A Middle Child’s Dilemma: Depression Strikes Twice

Sophia at dance
Sophia’s Middle School Dance 

While I was on my honeymoon in St. Thomas, I remember being so happy and excited. Mark (my first husband) and I were so thrilled to be in our tropical paradise, even the iguanas loved living on island time. Unbeknownst to me, my parents did not fare so well at home. In ’99, I was twenty-one and carefree. Yet, my dad found himself struggling with bipolar depression at forty-four, and he felt that his only way out was to end it all. My mentally stable and long-suffering mother took him to get help the day our plane left for the Caribbean. When we returned from our honeymoon, my daddy had spent a week in a hospital with a diagnosis and a gaggle of pills. I remember visiting him and going to therapy with him the Monday I returned.

He looked forlorn, yet happy to see me. He toted a yellow legal pad with him everywhere, and he randomly took down notes as therapists and doctors informed us of coping skills and symptoms we could expect to face in the upcoming months. I learned that the strongest man I ever knew had lived trapped inside a panic stricken brain for years. He had been striving to hold back the chaos inside his mind since I was a little girl. There was a seriously startling statistic that I remember vividly since Daddy’s great depression of ’99: a child of a bipolar parent could face a seventy five percent chance of also having the disorder. My grandmother had bipolar disorder as well, and her mother before her, and her mother, and so forth. My father had lost the genetic roll of the dice. In just two years, I would learn that I lost statistically as well. How would our genetic loss affect the future of my own children?

When my oldest was in sixth grade, I began to notice serious changes in her moods, and her depression and anxiety negatively influenced her school work and relationships. Additionally, by eighth grade, my middle child also developed depression and anxiety. I learned many facts and factors relating to adolescence and depression while helping Anya, my oldest, deal with depression. I thought I “knew it all.” Certainly, with a family history like mine, I would be an expert. UM…NO!!

Sophia’s symptoms and behaviors stumped me, and I have to admit that I had to rely on the professionals to help with her issues. Her depression was there, yet I noticed risky behaviors and odd decisions that did not seem to fit my previous experiences. We saw two different psychiatrists before the medication affected the depression. Her negative self-esteem and self-worth concerned me the most. How could such a beautiful, talented young woman feel so negative about herself?

In fact, on most days if I felt a little less of myself, I might just fit in better with my peers. A negative self-image has not really been a problem for me. My parents told me that I could do whatever I wanted in life, and obviously, I bought into that mentality hook, line, and sinker. Once Sophia’s new doctor adjusted her meds, I can see the smiles on her face again. Yesterday, I heard her cackle. She cackled for several minutes. She hugged me last night—twice. I believe in my soul that one day she will feel happy and loved. I know the coping skills will come. I understand that this is the beginning of a life-long struggle.

However, I am forty, and I have never been stronger. My daddy made it to sixty two, and not even cancer nor pain could unhinge him emotionally and psychologically. My grandmother made it eighty five years—a fighter. Bipolar disorder may have won a few battles, but not the war. Sophia will overcome. She comes from a long line of overcomers.


Endure to Persevere” James Douglas Greene  1/14/54 -12/3/16

This post is dedicated to my father. The man who made me. Time passes yet my love for you remains.

Daddy 1

Jimmy Mac, that’s what I am teaching my girls to do: endure to persevere. Every week I take them by the old home place, and I know one day the Lord will rescue the perishing by taking us to our heavenly home. I love you, Daddy.


chestnut hair tangled
around the end of my finger
these moments are hushed
except for the remembering to breathe

the moment explodes into mountains
mountains climb into the sky
sometimes I long to die

water spills from my eyes
slips down the corners of a mouth
without any words to say

wasn’t it just yesterday
that I stood a fresh dug grave
dirt like soot covering my face

wind blows twisted hair free
as it longs to save me
from the memory’s reverie

chestnut hair tangled
around the end of my finger
these moments are hushed
except for the remembering to breathe

Jennifer Greene Sullivan



My Daughter and Depression Post 2

My Daughter and Depression Post 2

During the week that Anya spent in Savannah, her dad and I talked so much. My goal was to keep him informed of her care as much as possible. Our blended family requires open communication to co-parent, but I confess that I am not always good at it. However, that week I constantly attempted to keep Anya’s father in the loop. We were preparing to attend her family therapy session, and I was nervous to see her. I was anxious to sit in a room with the four parents: Chris, Mark, Amy, and I. semicolon projectWe had not been in one place at one time before, but to my surprise and thankfulness, all parents were concerned, loving, and attentive to her as she talked. A treatment plan was given to us, which included how to lock up our guns and pills. Even Tylenol had become dangerous to keep in the house.

The treatment plan included a diagnosis, a list of medication, and appointment times. Anya would be introduced to her new doctor the following week. She had requested a female psychologist because she had explained that she struggled trusting men (oh boy), and she wanted to see a female therapist only. The family session therapists gave us all a few minutes alone with Anya. The the other parents cried, chatted, and petted her. I sat frozen in my chair, staring at the physical appearance of my child. Her hair flung wildly out of her follicles, dry and brittle. She wasn’t allowed hair ties or conditioner. Her usual olive complexion appears pale and oily. In the last two months, she had gained forty pounds, and her clothes were tight and misshapen. Certainly, I should have noticed that she looked depressed weeks ago! Where had I been? I had a newborn, but a new baby is no excuse. She has always been such a mature, reliable girl, and the teen before me was foreign.

We left the table and headed down the hallway to the lobby as Anya walked with us. She smiled for her daddy, she hugged my crying husband, she chatted with Amy, and she held my hand. This experience bonded us for life. We now had a new journey: a journey of coping with a lifelong medical condition. October 20, 2017, Chris and I drove Anya home from the facility. She asked for chicken nuggets; we obliged her. From the backseat of the van, Anya told us stories of the girls who were in treatment. I knew that the people she would encounter during her stay would change her perspective. Many teens have abusive home lives; so many young people suffer from trauma and struggle to deal with the aftermath. Seeing and hearing the plights of others opened her eyes to the real hardships of the world in addition to mental health issues.

As a mother, I cannot fathom how teens with hardships can possibly overcome a mental health crisis. No wonder the teen suicide rates have risen. Suicide rates tend to be higher among middle aged white males; however, the rate for teens have risen in 2017. 44, 965 Americans die from suicide a year (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Ultimately, for each death due to suicide, 25 more attempts are made. The root cause of the attempt should be what parents, family members, and loved one should focus on: the mental health of the one who is suicidal. Depression is a real medical condition that even children experience.

Leaving the attempt behind is the toughest part. Treating a sick teen while adjusting to normal life breaks my heart. Anya became so behind at school, which is a clear indication of depression due to lack of motivation and concentration. Her hospital stay further set her back in the college and high school classes. There are no words to adequately express the love, care, and support from my colleagues during this time.

My administrators, graduation coach, school counselor and many teachers worked diligently and patiently with Anya to make a plan to help her overcome the absences before the end of the school year. Jennifer Cannon, Jeri Heath, and Carrie Owens will always be in my debt for their love and support. Anya could barely find the energy to go to school, and she often panicked and had catatonic states while in class. Our treatment plan created a safe environment for her while at school. She had a safe word and a process to calm down. We focused by working on her assignments in small chunks each day. On the way home, I would ask Anya, “how hard was today? How did you cope?” She would mostly look pitiful and explain that she felt hopeless and overwhelmed and would never feel happy again. We discussed at least one positive aspect of each day while driving to and from WCHS.

Every two weeks, we would do a grade check and a meeting with her academic advisors. Daily, we would check off our lists. Weeks and months went by without much change; medications were altered. Goals were set and accomplished. When would she feel happy? When would she be herself? When would she stop the alienation? How long would the depression last? Anya’s doctor continued to reiterate: it’s a marathon not a sprint. A MARATHON…

To be continued.

My Daughter and Depression

Hard times: They are a Comin’

Disclaimer: This post is one of several that will recount my daughter’s battle with Major Depression. It is such a risky business to speak of much less write of mental illness. Anya’s experience has led her to share her own story of depression and healing at Sermon on the Mound at WCHS in Rochelle, Georgia. I want to use her bravery and her determination to help other teens as inspiration for me to write about my experience as her supporter. The second blog about her treatment will be published 5.4.18.

Sitting underneath the covered side porch of the peach shed that belongs to my youngest brother, I breathed in the fragrant, warm air and smiled at my sister-in-law, Leigh Ann, as she rocked in her black rocking chair. Five of our children were riding the golf cart through the orchard as we enjoyed looking at one-year-old Cara. I lovingly reminisced in my mind of when I was sixteen and worked in the orchard; none of the out buildings existed yet. Tom Sawyer’s orchard had been devoid of trams and garage apartments or sheds. I sold peaches out of an old truck body, and I sent customers to the right row of ripe peaches by giving them verbal directions.

Today, however, it looks serene and majestic with porches, porticoes, fences, a tram, goats, and kid toys. Leigh Ann interrupted my daydreaming by giving me a suggestion on my writings: your work doesn’t show how funny you are in real life. You’re so witty. It needs more wit. I do love a good yarn, dripping with humor, wit, and description. I love to read and write it, yet shouldn’t I consider my reason for writing? While ruminating on Leigh Ann’s suggestion as well as my childhood musings, I thought about my subject matter: motherhood. It is so often FUNNY.

Just last night, Bailey, my twelve-year-old step-daughter, and I had so much fun laughing together.  She has so much wit—even when she does not try. She arrived home after church, and I found her running away from the chicken coops.

She said, “Hey, Jennifer, a chicken got out of the coop.”

“Which coop? What chicken? I retorted.

“A big one!” She screamed back.

“Which one??” I asked again.

Her response to me was to do the chicken dance and laugh. “I’m the chicken that got out!!”

In addition to Bailey’s chicken joke, she made tears well up in my eyes later that evening while folding clothes. “Jennifer, Daddy’s drawers are full,” she stated.

“Are they?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s because he has too many panties.” Bailey exclaimed.

Of course, I laughed, and she corrected herself by referring to his “underwear.” Conversations like those are the laid back, enjoyable Mommy moments. I relish sweet evenings at home with the kids. Unfortunately, not all situations involving our girls have been fun. Right now, we are enduring a custody battle with Bailey’s mother, and we are suffering through Sophia’s (our fourteen- year- old daughter) six month restriction due to inappropriate cell phone usage. Yet, neither of these situations have devastated my heart and my soul as much as helping Anya through her battle with Major Depression since October 2017.

It was a quiet night in our house on October 15, 2017. At 11:30 pm, I completed my lesson plans, nursed the baby, and settled into my covers. A prevailing thought entered my sleepy mind; it was almost as if someone had placed it randomly inside my mind. CHECK ON ANYA! The odd thought screamed inside my mind, but it stopped when I opened Anya’s bedroom door. She was sitting on her bed at midnight, surrounded by several letters to friends and family members. In her right hand, she grasped a bag containing many pills. I found her only moments before she planned on committing suicide. My sixteen-year-old beautiful, smart, loving daughter felt so lost and alone that her only hope was escape. Permanent escape.

I grabbed her up and asked her questions. All of her answers led me to realize she was seriously depressed. Thanks to my teacher training, I called the suicide crisis hotline. I stayed with her, and in the morning, she would be evaluated by a crisis counselor. We waited all day for news of a decision: she would stay at a facility for teens for five days. She was transported by ambulance. I stood utterly alone in the middle of the community health center in Dublin, Georgia, and watched an ambulance drive my sweet Anya Claire “Azrell” (the name she called herself as a toddler) to Savannah for five days. In that horrific moment, my world stood still, my chest ached, and my tears streamed down my cheeks—I had to rely on the strangers to care for my baby.

I struggled with questions: how could I have missed the signs of such serious depression? Why hadn’t she reached out to me? What if I had not felt compelled to check on her? I decided to focus on the fact that I had supernatural intervention. Anya was very much alive and receiving the help she needed to recover. On October 16, 2017, the six month long marathon of recovery had begun. That would be the first of many hard, complicated days for Anya as well as my family. Immediate treatment was the first step of the marathon.

To be continued…