This photo. It means a lot to me. Kiana has had a phenomenal year, or even more than that – maybe eighteen months which followed a few years of some real trials. When she was thirteen, we moved to Boston. She was thrilled to be going on the adventure – embraced everything we were planning. Then soon after we moved is when I found out I had cancer. Now – looking back all of her struggles make sense. But at the time, it was so confusing to feel like a daughter who had always been a happy overachieving soul was struggling with so many new challenges. With puberty (something my girls go through very fast and early) she had intense migraine headaches that came on suddenly and wiped her out for sometimes a few days/week. The headaches and missing school of course would snowball stress. She’d get behind at school, for the first time in her life she was getting lower grades on assignments and tests. This is also a two year period where she decided to stop training in dance. We felt like she was making decisions completely out of her character, and did our best to support her. She was particularly unkind to me at times, and my husband and I could not figure out what was going on.
We tried everything we could think of – constantly talking to her, trying to motivate her, helping her maintain a healthy diet, encouraging her to stay active, herbal supplements, yoga, trying to never criticize her but stay positive. We’d have good days, better weeks and months – but mixed in with months after months of what felt like more hard days as we continued to think, “she’ll snap out of this any day. One more motivating pep talk, one more idea to try and get her to feel better.” When finally we decided she was dealing with some sort of depression that neither of us would understand.
My husband and I have both had hard days, challenging times in our lives, but this situation and watching her was not something we’d ever experienced. Not for how long it was lasting. At this time, we also decided it would be best to move back to Utah. Get back to where friends felt like family and a familiarity to what our family was accustomed to.
So. We moved back to Utah. And Kiana had a few better months. Then by winter she was struggling again. This situation was the hardest situation I’ve ever encountered as a parent (ok, besides potty training each child.) I have memories of my husband and I taking shifts with her to monitor where she was, what she was doing. I have memories of nights we’d hold her through the night hoping her mood and mind would improve by morning. Her suffering was weighing on our family very heavy. We would never give up on a child struggling, and I felt like we were begging the universe to help us figure out what had happened to our happy girl.
At this time, for any parents out there who might be struggling with teenagers and mood swings – and watching a child start to fail at life when they had always been successful (for lack of better words.) My heart goes out to you – this type of situation controls your life. I felt like I was losing friends, I cut back from all I could in life to give Kiana my full attention. I didn’t know how to talk about what I was struggling with at home because I didn’t want to invade Kiana’s privacy by oversharing with others what she was going through. I also had a really hard time not being angry with the other adults in Kiana’s life. I felt like her teachers, dance coaches, doctors, and others who could have chosen to remain a positive force – all gave up on her or became extraordinarily critical. I spent my days begging people to try and understand her headaches, struggles, etc. I fully realize that as a society there needs to be rules and guidelines to gauge performance – I am typically a very happy rule keeper myself, and usually try to go above and beyond in all I do. However, I also feel we’re at an era in our culture that we know so much more about health that MORE often than not we should examine what is going on and adjust the rules and guidelines. There is no standard that fits everyone. All but one adult in her life gave up. And I share this because it had such an impact on our family. Such a beautiful, inspiring impact.
At this time I had everyone in Kiana’s life constantly contacting me if she was missing classes, failing, etc. EVERYONE was giving her ultimatums. Which only added to her stress. All except one high school dance coach who would text me, “hey. Kiana missed class yesterday. I spent time talking to her today – I won’t give up on her but she needs to step it up. Try to talk to her again and keep her coming. I know she’ll get better…” and no matter what was happening this woman remained a positive, supportive force for my duaghter. THIS WAS HUGE. Kiana always knew she had this woman, and her dance team. And other dance teachers who I felt could have been more understanding were so endlessly critical. The fact she still had dance team at school to always rely on being a fun, positive atmosphere – was immeasureable in value, and the impact it had on Kiana improving.
At this time as Kiana continued to struggle and sometimes spiral down quickly (about eighteen months ago) we had an aggressive pediatric therapist in our area recommended to us. By then we had already taken her to a dozen doctors to try different things for her headaches, a chiropractor, anything we could think of. We’d exhausted all our holistic ideas and supplements. And Kiana welcomed the idea of a therapist. We had talked about going to a therapist for a long time – but the timing with moving, etc had just not worked right.
After nearly 2.5 years of feeling like our daughter would never be happy and stable again, she had the most amazinugly quick success with a therapist. First of all, she was able to talk through everything that had been troubling her without a parent involved. Something that I realize now is really important for teenagers. Arrogantly, as her mother I had always thought I could take care of anything she’d go through. And I was so wrong.
With the help of her therapist, she pointed out to her that most of her challenges began when I found out I had cancer. Because my cancer was a type that was treatable – I assumed as we talked to our kids that they all equally understood that I would be safe. Kiana being the oldest, feeling the responsibility the oldest child feels, and having such a tight relationship with me, she still feared my death. Without ever realizing it this also caused her to put up walls in our relationship – it was easier for her to dislike me so if something happened it would be easier to live without me than continue to be nice and loving to me while I focused on improving my health. This stress and emotion she was dealing with was also destroying her health. Physically and mentally.
It was also realized that some of her biggest struggles over this time had all paralleled on a time line exactly with my surgeries, radiation, my cancer spreading, etc. and somehow I had never noticed the timing lined up so exact. To the day and hour.
Now that she had someone to talk to, someone else who was a professional to guide her – she improved within DAYS. This therapy is entirely based on consequences and having someone outside of our personal circle on Kiana’s team changed everything. I felt it was a magical miracle how fast she returned to the happy girl who loved life with an intense passion for fun.
Once Kiana herself had a new perspective of how and why she’d been feeling this way her headaches improved by about 90% – she still occasionally gets one but it’s down to about three-four/year. Once Kiana had someone besides me promising her that her mom would be ok from cancer – she rediscovered her happy soul, and her commitment to doing well at things. Kiana found her love for things she’d always loved again. She became kind and sweet towards her family again. Towards me. She became a good student at school again. It was an unreal transformation out of a teenage depression that should not have been dragged on as long as it was.
I share this story now with Kiana’s permission because I feel that there’s endless advice about raising babies and kids till puberty. Then radio silence. With all due respect to our children’s privacy, I want to change this. Really personal details do not need to be shared, but the idea of what is happening and what might help – needs to be talked about. Mental challenges and illnesses among everything else needs to be openly discussed. Teenagers around the world are committing suicide due to different reasons – stress, pressure, the feeling of not being accepted, depression are only a few of the reasons why. I wish now that I would have sought professional help with a therapist for Kiana when this first started. I kept thinking she’d improve quicker. It’s been a learning experience for my husband and I and how we parent greatly changed.
So this photo – it means a lot to me because the obvious display of Kiana needing me for balance, but it means so much more because we’ve made it to brighter days again… brighter, happy, summer days. If you have children/teenagers struggling in your life, whether they are your children or not – I plead with you not to give up on them. Dig deep to be patient. Wait for the sunny days ahead to return.
Photos by Mindy Johnson, on IG as @mindymoveit