real life

For 10 years, my daughter wanted to end her life. Last month, she did.

This post could be triggering for some readers.

I don’t like to say she killed herself or that she committed suicide because that is not what happened.

She made a conscious decision to end her life and she had been wanting to do it and thinking about it and talking to us about it for over 10 years since she was first a teenager.

She did not do it out of spite or in a rash moment of insanity or after a heated argument.

She planned it; she researched it and she prepared for it.

She had been dealing with mental illness for all of her life, even as a very small child she was always different and difficult and sensitive but often defiant and oppositional. She was also sweet and loving and adorable and bright and intelligent.

We took her to all kinds of therapists from the time she was about five.

When she started pre-school, she was okay, she didn’t like to follow the rules and could not make friends easily but she loved to paint and draw and she loved nature and animals.

Extended family gatherings became very stressful. She was very jealous of the time and love the grandparents gave to the other grandkids; she only wanted to play “her” games with the cousins playing by her rules. 

One on one she was amazing, caring, kind, sensitive, thoughtful, and outgoing. She seemed confident like a confident toddler.

We had her assessed for ADHD, ADD, autism, Asperger's; we had her hearing and sight tested. 

At primary school she was very disruptive, it was a struggle. 

She was our first child so we did not know how to prepare for what was happening; we had no point of reference, all we knew is that she was not like all the other little girls. 

While she could be so sweet and fun and affectionate at home, at school she was aggressive and difficult, and this also became apparent when socialising with family friends.

She saw the school councillor; we did family therapy; we did the Triple P Parenting program. She was given the diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. We were shocked.

We were later told this was wrong, she was anxious but with the anxiety “fight or flight” response syndrome she was “fighting”, and this was being ignored.

We had weekly family meetings with our kids, planning activities and made good behaviour charts with goals for her to look forward to. 

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My husband and I made special time to be alone with her when our other child was born. She loved him and was fiercely protective of him but she was also very jealous of him and this continued into their adulthood. 

She had long exhausting tantrums and did not respond to time-out and regular discipline. We were in crisis and out of our depth. 

We took her to child psychologists and art therapy. 

She developed a fear of elevators and would not go in one. We had to do a 12 step anxiety programme to try to change this behaviour but it really only got better after she was 16. She would take the stairs up to any high level rather than having to get into a lift.

Eventually, we changed schools in Year 5 and she loved the new school which was progressive and saw kids as individuals and for a few years we were hopeful that our world and hers had changed for the better.

In Year 8 when she was 13, she began to have severe panic attacks and anxiety and depression. She would call me from the school toilets saying she could not breathe.

She could not get out of bed and go to school. We developed a 10-point system where in the morning I would ask her how bad it was and she would give me a number out of 10. 

A 9 or 10 meant she could stay at home, 8 and below she got up and had a shower and I drove her to school and she tried to stay until recess or lunchtime or if it was a good day till the end of school and she could get the bus home.

When she was 15 and 16 she started having suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts and we decided it was time to put her on medication. We had not wanted to do this before; we felt she was too young. 

We got new help and found an excellent adolescent psychiatrist and psychologist who worked together. She saw them weekly but we still ended up in ER several times when she was feeling suicidal and I felt she was unsafe at home.

Medication for mental illness is a crapshoot, you must slowly introduce one thing at a time and then slowly build up the dose and then wait 6-16 weeks after that to see if it is working and if it is not working or making things worse, then you must start the whole process all over again with a new medication. 

There is no magic pill and no one medication for everyone. Individuals react differently to different meds so what works for your teenager may not work for mine and on and on it goes.

Year 11 and 12 at school were worse. Her attendance was so bad due to her depression that one teacher told me she did not think she would be able to sit the HSC. But the school worked with us and were amazing and we applied for special consideration and she managed to pass her HSC and get into Bachelor of Nursing, which she had always wanted to do. 

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She landed her dream job at a major hospital, and we were so proud of her. But university had been difficult for her because of her anxiety; it had been no picnic.

Once she turned 18, she was not able to see the adolescent therapists anymore as they were through a public hospital program that ended at 18. 

They recommended a new psychiatrist but as my daughter was now considered an “adult” we were no longer involved in her care or in contact with her new doctor at all. 

We said that we were happy to come along to any appointments or to do some family sessions. We were never invited. 

We continued to pay for her appointments and her medication because this is extremely expensive and her mental health was too important, there was no way she would be able to pay with her wages from a part-time uni job.

When she was 21, she moved out of home. It was bittersweet.

I was excited for her but also sad she was leaving the nest and I was terrified because I would no longer be able to keep an eye on her. 

We planned for her to come home for family dinner every week and we started a “good morning” Instagram meme daily. 

This was so that I could check that she was still alive, even if she was busy at work and she could not reply, I could see that she had “seen” the message and I could breathe a sigh of relief. 

I worried about her constantly. 

Again, she seemed to be doing much better and we were hopeful life would get easier for her, she still had only a few friends, but they were loyal and loved her and she made friends more easily now with work colleagues. 

She and her flatmate got on well and were very house proud, decorating their first home away from home. 

She was highly intelligent, competent and had a take-no-shit from anyone attitude that I admired. 

She had a fabulous sense of humour and was an engaging conversationalist, and very interested in politics and current affairs, but she had social anxiety so rarely went out to bars or restaurants or parties.

This was 2020 - the same year my husband and her Dad became very ill through complications with a minor surgery. 

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The same year her grandfather whom she was very close to ran out of treatment options for his long battle with cancer. 

The same year COVID-19 entered our lives. My daughter became my support and was very concerned with my wellbeing and she was a huge help to me through very difficult times. Our roles had seemed to reverse for a short time.

In 2021 my father passed away in the first week in April. Only 10 days later, her father and my husband lost his health battle and we had to turn off his life support. 

This was a huge turning point for my daughter’s mental health and on Mother’s Day 2021 she tried to end her life. 

In July she tried again and then she decided it was time for a new psychologist and psychiatrist and we struggled to find them during covid with limited availability. 

She started with new therapists in August and made good connections with them. 

Her medication was tweaked but her psychiatrist wanted to get to know her first before making any major changes. He had diagnosed her with Emotional Dysregulation Disorder and the more we read about it the more we both agreed this seemed so much like the struggles that she had and the inability to regulate and control her feelings as she often felt overwhelmed by them.

In September she had her “Britney Moment” and shaved off all her hair, shaved to the scalp. 

This was a shock and not a good sign, she had stunning long dark curly hair that she always said was her best feature. 

She said she felt liberated, but I felt like she was changing not only physically but she also seemed to lose herself and I saw fewer and fewer remnants of the daughter I knew and loved. 

She was not looking after herself and eating healthily. She was taking her medication and going to all her therapy appointments, but things seemed to be getting worse. 

She became very confrontational and argumentative especially with me and my son, almost like she was deliberately pushing us away and wanting us to stop loving her. I think she thought she was protecting us from what was to come.

She and her flatmate decided after two years to part ways on good terms. Her flatmate moved out first, she waited for this before she ended her life. 

She was very unhappy in the last week and we had long emotional discussions about how she felt; I tried to convince her, not for the first time to try an inpatients hospital program but she was adamant that she did not feel it would work for her. 

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Over the years she had always said she was only staying alive because she did not want to cause us - her family - pain and grief. 

She had also expressed her feelings that it wasn’t fair that just because we had wanted a child that she had to live and suffer with her depression when it wasn’t her choice to be here. 

She felt we would be better off without her and having to constantly worry that she was okay.

I realise now she was preparing for the end. She did a big clean up at my house of some of the things in her old room that she had left behind. 

She refunded some money I had lent her when she needed to take extra time off work without pay when her father and grandfather died. 

She took plants into all her work colleagues as gifts from her own garden. She had brunch with one of her best work friends who had been on maternity leave. She was tying up loose ends.

She was highly organised and detail-oriented and she left thorough instructions for me on her passwords and pin numbers and bank accounts. She left full instructions on what needed to be done when she passed.

It was her time, she did it her way and she did it when she just could not go on anymore. 

She did not see my Instagram post on the Sunday morning. She did not reply to me when I asked what time I was coming for dinner. I just knew in my heart she had finally done it. 

I went to her house, I sent multiple SMS which she did not see or reply to and then I called the police. I am glad I did not have keys to her apartment and did not see her deceased.

The police were so kind and thoughtful and considerate. I could not have asked for more compassion from them. 

It was a shock but for those of us that knew her well it was not a surprise. I thought I was going to lose her when she was 16; she took an overdose of her medication and we ended up in hospital and she was very depressed. I say “we” because this affects the whole family in many ways.

I tried to prepare myself then that one day she would end her life. 

She held on for seven more years and each extra year was a bonus. When she was 16 she wrote me the below poem which articulates how she felt far better than I ever could. 

I know she loved us, I know she was desperately unhappy, and she felt like this would never change for her.

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Image: Supplied.

Mental health does not always look like a crazy person screaming to themselves on the street. My daughter worked a full week leading up to her death. 

We spent Friday night together. She dropped washing into my house on Saturday and by Sunday she was gone. She ended her life on her terms and when she really felt that she had run out of all other options. 

In the past 10 months I have lost a father, a husband and now a daughter. 

This is a record I hope no one else ever has to endure. I am becoming an expert on grief and on what to do when someone dies, a skill set I never wanted or imagined I would need.

I often wonder what lesson I am meant to learn from all this grief or what I must have done in a past life?

But just maybe my husband and Dad had to go first so that they could catch her when she landed.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo from Getty.