A NAMI Parent’s Essay

Letting Go

I had a lovely conversation with my daughter as I drove her to the Speedway gas station to get a vape refill, then to a friend’s house where she had left her bike the night before, because we didn’t want her riding it at night, especially stoned, which happens often these days. This was all happening during the coronavirus Stay Home, Stay Safe order, which my daughter wasn’t exactly following, because she would “become too depressed in isolation,” according to her.

In the very near past (like yesterday), I probably would have responded to the vape purchase with, “Honey, I wish you’d quit, or at least cut back on vaping.” To the being stoned the night before situation, I might have asked, “Do you think Rachel Maddow [whom my daughter loves] gets stoned?” I would have said of the friend’s house, “I’m really uncomfortable with you visiting a friend during this time.” I would have said, as she aggressively picked at her bottom lip, “Where’s that lip balm I gave you?” All valid things you would say to your mentally healthy young adult (possibly with a bit less patience and tact), but my daughter isn’t mentally healthy right now. She lives with diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD. And I know isolation would make everything worse.

Instead, I kept all my “worried mom thoughts” inside, and we had a real conversation. And something happened. Her wonderful, intelligent personality blossomed. She talked, she laughed, and she seemed at ease. And I got a glimpse of what our relationship could be, if I let it.

Before the familiar words reflexively sprang from my mouth, an image of a broken record emerged, spinning round and round and skipping, the same refrain over and over again. She’s heard it all before. Sometimes it turns into an argument, leaving a sinking feeling in my stomach. I’m so glad I held back that day in the car. She knows how I feel. I don’t need to keep reminding her ­ at least not so often.

It felt good to have a congenial, light-hearted conversation with my daughter. I don’t even remember the details, but I remember the feeling ­ a light, easy, dare I say happy feeling? A feeling of connectedness, of hope. I’m still holding on to that and will do everything I can to conjure up that feeling whenever I feel the familiar, subtle digs beginning to well up.

My concerns are valid. I know that, and so does she. But she is working on things. Before the pandemic, she was going to college and had just earned an Associate’s Degree. She was getting ready to transfer to a local university so she could still live at home. She sees her psychiatrist, takes her meds, and has started Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). She has worked the 12-step program. She is much easier to get along with, and although progress seems very gradual, it’s happening. There are setbacks, sure, but I need to let go of the image of how I think she should be, and accept, even appreciate, how she is. That’s really difficult. How do you accept that your daughter is mentally suffering from the opioid death of a boy she loved, the trauma she suffered by the abuse of another bad choice of a boyfriend, abandonment from high school friends, a sudden breakup from a good choice of a boy she loved, two DUIs, substance abuse, suicide attempts, and the diagnosis of mental health issues, just to get started.

Maybe I can start with the fact that she is twenty-two, and I can’t control who she is or what she does. I’ve done my best as a mom, loving her with all my heart and doing my best to guide her every step of the way. That probably would have been fine if I had not been raising a girl with severe mental health issues, a girl who aggressively defied her parents, a girl who was practically born with intense, deep-seated anger. What I can do is change my outlook and the way I behave toward her, the way I speak to her, and what I choose to speak about. It makes our relationship better when I choose wisely ­ easier, more loving, and more connected.

I know I can’t always completely ignore or accept behavior that is unhealthy for her. But I hope I can remember that feeling of connectedness the next time I catch myself ready to voice my repetitive disapproval, without any attempt to connect. Because at this point, when we’ve been through hell and back together, isn’t that what’s important? To stay connected no matter what’s going on? To instill in her that I love her unconditionally, that I am always here should she want to talk, that she can tell me anything and I won’t freak out? I’m not interested in going into “friend mode” with her, like I can often do with my 27-year-old. No, this one needs a constant mother, but a mother who she feels she can talk to without hearing the same broken-record response. A mother who listens and really hears what she says. A mother who validates her rational and intelligent thoughts, who continues to guide her without harsh judgement or any judgement. I’m still working on that.

As my daughter struggles through the transition to adulthood, doing her best to navigate life at her own pace, I will always be there for her, when she wants me. But sometimes she needs a break from me, and honestly, sometimes I need a break from her. I know I need to step back and remember that this is her life, not mine. I need to trust that she has learned by her mistakes. I need to “back off,” as she, and my therapist, have reminded me.

She is on her own path, perhaps not one I’m familiar with, but her path nonetheless. I remember a quote, “Difficult journeys often lead to the most spectacular views,” or something like that. I hope that her journey leads her to a view we can someday relish together.

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