I know that many who heard the story Thursday of Kelli Stapleton and her autistic daughter Issy will not understand. I can just hear the thoughts. “How could someone DO that? How could someone try to kill their own child?” I don’t know Kelli or Issy, but I think that I do understand. And it’s not about love, or parenting, or right and wrong. I think it’s about depression.
You can read the news story here: http://record-eagle.com/local/x312422563/Charges-loom-for-Benzie-woman-in-murder-suicide-attempt
After SB’s diagnosis, I fell into a fairly deep depression. (This was not the first time I had dealt with depression, but it was definitely the worst.) I was pregnant and diagnosed with gestational diabetes that my doctor told me would become permanent. (It didn’t.) I worried endlessly about what life held for my 2-year-old son, and was drowning in paperwork and insurance red tape to get him help. I also worried endlessly about my unborn baby, and whether or not he would have autism as well. (He does.) As if all of that wasn’t enough, we also had a cat that was very ill and was vomiting daily. (Always on the carpet. Never on the linoleum.) Eventually we had to put her down. This also just happened to be the time that we had decided to remodel our kitchen, so my home was under construction and the kitchen was not functional at all. SB was refusing to eat pretty much everything at this point except for chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers. We wanted to encourage him to try new things, but there was nowhere to prepare food, and his behaviors were too turbulent for us to eat in a restaurant at all. As you can imagine, adding a newborn to the mix really didn’t make life any easier, so things just got even worse after AB was born. So yeah, it kind of felt like life was kicking me in the ass from all directions.
When it felt like I just couldn’t handle one more minute, I formulated a plan. Thankfully, my plan was not as violent as Kelli’s. And also thankfully, I never carried it out. I was going to pack a bag and leave. Just go. I was going to do it when my family was at work/school/daycare, and not tell anyone where I was going. I was going to move into a hotel, where there would be no children, no autism, no paperwork, no other people at all, minimal furniture, no demands of me, and I would never need to get out of bed. I went so far as to plan what clothes and toiletries I would pack, which suitcase I would use, and which hotel I would go to, but I never actually packed. I don’t know why I didn’t do it, but it’s probably because it was not a very practical plan. I am an enlisted member of the military, so A) I have to show up for work, or I’ll get arrested, and B) I don’t make enough money to actually live in a hotel very long.
The weird thing about depression is that when you are in the middle of it, you can’t see it. Everything seems so dark, but it also seems right, like this is how life is supposed to be. And things make sense that really shouldn’t, like leaving my family and moving to a hotel and never coming out of my room. With the support of my husband, I was able to realize that moving out was not what I needed. What I actually needed was Prozac to get through the day, Ambien to get through the night, and a good therapist to help me sort everything out.
There are so many things about having a child with autism that can make a parent sad. I bet that there is something that makes me sad just about every day. And yet, the line between sad and depressed is very gray. If Kelli was so sad about her recent struggles (you can read her last blog post before the incident here: http://thestatuswoe.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/when-a-power-player-takes-you-down/) that she was deep in depression, then I can kind of understand why she would make a decision that seemed to make sense to her at the time, but doesn’t make any sense to you or me. Of course I am not condoning her actions, and I do believe that she needs to be held accountable. But I can be sympathetic. And I can also be hopeful that other autism parents get help like I did before things escalate to the unthinkable.