Surviving the Waves
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
"I want to die."
It was the first thing she said to me that Friday morning. Still in her pyjamas, having just emerged from her room.
It wasn't an exaggeration.
It wasn't a bad joke.
It was a a declaration of distress from a little girl who woke up disappointed to find that she still felt sad.
Something had happened a week ago that made her heart hurt, and it wasn't getting better.
She thought it would have gotten better by now.
But instead she was drowning in sad, crying herself to sleep every night that week. Crying at school. Couldn't concentrate. Could barely keep up a conversation because the sadness was an ever-present distraction drawing her attention.
I sat on the couch and motioned for her to come over. I took her in my arms and rocked her gently. She cuddled in and turned her head in such a way that her 12 year old 5'3" self felt like an infant in my arms. "I know it hurts. I know it feels like it will always hurt, but I promise you that it won't always feel this way." I whispered to her as I stroked her hair. "And I'll be right here the whole time. You aren't alone." Then I asked her what she was looking forward to this weekend.
I have 11 years of youth work experience backing me in this moment. I know about suicide. I know about depression. I am familiar with what hope and lack of hope sound like. As she told me that she was looking forward to having a friend over and baking cupcakes tomorrow, and how she was looking forward to a movie coming out, and how she was excited for laser tag that weekend, I knew that this was a kid who still had hope inside of her for good things and happier times. There is a big difference between someone who is deeply sad, and someone who has no hope of ever being not sad again.
This wasn't a little girl who wanted to die. This was a little girl who was in pain and didn't want to be in pain anymore.
So we spent time that morning speaking of all the things we were hopeful for. All the many good things that still lay in the future to look forward to. Things that existed on the other side of the wave.
We talk a lot about waves together. Its important for her to know that emotions come and go like waves crashing on a shore. Some are big, some are small, some feel like a tsunami that goes over our head and crushes everything we have...but they are waves. Waves come, and waves go. Its their nature.
"When you are under a wave, it feels like you're drowning. It feels like the wave will never go away and you'll die under its suffocating weight. But thats why I'm here to remind you to hold your breath and wait it out, because the wave will pass." She looks up at me with skeptical but trusting eyes. She wants to believe me.
Two days later we are driving home from a planned fun activity and she was singing and dancing to music. I don't want to disturb the happy moment, but I do a check in. I ask her "How are the waves today?" She gets serious and says with measured words that are frankly brilliantly insightful for a 12 year old "They still hurt a lot. But I know I will survive them when they come. I know I am capable." She switched the song, and kept singing.
Now it was my time to cry.
This is resiliency.
This is strength.
This is brave.
I can not insulate and protect my kids from the waves. But I can teach them how to survive them.
She is going to be more than fine.
She is going to be brilliantly resilient.