Warrior Moms

We met for coffee. Conversation came easily as we shared stories. She is a courageous woman, a mother whose only son took his own life and left her with deep heartache and a brave new quest.  She is now on the board of our state chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She volunteers. She speaks out. She encourages. She grieves. All of these things take so much courage.

She told of the time she was curious (as any mother would be) about what her son had been looking at online. Though it was years before his suicide, a brief glance told her that he’d searched for ways in which he could successfully end his life. Alarmed, she called his school counselor for help only to be chided for betraying her son’s confidentiality.

She was not lauded for seeking to save his life; she was shamed for being a snoop.

 angry_teacher

(Source)

We talked about how unpredictable finding help in the public school system can be. We found that within the same highly regarded school district, years apart, at two of the schools with very “good” reputations, we both had terrible experiences when it came to support for our teens who dealt with clinical depression.

“My daughter went into the psych ward on Monday,” I told her.”She was released on Saturday. She was back in school the next Monday. I had told them what was going on. Her accommodation was that she was given a pass to leave class if she needed to go to the nurse’s office or the school psychologist‘s office for a while. After she calmed down, she was to go back to class.

“Now I know that legally they were supposed to do more, but at the time I didn’t know there were laws to protect and help students with mental illness. I didn’t ask for more because I didn’t know there was more to be asked for. And the school certainly never told me. ”

We shared frustration at the number of students who still surely go unsupported in these schools, how their academic reputations may seem impressive, but their legal mandate to identify and assist students in need of support services was not met in our children’s situations.

We ached for the parents who are now living what we lived: being shamed for their concern, or failing to be informed of the legal requirements schools have to help look after the safety of their students.

We did our best to encourage one another in our determination to work for change, to walk alongside those in need or in grief.

Such can be the plight of a parent whose child is struggling with any number of mental health challenges. The search for support and understanding can be frustrating and disheartening. To be in a world with confusing directional signs, where no one speaks a common language, and there is either an unwillingness or inability for anyone to point you to the path of help … this is what it can feel like.

 good-luck-road-sign

(Source)

But quitting is not an option.

We may have to fight or beg for adequate intervention for our kids. I know I’m not the only parent who’s had to insist that a suicidal daughter not be sent home from the ER because she didn’t have a specific plan to end her own life, “just” the desire to do so, shouted at the top of her lungs to anyone who would listen.

Everyone has a different story, and some of those stories are beyond belief. But they are true. Some Warrior Moms I “know” are online champions who give and offer support 24/7 to parents in their own cities and around the globe. Others are friends I’ve had the honor of meeting in person.

I have the privilege of being part of a local group of parents whose kids deal or have dealt with mental illness. We are made up of mostly moms right now. There is a brave dad who joins us when he can. It’s a place where openness, anger, vulnerability, fear, laughter, tears, and hope are all in abundant supply, as are pizza and Kleenex.

Some of us have older or adult kids, some younger, and some have both. None of us ever expected to have a child with an invisible but life-altering illness.

Some have been threatened, chased with knives, or forced to protect their other children from a sibling experiencing a “break”. Some are basically held hostage in their own homes because being able to make a quick run to the grocery store has disappeared along with the mental stability of their son or daughter.

All of them realize that if their child had something besides a brain illness, say perhaps a broken arm, an infection, or – heaven forbid – childhood cancer, people would be lining up to offer meals, rides, housecleaning, and free babysitting. But they live with knowing that mental illness is a “no casserole” disease. And they still get up every day and do it all over again.

Autism Recovery – Who is a Warrior Mom?

(Source)

If you can’t love and appreciate and honor women like that, I feel sorry for you because they are fierce and beautiful and awe-inspiring and deserving of respect and every possible support.

At one meeting some time ago, one of the women very kindly expressed her appreciation for what I’d written about our story. “You should write a book,” she told me.

“That would be a dream come true,” I replied. “But apart from the obvious challenges, my greater concern is that so many books give a message that seems to say, ‘We had a problem, but we don’t anymore. Everything’s fine! Hope you’ll be okay, too; good luck!’ “

I explained to them my discomfort that so many times it seems like we tie a big red bow on a closed-up box and give the impression that there are no problems anymore. But life doesn’t really work like that, like the book is over and we close it and put it back on the shelf. It’s really more like finishing one chapter and moving on to the next.

“And some of my chapters would definitely be named OH CRAP. WHAT NOW?” I confessed.

Another mom spoke up quickly, “I’d call most of my chapters ARE YOU F#!%@$G KIDDING ME?!?

We pretty much gave her a standing ovation.

*****

If you are bravely parenting a child with mental illness or emotional development issues, please see the Resources page of this blog for some helpful links and Facebook support/informational pages. If you are on Facebook, I highly recommend the Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid page. If you have specific resources you would like to share or need help finding, leave a comment below. Alternately, you can message me via the Help To Hope Facebook page linked below, or email me at HelpToHope@msn.com.

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

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
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Work

My daughter’s stay in the psych ward (her first stay, at least) was five days. Yet it seemed interminable and exhausting to me. I can only imagine how it must have felt to her.

While my daughter was hospitalized, I worked. I worked to find the new therapist she needed. I worked to prepare my younger daughter for her sister’s return. I worked to prepare myself for her return as well. I worked at calming my nerves in anticipation of the unknown that lay ahead for us.

I worked at contacting personnel in my daughter’s high school to let them know why she’d missed school and was failing her core classes. I worked to advocate to her teachers on her behalf as depression, anxiety, and panic had interrupted class tests, make-up tests, and all manner of school work and homework in the preceding weeks.

I worked to make it clear to her teachers that I was not trying to excuse any behavior; I simply wanted my daughter to know she could walk into a classroom, take a test, and not let anxiety continue to drag her into a dark abyss leading to self harm and despair.

I worked to prepare the way to help my daughter find even a tiny but necessary victory.

I worked to release the frustration of not hearing back from several of her teachers. I worked to let go of the fear that they would judge me as “that mom”, the one who let her kid get away with anything, then made excuses.

mean-teacher

Source

 

I worked to remember that my goal was not to get my adolescent daughter to pass English, sing in choir, or even pass her freshman year. I worked to stay focused on helping her reach a place of mental wellness, health, and personal safety.

I worked, literally, to keep my daughter alive, to help her want to stay alive.

I worked to respond to the teachers who had kindly and compassionately replied after I contacted them to inform them of my daughter’s deep struggles. I worked to contain my tears, to thank these good people for seeing the inherent value in my 15-year-old, even though she could not see it in herself.

I worked to remind myself that they were bearing witness to the good in my daughter, and helping me hold onto hope, whether they realized it or not.

I worked at letting go of the frustration that I was the one having to do everything, with no help from my children’s father. I worked to not allow wasteful bitterness about that overtake me.

I worked to arrange my schedule so I could be where I had to be when I had to be there, whether taking my youngest to cheer practice, or visiting my older daughter in the psych ward.

I worked at pushing aside the grief I felt as a widow, the utter sorrow I felt at not having my husband to talk with at the end of an exhausting day. I worked at trying to think of the encouraging words I knew he would say to me.

I worked to recall the feel of his arms around me, the safest place I’d ever known. I worked to remember that, no matter how distant it now seemed, I hadn’t imagined him in the first place.

I worked at staying awake and focused despite little sleep. I worked at the dailies of life: carpool, laundry, dishes. And, of course, I worked at work.

I was tired.

 

(One of my favorite bands/songs/videos. Best when played at a loud volume.)

 

Saturday finally arrived. Though two days earlier my daughter had angrily demanded I pick her up “Saturday morning at 6!” I kept my word and arrived around 9:30 a.m. The requisite paperwork took a little while. And there were new friends she’d made to whom she wanted to say goodbye.

We left with a prescription and a plan, and I was hopeful they would work at the same time I was terrified they would fail.

One of the perks of a psych ward stay (who knew there was such a thing?) was that my daughter was able to continue as the patient of the psychiatrist who saw her during her days there.

While that may not seem like such a big deal, the truth is that finding a qualified psychiatrist can take more time than one might imagine. And after finally tracking someone down, it’s not unusual to have to wait up to two months (yes, TWO MONTHS – or more) for an available appointment.

This one not-so-small detail had now been taken care of. It’s not like the appointments would be close to home, but just to HAVE appointments for someone who could manage medication was a major hurdle crossed. I was very grateful.

sunny day

 (Source: Google Images) 

 

My daughter and I stepped out into a bright, sunny February morning in Colorado. She hadn’t had the freedom to be outside for several days. She seemed small and fragile, a combination of embarrassment, nervousness, and relief. I felt much the same as she.

I didn’t know the rules for what a parent is supposed to do when they pick their kid up from the psych ward. So we went to Jamba Juice. It seemed like a good idea. And it was.

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

“Bring me his sweatshirt, mom. Please.”

“Of course, sweetie. Of course I will.”

My daughter was limited in the personal items she was allowed to have during her mental health hold. Hoodies – the staple of teen fashion – were okay, but drawstrings had to be removed. Favorite (imitation) Converse shoes? Fine, but no shoestrings allowed. The safety pins my daughter loved to use as fashion statements were absolutely forbidden.  I was forced to look at clothing, and much of life, in a whole new way.

But the thing my daughter wanted most was “his sweatshirt”, and there was no reason to deny her request.

When my husband had died almost two years earlier, I’d invited all three of his adult kids to go through his clothes, to pick out some favorite items they might want to keep for themselves or their own children.

I tried to also give them each special items, perhaps tokens of affection they or their children had given their dad that would now make their way back to the original gift givers. Or maybe an item that they had seen growing up in their childhood home that held special memories for them. It seemed only fitting to do this.

(Admittedly, there were a few things it took me time to be able to part with. Thankfully, my step kids are gracious and patient.)

I had also asked my own three adolescent children what they would like to have of their stepdad’s as special mementos. My older daughter had chosen an old sweatshirt that my husband used to wear often. He was great at coming home from a day of work and changing into comfy clothes, a signal that work was left behind and he was now present and available at home.

But this particular sweatshirt was one he often threw on early on a Saturday morning as he brewed coffee, read the paper, and prepared his favorite bagel for breakfast. It was a treasure on many levels and had become something of a security blanket to my daughter

 red sweatshirt

(Photo Source: Google Images)

In both the best and worst of times she slept nightly with the worn shirt close by. So often she had cried to me after his death about missing him and wanting him back. I understood at a deep level how she felt (and then some), and was not at all surprised that she wanted “his sweatshirt” now that she had been placed on a psychiatric hold for suicidal ideations.

It made perfect sense to me. To a frightened and unstable fifteen-year-old it was portable comfort, raveled and worn, in a place where comfort was difficult to find. I was happy to grant her request.

Visiting hours included Tuesdays, so I was returning less than 24 hours after I’d followed the ambulance across town and had her admitted. I took some approved clothes, the needed sweatshirt, my younger daughter, and an anxious heart, and drove us all through afternoon traffic for our first visit.

To call it uncomfortable would be an understatement. And incomplete. How else might I describe it? It was bewildering, sad, strange, surreal, terrifying, and with a few tendrils of hope that I tried to believe weren’t just taunting me.

There was one room where all visits took place simultaneously. All of the adolescents hospitalized there and all of the visitors who had come to see them were confined to this one very plain not-terribly-large space. Each group had their little gathering of chairs as segregated as possible from the others, with some people having to share their seat with another.

visiting room

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Some groups sat close together, speaking in hushed tones. Some seemed less eager to sit closely, or to even talk with one another. Some were loud and frustrated, others subdued and resigned.

I tried to (or not to?) catch glimpses of the others in the room while simultaneously trying to figure out how our family had ended up here, how my daughter was faring in the psych ward, and just exactly what the next step might be.

Add “disconcerting” to the list of adjectives.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013
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I Left Her There

The moment had come. They psych ward doors had opened, swallowing us into the unknown, shutting tightly and unnervingly behind us.

Once again, my daughter was given scrubs and non-skid socks to wear until I could return with “approved” clothes for her. I was grieved that she had no personal items to comfort her in this most frightening of places. (Shoestrings, drawstrings, belts, and other such items were strictly forbidden in the locked ward populated by adolescents who might use anything they could find to harm themselves or others.)

black hightops

(Photo Source: Google Images)

It was around midnight after a very long day.  I honestly don’t remember much except being in a small, dark room where the clothes of the adolescent residents were kept folded and stacked on shelves.

As I look back on that time, I’m surprised at the details I simply cannot recall. The emotion of the moment … that returns to me in a heartbeat, and even now I weep as my body responds to the memory of all that I felt in those difficult hours. I can feel it in an instant.

I left my daughter. I left her there. I left her in a psych ward on lockdown. I left her there because she was suicidal. I left her there because I could not keep her safe. I left her there because I loved her. I left her there with a trail of my tears and much of my heart.

Upon returning home, I sent an email out to my trusted group of friends, those I’d been sharing the journey with on many a late night when I was unable to sleep or bring any order to my world or mind.

I so missed the strong support of my husband. It had been less than two years since we’d watched him be removed from life support and take his last breath. How desperately I ached for his wisdom and comfort.

And so, my small but trusted band of friends had ‘listened’ faithfully as I’d regularly poured my heart out to them via email, lamenting my daughter’s depression, self harm, truancy, constant talk of blood and death, and all the other dark details that had been filling our lives for a number of months.

sad emailer

(Photo Source: Google Images)

There had been a few quick calls and texts to them during the daylight hours as we’d moved through the mental health crisis that had landed us in the emergency room. The following is part of the update message I sent to My Group after admitting my daughter to the psych ward for the first time. It’s a bit disjointed, though I tried to edit it to make it easier to follow.

It was sent on February 19, 2008 at 1:31 a.m.

* * * * *

Hello, friends.

I am just home from a very long night during which C was hospitalized for her own safety.  C’s dad came over to talk with her. He was very reluctant to admit her, but I am quite convinced it was the only safe option.

I did call 911 because C made it very clear that she would fight us if we tried to take her to the hospital.  So between the two squad cars, paramedics and ambulance, she went rather peacefully if not tearfully.  My heart just aches for her.

I had asked C earlier in the afternoon to rate her likelihood of suicide on a scale of 10 and she nearly yelled “10!” at me; I asked if she thought she actually would act on it and she said of course if everyone would just leave her alone (she used much more colorful language).  That was when it became glaringly apparent that she really needed to be admitted.

She had threatened to run away over the weekend and she and I even had a tussle in the driveway as she fell into a heap yelling about how much she hated me, much to the confusion of the man watching us from across the street.

We went to Children’s Hospital emergency room by ambulance about 6 p.m. Monday, and they had no empty beds so she was transported to [a freestanding behavioral center].

The supervisor I spoke with tonight said there is a decent likelihood she will be there more than 72 hours as there will likely be med changes they will have to monitor, but they don’t generally keep someone longer than 5 days.  He did tell me that last week they had 3 adolescents and in the past 24 – 36 hours they have admitted 15.  Wow.

Poor C may just be getting to sleep now (if she is lucky) and their days start at 6:15 and go until 9 or 10 at night.  When I said goodbye to her tonight she actually let me give her a kiss on the cheek and a good, long hug (which felt so good; I’ve really missed that).

I cannot describe to you her state of mind earlier today and over the past 4 days.  It’s been as if another person is living in her body, and this week I have been the trigger that has really set her off.  She told me, among many disturbing things, that she’s sick of people saying they love her and care about her and it just makes her want to kill herself when she hears it.

But she told me she loved me tonight so I felt free to return the favor.  I did tell her as I was leaving that she was going to be okay there and she agreed and said, “I know”, but in her real voice, not the unknown person she has been.  I think maybe, at least tonight, she might have even felt safer there than she did at home.

I spent about a half hour talking with the supervisor before I left and I feel like they are on top of things with the kids in their care; he even addressed issues before I had a chance to voice my concern about them.

This will, of course, take C way out of her comfort zone; that’s not a bad thing but I sure would appreciate your prayers for her.  I just want to scoop her up and cradle her in my arms and bring her home ~ which would defeat the purpose of everything we went out on a limb for today, but it just really hurt to see her like that.

Perhaps now that she is there the fear and anxiety of the unknown, and the threat of hospitalization (vs. the reality) will melt away and she can actually get to a safe place.  I know this may not be the last time we have to do this; I hope so, but I won’t be surprised if it isn’t.  There are so very many things going on concerning her treatment and the more people involved the more “options” are offered or brought up.

I feel very helpless to protect her, but I felt even more helpless when she was at home.  Now I believe she is in a safe place where she cannot hurt herself, and she can get some ongoing help, even if only for a few days.  I know it’s a long road ahead.  But I think I can get a few good nights worth of sleep, and I look forward to that.

K (sister, age 14) and J (brother, age 18) are both very upset.  I communicated with J several times by phone tonight and he was in tears.  K was here when all the uniforms and official vehicles arrived and that was very scary for her.  She was able to go to the hospital and see C before they moved her to another facility. I think that was good for both of them.

(My stepdaughter) went in to see her also and of course C apologized for the colorful tirade she let fly against her this afternoon.  As usual probably more details than you wanted, but as always I appreciate your prayers and concern.

C has not been able to tolerate any concern from others lately, and I don’t know if/how long that will continue.  But thanks for loving her with your prayers, even if it is from afar.

Monica

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Waiting For The Unknown

We waited at the Emergency Room. That’s what Emergency Rooms are for, it seems.

We waited for a mental health evaluation for my middle child who a short while earlier had threatened suicide to anyone who would listen. We waited with knotted stomachs and interminably slow clocks.

And I personally waited with the audacity to hope that things could change, that she could ‘get better’ and stop skipping school, stop wearing torn black clothes, stop wearing her hair covering three quarters of her face, stop believing that she was a doomed failure, stop reading and writing and drawing about nothing but blood and death, and stop carving her body to help relieve the anguish she was feeling.

My daughter was understandably distraught and confused. And of course, how else might a teenage girl initially feel when armed police officers walk into her bedroom and announce that she will be going in for an emergency psychiatric evaluation? She alternated between tears of remorse and bursts of frustration, then her anger began to flare as the realities of the situation became apparent.

girl on bed

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Her cell phone had been taken upon arrival, along with her clothes and shoes. She wore oversized maroon-colored scrubs as she endured the aggravation of not being able to communicate with her friends beyond the few messages she had frantically texted before the phone confiscation.

I had known that her peers were firmly intertwined in her self-destructive and dysfunctional behaviors, and her inability to communicate with them during this crisis annoyed her greatly. (Okay, that’s a major understatement.) When her younger sister came to the ER after a while, she secretly asked her to contact certain people for her, to give them specific messages.

After several hours of waiting and evaluation, of tears and apologies mixed with empty promises and accusatory adolescent eyes, I was only partly taken aback at the announced possibility that my daughter might simply be released from the ER and sent home. She’d said that she no longer wanted to be alive and wasn’t at all averse to ending her own life. But she had not formulated a specific plan.

In an emergency room that’s apparently a pretty big distinction.

I wanted my daughter be admitted on a mental health hold. I had watched her descend into darkness over the previous months. I had been the recipient of so many of her rages. I had cleaned and bandaged her self-inflicted wounds. I had seen the black emptiness in her eyes as she spoke of the hopelessness she could not crawl out of, the blackness she’d seemed to learn to surrender to and eventually embrace.

I knew that if she went home nothing would be different. She would still carve through her skin, she would still rage and make threats that included suicide, she would still be failing school, living in the dark despair that had become her reality. Our home would still be held hostage in turmoil, and I would still fear for her life. Every single day.

I could not help her to stabilize. We needed someone else to facilitate that. So at my insistence, the decision was made to admit her. I believed without a doubt that, as backwards as it might have seemed or felt, it was the only chance for her overall long-term safety and wellbeing.

medical chart

(Photo Source: Google Images)

There was no room available in the mental health section of the hospital we were at, so calls were made to “find a bed” for her. A freestanding behavioral center with available space was located halfway across town, and we began another wait for her second ambulance ride of the day.

It was nearing midnight when my daughter was once more loaded into an ambulance. By this time my car had been brought to the hospital, so I got directions to the facility where I was to connect with them after transport and sign the consent for a 72-hour mental health hold.

My ex-husband had left and I traveled a couple of interstates alone to a multi-story building I’d seen many times off the highway. I parked my car and hurried to meet the ambulance as my daughter was once more offloaded and taken inside.

This facility was secure, meaning that no one could get in or out the glass front door without the lock being ‘buzzed’. I learned that no bags or purses were allowed inside, so I returned mine to my car. Again, the emergency personnel were sympathetic and considerate. They conversed easily with my daughter and offered their best wishes as they departed.

We were led to some elevators and up to another floor. We approached an area with yet another set of secure doors. These were large, locked, wooden doors. No going in or out without an electronic passkey, which only the employees were permitted.

locked hospital doors

(Photo Source: http://keyeslifesafety.com/)

And this was it. This was the unknown that I had both feared and longed for, the place where I trusted my daughter would not be able to self-harm or act on her suicidal thoughts. This was the place I hoped she could start to find safety and stability.

This was the psych ward.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

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

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