Mental illness equals social credit
My daughter was in middle school when she had her first major depressive episode. I knew she was being very quiet – but then she’d always been a quiet child. I knew she had social issues at school – but she did have one good friend, who had now moved away but with whom she was still in touch. And a few new ones. I knew she was worried about her friend, to the point of wondering if the friend was suicidal – but I didn’t know she was projecting her own issues on the friend.
I found out over a school break that my daughter was suicidal. She was afraid to talk to me (why, I didn’t know then). I of course hugged her, told her we would get her whatever help she needed, for as long as she needed it. We loved her, she never needed to be afraid to tell us anything, we would always listen. That was a long conversation, but I thought it ended well.
So off to our wonderful primary care doctor, who has taken care of all of us. She talked to her a lot, very gently, prescribed an antidepressant, and recommended counseling, which I was already in the process of arranging.
Over the next year, with various medical and counseling appointments, adjustments to meds, and many long talks, she seemed to get better. She came out as bisexual a few months later, then atheist, then lesbian. I did my best to not over-react or reject anything she said. I think I did pretty well at that, however much I felt mounting confusion and concern inside about the shifting identities. I read and read and read some more, and continued to listen, with as little advice as I could stand to give (since it seemed to backfire – but hey, I’m a mom. It’s what we do).
And then the pandemic hit. In some ways, it wasn’t bad. School had always been a sore spot – well, now she didn’t have to “people”. Sleeping in was easier with online school, and more time to herself to do her own thing was good. I knew there was a large LGBTQ community at school, and truthfully, the more time she spent around them the more screwy her thinking got.
What I didn’t know was that the worst of the bad influences on my daughter were the online communities she had found and latched onto. Particularly Reddit and Tumblr. If you’ve read Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier, my daughter was the classic case of ROGD. By the end of the first year of the pandemic, she was non-binary and made the accompanying requests for a new name, and pronouns. Everything I got from those who cared for her said not to push, not to fight with her, so we went along with that.
It's not been easy. They/them was very difficult to adjust to. I was able to help pick a new name, that we both liked—she didn’t realize that I picked it at least half for the feminine-sounding nickname. Her friends thought it was so cute when she went back to school with a mom who went along so far as to already have a fun nickname for her.
Over the last few years, we’ve had a lot of fights. I swear, the first time I tried to discuss bathroom issues and sports, she rattled off verbatim a list of trans talking points. Ending with accusing me of being a TERF, and screaming, “If you’re against one of us, you’re against all of us!” Followed by tears and hiding out in her room. More on this later.
There was about a year with no counseling, then another depressive episode sent me looking for a new counselor as the old one had moved away. More meds, changes to meds. A trip to a psychologist for a full workup – and now we have multiple official diagnoses, including ASD, ADHD, a personality disorder, major depressive disorder, and bipolar. And I’ve seen episodes of all of that—the first time I saw a manic episode that was eye-opening. She has a psychiatrist now, because our family care physician just wasn’t up to all of that.
But, apparently all of that, while it’s gratifying to be “officially” mentally ill, is not sufficient. You see, there’s another dynamic at work with these kids. Mental illness equals social credit. They research it all online. The more diagnosis you have, the better. “Oh, I know better than to self-diagnose – but I do have this list of symptoms…” The look on the psychiatrist’s face as she rattled off the terminology and symptoms straight out of the DSM, using all of the words correctly, and explaining exactly how it all applied to her was something to see.
Among other things that privately, doctors and counselors have told me that they don’t really believe, but it’s not worth fighting over, is dissociative identity disorder—what we used to call multiple personality disorder. All I know is that when things get bad, I never know who I’m going to be talking to—a male, a female, a non-binary. A teen, a little child, a robot, an older adult. Or perhaps someone who has selective mutism. My ASL is not up to the task.
She got a binder from someone who mailed it to her. I refused to buy one, so she went around me. I decided not to fight it, other then to bring up that they can cause damage. “I know how to wear it SAFELY, mom. I’m not dumb!” Okay, whatever. I do not have the desire to have a non-stop battle around here. I have to pick what I will and won’t try to fight.
There are days when she feels “femme”. Supposedly, she likes her curves and being pretty. She still loves to dress up and look cute—and even when she feels “masc”, she doesn’t pass to anyone with eyes. Little kids, sure. But that sad, sweet, elfin face, even with the short hair, the binder, the lack of makeup and the baggy non-gendered clothes says “girl” more loudly than any camouflage can hide. And I wonder if she realizes that the “masc” days almost always coincide with the depressed days.
And of course, many of her issues are my fault—according to her. Not the whole LGBTQ stuff— that OF COURSE is innate. But all the mental health stuff. I was abusive and neglectful, and she has lingering trauma over all of that. She has recast her entire past in the terms she learned online. You see, it’s not what happened, it’s how you assign meaning to it. And if you can turn your loved ones into the enemy, then you can cut them and their toxic ideas out of your life, guilt-free.
I will be the first to admit I was anything but perfect – but what kid does get a perfect parent? I have a lot of things I would do differently. At the top of that list is no smart phone or internet access. Second is public school. I would have found a way to home school, after we had taken care of a few financial issues.
I am infinitely thankful that we started the medical and counselling for the depression, and now all of the rest of the underlying issues, not the trans stuff. I have not had to fight with providers over that.
As she is getting a bit older, occasionally there are glimmers of independent thought. We recently had another discussion about bathrooms and sports—and it wasn’t pure regurgitation of talking points. There was some nuance in there—we should divide sports by height, weight, hormone levels, and fitness capacity. NOT gender or sex! Horrors! That’s got NOTHING to do with it. But given where she started, it’s progress, if small. Bathrooms should be male/female/non-gendered. We were able to agree that while we disagree on means, we do agree that we both want everybody safe and happy.
I tried to bring up the side effects and long-term damage of blockers, hormones, and procedures, statistics on detransition, studies—and of course, all of that is a lie by haters. But I put the information out there. I dearly hope she does some research to try to prove me wrong.
I did manage to bring up the new sexual violence support center, Beira’s Place, founded by JK Rowling. Of course, I didn’t bring up her name at first! But, would it be okay, given there was already an inclusive center—would it be okay if someone started a second, privately funded, assigned female at birth (AFAB – man I can rattle off ALL the terms these days!), center for those who were traumatized by being around any AMAB (assigned male at birth) people. Can we allow them the right to their feelings, and honor their wishes? Yes. Then I brought up the founder. Oh, the fireworks then. “Please tell me any quote that indicates she wants any harm to come to any trans person.” Didn’t have any. Only the propaganda they’ve swallowed. I don’t even care about JK Rowling. Only that everyone, TERF or not, is judged based on actual evidence, not a screaming match.
Shockingly enough, I was told that while I sometimes sound like a TERF—at least I’m not one of those horrible homicidal ones who want to erase and kill all trans people. I’m one of the good ones—if there can be such a thing.
One thing I started a couple of years ago was to just try to repair our relationship. I stopped talking about LGBTQ stuff, for the most part. At least, I’m not the one who brings it up. I listen, sometimes for much longer than I can take, inside. I’m in counseling myself. I needed it! My counselor has validated many thing—including trying to keep the peace. She’s told me that certain things are not worth fighting over, as those are issues my kid has decided that “she would pick that hill to die on.”
And I show physical affection. That didn’t work very well at first. We had gotten out of the habit, as she grew into an adult-sized body that didn’t fit in a lap anymore. But now, almost every night, there’s a goodnight hug. We play, a bit—making the dog bark, goofing around. If it doesn’t happen, it’s because there’s a mental health episode going on, or we’ve had a now fairly rare fight. But she gets over it pretty quickly and, usually by the next night, I can get a hug. That one thing, the hugs, I would have to say has been the biggest help in repairing the relationship.
I am going forward without expectations. We allow each other to have our own opinions. Our own beliefs. I have no idea when or if any further progress towards sanity will happen. Given that she actually likes being mentally ill, can’t imagine not being not just neuro-divergent but all the rest of it, I don’t think progress towards wellness can happen yet. I’m just going for stability and peace, and hopefully no medicalization of trans. I’d kick her off our insurance first before we’d pay for it. I’d rather pay cash for everything else before I let that happen.
Legal adulthood is right around the corner. And high school graduation. Can’t wait to get her out of school and away from the in-person peer support system, and I’m dreading not having any say in her care. My greatest hope is to get her through to a decade out of high school without self-inflicted damage, continue to be there, to love her, and just wait and see. Maybe by then, she will outgrow it. Maybe by then, the truth will be so loud these kids can’t continue to play deaf.