By Ty H Phillips
I roll over in bed as the pitter patter of tiny feet wake me up.
I hear a rustling, the sliding door open, the shuffle of sleepy feet dragging across the carpeted floor and then I see a small head—matted in bright red curls—peek around the corner.
“Good morning, Daddy!” She runs to the bed and makes a flying leap. Curling up next to me with her nani (what she calls her blanky) her fingers enmesh between the crocheted loops.
We curl up together and and I ask her if she slept well. She nods. I ask if she had good dreams and she nods again. I wrap my arms around her and squeeze her tight, kissing her little head. She hums happily and we lie content, under the fan, listening to the sound of cicadas. Within moments my phone chimes and I look to see a text from one of my daughters who lives with her mother.
“Can we talk?” is all it says. I respond quickly, knowing that this question is leading to a serious topic.
“I’m really struggling with depression, Dad,” it reads. “I’m crying every night, and I’m hurting myself.” I freeze and realize I am holding my youngest probably a little too tight.
I respond, “What do you mean, you’re hurting yourself?”
“I’ve been cutting. I stopped for months and then my depression started again and I fell back into it last night.” A thousand thoughts run through my mind. How did I not know? What is going on in their home?
I struggle with what to say and I reply, ”I am proud of you, Mia. It took a lot of courage to tell me that.”
She explains that she knew I wouldn’t freak out on her. She wanted to tell me before she told her mom and step dad. They don’t believe in depression or psychology. It’s a Jesus thing.
“You tell me what you need from me, and that is what I will do,” I type back. “You are covered by my insurance, so if you want to find a counselor, I will go with you. No matter what happens, I just want you to know that I love you and I am proud of you.This took a lot of courage.”
“Thanks, Dad,” is her short reply.
I send her a few more messages and she tells me she is going to come over and stay with me for a few days. She needs to decompress from the pressure her step-father puts on her. I am excited to see her but heart broken that I was not there for her through all of this.
I look back over at my youngest and kiss her head again. “I love you, pumpkin.” She looks up at me and smiles. I see my oldest daughter in her.
They look so much alike.
I tear up, knowing that when Mia was Brynn’s age, I was not there. Her mother and I had already split up and she and I had new relationships shortly after. It takes me a while to compose myself.
How much of this is my fault? I can’t help but weigh this question over and over again, knowing the truth of the matter.
This situation makes me look at my life—the abuse and the divorce I went through, the depression and anxiety I suffered through for years and the lack of psychological help I received because, well, it was a Jesus thing.
Mia comes over the next day. She is all smiles and jokes and seems happy and exuberant. We hug, we eat, we ride bikes through WalMart at 11:00 at night. I tell her again how proud I am of her. She tells me that she knows and seems to avoid the topic now. I again tell her, “You tell me what you need and that’s what I will do. We can go to therapy together, or if you just want to talk, I’m always here for you.” I pause.
“Just know that I love you,” I say then. “I will always love you and nothing will ever change that.”
We get back home and crash on the floor. We wake up the next day and I watch her and my youngest play. They laugh, they chase each other, they play with each other’s hair.
They look so much alike.
Before she leaves, we talk about depression. I tell her about my experience with it, and how we can make it better or worse by how we cling to and reinforce our negative feelings. She asks me about Buddhism and meditation and if it changed anything for me. I explain the ups and the downs, telling her there is no magic pill, but that having a better understanding and perspective on how the mind works can make a profound difference.
We laugh, we cry and we sit in silence, knowing the other is hurting. I wrap her up in my arms and tell her, “I love you, pumpkin.”
“I know dad, I know…”
Editor: Dana Gornall