We Are Looking Up

This morning, I woke up and was so thankful. On September 14th, I did not feel very thankful. On October 2nd, I was scared. On October 13th, I was relieved. On November 3rd, I thought we had taken a step in the wrong direction. But today, I am so thankful. This is the journey of wholeness, isn’t it? There is not a direct path. There is not a paint by number path to wellness. Not in the spiritual or the physical realm. There are good days and there are really hard days. There are days when you put your head on the pillow and you know you gave it your all. And there are days when the best you can do is say that you survived.

That has been the journey of the last two months. When Harvey passed and our community changed, something in our family changed as well. We saw the hurt. We felt the need. We experienced the fear. We loved the least. And for those with a super natural spirit of tenderness, which I believe is God’s best wiring for my girl, sometimes there is just too much pain to understand.

I don’t think the storm CAUSED this. But I do believe that when those of us who are wired to serve and give and change the world see the depth of despair, we understand pain on a different level. When we stood and watched the water come closer to our house at 3am and we rushed the precious things upstairs,  innocence was lost that night.  Two weeks later, when those in our community that were not directly impacted by the storm went back to “normal,” my old soul of a girl could not shift like her peers. Homecoming meant very little. Dating and driving and practice for solo and ensemble felt empty. How can we just keep going when classmates are going home to no walls and no beds and no food? It just didn’t make any sense. And most days it still does not, but we have created space to process and make a difference and press on.

There is a sure fire way to move your head space from self pity to hope, and that is action. Serving someone else has always been the key to help me see that this world is not about me. That is what we have done as a family. With the decision made to start 10th grade over and attend online school, we had the opportunity to reset.

To those of you that have followed Dolls For All, you know that Anna Jane has pressed into her passion for helping kids with a new excitement. On the days that the world seems heavy, thinking about the smile on a 2nd grader’s face makes things better. I have seen her lead and speak and strive for more in the midst of pain and hurt and fear. That is what life is all about, isn’t it? When the morning is filled with anxiety, she has spent the afternoon planning a delivery or matching dolls to recipients. When a precious 8 year old that recently lost her dad wraps her arms around her in excitement, I have watched the worry fall away.

On a side note, if your kiddo does not fit the standard school offering, give yourself permission to explore what else is out there. Had this crisis not happened, I am not sure I would have looked. What I have found and embraced – in all the fullness – is there is no one path. We each have individual needs and wants and goals and passions. For my beauty, attending football games and playing sports have never been the thing. But interesting interactions with teachers and students around the globe, attending virtual field trips into active volcanoes in Guatemala and being challenged in the areas of study and life that ignite her passion is right up her alley. Additionally, the freedom to plan study and school around service, leadership and family has opened doors that we didn’t know existed.

This is not the end. This is simply a new beginning. But I have been reminded, AGAIN, that the thing that seems the darkest, the hurt that is so painful, the hopeless moments that are so lonely can become the moments where life is transformed. I also love how God weaves new passions in the midst of pain. I thought I understood the need for improvements for mental healthcare in education, through laws and within community resources, but I didn’t know the half of it. Watch out world, this momma has a NEW mission.


P.S. We wrote this 5-day blog long before we pushed publish on even the first day. Experiencing the way that we have been wrapped in love and care and genuine willingness to learn gives me so much hope. I don’t know how this will unfold, but I pray that this will be a ministry of healing that AJ and I can move through as a mother/daughter power couple. If you know of a group, friend, family, church, team or organization that wants to learn more about anxiety and depression in teens and families, we have a story and now are reconfirmed in the power of sharing it.


I cannot tell her story, but she can. This week, Anna Jane and I sat down for a very formal interview (in our PJs) and talked about the last two months. Here are her words:

LH: If you could tell people one thing about what it is like to be depressed, what would you say?

AJ:  I am not contagious.

LH: When you talk about having a lack of energy, what is that like?

AJ: It feels like I haven’t slept in 4 months. Your body hurts. It is like I have the flu. I can’t do the things that I want to do. I can’t read, I can’t even enjoy a good binge of Netflix. I don’t want to go to concerts – which is saying a lot.

LH: What’s the difference, in your experience, with depression vs. anxiety?

AJ: Depression is BLEH. Depression is being trapped in a dark room without having a light switch to turn on. It is like not even having a flashlight. Anxiety is a sense of constant fear. It is like being scared of the darkness that is your life.  With anxiety, you have no control of your thoughts or physical movements. For more than a month, I was a zombie. I am just now to the point that I understand what is going on in my own body.

LH: What made it so hard to go to school?

AJ: I was scared to have a panic attack in front of people. You feel like you are dying. And when you worry about having a panic attack it only makes the panic attacks worse. It is a never ending spiral of thoughts…like my shower thoughts.

LH: Describe what shower thoughts are.

AJ: They are the random things that I think about when it is finally quiet. Some are not bad thoughts, but they begin to inhabit all of my thinking. Like ‘why does soap make you clean?’ That question got stuck in my brain and I spent the rest of the shower worried if I should just not use soap and just stay dirty.

LH: Even as we are talking, you are saying this with a smile on your face half laughing. So, if someone were to see you in Target, is your smile fake?

AJ: Yeah. I can put on a pretty face.

LH: Why do you feel like you have to put on a pretty face?

AJ: I just don’t want people look at me funny. It adds to the anxiety. The questions, the random comments…

LH: What’s the weirdest comment that you have heard?

AJ: I was told repeatedly that I was so stressed and I wanted to say, “NO, I am depressed and extremely anxious – which is a medical condition – but thank you for your insight.”

LH: So what is the most helpful thing people can do for someone that has depression and anxiety.

AJ: Don’t change how you act around them. I feel like everyone thinks that I am so fragile. I may cry, but it is not because of anything you did. Plus, don’t be afraid to talk about my Prozac, because it is saving lives. That’s the stigma we need to be talking about.

LH: What have you learned about medication as it relates to antidepressants?

AJ: It does not change you as a person. I am trying to return to my normal brain chemistry. It takes a really long time to find the right balance. It is not a quick fix. It can takes months. But once you figure it out, it is life saving. The panic attacks are what motivated me to want to take medicine. I might have been able to power through the depression, but you can’t hide a panic attack. When one sets in, I literally stand in the middle of the room and lose my shit. During the most severe attack, I was shaking uncontrollably. I felt like my knees were going to give out and I could not breathe. My teeth were chattering and I was sobbing uncontrollably.

LH:  Is saying out loud that you are sick hard?

AJ: It’s hard to explain to people that don’t understand it. People can have nervous habits and assume that is the same as an anxiety. That is not what a serious anxiety disorder is like.

LH: How do you think that God is going to use this in your life?

AJ: Well, I am thankful that this happened in 10th grade and I can learn how to handle it, so HELLO DUKE. I won’t have to come home from college.

(this would be when I fell off the chair laughing…she has not lost her wit)

Now, I have a greater understanding of not just depression, but deep hopelessness. I think this will be a connecting point with people. And even as common as it is, it is still taboo to talk about it in our society.

LH: How do we start to break the shame cycle associated with mental health disorders?

AJ: In teenagers, I think it starts with parents. Parents don’t talk to their kids about it. And if you don’t acknowledge that you have an issue or your grandma has an issue or your best friend has an issue, people are not willing to reach out. It’s seen as shameful. For me, it was a little easier because you and dad have always been upfront about our family history.

LH: So send us out with one final message. What does the world need to know about anxiety and depression in teens?

AJ: Don’t be stupid. I’m cool with questions. But there are also answers to many basic questions on WebMD. Read up. There are also better questions. Rather than “Are you better?” try asking things like “Have you had a good week?” This is a day to day, hour to hour condition. Even on medicine, I have days where the panic attacks are not under control. It is frustrating. I knew it was not going to be an instant fix, but I can have a good day and think I am getting better and the next day I will have a terrible panic attack. Your thought in that moment is ‘I thought I was better.’ That is the frustrating reality.

I’m not sure that I could be more proud. She is doing this. She is fighting for her life. AND she will not be silent. There are so many turns and twists that set you up for guilt and hiding with mental illness. I am so proud that she is throwing up her middle finger in the face of secrets. THIS GIRL. To have her courage…













The Diagnosis

We did not have to wait until January. I persisted. I annoyed. I checked for cancellations and then checked again. We walked into the specialist office on a Wednesday afternoon and it was heavy. The waiting room was full. The patients and parents were in various stages of holding on. We filled out paper work. We took vitals. The nurse interviewed us. The doctor called us back. We were already more than 30 minutes into the appointment when the doctor wanted to speak to each of us alone. He asked questions and I did my best to answer them. AJ did the same.

Just sitting in the office was exhausting and worrisome and hard. After more than an hour and a half, he assembled the care team and we sat across the desk. As he kindly explained the names, symptoms, treatment options and goals, I looked and tried to listen. I did. And it all began to sink in. Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder are hard to hear. They come with a wealth of preconceived baggage, most of which I know far too much about.

Here is the truth. This is one of the hardest, darkest, scariest things that I have ever walked through. Having your child in the fetal position because it is raining outside and knowing that there is not one thing that you can do to help them, is the worst. The absolute worst. Knowing that while you tucked her safely in her bed, at any point in the night she could get up, sit alone all night in fear or worse yet harm herself is the nightmare of all nightmares for parents.

But equally as terrifying are the whispers. The comments about the way that you are handling this or treating that. The advice from perhaps well meaning, yet completely insensitive people that have a lotion, potion, book, prayer or idea that just may help her “snap out” of it – they are all so very helpful. Can I just have a moment?

I want every parent to think about your best friend’s kiddos. If tomorrow, they were diagnosed with cancer or a debilitating disease, what would you do? I would read up. I would offer to keep their other kids. I would check in. I would send prayer texts. I would rally on their behalf in the community. I would sell little rubber bracelets to help offset medical cost and provide research. All of this because when our people are hurting, we are too.

But something different happens with metal health issues. When we hear about someone that is cutting or has attempted suicide or is paralyzed by panic to the point of debilitating pain, we don’t know what to say. We avoid. We give them “space.” If AJ had left school for major surgery or a broken bone, we would have had posters and cards and banners on the lawn. Instead, the awkward looks in Target started. And the smile and wave and ‘pretend we are running late in HEB’ become the norm.

We did not cause her depression. She did not choose to have panic attacks – and for clarification in case you have not ever experienced a real panic attack – imagine a heart attack, not a nail bitting horror movie. We cannot make this go away. It is not like strep where you take 7 days of antibiotics and you are better. These are real, serious, life threatening, life changing conditions. Ones that may take years to treat and a lifetime to control. So we wake up and show up and live.

Because this is what we do, we will be bold and prayerful and hold tight to each other. We will take care of our souls with good self care and eating and even the dreaded exercise. We will see our doctors and take our meds. We will find ways to cope when life seems unmanageable. And we will do it with honest, truthful, messy stories, which you will get to hear for yourself from bravest 15 year old I know – tomorrow.


The Unknown Path

The next morning, I called for our next steps. Doctors offices are special. I think there should be a private line for those moments that you really need a little extra grace – when your child is in crisis and you call for an appointment because you need to be seen yesterday. Unfortunately, the person on the other end of the phone that day did not get the memo.

“Our first available appointment is in January.”

Are you freaking kidding me?!?!? This was not an option. I may not have the power to heal. I may not know the tests to run. I may have no knowledge of the body systems that are not operating up to their full potential, but I knew one thing. I am momma and you WILL help us.

I called the village. I called the pediatrician. I called family, co-workers and co-parents. If you answered my phone calls that day, you received the wrath of a mom on a mission. There was no way we could wait until January for a diagnosis. Her energy was gone. She was so fatigued that she could hardly keep her head up to function. She was so terrified for the symptoms to become fodder for public consumption at the high school, that leaving the house became a task of epic proportion. “What if?” became the measure by which all plans were made.

There were a few things we knew to do. We could meet with teachers. We could run blood work. We would make a plan for make up work. All of these seemed reasonable and normal. That’s what you do when your kid is sick, right? You keep pushing forward and asking for help and seeking experience from those that have gone before.

In moments like this, your village is confirmed. There is little time for extra phone calls and certainly no energy for small talk. Your days are consumed with survival. Literally, it starts with questions like can she make it to school this morning? Would it be better to try and go for 4th & 5th period so she can attend a lecture in chemistry? I know she cannot eat, but what about a smoothie? Would that help her keep some energy? Every. Little. Decision. It all matters. It is all significant. And when you spend your day making little and hard and important decisions, you have very little left for carpools and weekend events and dinners out and drama.

But the village that gets you. Oh, the village.

They are wise. They are honest. They are true. They don’t ask the same thing over and over. They show up with smiles and no demands. They say things like ‘please DON’T come to this’ or ‘let me do that.’ And on the day that the teacher that isn’t helpful sends a crappy email or the 5th doctor says they can’t see you for weeks, they wrap you in a Coke and take your youngest on adventures. All of these villagers are my angels.

But there comes a day. A day when the everything that was, is no longer. When you look at the unknown that is tomorrow and you realize that what we saw as next, just weeks ago, looks very different now. This day was real.

Because you think that the talent and creativity and brains and work ethic and determination of your fierce family unit will be able to power through whatever diagnosis may come. And sure, we are still standing, but we look a little different now. One of the hardest days came when the reality of “normal” shifted.

Unable to complete a full day of school for almost 2 weeks, we began to face the reality that 7 1/2 hour school days, participation in 2 varsity extracurricular activities and 2 AP classes did not allow for healing and rest. Just keeping doctor’s appointments and having tests run were preventing success in traditional school. While doctors had clearly said that she was not well enough to attend classes and they would gladly excuse them, the bottom line was that keeping up was not happening.

I was driving to Austin with a friend when Lucas received word from the school denying her homebound services and requesting to have access to her medical records to properly clarify the services that they could offer to accommodate her needs. That was the decision maker. We have a great public school system. We feel beyond fortunate to have great educators and leadership in our district. Our children have been challenged and have gained so much from their schools. They worked, until they did not.

No school can be expected to meet the needs of thousands of students. It is just not possible. And until that point, our kid’s needs were met. But on that day, I knew that the situation had changed and we needed another choice. So as a team, Hilbrich strong, we made the decision to change course. And I need to be really honest here. It was one of the toughest days. It was one of those days that as a mom you know that this is going to be a significant moment, one way or another. What had always been a place of success and giftedness had become a place of illness and stress. It was time to choose a different path. A path that felt lonely. A path that would be second and third and fourth guessed. But I knew we had to do it. So, we did. Together.







There is Something Wrong

Someone asked me last week if I was still writing. The answer is yes, but I have not been able to press “publish” on anything that has come out of my heart in the last few weeks. I think you need to know why, but this story is full and unfinished and hard. I have debated not telling it. I have wanted to keep it to myself until it was wrapped up in a pretty package and the happily ever after was known.

But here is what I know. That’s not me. I don’t do cleaned up and polished and fancy. I do messy and authentic and real. While this is my story, it also belongs to my family, so it has taken time to put into words the group journey. We are a team. I want the next few blog posts to reflect a corporate journey. You will hear from other voices. You will hear honesty. And you will also hear truth. Sometimes, truth hurts and burns and aches. It is my prayer that this truth can open and inspire and create more healing in our family and in yours. Here is our journey:

I can remember sitting in the waiting room. I knew that something was not right, but I was hoping that the pediatrician that we have seen since her birth would have the answers. She was scared. I was pretending to be strong. I said all of the right mom things. Calmly, I assured her that we would get to the bottom of this. As the nurse walked us to the scale and took her vitals, I felt an overwhelming since of inadequacy.

As a parent, you are charged with mastery. Say what you want about just doing your best, but there are some things for which we are not given that option. Our kids require nutrition. Our kids deserve healthcare. Our kids need to know they are safe. There are many things that we can debate, like cellphone use and internet access, but good parents see food, wellness and safety as high priorities.

We can work hard. We can give them a lovely house in a safe neighborhood in the suburbs. We can encourage friendships. We can control their community. We can even mastermind their teachers and churches and sports and music lessons. We can do all the things right. And yet, things can still go so wrong. If you have ever had a child that was sick, you know that you cannot guarantee health. You can promise them the best medical care your money and doctors can offer, but sometimes the answers are not quick, the cure is not available and the only sure bet is that they are loved, no matter what.

There was a reality that settled in as we sat in the doctor’s office that day. I could not save her. This was completely out of my control. I was about to enter into a territory that I never wanted to learn about. If you have never had this moment as a parent, I pray you never do. Things only got worse as we were escorted to the tiny room where we would meet with the doctor. The waiting was bad, but as the doctor entered, I could FEEL the tension in the room rise. Her tension. My tension. What if…?

The doctor spoke so calmly. The words were not complicated or confusing. On the surface it seemed so simple, but it was far from it.

We need to run some tests.

You need to see a specialist. 

These are appropriate, good next steps. But they were terrifying. All I could hear in my mom brain was I KNEW IT. At my core – in my quietest moment – my knower knew that somethings was not ok. And the doctor knew it, too.

As we walked from the office that day, we entered a new world. One that I was not ready for. One that I could have handled had it been me. But it wasn’t. It was my 7 pound 1 ounce baby girl. The one that I could hold and help. The one that I could feed and soothe. The one that could melt the heart of anyone in her midst – both as a 2 year old and a 15 year old. And there was not one damn thing that I could do to change where this road was headed. So much for the super power of a mom.