On Thin Ice

The weeks following my daughter’s release from her first mental health hold were a tenuous mix of hope and dread. I was hopeful the change of medication would help stabilize her, and at the same time I was terrified that the change of medication would not help stabilize her. Worse yet, I was afraid the change of medication would aggravate her already fragile demeanor.

It felt as if we were walking on thin ice, fearing a web of cracks with each step.

Walking_On_Thin_Ice_by_X_ample

(Photo Source)

My daughter returned to school, and it’s hard to say whose nerves were more frayed. Returning to classes and trying to explain to her peer group all that had happened could not have been easy for her.

I still had daily worries about her younger sister and the volatility within which we were all living. It was clear that, although the five days in the psych ward had helped to temporarily steady the crisis we were facing, our predicament was by no means resolved.

Soon enough the unpredictable and explosive episodes returned. The fragile and subdued girl who left the behavioral center after a psych eval was gone. In her place once again was a struggling teen unable to manage the emotional eruptions that plagued her.

There were necessary boundaries I was continuing to implement for her safety and my sanity, but I tried to allow my daughter time for friends. Though the dynamics of those friendships were not what I would have chosen (for any of them), I wanted to honor her need for her own identity and self-discovery. It seemed to be an integral part of the solution for her, but only if done in a healthy way.

I offered to drive them to the local ice skating rink or make our home available for their gatherings. All offers were declined, sometimes with a dismissive or angry attitude, sometimes with what seemed like abject hopelessness.

I tried to arrange my work schedule so that I could pick her up at school not too long after classes ended for the day. Getting in enough work hours could be difficult, and there were days she would call me filled with rage, demanding I pick her up right away.

on the phone

(Photo Source)

I wasn’t often able to leave early, though if I felt she was not emotionally safe, I would try to head out as soon as possible for the half hour drive. Memories and thoughts of her self inflicted wounds were never far from my mind.

It could be tough to know the right thing to do: Was she trying to manipulate me with her anger, expecting me to respond to her every whim? Or was she truly incapable of regulating her emotions, succumbing to the darkness that enveloped her like a cloud?

The answer to both questions was a resounding yes.

I was often confused by the seesaw of emotions I witnessed. She would insist that she wanted to stay after school to be with her friends, dramatically declaring that they were the only reason she went to school or kept herself alive. But her insistence about the importance of being with her peers was equally matched by her absolute loathing of them at times.

Life remained utterly unpredictable.

One thing that was relatively unsurprising was my daughter’s therapy sessions. As per the discharge paperwork from her hospitalization, she started seeing a new counselor. Unlike the previous therapist, this one was not located near our home. In all fairness, it wasn’t too terribly far; it just felt that way. The drives there and back were filled with heavy silence or forced, uncomfortable conversation.

What was not a surprise was the refusal from my daughter to fully engage in the help that was available to her. While she would talk on a superficial level with her counselor, she had in truth done nothing but reinforce the brick wall that surrounded her, the wall that she mistakenly felt would protect her from pain and struggle. At times she would even agree with insights her therapist offered, but by her own admission, she simply didn’t care.

Sometimes near the end of her sessions, I was brought into the office and the conversation. It was not unusual for me to watch my daughter sit in stony silence, her arms crossed tightly, her breathing heavy with anger. Her eyes would be filled with rage while she stared at a distant point, as if to will her bodily out of this universe and into one of her own making, one that would soothe her despair and anguish.

Sadly, she was unable to see that she was surrounded by people who truly wanted to help her reach a place of calm and peace. Her depression had convinced her that this was not a possibility for her.

Our lives continued to be lived in the shadow of her illness.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013
https://www.facebook.com/HelpToHope
https://twitter.com/HelpToHope

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Blog For Mental Health 2013

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

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I’m proud to say that I am participating in the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Campaign detailed here at A Canvas of the Minds.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while (well, it’s only been around for a little while), you will know that the focus is on mental health issues, not the least of which is the struggle our family faced when my daughter was a self-harming suicidally depressed teenager.

What you may not know is that I have also dealt with the darkness of depression myself. I reached a place that was so unnervingly and unexpectedly dark that I welcomed the idea of being run over by a bus. Thankfully this happened after I’d been able to get my daughter to the help she needed.

My therapist said I was passively suicidal. I can’t argue with that. It wasn’t as dramatic as the struggle my daughter (and many others) have dealt with, but it was a sobering surprise to find myself there. It’s also been a sobering honor for me to walk though various mental health issues with my kids, including depression, anxiety, and panic, among others.

I am taking the opportunity to publicly display this badge not only so that readers know the focus of my blog, but also to invite you writers whose blogs focus on mental health issues to do the same. Find the info and instructions here if you are interested.

I advocate for people who deal with mental health challenges, and also for those who love and support them. I feel strongly that the stigma of mental health (or mental illness, whichever you choose to call it)  should be confronted and changed.

We do not blame someone whose body becomes diseased. Neither should we blame someone whose brain has an illness. We jump to support someone getting help to manage a physical ailment. We should do the same when a mind or a brain need extra care and treatment.

I am not ashamed of our story; in fact I believe that sharing our stories is one of the most effective forms of education that exists.

There are lots of “us” out here. You won’t really be able to recognize us if you pass us in the grocery store, but we’re there. We’re here. We’re not going anywhere. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you ever find yourself unexpectedly within our ranks, believe me when I tell you these two things are true:

1) None of us planned or expected to be here either. But we are. And that’s okay.

2) You will find some of the most kind, knowledgeable, compassionate, strong, and supportive people in the world walking next to you.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013
https://www.facebook.com/HelpToHope
https://twitter.com/HelpToHope

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.

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(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.

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(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.”

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(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?

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(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.

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(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

Picture Day

The 24/7 vigil for my daughter’s safety continued. It was President’s Day weekend, just a few days past Valentine’s Day. My stepdaughter had been keeping up regularly with the goings-on at our house, and she offered to return home with us after Saturday night’s family dinner celebrating her grandfather’s birthday.

She left her two small children in the care of her more-than-kind husband, and came to offer her support, wisdom, and insight. I will forever be grateful for that gesture of love and caring.

I took advantage of her presence and went in to work for a few hours on Sunday, knowing that the week ahead was unpredictable at best. I could not neglect my work duties, though I could not even guess at what the next days might hold.

President’s Day arrived on Monday and my daughters and I prepared for a scheduled appointment of pictures for the church directory. No one but my stepdaughter, my two daughters, and I knew the incongruous events that were unfolding: self harm and suicidal ideations resulting in a “homebound hospitalization” lockdown, punctuated by curling irons and mascara as we prepared to take a family portrait.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

My stomach was queasy with anxiety, and the whole thing was ironically laughable. But true to form and in imitation of her wonderful father, my stepdaughter brought moments of laughter and fun as we posed in front of the photographer in a corner of the church sanctuary.

She shared private jokes with my daughters under her breath, loud enough for only them to hear and respond with laughter just as the camera snapped. Her presence is a bright spot in the memory of an otherwise truly awful day.

The evening before the four of us had been sprawled in the family room watching a movie together. My “lockdown daughter” has always been an artist at heart. She spent many hours during her most depressed times drawing pictures that may have seemed innocent enough at first glance, but a closer look revealed a dark poem, morbid musings, or subtle death motifs. Other drawings were blatantly filled with death, torture, or self mutilation.

Another theme of her illustrations was the mix of seemingly innocent childhood objects like dolls, teddy bears, and hair bows, with gruesome symbols of death, blood, and suicide. I had been told that drawing those thoughts and images could be a good help for my daughter, that they could aid her in processing some of the difficult issues she was dealing with.

While that was likely true earlier in her struggles, by this time it seemed more of a prophetic sign than a helpful coping mechanism.

 Bloody_doll_ETM_by_Ci_Sy_nestesia

(Photo Credit: http://fav.me/d28qt7c via Google Images)

As we watched TV that Sunday night before Monday’s picture day, my daughter worked intently in her sketchbook. After a while she leaned over and said matter-of-factly, “Here, Mom. Look.” She put in front of me a meticulous drawing she had just made of a young woman lying dead in a pool of blood. Was it a cry for help, or a blatant challenge?

My stepdaughter was preparing to leave and go back to her family after she helped us through our photo appointment early Monday afternoon, but she graciously offered to stay if I needed. I knew how badly she wanted to go home. I knew how badly her family wanted her home. I knew that asking for help even when I should is nearly impossible for me.

But this time, I did. “Please, can you stay just one more night? Just one more?” She agreed, of course, and it was the best thing I could have asked for. As it turns out, after our short drive home from church, all hell broke loose.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

A Friday in February

+++ SELF HARM TRIGGER WARNING+++

*****

“Can you step in to my office, please?” It wasn’t unusual for my daughter’s therapist to ask me back for the final part of the session, so I followed her. My daughter sat sadly in a leather chair, and I took my place next to her.

“She has something she needs to show you.” I was puzzled as my daughter stood part way and started to unzip her jeans. Still hunched over, she pulled down one leg of her jeans further than the other. I winced as my eyes began to water.

There, etched in large, crude letters covering most of her thigh, carved not with a pin but with the thick blunt end of large household scissors: FUCK

My hand instinctively went to my mouth in deep grief. My heart raced and my stomach began to churn with anxiety as my daughter quickly zipped her jeans and sat down.

She had not shown me this damage she had done to herself, and she had purposefully not cleaned the cuts.

I kept thinking how badly it must sting, to have tight denim on the open scrapes she had self-inflicted only the night before. She’d worn those jeans all day; I imagined how every time she’d moved or adjusted her pants, the wounds would have ruptured anew from the bond they’d made to the fabric.

girl in jeans

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Her self harm and self hatred had become unmanageable.

I wanted to scoop my daughter up, to take her home, to clean her wounds and make her pain disappear. But weeks’ worth of trying had made it abundantly clear that such a thing was beyond my capability. And on top of that, my daughter deeply and openly resented going to any type of mental health counseling.

Her stock was placed firmly in the peer group she had chosen, and any efforts to intercede for her safety were complained against. She went to therapy because I made her go, but her emotional loyalties were to those who had taught her about self harm and with whom she was dangerously emotionally enmeshed.

I believe that a small part of her was hoping desperately for help and rescue, though the larger and more visible part of her was resentful and angry at the intrusion of counseling appointments twice or more each week. But what choice does a parent have? It was soberingly clear this was not a phase she would outgrow.

“We’ve been talking,” said her counselor, “and while I think she is right on the cusp of needing to be hospitalized, we have come to a compromise.”

To the best of my understanding, while my daughter was saying she wanted to die, she did not have a specific plan to carry out that desire. And that’s how we ended up in the therapist’s office on a Friday afternoon in February, planning a long holiday weekend of what was basically house arrest.

jailcell door

(Photo Source: Google Images)

“She has to be with someone 24 hours a day. She must sleep, eat, and be in the same room with you all the time. She cannot be alone except for short bathroom breaks.”

My mind raced to take in all the information, envisioning how we would put the plan into action. I’m nothing if not a planner, but even I was overwhelmed by this. “We’ve agreed that if she will stick to this plan, she won’t have to go straight to the hospital when you leave here today.”

I nodded as I looked at my daughter’s therapist, trying to take in the details and instructions, but inside of me there was a thunderous voice of fear and uncertainty: “WHAT??? Are you nuts?!? I think she should be hospitalized! NOW! How can I do this? This is impossible! I cannot keep her safe!!!”

I looked over at my daughter, who had disappeared inside herself. She was definitely angry, but she was more frightened by the thought of actually having to go to the hospital on a mental health hold.

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(Photo Source: majed-ahmad, http://fav.me/d33oeft)

Despite my own fear, I chose to believe the part of her that was the frightened child, the part that felt trapped and afraid and just wanted to go home. So we went home with plans to return in four days.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Uncertain

+++ SELF HARM TRIGGER WARNING +++

*****

“She needs to have her medication changed.” These were the words of the therapist who had been seeing my daughter for a few weeks. “And I’d like to arrange for some testing, too.”

There were mornings when, in a panic, my daughter had had to leave school. Thankfully, on some of those days, I was able to miss work and take my daughter to an emergency therapy appointment. Her dad had even left work a time or two to pick her up and take her when I was unable. Oftentimes she calmed down and was able to return for part of the school day.

crowded high school hallway

(Photo Source: Google Images)

The steepness of her downward spiral was becoming painfully clear. Still, I worried that she was being rescued in an unhealthy way, unsure of what was in her control and what was not. I felt uncertain as to whether she was just manipulating me, or if the bulk of her actions were really symptomatic of things beyond her control.

Was she just trying to get out of classes she didn’t like? She was skipping so many of them anyway that maybe she was just using panic as an excuse. I looked forward to psychological testing, hoping it would provide some answers. I didn’t realize that it would not happen until months down the road.

The anxiety was believed to be caused by medication, thus the therapist’s advice to switch to something else.  The change was made from one SSRI antidepressant to another. The side effects were no different. Panic and anxiety grew. Physical ills plagued my daughter. Depression deepened to a place far beyond blackness. And I began to see more clearly that what she was experiencing was very, very real.

I felt that despite all my best efforts to provide stability after her dad had left years earlier, after my attempts to address and allow for grief following her stepdad’s death less than two years prior, I had failed. Miserably. I only knew that I was at my wit’s end. I had no more ideas, only a deepening panic. My heart broke for her struggle, but I felt powerless.

Anger and rage poured from my mild-mannered, fair-skinned, introverted middle child. Although she was at her dad’s at least pretty much every other weekend and then some, she saved her raging for me. She has come to tell me in the ensuing years that it was a safety issue to her, that she felt I was a safe place for her to unload her fury and frenzy.  At the time, I was simply bewildered and deeply hurt.

angry teen girl (google)

(Photo Source: Google Images)

She self harmed daily with much more than just a single cut. There were times when, after she cut, I would calmly clean and bandage her wounds. I would offer her my tears as a cleansing balm, hoping she would see the love I had for her, and that it would somehow fill the chasm of her need. Other times, I would remain detached and aloof, thinking that if I approached this matter-of-factly, the emotional dysfunction she was seeking to feed would instead be starved out.

Although she often cut while alone in her bed at night, I reminded her that she needed to be sure to clean her wounds to avoid a dangerous infection. (These types of conversations are not covered in parenting books, by the way.) After all, my late husband had succumbed to sepsis, his body unable to fight and overcome a serious infection, which had ultimately taken his life.

While she would at least sometimes attempt to sanitize a cutting instrument with a lighter, the concept of death by infection seemed to somehow intrigue her as she began to allude to her own demise. In fact, at least once she said she welcomed the idea of such a manner of death.

Her bed sheets and pillowcases became bloodstained. She left bloody tissues or clothing lying on the floor, evidence of the previous night’s anguish. I hated to go to bed every night, truly fearful that on any given morning I would find my daughter dead from one cut that had accidently gone too deep.

I remember wondering for a while if she was cutting on purpose, to manipulate me, to see how she could get me to react or what kind of sympathy she could garner. So sometimes I simply didn’t engage with her after she had self harmed. I told her to find the bandages and soap and take care of it herself.

And then there was the time I had just had enough. I was so fed up, so terrified, so OVER it. I was furious with panic and confusion. And I told her so. And that’s the time she remembers. Of course.

I can’t undo it, but it still feels shameful to me. I didn’t know then what I know now, and I try hard to see it as one incident in the scope of the whole journey. But I’m still embarrassed and deeply saddened by my behavior that evening.

(Source)

One memorable night she came downstairs to my room and showed me her arm. The fresh carvings were somewhat erratic and still bloody, so it took me a few seconds to decipher what I saw.

U  R  SHIT

There it was, on her arm, under my nose. Still wrestling with my own culpability in her struggles, and because she had presented herself to me for inspection, I asked her slowly and as gently as I could, “Um, who are you saying that to? Are you trying to say that to me?” Because if so, I would have much preferred she just declare it to me, not carve it into her body as a permanent reminder.

I remember the tears in her eyes.

“No, mom. It’s to me.”

And so we wept together as I silently begged for some kind of help to save my daughter from herself.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Do you have a teen who is self harming? Please see Responding to Your Teen’s Self Harm. Information regarding self-injury (cutting, burning, biting, bruising, etc.) can be found at  S.A.F.E. Alternatives, Self Injury Foundation and Self Injury Outreach and Support.

Searching For Help

I started January of that year searching for a therapist for my daughter. The family doctor had listened as she and I had talked openly of her pervasive sadness and increasing self injury. He prescribed an antidepressant for her, and made it clear that mental health counseling was essential.

Besides the constraints imposed by insurance, I wanted desperately to find a mental health professional close to home. I was, after all, still a widowed single mom with two daughters. I had intense and constant worry about my younger daughter, not only about her exposure to her sister’s maladaptive coping skills, but also about her  getting lost in the shuffle now that my older daughter’s issues were taking virtually all of my time and energy.

I had to fit in my daily work schedule as well as transporting both girls to and from two different schools at different times. Their dad, who had left more than ten years earlier, had given some lip service to helping transport them, but claimed that he really couldn’t help on a regular basis because of his work schedule.

This left most of it to me, except for those rare occasions when I could find someone willing to carpool on our schedule.  So for better or worse, proximity to home became a factor for hiring a therapist.

I finally located a counselor whose office was close to us. She was kind, professional, knowledgeable, and not a very good fit for my 15-year-old daughter. Still, I pressed my daughter to give her a try. “She’s not here to be your best friend. She’s here to offer her knowledge and help work some things out.”

angry girl in therapy (google)

(Photo Source: Google Images)

And this is where I must say, that is a terrible attitude to take into therapy. Imagine telling your deepest pains and fears to someone you just don’t click with, to someone who may be very nice but with whom you really feel no personal connection. I wouldn’t do it.

But I mistakenly expected my daughter to. I was wrong. I wanted her to do it because I was scared and exhausted and weary to the core, but I was still wrong. I didn’t know how to be two places at once, or how to keep my younger daughter from feeling forgotten and lost, but I was still wrong.

I have since referred other people to this therapist. I meant it when I said she was kind, professional, and knowledgeable. But I also meant it when I said she was not a good fit for my daughter at that particular time. Still, for a few weeks, we made regular trips to see her.

During those weeks, my daughter began to feel the effects of the antidepressant she had begun. She was exhausted, felt physically ill, experienced increased anxiety, and ironically fell deeper into depression. Many days I would take her to school, only to have her call me in a panic, unable to stay beyond even part of the morning. By this time, her self injury was increasing in both frequency and intensity, as was my fear.

Both carefully crosshatched as well as untamed cuts often covered her forearms, etched with safety pins, push pins, or blades taken from disposable razors. Her anger would spew out in screaming rages, in torrents of sobs neither she nor I could help her to control. What had happened to the loving, affectionate, self-assured girl who had been my daughter?

One moment she would curse me to the four winds, and the next she would fall into my arms for comfort and reassurance. Her terror was matched by my own, but I did not have the luxury of letting mine be known.

Her moods and tirades ruled our home, and I grasped desperately for ways to quell the unpredictable storms. I tried reason. I tried consequences. I tried being emotionally neutral or removed. I tried tough love. I tried empathy and understanding. Always I tried to convey my unconditional love for her.

In truth, the deeper she fell, the deeper my heart broke. The more she pushed me away, the more I longed for her to know the love and safety that were ready and waiting for her. It’s not that I could have loved her more than I already did. It was that I ached more deeply for her to know the love that was already hers.

TEEN-BEING-HELPED-BY-MOM-copy1

(Photo Source: Google Images)

There were many times when my daughter vented her anger that I simply laid down on the floor during our conversations so that she would not have any reason to feel threatened. I didn’t realize what I was doing until afterwards. I did it instinctively, recognizing that she felt susceptible to some deep, unnamed danger. What I failed to understand was that her biggest threat came from within.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013