The moment that 10-year-old Madison Edwards found out that her sister and step dad were being taken away, she began to realize her childhood innocence would be coming to an end.
One night, her stepfather, Kevin, was holding her 4-month-old sister Shae during a thunderstorm to help calm her down. Their dog, Snoopy, was equally as terrified as baby Shae by the storm. Snoopy kept frantically running around the house and then it happened.
“My dad tripped over the dog while he was running around and my sister ended up hitting her head on the wall and ended up with brain bleeds. Unfortunately it was decided by the court that my stepdad did it on purpose and was trying to hurt her, which I never believed for a second because he is literally the nicest guy in the world,” Edwards said.
For two months Shae was put into a foster care and Kevin had to leave the house putting Jen, Maddie’s mom, into a spiraling depression.
“She was very depressed obviously. Her child got taken away and her husband was accused of hurting her child. That would tear anyone down. But unfortunately, I was still there and I had to deal with the aftermath of not having my sister there and not having my amazing father figure there, and also not having my mom. Even though she was in the next room, she wasn’t really there,” Edwards said.
She had no other choice but to grow up quickly and take care of her. She would get herself up in the morning, make breakfast, get herself ready for school, come home from school, make dinner, do her homework and get herself ready for bed.
Sometimes she slept on the bathroom floor because it was the closest to her mom’s room that she could get – not being allowed in her actual room.
When Shae and Kevin came back two months later, Jen had snapped out of her depression and went back to her motherly self. After two years of being a family again, Jen was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
This disease led Jen with blind eyes down a dark, excruciating painful path.
People who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis often cannot move and get out of bed in the morning, not because they don’t feel well, but because their body is in so much pain that they physically can’t move.
“When you first get something like that, your body doesn’t know how to adjust to it. So you’re freaking out, your body is freaking out, and you’re just in so much pain. So she was prescribed medications trying to figure out and help the pain. Unfortunately the medications she was put on by her doctor got her addicted to it,” Edwards said.
During a four-month period of her mother abusing drugs, 12-year-old Edwards was doing all she could to help her sister while Kevin tried to help Jen.
“It wasn’t any fault of hers. It wasn’t like she was going out and seeking drugs because she wanted to get high. It was something that a doctor prescribed to her and somehow that made the situation even worse than we could have ever imagine it. She just spiraled and spiraled and once she hit rock bottom we all felt it,” she said.
On top of dealing with her home life, Edwards was being bullied by kids at school and never made many close friends to help keep her spirits high.
“Think about kids who are bullied. They go to school and get bullied and then come home and their parents are telling them to not listen to them and tell them that they are great, that they aren’t a failure, and that nothing is wrong with them. It helped them bounce back. But for me, I didn’t really have that many friends at school and then I would come home and it was even worse at home because my mom would tell me all the things she disliked about me and everything that I was doing wrong and it did get into my head and I started to believe it,” she said.
At 12 years old, Maddie was being broken down everyday and had no place to escape to. She knew that she had to suck it up and push her feelings aside because she had a 2-year-old little sister and she wanted to protect her and be there for her since her mom wasn’t capable of doing that.
After four months of abusing drugs, Jen lost her job and nursing licenses for stealing medication at the hospital she was working at.
“I started having pain that the doctors couldn’t figure out what it was, and then I started taking meds. I soon realized that is was not just my physical pain that I was medicating, it was emotional pain as well. I remember when it all got away from me and then I knew that I was in trouble,” her mother said.
Jen knew that her drug abuse had gotten out of hand and checked herself in to get some help. After a week of being eased off these medications, she started to get back to her old loving self.
“When I was at the retreat, I took one of Shae’s stuffed animals and one of Maddie’s and Kevin’s T-shirt and I had it all wrapped up in a ball and I would sleep with it every night because they were my motivation,” Jen said beginning to cry.
When she came home and everything was back to normal, Edwards was soon hit with all her depression she had been bottling up. Since she had hid her depression from her family, nobody had known the extent of the damage that was caused by her mother’s depression and drug abuse.
“Nobody saw it. I hid my depression for a long time. I was doing a lot of self-harming. It started out when I was 13 and I would do things like squeeze my arm really really hard. I would dig my nails into my skin. Nothing drastic, but once I started getting more and more depressed, I was using self harming as like a punishment for myself because I was being told by everybody everywhere, meaning my mom and kids at school that I was doing things wrong and that I was a disappointment,” she said.
She didn’t have the responsibility of Shae anymore since her mother was back on her feet. She then had no reason to be strong anymore and she began to crumble.
“I started cutting myself with Xacto knives because I did a lot of art and I had a lot of them around. I saw a knife one day and I just decided that it was what I was going to use. For a year, I was cutting myself every few hours every single day,” she said.
One day, she woke up and decided that she didn’t want to be alive anymore.
She truly believed she didn’t deserve to live.
“So I started trying to figure out how to do that and at the age of 15 I was mapping out how I was going to kill myself,” she said.
But she decided instead to tell her mom that she needed to go get help. Jen didn’t believe the extent of her depression since her daughter never spoke a word of this matter, but she loved her daughter and brought her to get professional help.
The doctors went through procedural questions for suicidal patients and when he asked her how she was going to kill herself, she left them speechless with her plan. She had told the doctor and her mom that she had looked up all the arteries on the Internet and that she was going to just start slicing until she hit the right one and bled to death.
Edwards started the process of receiving help that day.
She was hospitalized on two different weeklong occasions in 2011.
“What killed me the most was that Maddie was being bullied and I had no idea that she was being bullied and Kevin didn’t know either. So when we found out that she had been cutting and that she was really depressed and everything, that was believe it or not the lowest point because I knew hat I had some responsibility in that,” said Jen.
After getting help on two different occasions, she finally broke through and made tremendous progress.
“That was probably the only place that could have saved my life. It’s places like that that can pull people out of their darkest days of their lives because that is what it did for me,” she said
Brooke Naylor has been Maddie’s best friend since they met in their nursing class freshman year.
“Maddie’s life has really shaped the person that she is today. All the things that she has gone through have made her one of the strongest people I know,” Naylor said.
Edwards’ mother and sister are beyond thankful for everything that Kevin has and continues to do for them. It takes a loving dad and husband to do the things that he went through for his family.
Kevin discussed what it was like going through this as a family member, and he is truly a dedicating, loving, father and husband.
“Until you’re in the middle of that, you can’t understand what anyone is going through, and I couldn’t understand what Jen was going through in her head. We definitely didn’t know how much it was affecting Maddie, at least not initially. It took a few years for that to come to head and it finally revealed itself. But by then it was kind of too late,” Kevin said.
Her sister Shae has no recollection of anything that has happened in the past, nor the fact that she was taken away. But she does know how much her sister loves her by being a second mother to her all her life. After asking what Shae thought of her older sister, she spoke her gratitude and love for Maddie like she had rehearsed it all her life.
“You’re an amazing sister and I couldn’t ask for anyone else because you are supportive and so nice and have never once been mean to me.”
These days, Edwards is pretty happy. And focused. And thankful.
“Six years ago I wanted to be dead and now I want to save people’s lives. Everything is temporary. That is my favorite thing to say. Pain is temporary, discomfort is temporary, anxiety is temporary, and it all goes away. You just need to tell yourself that because it is true. It can just take some time,” she said.