I am writing this story today in support of the Concussion, Pain & Mental Health Awareness organization, otherwise known as www.CPMHA.com. as well as to honor my daughter, Erin, who took her life at 15. I never thought anything like this could happen in my life. After the initial shock, I woke up one day thinking, how could this be my life? How did this happen? Maybe this resonates with you as well, or someone you know.
This is a story that is becoming all to common in today’s world, suicide by our youth. As I attend & support our Palm Beach County Survivors of Suicide, I see the effects first hand and hear the stories of the families. Recently, I heard a statistic that hit me hard, it is getting worse, not better. The # of suicides in girls ages 11-15 has tripled since 2012. It is my wish that Erin’s life and our family story can help others outsmart this phenomenon.
I want to start by giving a brief background to show that childhood factors play a part in our future decisions. I never felt that I could be myself amongst my family, so I played at friend’s houses & put my efforts into school activities & sports, Cheerleading, Student Council and the National Honor Society.
I had a realization at a young age that I had a gift for noticing behavior patterns and went on to pursue a degree in Early Childhood Development. Even with this background, I could not save my daughter. Suicide is insidious and crosses all age, race and economic barriers.
Right now, I feel so strongly that we must be aware of our greatest future resource, our children. These are not easy times to parent, especially with social media, children living in a one parent household or a blended family home. Parental Alienation is also on the rise along with bullying & sports concussions.
After I married, I waited a number of years to have children. I wanted my husband’s career to be stable and lucrative, as well as our marriage. I wanted to be a “Stay at Home” Mom and raise our children.
When my 1st daughter was about 2, I knew that this marriage was not working. I experienced a lot of emotional abuse & I did not know how to rise above it. I was taught to be a victim and I found myself becoming depressed and having feelings of unworthiness. Just as I was about to leave I found myself pregnant with Erin. I was really afraid to leave for a number of reasons so I kept setting mini goals before I would file. For example, I’ll leave when Erin is out of diapers, then I’ll leave when she goes to pre-school, etc., but Erin was a very difficult and conflicted child and parenting was exhausting and stressful. I couldn’t put my finger on how to help her. I sought professional help for her in spite of my former husband’s efforts to block it. I knew there was something wrong, but no one could diagnosis it at the time. I even had Erin court ordered for counseling, but she was told by her father not to share her feelings and she didn’t.
As a mother, my intuition was very strong. I could not shake the feeling even when professionally trained therapists could not find a diagnosis in the DSM book, that there was something wrong ,however I began to doubt myself. It takes a lot of tenacity to stay on this journey, but her behavior was proof of a problem.
Several days before my daughter took her life, I went to the Adolescent Psychologist, that Erin had just started seeing. I told them that I had an overwhelming sense that something was going to happen and we had to do something. I was adamant & extremely worried. The receptionist said that there was nothing we could do. We had no evidence that would support Baker acting her (she wasn’t on drugs) & they would just release her, but I could not shake this feeling. I had nowhere else to turn and my former husband refused to communicate, so I waited it out on pins & needles. I had exhausted all means that I knew of at the time and I just turned to prayer. This was between 1996 – 2002 and there were not that many resources available that I could find and this subject was pretty taboo.
Then, the worst thing that can happen to a parent happened to me:
My daughter, Erin took her life. I remember getting a call to come to my ex’s home right away. He never called or communicated, so I knew something was very wrong. Erin had hung herself in her dad’s home while he was home. She had been acting out that night & wanted to meet her friends, but was not on drugs or cutting or anything we know of. Her dad told her something that she didn’t like and she went into the garage, found string and sat in her room braiding string to hang herself. To this day, that just amazes me that she spent all that time braiding string to be strong enough & that he was home.
Here are some lessons that I know now from my circumstances, however, each story is unique:
Lesson # 1 – Trust your gut & heart no matter what someone says. I could do that now, but I didn’t trust enough then. Even professionals are wrong. Seek out the support team that you feel is the best you can find and trust them. Suicide is unpredictable & oftentimes there are no warning signs. In fact, the victim often is happier and throws us off prior to because they make up their mind & feel relief. I know that was what Erin did and I hear it over & over again. We thought she had turned a corner and was settling down.
Lesson # 2 – Put the oxygen mask on & take care of yourself (this is easier said then done, I know, but being aware that you are helping your child when you do this makes it easier, even with sleepless nights) Eat healthy, mind your thoughts, exercise and meditate. When I practiced this, it was easier to cope.
Lesson # 3 – No Matter What, put differences aside and work together for the benefit of your children, (even in healthy relationships there can be disagreements on how to help your child) … you are risking their lives. It is a game of Russian Roulette – it may not be death, but it will affect their future. Get your ego out of the way. Conscious Parenting is a great skill & tool to use when parenting.
Lesson # 4 – Have courage to do what you need to do. It is not heroic staying in a bad relationship for the sake of your children. I was so beaten down by the time that I did leave, that I couldn’t make the best decisions and was depleted. I also think that I was afraid to leave because I didn’t know how my husband would respond and what he would do. I think many women face this, especially with a challenging child. Another contributing factor at that time was that, the norm was to “Stay and Make it Work at Any Cost.” I believe staying too long cost my daughter her life. The circumstances kept getting worse.
Lesson # 5 – Keep searching for the right information. We didn’t have the internet back then. I even went to a Professional conference for Psychologists and Educators that my therapist recommended trying to find help for Erin. I think that she might have been Biopolar (no one talked about that then) or had something called Oppositional Defiance Disorder. We will never know for sure.
Lesson # 6 – Reach out to find others going through this, you can’t do it alone. There were not many support groups back in those day. We didn’t have the internet. Now, the world is available to you, even internationally. Find groups to support you. I found a 12step program & church groups, but not much was available back then. More things are becoming available today for us. Just today, I saw an initiative being put together by Deepak Chopra: neveralone.love It looks great.
Lesson # 7 – Be discerning who you listen to, everyone wants to give their opinion. It is often hard for people to believe that this could be happening, especially if they are in healthy family situations. You can get judged that it is you and you are crazy and this really affects your efforts and judgement.
I hope that the story of my daughter Erin can save even one life & bring more awareness to this issue. Thank you for allowing me to share my journey & my daughter with you. — Barbara
Erin’s life put me on a different career path with a mission to help others:
I focus on a Full Spectrum of Health: physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing and mindful practices. I specialize in the aftermath of Trauma, Trauma Recovery practices, mindfulness and Activating your Body for Health. I am a speaker, I conduct private sessions for Trauma Recovery as well as workshops to help mitigate Trauma as it is occurring. I also have a Global reach in a new paradigm of health, Nutrigenomics, the practice of Activating your body vs Supplementing your body and how Nutrition affects your genes. It all matters.