At The E.R.

The ambulance driver and I made small talk as he transported us to the Emergency Room. Lights and sirens were not used on our drive, and I was thankful. He told me that, in his experience, drivers did strange things when they saw an ambulance on the road.

Most notably, he said, when a situation is emergent (using lights and sirens) people tend to not see him or just don’t move out of the way as the law dictates. Ironically, he noted that when there are no loud sirens or flashing lights, other drivers tend to give him a wide berth.

I tried hard to stay engaged in the conversation. It helped to fight the rising nausea in my stomach, the indistinguishable thoughts in my head, and the constant threat that my heart kept making: that all of this was simply and ridiculously too much, and it would soon just give up and shut down.

My daughter was a few feet behind me in the ambulance, separated by the cab wall, but strapped safely to a gurney and attended to by competent emergency personnel. I could only imagine what she was experiencing, how scared she must be, if she – like me – was wondering just how all of this had happened and where things went from here. Did she too feel a sharp mixture of fear, dread, relief, and hope?

I wanted to be with her, to reassure her that she was not alone among strangers, to promise that I would not leave her to fend for herself. After all this time, I still wanted desperately to know that I could hold her and make everything okay again. I couldn’t. I couldn’t hold her, and I couldn’t make everything okay. But I so wanted to.

ER Ambulance Bay

(Photo Source: Google Images)

We reached the bay doors of the ER and I watched my daughter, on her gurney, come out of the back of the ambulance. She was wheeled in through the automatic doors and I followed closely behind, gratefully noting the kind interactions and well-wishes of the EMTs as they spoke with her and shared their goodbyes.

She was taken back to an evaluation area set up for situations just like ours. There were a few patient rooms with large windows for easy observation. Mini-blinds were sandwiched inaccessibly between two panes of  (presumably unbreakable) glass and doors were double hinged to prevent tampering and escape.

The rooms were Spartan in their appearance, leaving nothing to chance when it came to patients who were making physical threats or experiencing suicidal ideations or other mental health crises.

There was a small central area which the rooms surrounded, a place where nurses and guards could keep a watchful eye on those who were unstable, who were a very possible threat to themselves or others.

It was sobering to realize this was a necessity at our local Children’s Hospital.

I remember walking out to a large, public waiting room to call my daughter’s therapist. I needed to let her know what was happening, and to cancel the next afternoon’s appointment.

Hospital Waiting Room

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I dared to wish for understanding and empathy from another adult who grasped the intensity, depth, and true severity of my daughter’s plight.

How grateful I was when she offered words of sympathy and encouragement. I was comforted by the fact that she wasn’t surprised by our current turn of events.

It helped me understand that I had not failed, that I was not incompetent and thus unable to keep my daughter safe at home. I was reassured to know that the professional who knew my daughter best agreed with my assessment and decision to call 911 and take her to the Emergency Room for a mental health evaluation.

My ex-husband had arrived and we began a long wait. I think we likely both felt a natural though unrealistic hope that now that we were here in the ER, now that she knew this wasn’t a joke and when you threaten suicide, adults take it seriously … now she would just come to her senses and stop with the crazy talk already. Unrealistic indeed.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

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Care Enough

Her words left me speechless and heartbroken. I finally sputtered out a few things I’m sure were better left unsaid. I can do that when I’m not sure what to say. Not that I’m proud of it, it’s just what I do sometimes.

I had been asked to speak with a group of single moms, to share my story and offer my perspective on hope and beauty in the midst of struggle. That’s something every single mom wants to know exists. Every parent wants to know it. Every person wants to know it.

When I speak to groups, I don’t hold back much. I tell the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am a firm believer that we all need to know we are not in this mess and muck alone.

There are wounded and brave souls surrounding all of us, ready to help carry our burdens while still struggling to stand up under the weight of their own. It’s a wonder to witness. It’s a privilege to partake. We all have the capacity to become wounded healers if we are willing to accept the painfully glorious task that it is.

helping others

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I had told these women about the day I’d had to call 911 on my suicidal teenage daughter. She had spent months descending into a place of darkness and turmoil, and had reached the point where she no longer wanted to be there, to be here, to be alive.

I’d watched her beautiful self lose light and life and the will to live. I had tried, we had tried, so hard to make sense of it, to look ahead and see any glimmer of light, to swim to the top of the abyss and break the surface of the water for a deep breath of clean air.

It wasn’t working. She wasn’t living. Her deepening depression was killing her as I looked helplessly on. So I had called for help.

And I told these weary, heart-hungry moms about the seven armed policemen who had responded to my 911 call, how they walked up the stairway to my daughter’s room to intervene on behalf of life, of her life.

I shared that as terrifying as that moment was and as quickly as its memory brings me to ruin, it was necessary. It was the awful beauty that was needed in that very moment. It was a terrifying early step on the road to assuring my daughter’s safety. I loved her. I had no other choice.

There were plenty of other things I talked about that Saturday morning, but as I sat down to lunch one young mother approached me falteringly.

“I was your daughter,” she said. “I was just like her. Well, I didn’t cut myself like she did, but everything else you said about her, that was me. For a long time, when I was younger and living in my parents’ home, that was me.”

I nodded and smiled sadly, understanding the depth of pain that leads someone to such a place of despair.

“You told that story about all the policemen going up your stairs, you know? About when your daughter wasn’t okay and you knew it so you called 911 for help?”

She paused.

“I wish someone had cared enough to do that for me.”

* * * * *

If someone you know is in crisis, please do not deny or ignore the need. Please do not worry about how it might reflect on you as a parent, friend, family member, or partner. Please know that making a suicidal person mad at you is the least of everyone’s concerns. Do it. Call for help even if they get mad.

In the United States you or your loved one in crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).

suicide prevention lifeline

(Courtesy: www.afsp.org)

Many US cities offer community assistance by dialing 211. There you can find resources to help with substance abuse or addiction, self-harm, mental illness, and any number of situations, such as emergency shelter or help getting school supplies for your child.

Whether you live in the US or elsewhere, find and keep handy emergency numbers, as well as the information for your local mental health center. Here is a list of some international resources to get you started.

“Wait and see” is not an acceptable practice when someone’s life is at stake.

If you come upon a car accident, you don’t stop and wait to see if someone loses a limb before you call 911. If you are with someone experiencing chest pains and arm numbness, you don’t wait to see if a heart attack is really going to occur. You call at the first hint of need, as soon as you spot the crisis.

People dealing with mental health issues deserve the same consideration and assistance.

Care enough to give it.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

“That Family”

My daughter was given a choice by the policemen who had climbed the stairs to where she was waiting in her room: she could go with them and willingly enter the ambulance waiting in our driveway, or they could “help” her down and into the ambulance if she preferred. From there she would be transported to the Emergency Room for an evaluation due to her threats of suicide.

As an officer came downstairs and relayed this to me, I was beyond relieved and somewhat surprised when he told me that she had agreed to go of her own volition. I didn’t ask what kind of “help” she would have received had she resisted. At that point I didn’t really care.

I only knew that for her own safety she was going to the Emergency Room whether she wanted to or not, and I welcomed any help or means to get her there.

ambulance

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I must clarify that the policemen in our home that day were kind and empathetic. I did not feel in any way that my daughter or I were being threatened, bullied, or coerced. (Trust me, if I had thought any of those tactics would have worked up to that point, I would likely have used them myself!) These gentle men were respectful and compassionate, and I will always be thankful for the calm and reassuring assistance they gave us.

I watched as my middle child came meekly down the stairs with her escorts in blue. By this time a few of the initial seven had dispersed (even though some had only waited in the hallway outside her bedroom), but I was struck by the timidity of her gait and demeanor.

I imagined what fear I would have felt had I been in her position, hearing and seeing a line of uniformed policemen who had come directly in response to her threats and anger. This made me both thankful and heartbroken for the passive end to her tumultuous fury.

As I’ve said before, I believe that although my daughter’s rage and wrath had escalated sharply over the past months, part of her was aching desperately for help. The larger part of her was loud, threatening, accusatory, and fond of obscenities and self harm. But undoubtedly she was still crying out to be rescued from the darkness engulfing her.

 help (google)

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Despite the trauma of a 911 call and the police officers gathered in our living room, as I watched my daughter quietly make her way to the front door I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, we could finally get the help she needed. I allowed myself to wonder if perhaps soon she would be safe.

I quickly gathered my purse and a jacket and followed the line of all those going outside. The ambulance personnel carefully strapped my now submissive teen’s small frame to a gurney and lifted her into their medical room on wheels. I was directed to the front of the ambulance, where I was to ride next to the driver.

I was dazed and shaken as I climbed helplessly into the ambulance’s cab, heartbroken to leave my youngest daughter behind. She was in the good care of her step-sister, but it all felt so wrong and inconceivable to me.

Why could I not be in two places at one time? How could I choose between which of my children needed me most? I couldn’t. The choice was made for me, and had been building to this moment for so many long weeks, even months.

This couldn’t be real. We couldn’t be “that family”, the one that all the neighbors would now be talking about, recounting how many police cars had been parked in front of our house next to the ambulance, wondering and whispering about why they’d been summoned there in the first place.

 gossip

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I knew I was as helpless to quell any neighborhood gossip as I had been to help my daughter rise to the surface of her depression. It was another in a long line of things I simply had to let go of in order to concentrate on whatever was ahead.

None of us knew what would happen next, but it was more than clear that something had to change.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Semantics

I directed my ex-husband up the stairs to our daughter’s bedroom. “Turn right at the top of the stairs and go straight back.”  When he went in to talk with her, my step-daughter came downstairs to allow them privacy.

It seemed like hours, but it wasn’t. I went up after a bit to see if he’d been able to calm her down as he’d seemed sure he could. Admittedly, I was frustrated that he’d mistrusted my assessment of the situation, that he’d inferred I was overreacting, that he’d assumed he could step in and fix it all.

And I was angry with myself, that I’d basically allowed him to talk me out of trusting my gut, to think that I’d been misreading the darkening situation of the past few months. I hadn’t. I knew my daughter’s threat of suicide was very real.

I also knew that there was no space in this situation for annoyances between ex-spouses. Thankfully, the urgency I felt helped focus my attention on my daughter and getting her the help she needed. There was no room for growing irritation, only for ensuring her safety.

After a while of leaving them time together and checking in two or three times, there was no improvement in my daughter’s demeanor. I picked up the phone to call 911. My ex-husband still didn’t like the idea, but I announced my intention and felt there was no need for further conversation. By this time he simply said, “Okay.”

911 2

(Photo Source: Google Images)

“Do you need lights and sirens?” The 911 dispatcher’s question took me by surprise.

“What? No. She’s traumatized enough; there is absolutely no need for lights or sirens screaming through the neighborhood. Please don’t use them.”

“Well, is she safe? Like, can she pull out a weapon quickly and hurt herself?”

“She hasn’t been allowed to be alone for four days. There is someone with her all the time, right next to her, and there will be until you get here. So no, she hasn’t hidden a weapon she can pull out to kill herself. But we need some help here. Fast.”

I hung up the phone as the first police car arrived. I willed my mind and body to be calm, though I don’t know how well they cooperated. It all becomes rather relative when armed police officers begin filing through your front door.

I was first explaining the situation to the police, next directing them up the stairs, then busy answering their questions alongside my ex-husband. I still don’t know why  they needed to have my work address that day, but I’m sure they had their reasons. And I’m sure I almost got the address right. Almost.

“There were seven of them, Mom.” My younger daughter told me this later, well after the fact. “There were?” “Yes. Seven really big cops. With guns. Walking up our stairs to her room. I counted.”

I don’t doubt this.

My heart breaks even now as I recall my younger daughter that awful afternoon. She was, in my mind anyway, somewhat glued to my step-daughter’s side. I was thankful she had that place of safety. I knew my step-daughter was a wise and compassionate woman who would care well for her younger step-sister while the rest of us worked to intervene on behalf the older.

If I close my eyes now I can still see my younger daughter back then, somehow smaller than her real self, trembling and weeping as she wondered what would happen next. She, too, had witnessed her sister’s decline, at least in part. I had tried hard to shield her from what I could, and I had succeeded in part. But only in part.

At that moment, the trauma was overwhelming and far too real for a young girl who had turned fourteen only a few weeks earlier. She was keenly aware of much that her sister was experiencing. And while their relationship had been justifiably unstable in the prior months, her awareness of the gravity of the situation still saddens me to this day.

It’s hard enough to be a young teen with no memory of your parents’ marriage, only the weekly trade-off of time between two homes; to have a strong memory of watching your step-father die and seeing the world as you know it come to a screeching halt. It’s hard going to new schools, making new friends, trying to figure out who you are and what life is all about in the often confusing teenage years.

Add to that the fact that your sister, often mistaken for your twin, has mental health issues that are literally driving her to destruction and in many ways holding your family hostage. What’s left to do except count the number of really big cops marching up the stairs to haul away your suicidal sibling?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Photo Source: Google Images)

In all fairness, the police officers were of average size. They just looked terrifyingly large. And they were not there to haul anyone away. They were there to intervene and save a life. But in the midst of such overwhelming dread, those things are just semantics, details that grow exponentially in a mind filled with fear.

I know this because in my mind’s eye, those seven men may as well have been giants.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Point of No Return

I don’t know that anything in particular set her off . It’s just that, in general, she wanted to die.

That President’s Day is a blur in a lot of ways, but in others it’s marked indelibly on my mind. Parenting books simply don’t prepare you for calling 911 on your suicidal child.

We drove home from church that Monday afternoon after my two daughters and I had had a family picture taken for the church directory. And while I’d wanted to do nothing for four days except throw up from the anxiety of keeping a suicide watch on my 15-year-old daughter, what I was feeling surely couldn’t compare to her struggles.

My step-daughter had so kindly agreed to stay a third and final night with us. Her young family was waiting patiently for her to get back home, while we were just trying to get through another afternoon alive. Literally.

My older daughter was still not allowed to be alone. She was under strict orders to be with someone 24/7. It was the compromise she and her therapist had come to the Friday before, a last-ditch option to keep her from being hospitalized on a “3 day”, a 72-hour mental health hold.

clock-partial

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I had chosen to ignore the blaring voice in my head that had told me she should in fact go to the psych ward instead. I had chosen to take her home on Friday, even though I was more uncertain than certain that I could keep her safe.

For months I had watched depression, rage, and anxiety take the life from her eyes and replace it with a deep black void that defied definition. I had listened with fear and confusion as she told me that she hated to hear people tell her they loved her or supported her. She insisted this only made her feel more alone, more judged, more like a hate-filled failure who wanted to die.

I had bandaged her bloody arms, washed her blood-stained clothing, and tried to find any support or help from anyone I could.

It wasn’t working. I was afraid of her state of mind, afraid of what she would do.

I went up to her room late Monday afternoon, where her step-sister sat with her, and posed the questions I’d learned to ask on a semi-regular basis: Do you feel safe? Do you want to hurt yourself? Do you want to kill yourself?

“If you people would just leave me alone at all I would kill myself!” she screamed.

I’m sure there were a few other choice words thrown in, but the fact remained. Despite any and all interventions up to that point, despite a small respite of silly laughter only a couple of hours earlier, despite the availability of resources and people who loved and wanted to assist her, my daughter insisted that she wanted to die. And she was furious that we would not let her.

girl with noose

(Photo Source: Google Images)

She shrieked obscenities and hate in my direction that day, but more heartbreaking to me were the hate-filled accusations she hurled at her step-sister, who had known her for more than half her fifteen years. My step-daughter had loved and supported my children since meeting them, and she’d held them even more dearly since her father’s death less than two years earlier.

This fury was a sure sign that although my daughter was standing right in front of me, she was nowhere to be found.

The rage and darkness were palpable. Her threats and accusations hung in the air as the bottom dropped out of my world. This was the point of no return. At that moment, the tiniest shred of hope of keeping her safe within the walls of our home disappeared. I knew I had to call 911.

I decided that I would make a quick to call her dad first, as a courtesy. If the roles were reversed, I’d certainly want him to call me and let me know he was going to have an ambulance come for our daughter. It seemed the right thing to do.

“No, don’t do that. She’ll be okay. Just give her a chance to calm down,” he said. No matter how I’d tried, I had not seemed to be able to make him comprehend how she had been deteriorating the past months. She’d held herself together when she was with him, apparently, so to try to describe her increasing rages and despair to him had been a futile effort.

“She is not calming down. She’s getting worse as the day goes on. She has said outright that she wants us to leave her alone so that she can kill herself,” I insisted.

“Well, then I’ll come over and talk to her,” he replied, seemingly confident that I was mistaken in my assessment of the situation.

Not really knowing what to think, do, or feel anymore, frightened and too worn down on every side to say anything else, I responded with a resigned sigh. “Okay. Hurry.”

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013