It was a beautiful Friday night here in the desert. The sun was setting across the field. The temperature was dropping—well a bit. And a nice breeze was blowing. The announcer came on the loud speaker and welcomed the parents and students to the first home football game of the season at Williams Field High School. I peered through the crowd and spotted her on the track. She was sporting a black and red cheer uniform. A big red bow held her golden brown hair in place. And a smile that lit up the entire stadium spread across her face. I was barely able to stifle the sobs that wanted to erupt from my mouth. Not sobs of sadness, but of complete joy. A year ago, I never thought this day would come.
I’ll never forget that warm, October day in Parker, Colorado. It was one of those perfect Rocky Mountain days. I had even pulled over on the way home from the store to take some pictures of the Aspens that were changing color. I was unloading groceries from my car, when my cell phone rang. I saw the caller ID light up on my screen, Madeline Keane, and I had that “mom feeling.” You know the one. That feeling that makes your heart sink to your stomach. That feeling that something was horribly wrong. I dropped the bags of groceries and sat down on the garage steps.
“Hey Honey,” I answered, in my most cheery voice.
“Hey Mom,” said the very weak voice on the other end. “I just woke up on the bathroom floor at school. I think I fainted. Can you come get me?”
And in that moment, the comfortable, fairly easy, life I had known, changed forever. That day marked the start of a journey that would take our family through a hell we had never expected.
After a few trips to the ER that month, and several tests later to rule out this and that, our beautiful, firstborn, 14-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I remember hearing those words ring in my head as we sat in the sterile room at the doctor’s office. I’ve since grown to hate the word disorder, and for that matter, doctor’s offices. Those words just sound so hopeless. So clinical. So private. So embarrassing.
How could this have happened? Did we mess up in our parenting somehow? It was home schooling for those three years wasn’t it? Maybe I made her think she wasn’t brave somehow? Maybe we pushed her too hard? Or not hard enough? Maybe that Russian dance instructor ruined her confidence? She might need new friends? Heck, she might need new parents? Could there be a history of mental illness in my family? My husband’s? God, how did this happen?
I don’t know if I’ll ever find the answer to that question of how, but I can tell you a story of grief, loss, pain, and the hope of redemption,
We had noticed some signs of anxiety early on in 2015. Maddie would experience moments of feeling nervous before school, dance classes, and youth group. Pretty much any social situation would trigger what we called “nervousness.” But not always, and that’s what made it so tricky to figure out. There were two high school students in our community who died that year—one from suicide, and the other from a car accident. Their deaths rocked our community, and I think deep down they rocked Maddie. It was a rude awakening for a young girl to see the ugliness of this world played out in front of her, in her seemingly safe environment.
We sought out a counselor, and Maddie started attending weekly sessions. She talked through things that scared here; she learned tools to use when she felt anxious. It worked for a while, but then it didn’t. And I became anxious. I wanted to fix her. I wanted a solution. I didn’t want her to face this darkness.
I called our family doctor. I explained what was going on. She listened. She understood. And within 10 minutes after hanging up with her, Walgreens called to let me know that a prescription for Prozac was ready for pick up.
It was that easy. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?
Sometimes easy isn’t the best, though. We thought we saw some glimpses of improvement, but looking back, I think we were being overly optimistic. Not wanting to face the reality of the situation before us. Things went from bad to worse. The pills that were supposed to fix her had the complete opposite effect.
It was now December. The time when all the yuck in life was supposed to take a backseat, but our reality just sat there in front of us, not moving, not even budging. I decorated our home with red and green cheer. We trimmed the tree. Christmas was Maddie’s favorite. Maybe this would be just what she needed to snap out of her disorder.
A new doctor came on the scene, and with him, a new shred of hope. His suggestion was not one medication, but three. He explained chemicals, and the brain, and lots of sciencey stuff, and so we believed. We trusted. This was the logical next step. It had to be.
After one dose of this cocktail though, my girlie could barely get off of the bathroom floor. She wasn’t hungry, and if she was, she couldn’t keep food down. She lost weight she didn’t have to lose. Her hair started falling out. She pushed through school a few hours at a time, but then crashed, and slept the afternoon away. She dropped out of dance, choir, friendships and social activities. She existed, but by no means was she living.
I cried in my closet almost daily. I didn’t want Maddie to see my tears, frustration and fear. The darkness of winter not only lived outside my door, but it lived deep inside of me. I hated every moment of this season, but somehow, somehow I pushed through each day. There was this glimmer of hope that I could feel in my spirit. It was as if God was whispering to me that this wasn’t going to be Maddie’s story. It was going to be a chapter in her book, but not the whole book.
On January 23, we went to the ER on the main campus of Children’s Hospital. This was our fifth visit to an area hospital in about two months time. (If you ever find yourself facing an emergent situation in Denver, let me know. I’m quite familiar with emergency rooms there.) Maddie had been up the entire night shaking, nauseous, light-headed, and dizzy. The shaking was the most painful to watch. Her whole body would tremble and sometimes jerk. We tried everything to stop it; weighted blankets, hot showers, even sitting on her.
Then something happened. Or someone happened, as we sat in the small treatment room in the ER. A doctor happened to be on rotation that day who knew something about mental health issues. She sat with us, and asked several questions. After speaking with her colleagues, she came back in the room and suggested that we seek a second opinion about the current treatment Maddie was receiving, and that we should strongly consider weaning her off the medication. Her conclusion was that Maddie couldn’t tolerate SSRI medications.
A light bulb went on for us that day. The sweet, smart, talented, and healthy girl we had known her to be was still there, but this mask of medication temporarily covered her.
I would love to tell you we walked out of the ER that day and celebrated Maddie’s healing, but no, we still had a few difficult months ahead of us. Weaning off of SSRI medication is not much different than a drug abuser coming off of street drugs. Though her body could not tolerate the medication, her brain still thought she needed it. And with the weaning off came a new set of side effects.
Each day following that dreadful January day became a little better and a little easier. It was a slow process. I hated the waiting. But somewhere in the midst was this beautiful redeeming story of God’s grace, goodness and faithfulness unfolding in a young girl.
I remember through the journey pleading with God. In October I asked, Lord, will you please heal her by Thanksgiving? The answer was NO. At Thanksgiving I said, Lord, will you please heal Maddie by Christmas? The answer was NO. At Christmas I asked, what about the New Year, Lord? Will you please heal her by the New Year? Again He said, NO. And on January 23, I said, Lord, by her birthday on March 11? Will you heal her then? And He said, YES!
Maddie turned 15-years-old on March 11, 2016. A few short weeks later, she started a new chapter of her beautiful story in the Arizona Desert. She worked hard over the summer to complete classes she had failed to complete her freshman year. At the end of July she started her sophomore year at a new school. And on August 25, 2016, she danced, she cheered, she sang the school Fight Song, and she smiled the biggest smile ever at the opening game of the Blackhawks Varsity Football Game!
From the girl who once said, “I will never be a cheerleader. I could never be that outgoing in front of a large crowd.” Well Darling, our Great, Big, God had other plans for you. And because of your journey, because of your will to overcome, because of your faith in the One and Only, YOU have been redeemed! And that gives you every reason in the world to CHEER!
My friends: It took a lot of courage to share this story, even with permission from Maddie. I’m not proud of how I handled most of this journey, but, let me tell you, there is something to this grace thing. I want you to know this; a beautiful story of redemption is being penned for you right now by a gracious, good, and faithful God. Stay the course. Hold on tight. And watch Him work. I’m cheering for you!