a blog about daughters in crisis and the moms who love them

Archive for the tag “depression”

How To Read The Signs An At-Risk Girl Gives Us

One of my greatest regrets is failing to intervene sooner when my daughter’s trouble started. If this blog can help even one family confidently take action before their daughter starts walking through the Valley of High-Risk Behavior, it will be more than worth every keystroke and late night. As a disclaimer, I do not pretend to be a credentialed expert on this topic. My assertions, however, are backed up by research and I will gladly share my sources.

Looking back with accuracy is much easier, sometimes, than seeing the present correctly. I noticed issues that seemed relatively small and amorphous early on. Tessa had a hard time interpreting “girl politics” as early as kindergarten. We worked on it, but nothing seemed to stick too well. She complained about it from time to time, but she also formed a couple of close friendships and seemed happy in general. Until 5th grade. That year, some of her classmates reached the cusp of puberty. A child’s brain transforms from primarily “black and white” thinking to abstract thinking at this juncture. This takes girl politics to a whole new level.

My daughter had not entered puberty yet, but she picked up on the new and different ways her peers were behaving. It was difficult, I’m sure, to articulate her concerns. Tessa was undoubtedly even more bewildered than ever by the cattiness, strife, positioning, and subtle bullying. She began asking if she could be homeschooled. We talked about it and considered it as a family, but it didn’t seem like the situation warranted such a dramatic change. It all seemed like normal kid stuff at that point. I should have listened better. If there were do-overs, I would take one for this decision. Giving a child the opportunity to step away from what, to her, is an overwhelming situation can lead to great strides in social development, self-esteem, and happiness. With the vast array of choices we have now to educate our children, it really can be a terrific option.

It seemed we were muddling through the transition from elementary to middle school. Tessa wasn’t elated, but she wasn’t completely miserable, either. She always made the honor roll, had a variety of interests, and thought often of the future. By 7th grade, however, we had a situation on our hands. The social environment at school had very definable fissures by now. Tessa, like nearly all of the girls, was in a group. Her group was populated by only a few: smart, sensitive, artsy types who made a point of eschewing their “preppy” peers for an endless string of reasons. In and of itself, this type of group is perfectly fine. But Tessa felt like it was her only option, and that WAS a problem. This, along with timing, cultural influences, and peer pressure were the breezes that built into a storm of darkness.

For my girl, the hormonal changes of puberty, the popularity of the emo subculture and its accompanying associations with self-harm / cutting (I realize that many insist quite forcefully there is no correlation. Based on my experience and my research, there certainly is in our case. Perhaps your experience is different. I’m sure it can vary by geography, age, how seriously one devotes themselves to it, etc.), and the modeling of risky behavior by some kids she looked up to all converged quickly and destructively.

Jumping forward, Tessa was diagnosed with major depression her 8th-grade year. Below, I’ve listed the symptoms of depression. When I found out that sustained anger and irritability can often be the loudest signals of depression in a child or teen, I was surprised. Please take note. Your daughter will thank you later. Many of the other symptoms on the list were absent or transitory, but chronic irritation stuck around and, I’m sure, contributed to the social marginalization my daughter felt she was experiencing.

There is some family history of depression, but what I saw in my afflicted relatives looked very different from what I saw in Tessa.

The bottom line is that we got behind the curve. It’s been much more difficult to catch up, clean up, and get ahead of it again than it would have been to stay in front from the outset. It sounds trite, but it really is better to be pro-active than reactive. I am not one to be an alarmist. I think far too many kids are put through the wringer of misdiagnosis and over-reaction. But the transition into puberty is a fragile time for girls. Some are more fragile than others. Stay connected even when you are pushed away and be ready to intervene decisively if concerning signs persist. She is worth it.

Signs A Child or Teen Is Depressed

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, any of these symptoms occurring over an extended period of time may mean a child is depressed :

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, and/or crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased interest in activities or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities.
  • Persistent boredom; low energy. “The hallmark of depression is this inability to have joy,” Dolgan says. “There’s this low energy, this shutting away, shutting down.”
  • Social isolation, poor communication. “A child given the opportunity to play with friends who prefers to be alone” may be depressed, Dolgan says.
  • Low self-esteem and guilt. “The kids feel they’re not good or not worth very much,” Dolgan says. “I often ask, ‘Are you important to somebody?’ Depressed kids say no.”
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches. “A lot of these kids have physical illnesses for no real cause, especially stomachaches and headaches,” Dolgan says.
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school.
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior

Entwined With Hope

There Is Always Hope by KrzyhoI keep hope tightly wrapped around me now. There have been times through the years, the long days and nights of wanting so desperately to see some stability in my daughter’s life, that I have come close to unwinding all of my hope like thread from off a spool.  But the unwinding tends to cause a lot of tangling, knotting, and general emotional mayhem to happen! Hope does no good all balled up in a wadded mess. Have you ever tried to get the knots out of a mishandled skein of yarn or an unkempt bobbin? At best, it frays patience. At worst, it proves impossible.

Hope is often very slippery and hard to keep hold of. When one’s efforts appear to fail or when a victory is followed by a setback, optimism tends to leak away. Today may look awfully discouraging. Yesterday may have looked that way too. But hope based on circumstances is fragile and likely to fail. Too much hope placed in something (or someone) fallible is risky.  But hope placed in immutable, unchangeable, benevolent and transforming love and power is a sure thing because it means you ALWAYS have something to be hopeful about.

When it appears that all reason to hope has vanished, you have entered a danger zone. Hopelessness hurts you and it hurts everyone around you because the decisions it fosters are rarely the best ones. Hopeless days breed desperation, unbridled emotion, irrationality, and depression.

My sense of hope has been challenged countless times. I’ve often stood at the brink of hopeless, feeling very much like I may as well dive in head first. One thing that has kept me from it is the same thing that has kept many others throughout history — continued faith in a specific promise from God.  A favorite example of this is from Joseph‘s life (the guy in the Book of Genesis). Joseph had dreams as a youth in which he could see himself in a future position of leadership and importance. He made the mistake of voicing this to his siblings, who reacted by selling him as a slave and telling their father he’d been killed. I cannot do the story justice by trying to sum it up so briefly, but Joseph’s dreams did eventually come true AFTER a long list of tragic events that could have annihilated anyone’s hope. He was seduced by his master’s lecherous wife, falsely accused of adultery, and thrown into a dungeon and forgotten for years. Through it all, Joseph held fast to the promises his dreams represented because he knew that the giver of those dreams was God Himself.

Every promise was kept and brought to pass. Not only was Joseph released from the dungeon, he was made a ruler in Egypt. He was so full of wisdom and insight after spending so many years shut in with God, that he led the nation successfully through seven years of famine. His character, forged in the fire of trial and tribulation, is universally admired. He forgave his brothers and took care of his family.

His summation of the whole ordeal is beyond beautiful. It’s something only a hoper could say: “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Gen. 50:20)

If I behold discouragement and disappointment, I am faced with a choice. I can choose to let it dictate to me my level of hope and optimism or I can go back and recount the promises I have received. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He still makes promises and He still keeps them. Obtaining one, believing it, and learning to wait patiently for its consummation are strong weapons against despair.


Tiger mom. Hipster mom. Mama bear. Good enough mom. Helicopter mom. Soccer mom. Stage mom. Super mom. Moms like to label themselves and each other. We may shift back and forth between labels depending on our confidence level or our mood, but we typically like to keep our identities nailed down as precisely as possible! Mostly, we want to do our best to raise our kids right and we want to see evidence that our chosen approach is working.Mother Bear With Five Cubs

What happens, however, when we find ourselves in stormy, uncharted waters, when the tags we use for ourselves (or others) no longer seem adequate? This dilemma is the reason the title of this blog is entering the mix  — Spoudazo. It’s the Greek word for diligence. To be exact, it means ‘to hasten, make haste to exert one’s self, endeavor, give diligence.’ I’ve taken this word and turned it into a new label: Spoudazo mom!

So, what, exactly, does this mean in terms of motherhood???

This kind of mom holds on through the dark nights, when what she sees vexes her beyond all measure, when confusion, strife, and frustration tempt her to drop everything and walk away, even abandon the project altogether. It means surrendering to love without conditions because people are worth it even if you get nothing in return. It means fighting for someone’s life when they think they want to destroy it.

My daughter, a high school senior, was diagnosed with depression as an 8th grader. She struggles with self-harm (cutting). She attempted suicide twice, both occasions accompanied by stints in psychiatric facilities. There have been run-ins with drugs, bad boyfriends, stupendously negative peer influences, and all types and sorts of high-risk behaviors. We’ve become intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of the mental health system. I was unprepared for all of it.

Please join me as I attempt to define this new category of mothering. There are many Spoudazo moms out there, an army’s worth of lone soldiers whose circumstances force them to reach beyond their comfort zones and find a way to rise to the occasion of unforeseen challenges and confrontations. We need each other, for there is strength in numbers!

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