Make it Okay to Talk About Mental Illness
by Sarah Nelson
With permission, I’m sharing the short version of my 16-year-old daughter’s story to let others know it’s okay to not be okay and provide hope for those who may be struggling.
Jordan began hurting herself in 2017. Scratching her arms, legs or face with her fingernails until she bled. She moved on to sharp objects to cut – sometimes lightly, other times deep. Sometimes I knew when she cut, sometimes I’d notice days later, other times I was clueless. Sometimes the cuts were few and other times many.
Seeing her in so much emotional pain, watching her scar her beautiful body, worrying she’d cut too deep, and I’d find her dead was the reality I faced. I’d clean and bandage her wounds without saying a word. My words didn’t help. She didn’t know why she cut. All she knew is it helped her process emotions that were too big and too complicated to put into words. She was processing what she was feeling the only way she knew how.
All I could do was “make it better” in the moment. I spent a lot of time crying. Wondering what I did wrong, what I could have done differently, if she’d be okay, and if I’d be okay if she wasn’t. It wasn’t about my feelings; she wasn’t cutting to hurt me. I needed to help my daughter any way I could.
Some knew what our family was going through, some wondered why I always had appointments to get to, why I’d decline social events or why there were days it looked like I hadn’t slept. When asked, I’d explain. Not for pity or sympathy, simply for understanding.
This May marks one year since Jordan last cut herself. Countless hours of talk therapy, months of trial and error to figure out the right dose of the right medication and learning to process what she was feeling in a healthy way. I was doing everything to help her through what she was thinking and feeling. Making it better. Making it okay. Making it to today.
About a week ago, Jordan told me this:
“Even though we’re going through a pandemic and this is a bad time for a lot of people, I’m happy. This has been the best year of my life. A lot of bad things happened before I was 14 years old. But now it’s different. This year, I got my driver’s license, a car, a job, I have some really good friends, I took a risk signing up for an AP class that I did great in and actually enjoyed and just a bunch of other good stuff.”
I cried a million tears. Happy tears. Hearing she’s happy is all I’ve ever wanted for her. Her inside and outside scars are healing. She’s okay. Now more than ever, check in with your loved ones often. Make sure they’re okay. Make it okay to talk about mental illness.