This week I enjoyed one of my favorite parts of my job: celebrating with my clients. As I walked with Reyna* to get the first ice cream of summer break and she recounted the details of her recent middle school graduation, I was struck yet again by her radiating joy as bright as her yellow sweater. We pointed out every dog we saw, made jokes, shared favorite stories, and she talked about her dreams for the future. Her voice was chipper as she thanked the cashier and as she asked me if we could eat our ice cream in the park. She picked a bench that was in the middle of everything and we watched the little kids play.
Rewind to over a year ago when I first started working with Reyna. I walked into her living room and met a girl hunched in her seat with baggy black clothing and her hair covering face. She avoided eye contact and mostly answered questions by mumbling, “I don’t know.” Week after week, I invited Reyna to go on a five-minute walk with me and she always refused because people might see her. She had struggled for years with depression and had survived a suicide attempt a few months prior. Online and in-person classes both triggered her and she was terrified for high school and what might face her ahead. However, as it turns out, Reyna really enjoys playing Uno. I started playing with her and her mother, and bit by bit, I saw Reyna’s sweet and clever personality begin to peek through.
In therapy, Reyna did the hard work of processing deep feelings. In her rehabilitation contacts with me, Reyna learned to use her favorite activities to lift her mood and to reconnect with family and friends. She started to go for walks, learn new games, and reignited some old hobbies. Along with her mother, Reyna learned the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reyna began to use more specific words to identify and describe these feelings in English and Spanish. She and her mother collaborated on strategies to address her triggers before they happened. Whereas just sending an email was once a daunting task, Reyna began to communicate more easily about her feelings and needs with school staff, her mental health team, and her family. At the same time, Reyna’s mother soaked up new skills for supporting her daughter, such as learning to listen better and create an emotionally safe environment. Thoughts of self-harm persisted, but Reyna began to regularly tell a trusted adult when these occurred and her family rallied with her team to support her. Reyna openly told us when she figured out where her parents stored medications and sharps, and asked for help disposing of her own secret stash.
Fast forward to today, and Reyna is in the last leg of treatment. It has been several months since she’s even thought about hurting herself. Every time I see her, she has a smile and a joke; her enthusiasm for the arts bubbles over. Reyna is practicing her new skills more independently. She is also excitedly exploring resources in her school and community to provide her with a sense of belonging and added support. As she put it, “I actually want to get up in the morning and I don’t get as irritable. I know I’m going to be ok.”
With healing comes greater outward focus for Reyna; she is establishing new patterns of interaction with her family as they all heal from the trauma they’ve experienced over the last couple of years. She hopes that her parents won’t worry so much anymore and will “take care of themselves too.” Reyna is making friends and she proudly announces to me each time she talks to someone new. Although she is glad for summer vacation, Reyna absolutely cannot wait to dive into extracurricular activities when she enters high school. Someday, Reyna would like to be a graphic artist or a therapist. Although I will miss her when we end treatment, I can’t wait to send her off into the brilliant future that lies ahead.