Zoe,

You came into this world on February 3, 2001., surrounded by friends, family, peaceful music and candlelight. You were born at home, in our apartment off River road in Eugene, Oregon. When Clarebeth, the head midwife, lifted you up and cried “it’s a girl!”, everyone erupted in cheers. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.

You were such a sweet, mellow baby, and I realized after you were born that i truly did not know what love was until you entered my life. I did not know what life was until you entered mine You were such a funny little goose. When you began crawling, you hated having your picture taken. You would fuss and scoot towards me, trying to get so close I couldn’t take a shot. You also were a little jealous, and never wanted your mom and I to be close, pulling us apart if we cuddled.

I remember all too well, when 9/11 occurred and you were just a few months old, how scared I was, and how I wondered about the kind of world I had brought you into, and whether it was fair of us to bring you here when so much bad was happening. Of course, I no longer feel that way.

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Your mom and I did not remain together much longer beyond that, a clash of personalities that was impossible to fix. But fortunately for myself, I was always able to see you on a daily basis, and as you grew, we became closer and closer. Many people said you were a daddy’s girl, and I still think that is true. We have always been close, and I hope we always remain so.

When your mom went to Nursing school, I took over the primary care for you for a period of a few years, and even though it was hard, it was one of the most rewarding periods in my life. I would wake up each weekday around 6 am, feed you and get you ready for school. Then I would return home and try to get a few extra hours of sleep. Then I would wake up, pick you up from school, we would have lunch and then I would take you back to the school for aftercare. Then I would go to work (as a manager at Sweet Life) and work from 3 until after eleven (most nights), then I would go and get you from your Mom’s house, where you were asleep, put you in my truck and drive back to my apartment. I was fortunate to be able to get to sleep by one in the morning. Then I would wake up around 6 and start it all over again.

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During that period, I would take you on walks up Spencer’s Butte almost daily, carrying you in the baby backpack as we wound our way towards the summit. I remember once when it snowed, you hiked all the way to the top on your own (in over a foot of snow, too!) When your Uncle David and cousin Travis came to visit us, they took you on a hike on the Butte, but it quickly got too dark to continue, and you threw a hissy fit because you wanted to reach the summit. Of course, as a climber, I loved that.

I started taking you to the rock climbing gym at three years old, and wow, you blew me away with not only your natural climbing ability, but also your determination. I remember seeing other kids around your age trying to climb at the gym, and mostly they seemed to want to just swing on the rope and play. Not you. You were aiming for the top. I actually had to make you stop, take breaks, get a drink of water, because otherwise as soon as I lowered you from a route, you immediately wanted to go right back up.

I remember when you graduated from pre-school at the Waldorf. I was the one parent there who was bawling like a baby, it was so embarrassing, not because I was crying but just because all the other parents weren’t. I have always been very emotional about you.

A series of events (your great-uncle Jorge, your Pampa (my father) and my friend Traci all passing away, a painful breakup with my then-girlfriend Bethany, stress at work) put me on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and I myself went through some serious emotional trauma, which culminated in me taking myself to the hospital and getting mental help for a few days. I remember times when I would be just sobbing, and you, all of three or four years old, would drape yourself over me, trying to comfort and protect me with all of your soul and body. Eventually I made the difficult decision to move an hour south to Roseburg,  a more rural area so I could decompress for a while. Yet I still was able to have you for almost every weekend, and even though I didn’t get to see you every day, I was still so grateful to see you as often as I did. It wasn’t easy for us, but we always made the most of the time we had.

End Part I

 

 

 

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.