|Copyright: Amanda Jette Knox|
Sometimes I like to just sit and watch my 12-year-old bounce around the house with a big smile on her face.
She's not literally bouncing, of course, but her walk is... lighter, like the weight of the world no longer sits on her shoulders. And her steps are more meaningful.
Her reasons for leaving the house - or even just her bedroom - are different. She's no longer simply doing it because we're making her, or because she absolutely has to for some other reason. She actually wants to spend time with people, engage with the world, and experience new things.
This year, for the first time in many, my child is no longer depressed or suffering from severe anxiety.
It has been a wild and unexpected ride to get here.
We went to several different therapists.
I read every book and new study I could get my hands on.
We tried restricted diets, natural sleep aids, and various parenting methods.
We moved to a different province to access better medical services.
She and I sat in emergency rooms during full-on coming apart moments, tears running down both our faces. ("What's wrong, honey?" "I don't know, mom. I don't know why I'm like this. Why am I like this?")
I begged doctors to take us seriously. ("Please help her. I feel like we're losing her and I don't know why.")
Depression. Anxiety. Isolation. OCD. Panic attacks. These were part of her world each and every day. They were part of our family's world. We didn't know why, we just all did the best we could.
Sometimes there is no why; at least not one medical science knows of yet. Sometimes depression is just depression, and anxiety is just anxiety. You treat it, you manage it, and you do the best you can.
But mental illness can also be a symptom of something else, something even you have hidden from yourself for years, bubbling on the surface of you subconscious, irritating your brain and bleeding into your life. In Gutsy's case, it was the denial of who she really was, followed by the fear of revealing that truth to others. She hid being transgender from herself for years, and then hid it from us until she could finally bring herself to tell her secret.
There are many things I'm grateful for each day. But the one that has stuck out this year above all else has been that our child was brave enough to tell us what was going on. Taking that huge risk has not only improved her life, but also quite possibly saved it.
With her male puberty now suppressed, an army of people who support her living as she, pink streaked hair and an adorable new wardrobe, she is transformed into her authentic self. She's happy for the first time in years. She still takes a low dose medication for anxiety, but her overall mental health picture is so good. So, so good.
We are not out of the woods. Gutsy faces a lifetime of uphill battles, both physically and emotionally. She will have to stare down a world that sometimes seeks to harm her, to tear her down, to treat her as less than. The rates of depression, suicide and addiction are all higher in the trans community, in large part because of how cruel the world can be. But my child is the bravest and most resilient human being I know. I believe that with love and support, she is going to soar. And the more we talk and educate and learn, the more we improve the lives of all people in the LGBTQ community.
Here's what I've learned this year: When it comes to having family members with mental health issues, the need for connection cannot be overstated. Trust, honesty and support are paramount. Whether there is a detectable reason behind their illness or not, connection with loved ones can be a lifeline. I know that, when I was a suicidal teen, connection saved me. And while it can't and won't save everyone, I believe it also saved my daughter.
So, like I said, sometimes I just like to watch her bounce around. I love when she comes into the kitchen and talks my ear off about computers or music production (even if I don't understand half of what she's saying). I love listening to her laugh hysterically with her little brother in the other room. I love seeing her smile finally reaching her eyes.
I love all of it. And I love her.