I’m Fine: mother’s revealing account of her daughter’s battle with depression
Aeryn Bond, a young writer and aspiring actor, battled depression until it stole her life. Recognising her daughter’s talent for writing, Ellen has used Aeryn’s words together with her own, to honour Aeryn’s memory while raising awareness of the reality of teenage depression in their book, I’m Fine.
In sharing their story, Ellen wants to help other families going through similar experiences, and to increase understanding of the depth of pain that depression can cause, a pain so deep and all-consuming that for some there appears to be only one way to escape it.
Ellen and Aeryn Bond (courtesy Ellen Bond)
Every day I question if there was more I could have done to prevent my daughter’s death. If there was some sign I missed, some opportunity I missed to save her. Every day I wish I had been able to read her mind and stay with her that night. Just sit with her. Just so she wasn’t alone in her pain.
Aeryn had been battling with depression for some time. It is impossible to pinpoint an exact point at which she became ill, especially as some of the early symptoms and signs of depression are also symptoms and signs of ‘typical’ teenage behaviour.
She spent more time in her room, lost interest in activities she previously enjoyed, became despondent about her school work. Then she had a panic attack at school and disclosed to a teacher that she had been self-harming.
There are no words to describe how it feels to be told that your child is physically hurting themselves, that they are using a razor blade to cut their own skin. To then learn that self-harm is often a way of dealing with severe emotional distress was devastating.
When I tried to talk to Aeryn, to find out what was causing this emotional distress, she couldn’t tell me; she didn’t know herself. Maybe if there had been a trigger, some route cause, her depression would have been easier to treat.
As it was, we were facing an unknown, unseen, stealthy enemy, a creeping, sinister darkness that could hide behind fake smiles and lies. An enemy Aeryn wanted to fight but didn’t feel able to. An enemy that slipped in and stole the very essence of her soul, while we watched on, helpless and floundering.
We sought help, of course. But, the help was lacking. Aeryn was frustrated by mental health professionals asking her why she thought she was depressed and what she thought would help her; therapists who told her, a vulnerable child who already felt like a worthless failure, that they couldn’t help her unless she helped herself.
And I was frustrated when my concerns as her mother were not listened to. I was made to feel like an over-anxious mother of a socially awkward teenager and my worries about issues such as Aeryn’s self-harming were fobbed off.
Self-harm seemed to be accepted as a common method for children to cope with their emotions. At one point, self-harm was compared with alcohol use – as in, when an adult has a stressful day, they might come home and have a glass of wine – children, apparently, come home from a stressful day and use the innards of pencil sharpeners to mutilate their own bodies.
Even if, on some level, this is an acceptable comparison, which I don’t truly feel it is, there is a vast difference between an adult having a glass of wine at the end of a long day and someone who needs two bottles of vodka to even begin to get through the morning.
Aeryn pictured on her 16th birthday (courtesy Ellen Bond)
While Aeryn’s self-harm may have started as an occasional ‘glass of wine’, when the depression was at its worst, she used the broken shards of a compact mirror to cut herself in a toilet cubicle whilst at school. How is that OK? How is that ‘normal’ behaviour? Why did this not alert health professionals looking after her to a far more serious issue that teen angst?
I will never forgive myself for allowing the normalisation of Aeryn’s behaviour by mental health professionals to stop the rising terror I felt at times. At one point, one therapist even told me that I should be ‘calm’ and that my anxiety was making Aeryn feel worse. Which, of course was true. Aeryn hated knowing that she was causing us pain and worry, it just added to her sense of failure.
However, for me to be told to ‘calm down’ instead of being supported in helping Aeryn to feel better did not help any of us. I didn’t know what to do. Following my parental instincts in the face of depression was difficult; following them whilst being told to calm down and not worry by mental health professionals, supposedly used to dealing with this illness, became impossible.
If I ‘gave her space’, she was alone too much in her room; if I tried to persuade her to come out, enjoy the sunshine, get some exercise (all things we both knew could help her) then I was pushing her too much. At one point, I gently said to her, “You need to try harder,” She turned to me with so much hurt in her eyes and said: “You don’t know how hard I am already trying.” And I didn’t.
This picture is a piece of artwork Aeryn created – a stark and shocking expression of the way she was feeling, emotions she felt unable to talk about, but which scream out from every stroke of her pencil
Even though we tried to talk, I had no idea at all how she was feeling and what I could do to help. Even though I knew she was hurting herself, I didn’t really understand why or know how to make her stop. Even though I knew she had suicidal thoughts, I never, not for one single second could ever have comprehended that she would ever actually even consider taking her own life, let alone succeed.
The powers that be will no doubt spout the usual ‘lessons will be learned’ from my daughter’s death. But how will that actually translate in the real world? I am so sick of hearing about ‘mental health awareness’. We are all aware by now.
Awareness is no longer enough. Depression is a serious illness, silent and powerful, a misunderstood, mistreated killer. But maybe if it was better understood, better treated, maybe other people would win the battle that our beloved Aeryn lost.
But what is actually being done about it? How is it being tackled? Can it be tackled – with lack of funding and services stretched, is it even possible for mental health professionals to put in place the support that is needed? How will these lessons that have been learned actually help families in the future?
I will never know if our outcome would have been different if Aeryn had received alternative care. I am not trying to apportion blame for her death – and if I was, I wouldn’t look much further than the mirror.
However, I can say that while she was alive and suffering, while we as a family were struggling to understand, accept, and manage her depression, we did not feel helped, we did not feel supported. We felt alone. She felt alone. I do not want any other family to ever feel alone in their fight against mental health problems.
I don’t have the answers. But I know things need to change.
Mother of a lost girl
As a non-professional, who has never personally suffered with depression, as a mother of a lost girl, here are some of my thoughts: It is not OK to physically harm yourself in a bid to ease emotional pain. It is not OK for you to walk the corridors of school in pain and pretend that you are OK. It is not OK to get together with your friends and discuss ways you might choose to end your own lives.
It is not OK for mental health professionals to normalise self-abuse and suicidal thoughts just because it has become so common among children. It is not OK to not listen to a parent because you think they are over-anxious. It is not OK to talk about suicide and not be listened to. It is not OK to have your thoughts and feelings ignored just because you are verbally not capable of sharing them. It is not OK to ask for help and not get it.
My daughter’s artwork and her writing, alongside the self-harm and admission to suicidal thoughts, were big cries for help that went largely unheard. I tried to get people to listen to her when she was alive and failed. Now, I want her heard.
Feather Bird by Aeryn Bond
I fly through the air, my feathers glowing with magnificent iridescence
Soaring, twirling, gliding like a bullet of rainbows
My wings stretch wide, tipped with beautiful fluorescence
But I can’t fly as well as the other Feather-Birds.
The rhythm of my wings beats slow and painfully uneven
Struggling, falling, battling to stay above the clouds
I feel it’s breath below me, the invisible lurking demon
A single-coloured feather floats slowly to the ground.
My muscles burn as two more feathers fall and I’m sinking
Dipping, praying, drowning in hues of swirling azure
Some birds turn back, as if they can hear my desperate thinking
But I’m losing my feathers.
Feathers flutter from the sky like raindrops, but no one seems to see
Ignoring, pretending, fooling me into grasping at frantic joy
They fly so high, I’m terrified they will leave me
More feathers start to fall.
They are dots to me now, just unreachable shadows in the distance
Calling, screaming, begging for them to come back and save me
But they don’t want me, I’m merely a hindrance
I’m just a single, crying Feather-Bird left alone in the darkening sky.
Even the sun is leaving me now, disappearing behind streaks of orange and pastel pink
Fading, dying, painting the sky with shadows that pull at my last few feathers
I’m barely airborne, the tip of my featherless wing touches the ground and I think
‘If I have no feathers, how can I be a Feather-bird?’
I crash to the ground and the demon finally claims me
Laughing, taunting, tearing one last feather away from my broken, naked body
I flap my frail wings but rapidly tumble down, forced to accept this is how things will be
If I am no longer a Feather-bird, then what am I?
I am a ghost, a shadow, silently watching Feather-birds happily rise into the air as I am forced to sit alone
Sobbing, freezing, shivering against the cold that has enveloped my shattered heart.
The demon forever haunts me and my last feather remains on the ground, on its own
But as I watch, it evaporates, crushed by shadows.
I am no longer a Feather-bird; I am a Dying-bird, abandoned, alone with my darkness.
14th November 2017
I have found it virtually impossible to separate thoughts and memories of my daughter from the cold, hard, terrifying fact of her death, from the depression that robbed us of her. I want my daughter to be so much more than just a statistic, another suicide in an age of increasing mental health troubles in our society.
I want her to be remembered for her kindness, her art, her poetry, her beautiful smile, her passion and determination, her quick sense of humour, her loyalty. And so very much more that I cannot even put into words because it hurts too much to even think about it. And for those of us who loved her, she will be.
But the truth is, for those who didn’t know her, she will be defined by her death. And I need to make that count. I need to tell her story. I need to know that other children and their families will be helped better than we were. I need to know that in listening to Aeryn, people will listen to others.
I wish I could turn back time and stop this happening to my family, to her. But I can’t. All I can do is keep trying to get her voice heard so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
This is a powerful and poignant story of a mother giving voice to her daughter’s struggles and despair which left her taking her own life.
I’m Fine should help professionals to understand the depth of pain and despair of Aeryn and Ellen and encourage other families of ‘lost girls’ facing similar distress to fight for true understanding of the depth and complexity of suicidal depression and for the more effective help they need.Marjorie Wallace, founder and chief executive, SANE
There have been some reviews, which indicate that other people feel that Aeryn’s words are important and that the book offers an important insight into depression. A few people – some close friends and some who I don’t know – have said that they feel they understand more about depression and mental health now.
People have commented that it is honest and heartbreaking, and that I should be proud of Aeryn, which I very much am. Most people have understandably found it an extremely tough read, but have felt they have gained an insight and understanding that perhaps they didn’t have before.
For me, the most touching comments have been those that have recognised Aeryn’s talent, even through the devastating reality of what happened to her. I really do hope the book helps people to understand better and for others to get the help that we didn’t get, but for Aeryn’s talent to be recognised on top of that gives me a feeling that I can’t quite put into words.
Ellen Bond, September 2023
I’m Fine (Troubador Publishing)
If you need support for yourself or someone you know please visit our support page.