Published on February 4th, 2016 | by Heather Jackson



How do you handle it when your 13 year old is in an inpatient program at a hospital for depression and suicide ideation and tells you, you make her want to die? And when you’ve confronted her for several months about her mood and other issues but she denied it? And you have no fucking clue what you are supposed to do because it makes you want to die, too?

How did I do it?

I got the call when my boyfriend and I were getting apple trees. He has a small orchard, so we picked some up from a local orchard. I had to pull over. My daughter had just started an after school program for adolescents who had mental health issues. She was already in counseling. But she wasn’t being honest with me. I couldn’t make her tell me the things I was asking her, either.

The psychiatrist at the after school program for adolescents was on the phone. He asked me if I knew what was going on. I had a clue something was going on. He said, “when I see your daughter, I see a really depressed kid.” He continued to tell me that she wrote a suicide note and had even lined up pills on the table to swallow and die. Death is what she wanted.

So here I was, a mom who felt fairly prepared when dealing with mental health. My daughter wanted to die. I thought I would never have to face this, ever, because I’d done the prevention work beforehand. I never thought a child of mine would be in this much fucking pain.


“Blue Red and White Orchard” by Joiseyshowaa, Flickr Creative Commons

When we got to the hospital, I checked in, red faced, and confused. Of course, I was the youngest parent there, which made me feel even more vulnerable, and I remembered the millions of comments across my motherhood. “You must be her sister, you look so young.”

The social worker brought me to her office. I was in a haze. My daughter came in and we all had a conversation. My daughter stated she needed to be hospitalized. Her reasons were because she said she honestly did not feel safe to be at home, she felt she would hurt herself (or worse). She completely knew, on her own, she was not safe for herself. But we talked through other options. The psychiatrist asked me if I would be willing to watch her the entire weekend and I said that yes, of course, I could. I’m her mom, what else would I do? Yet, as the conversation moved forward, we decided that my daughter would be hospitalized. As far as my own work, I felt I have been prepping for many years, but this situation made me try to work on being more prepared and not taking things so personal.

We went back to the waiting room to tell my boyfriend that we had to go to another part of the hospital. I did not want to tell him what was going on in the waiting room. I waited until we were moved.

My boyfriend and I sat in a separate room while my daughter did paperwork with the social worker. She did not want to be with us. The social worker came back several times saying, “She’s not trying to reject you. She just wants her space.” I told her I understood and was always respectful of her space, as I always asked for consent when hugging her and asking her if she wanted to talk about anything. If she said no, I respected that.


“Order” by Cobalt123, Flickr Creative Commons

We waited for a long time until she was admitted. My boyfriend ended up making me laugh. The social worker brought us some fruit. I felt bad and I told my boyfriend that I felt bad because he had plans. He told me not to worry, but added “I am unsure of my role, so it is kind of awkward.” I totally got that. I was unsure of his role, too.

She was admitted. I was overwhelmed. But considering the shit I’ve dealt with in life, I knew I could figure it out. That’s what I focused on.

My boyfriend was very supportive throughout this entire time. I spent the night at his house a lot. He listened to me talk about it all, but I tried to talk about other things, too.

During her 2-week hospital stay, I had several meetings with her team. She made a list of reasons to live and people to live for. I was not on the list. She was angry with me. I learned that the way I talked to her triggered a lot. I always felt I spoke with empathy and understanding … I tried really hard to understand what she wanted from me. This was really never made clear, but I did try to figure it out. The family meetings were tough. I learned that my daughter wishes I was an older mom and that I was married and she had siblings … aka a “normal life.” This was something we talked about a lot. We talked about how there was no such thing as being “normal.”

I learned her diagnoses. They pressed meds. I wanted to figure this out without jumping onto meds right away. I am not completely against psychiatric medication because I know it is a great benefit to many. However, I have a MA in Counseling and a Master’s in Public Health. Research finds that counseling can work for some people (without medication). Further, I wanted my daughter to develop skills to be able work through issues, instead of just medication. I told them that this was based on informed decisions and not weird reactionary stuff I heard through the media.

Every new person we met at the hospital thought I was her sister. My vulnerability made me feel judged by everyone at the hospital. I tried to set that aside my own guilt and anxiety, to focus only on what my daughter was feeling. However, I was confused and scared and I think that was/is completely acceptable. So I tried to make sure that was heard. I also tried hard to listen and do what was suggested.

Toward the end of the hospital stay, her team’s suggestions were to visit grandparents across the country or go to a residential program. It was a hard decision and I felt they sprung it on me at a meeting where I was at by myself. I was crying and I told them it’s really hard to make these choices as a single parent and they told me, “I’m sure it is, we know it’s hard.” But that just made me feel angry.

They don’t know what it’s like. I highly doubt they were former teen parents whose abusive baby-daddy went to jail the weekend before their daughter’s birth. I highly doubt they had to make a decision to leave their baby-daddy when their child was 4 and even after all that, tried hard to develop some sort of relationship with but ultimately ended up cutting him out. I tried hard. Now this was where I was. I highly doubt they know what it’s like.


“Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Well” by Jesse Millan, Flickr Creative Commons

I ended up choosing the residential program. She was there for over a week. She continued to stabilize. I decided to give the okay for medication. On her first day at the residential program, I lost my job. They said I was coming in late/leaving early too often and that my personal issues were interfering with my job. I was still in the probationary period. It was awful. I was told this toward the end of the day on a Friday. I had to pack up my desk, take my things and leave.

The residential program continued to help. However, shortly before she was due back home, she told me she didn’t want to live with me anymore. She said she wanted to move back to the state we lived in before, to live with my parents. This was so hard to hear. I listened, but I also told her how that was hurtful. I had to make a decision and I made the decision to tell her how I felt. I told her that we could not avoid each other and that working through this with her was very important to me because I fucking loved her no matter what. I also told her it was painful to hear, I felt she needed to hear my actual feelings, as well.

When I had a meeting with a new provider at the residential program, I told her what my daughter said and she responded, “well why can’t she move back and live with her grandparents?” I was rather surprised and confused. I didn’t really know what to say. I was thinking: well I’m her legal guardian and her mother and I make those choices. Plus my parents aren’t equipped to take her on and I do not want to sign my rights away. Further, my daughter and I would never see each other because we would live over a thousands miles from each other. I am her mother.

The meds helped. On the day she came home, we had a very open, long and honest discussion about everything. We were both crying. She told me a lot of things, I told her a lot of things. We went on a really long walk. She apologized for saying she didn’t want to live with me. She actually did want to come home. She felt it was the depression talking, before.

She was also referred to do partial hospitalization for 4 days. She caught up on all her homework. They wanted to monitor her while she was on her medication. Partial went well and she started school the following week. She was very excited and happy to be back in the groove of things. We did home therapy for several months and currently she is seeing a counselor in an outpatient setting.

This was a gut-wrenching, awful time.

I learned a lot, too. I tend to look inward and blame myself for a lot. For me, that’s easier than looking and accepting the shit people have in their lives. But I don’t control everything and that’s something I’ve learned. I learned to sit back and let my daughter feel what she needed to feel and figure out. I let her say what she needed to say. I learned that even with all the prevention and my own understanding, education, and experience of mental health, I can’t stop her depression. Experience does not always equal “everything’s fine.”

I learned, again, that being 13 is really hard. My daughter is brave. It’s brave to ask for help, brave to say you want to die and what you are really feeling, and brave to be super forthright with your feelings with adults. I learned that I’ve made it through rough times and together, we will continue to make it through. We will make it through.


Jesse Lynn McMains / Flickr Creative Commons

Update since this essay was written:

Heather’s daughter has continued to get better. She is in 8th grade and turned 14. She’s applying for one of the best public high schools and is very excited. Heather was on unemployment, but finally got two part time jobs: one was a data collector and another as a case manager of teen parents. They’re getting along a lot better, besides the typical teenage stuff that everyone goes through. Remember: us adults, get it.

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About the Author

Heather Jackson

Heather, a former teen mom, is now a 30-something single mom of a teen. She is often mistaken as her daughter’s friend or sister! She is a former site producer of girl-mom.com. Currently, she works as a birth doula and an early childhood counselor in New England. She recently published a chapter in The Bakken Goes Boom regarding the change of maternal health related to the oil boom in North Dakota (where she grew up!) and finished co-editing, Feminist Parenting, an anthology through Demeter Press (http://demeterpress.org/). She is now co-editing Motherhood and Abortion and Motherhood and Social Exclusion, both also through Demeter Press. Her writing has also been published on thepushback.org, hipmama.com, girl-mom.com, books, and zines. She loves bike riding, going to the beach, doing crafts, reading, going to shows, making zines (find her zines here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ramonegirl?ref=hdr_shop_menu), guacamole, and writing.  She recently took up guitar and started an all-female queer punk band. She could talk all day about abortion access, anarchism, and cute animals. Perhaps someday she will have an anarchist-y farm with a lot of animals and a huge garden! Find her on twitter: @heatherjoyj or email her: heatherjoyj@gmail.com!

9 Responses to “YOU MAKE ME WANT TO DIE” Says My Teenage Daughter—by HEATHER JACKSON

  1. Rachel says:

    Heather. You are doing amazing, amazing mothering. And I have never needed to read anything as much in my whole life as I needed to read this right now. Thank you.

  2. Rachel Penn Hannah Rachel Penn Hannah says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. You too are brave.

  3. Heather Heather says:

    Thank you and thanks for reading.

  4. Jody L says:

    Truly gut-wrenching piece; Heather allows us into a most personal experience, with honesty and amazing maturity. I am glad to know that there has been forward progress.

  5. Rhea Wolf says:

    I am so grateful for this article. Thank you.

  6. Kelly says:

    I read this a few days ago and just came back to tell you how impactful it is. It reminds me of the old fairy tale of when you have to hold a changeling all through the night until the sunrise before it transforms into a real person again. And all through the night the changeling becomes horrifying, then strange, then scary … over and over again. I have parented two teenagers. And I still know nothing.

    • Heather Heather says:

      Thank you, I really appreciate it. I’m glad you read it. Parenting teens is very hard. She’s a lot better, but is having some other struggles, but good thing she’s working on it.

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