My 10-year-old daughter has always been sensitive. As a toddler, minor disagreements with her more robust peers would often end in floods of tears for her, and confusion for her friends. She would not be appeased until the infraction was dealt with to her satisfaction – often to the detriment of her friendship. She just couldn’t let it go. I wasn’t ever overly bothered; she was always such a good girl in every other way. Too good, I sometimes worried, before chastising myself for giving myself ridiculous things to worry about. After all, she always got great reports from school, had a wide range of friends and was honest to a fault. Why worry?
As she got older, though, I started to realise that her sensitivity and failure to cope with any injustice at all was becoming much more of an issue. For example, if a friend had been invited to our house for a play-date, why hadn’t she been invited back to their house in return? I remember feeling bemused by the same situation when I was her age, but only for a very short period of time. I’m sure I was soon distracted by a new book or going for a ride on my bike, and I’m sure I didn’t question my mother about issues like that. For my daughter, she would ask me over and over again why she wasn’t invited to her friend’s house and I very quickly ran out of ways to explain it away. In her mind it was black and white; they’ve been to my house therefore it must be my turn to go their house? As time moved on, the play-date situation became one of many everyday “grey area” situations that I found increasingly difficult to help her understand.
Things came to a head when she was around 8 and she started having what we’ve now called “meltdowns”. These meltdowns could start off as tears over something as innocuous as asking her to tidy her toys away, which would suddenly turn into a screaming rage, followed by prolonged bouts of hysterical crying for sometimes over an hour. Most alarmingly, she started to say things like, “I don’t want to live anymore,” and, “I want to die and start my life again,” and would be such a pitiful picture of abject misery that my husband were devastated and didn’t know where to turn. What was wrong with our clever, funny, beautiful daughter? And how on Earth could we help her?
Not knowing where to turn, I asked my daughter’s school for help. They asked if it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder? Or hormones? I took these suggestions on board – she was certainly better during the summer months, but during this time she was also at home with me for the holiday, which I knew was where she loved to be most of all. As for the hormones – surely she was too young at 8? Things didn’t improve for her though, and her meltdowns were occurring more and more frequently, come rain or shine. She started to refuse to go to school and was having more and more friendship problems. It was a vicious cycle.
One Friday afternoon, I got a call to tell me that she had had a meltdown at school and that I had to come a collect her and take her to the doctors for an emergency referral to a children’s mental health specialist. The teacher I spoke to was quite distressed at how depressed my daughter had become and how helpless she felt as she was unable to make her feel better. Welcome to my world, I thought. It was absolutely awful.