This raw, emotional and honest letter was written by a Bupa Executive, to his daughter who has depression.
CONTENT WARNING: The following letter discusses depression and suicide. Reader discretion is advised. If you feel distressed by this article, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
My darling Anna,
As I sit across the restaurant table and watch you laugh with your friends and your brother, I really marvel that I am in this moment. Here we are celebrating your 21st. And yet, six short (and at the same time very long) years ago, you sat with me and your mum in the counselor’s office the day before your 15th birthday and told us that you were going to kill yourself, as you did not want to turn 15.
It is simply incredible that we are all together today and more importantly you are with us, as there were many, many moments in the past seven years when I was not sure that we would come home and find you alive. The self-harm cuts on your arms and legs have faded, although if I look closely I can see the scores of cuts that ladder up your arms and the scars where you once tried. What has not faded is the sense of powerlessness and abiding fear that I had as your father, in the face of an illness that I could do nothing to cure, and a problem that I could not solve.
I still reflect on how we could have missed seeing this creep up on you – at first it was the appendicitis and then the ongoing chronic pain that caused you to double up and become incapacitated. That I could understand. The surgery, the damaged nerve endings and the pain that struck you when you were least expecting it. I became an expert on phantom pain and then had to relearn the terminology when it became chronic pain. Your mum and I got really good at trying to pick the stressors that would bring on and sheltering you from those. I still deeply regret the decision that we made about your high school, as that transition was a major source of stress and left you disconnected from many of your friends, who had made the call to attend a another school.
When the psychologist who was part of the chronic pain management team suggested that you be tested for depression, I naively thought that this was just another test that would help us better manage the pain. Little did I know then that chronic pain often morphs into depression, and that nothing we had been through would even come close to the hell that lay ahead. In some ways, that was the inflection point when our world as a family shifted into completely unknown territory. We have all emerged from the experience as very different people.
I know myself very well, so I can absolutely say that there are emotions and thoughts that I will never take out of the little box in the back of my head that I shoved them into. I did that to cope, and to be strong for you, your mum and your brother. To take them out and examine them will take me to a place of spiraling terror, where as a parent I had no answers and no solutions, and on many days, no hope that you would survive.
What I never gave up on was loving you and being there for you. There were the small gestures of just hugging you when you would be stiff in my arms and not letting that response get to me. There was the morning I walked into your room and said ‘do you want to leave school darling?’ (Yep, me the fellow with three degrees and you three years away from completing school). I tried to find the right medication and a psychiatrist that would help support you. We pretended to your brother that everything was alright and shielded him from what was going on. Then there was the big stuff like taking you off to live in another country for four months after the suicides of your two friends put you into a spiral, and leaving your mum and brother behind. Each day, and sometimes several times in a day, just finding a way to show that you were loved. I’m also not ashamed to say that sometimes I did play on your love… for your brother and the impact that you committing suicide would have on him and his life, which you recognised and thankfully which held you back. As the song goes …. ‘love is all you need’ because at the end of the day that was all your mum and I had. We had no solutions, no silver bullets or no neatly packaged outcomes. Each and every day we loved you and found ways to show that to you.
And our reward is to see you still alive... to have you sitting at the birthday celebration surrounded by family and a couple of friends who stood by you through this all. Do you still have dark days? Yes, I know that you do. Those are the days that I don’t hear from you and as those days stretch on, my fear grows and my thoughts turn to ‘where, what, what if.’ However each time you still surface and send me a message and I know that you are back and OK. My pride has no boundaries when you get through the trails of two redundancies and the ups and downs of a long term relationship – all while the rest of us live in a different country and you are far away from your support base. I also know that you will be OK when you tell me that you are going to apply for university so that you can teach. You have always found meaning and comfort in helping others and I know that your big heart and skill will enable future generations to grow and succeed, just as you have, regardless of what you have been through.
I look forward to seeing that happen and you continuing to be with us and in our lives.
I love you forever,
This letter was written by a Bupa Senior Executive who recognised the value in sharing his story to help break down the stigma associated with depression and mental health. Names have been changed for privacy. Anyone concerned about their mental health or the health of others is encouraged to contact their GP.
There are also a number of free resources available in Australia. Adults needing immediate assistance are also encouraged to call Lifeline on 13 11 14, while Mindspot and beyondblue also offer free telephone and online support services. Young people needing immediate assistance may prefer to call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For young people between 12 and 24 years old, headspace offers confidential online counselling and phone assistance, or you can walk into one of their centres. The Suicide Call Back Service is another resource available which provides free phone (1300 659 467), video and online counselling for anyone affected by suicide.