My Sister Wrote a Suicide Note. All I Could Think Was That I Still Hadn’t Done My Homework!

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My life was turned upside down when I was twelve years old.

My older sister was gone. Overnight, I transformed from annoying younger sibling to only child. No one told me what to do (other than my parents and teachers). I no longer had to hide in my room because I was scared of the shouting. I finally didn’t live in fear in my own house.

Life wasn’t always like this.

When we were children you would never have met such lovely girls. When my sister and I were really young, around 3 and 5, we would play a silly game. One of us would wrap a blanket around the other and fill it with stuffed animals and dolls. We would then push the package down the stairs to see how fast it would go. One time my sister pushed me before I was ready and I went tumbling down the stairs head first into a door. It probably wasn’t the safest game looking back, but it was really fun.

I honestly don’t believe that there was one moment where everything went downhill.

It was more of a gradual descent and we just didn’t have the skills or resources to know what to do. My guess would be that it started when we moved country for my Dad’s job. He didn’t really discuss the move with any of us, we just packed up and left.

When my sister started her freshman year at high school she began to change.

I don’t blame the high school that she went to, though some of the people that she met there were sketchy.

One day I came home from school and no one was home. Hours later, Mum called to say she wasn’t going to be home for a while and I should microwave the leftover pasta for dinner. I forgot to take the pasta out the metal pan, so nearly set my house on fire. There’s still a black scorch mark on the back of the microwave.

I went back to my computer and continued talking to my friends, figuring I’d do my homework when Mum got home and yelled at me to do it. But she didn’t come home ’til ten. She had my sister with her, who stormed upstairs. Mum told me that she had written a suicide note and was being sent to a mental health clinic. I remember thinking, “Wow that’s pretty bad. Crap! I’ve done no homework.”

It definitely wasn’t my best life moment. My sister went away for a week to work on her depression and even thought she made out like it had helped a lot (she was really good at manipulation), nothing changed. A few months went by with her screaming and shouting every day about some trivial thing, and I would just run upstairs to hide from the mood swings.

Around this time she started pushing some pretty serious boundaries.

One time she showed me a pack of cigarettes, next she told me she’d bought some weed. Both times she told me not to tell my parents but I was a 12 year old kid! Of course I’m telling them.

The last straw was when we took a family holiday to West Virginia. I don’t know how it escalated but there was this massive screaming fight, the first my Dad ever saw her intense anger. My sister grabbed his phone and was holding it hostage. She eventually threw it across the room, shattering the screen. At this point, my mum took me out of the room and we walked around the parking lot.

Soon after my sister was sent packing to a wilderness behavior therapy program. The only time we were in contact was via a weekly letter that we’d send each other. A few months later, she ‘graduated’ and showed us all of the camping techniques that she had learned. It was actually pretty impressive.

Next thing I know my sister is being sent to a boarding school in Arizona to help with her depression and mood swings. Again, my only contact with her was during a weekly phone call with the whole family. Sometimes these were fun and kind of normal – other times it was like a therapy session. I felt like I had very little time to talk to her because she was always talking to mum and dad instead of me.

Her time at the school did a lot more for my sister, my mum, and my dad than it did for me. I’m not saying I got nothing out of it, but siblings tended to be excluded from a lot of the therapy that went on. That school definitely did a lot to help our family to get back on a better path though.

All of us are in a better place – we’re a pretty snazzy family now!

We’re not perfect, but we’re family so it doesn’t matter. My sister and I are supposed to bicker about small things like what to watch on TV. We’re supposed to be mildly rebellious against our parents because, obviously, nothing they do will ever be cool to us.

Even though they all have flaws, all my family has supported me through hard times, literally and figuratively. They are the most important thing to me. Even when my dad is trying to make me watch Bridge on the River Kwai or my sister’s trying to convince me my spandex shorts are hers or when my mum turns into the Grinch at Halloween.

All these little quirks are what makes our family so great, and I love them to the moon and back.

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I Put My Daughter Into Therapy to Cure Her Violent Outbursts, But it Was Me Who Learned the Biggest Lesson

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I always thought our family was perfectly normal…

As toddlers the girls were into drawing, painting and played happily with friends.  We had fun holidays as a unit and with extended family and friends. Later, the girls did well at school and my husband and I counted our blessings.

My husband often worked long hours and there were times he had to work weekends too. This was hard for us all; I needed a break from being a full time mum and the girls needed their dad. My own upbringing was quite strict and I was determined to be more supple with my own children.  This, in combination with Sam’s absences, made for an environment where boundaries weren’t held.

As my eldest daughter Charlotte got older, she learnt to manipulate me…

We had to move cities for my husband’s work, which also had him travelling a lot. Though the girls were more than able to keep up academically at their new school, emotionally they struggled.  I tried to keep them on an even keel with activities like movie nights, long dog walks and shared meal preparation but I was fighting a losing battle.

Teenage Charlotte began to refuse any requests I made of her – little things like picking up laundry and clearing the table.  With high school looming, her moods and anger became more frequent.  She became increasingly rude, started to isolate herself in the evenings and spent more time on social media.

When I voiced my concerns to friends they said that their kids were doing the same things so I didn’t think much more about it and put it down to ‘hormones’. When Charlotte started high school, she joined the field hockey team and started to make new friends.

I thought life was settling down. Boy, was I wrong…

One morning I got a call from school to say that Charlotte had written a suicide note.  I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. Sam was away with work so he couldn’t help. The school counsellor was great, explaining the protocol in situations like this and introducing us to professional mental health support. A professional therapist assessed Charlotte as ‘at risk’ and referred her to a teenage psychiatric hospital.

That was the start of a long downward spiral for Charlotte’s mood, antisocial behavior and mental health issues. While in hospital Charlotte learnt from other patients how to cut herself. From the teen psychiatric outpatient center she started smoking and learnt where to buy drugs.

At home, we began to fear her coming home from school and felt we couldn’t give her the parent support she needed. We would walk on eggshells, never knowing what mood she would be in. Sam was still away with work a lot and Charlotte was becoming abusive to me – verbally and, on occasion, physically aggressive too. Charlotte is a bright girl and it felt like she would plan some destructive behavior when she knew that I wouldn’t be able to cope or had to go out. The stress we were all under was terrible; I felt alone and scared.

We were lurching from one crisis to another…

That Summer we took a trip as a family to celebrate my birthday. All was going well until one evening when Charlotte flew into a rage. For the first-time, Sam saw her extreme antisocial behavior at its worst. The next morning, he and I had a long talk. Despite our best intentions, we realized we were failing Charlotte and possibly endangering our other daughter.  

We contacted an education consultant who recommended a residential course of therapy. I felt relieved. Charlotte was going to get help to cope with her depression. When she first started at Spring Ridge Academy for teenage girls, she was defiant, resistant and unwilling to change. Her therapists had their work cut out for them but gradually, over time, Charlotte began to realize that the only way out was to roll up her sleeves and participate.

Charlotte had the most intensive therapy, but we also benefitted.

We had weekly phone therapy sessions and, with help, slowly began to learn how to communicate more openly with each other.

In addition to the weekly calls, the school held a workshop for parents. This event changed my life. It made me realize I need to speak up and say what I feel.

After years of avoiding conflict I stopped being a mouse and started to grow a backbone. 

My relationship with my husband became more balanced and healthy and I stopped saying yes to everything. 

As I became stronger, my relationship with Charlotte changed. She was used to me accepting whatever aggressive behavior she felt like dishing out but now the balance of our relationship was changing for the better.  

It’s been a long, difficult and emotional road…

Though we’re through the worst of it, it’s not over by a long way. Every day, week and month brings a new challenge that tests us all in some way but we have learnt how to communicate our feelings, fears and concerns to each other in a healthy way.

It’s not plain sailing and there are times when I fear we are slipping backwards, but after a time-out and a few deep breaths, the family comes back to talk through the issues. This is progress. None of us are perfect and we all have baggage, but the process we have been through has helped us understand ourselves better and treat each other with respect.

My family means the world me to and I love them all to bits. I feel sad that we didn’t have the knowledge, resources or skills to prevent Charlotte’s slide into depression. But I am happy that because of the care she received, and the lessons we all learned, we’ve become a happier and healthier family.

Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

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