Curiouser and Curiouser

I tried hard to be a voice of reason to my daughter. But how does one reason where there is no willingness to receive it? It didn’t work for Alice after she fell down the rabbit’s hole, and it wasn’t working for me. Still, it seemed all I could do.

alice in wonderland confusing

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Tuesday night had seen a change to my daughter’s medication. The two SSRI anti-depressants she’d tried in the previous weeks had served only to take her deeper into rage, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

She was switched to a medication initially developed to treat seizures but used off-label to treat mood disorders. As those with mental health issues often find, medication is not an exact science. Not at all. But the aim at this point was to stabilize her, which (ironically) meant taking her off anti-depressants.

She soon found out that the term “72 hour hold” was a misnomer, more a guideline than a declaration. This was first a rumor she heard from other adolescents in the unit, and then she found out it was to be her reality.

I tried to explain the reasoning behind the need for her to stay in the psych ward longer. “They’ve switched your meds. The old ones obviously didn’t work well for you. They need to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction to this new medication. It’s a safety issue.”

Predictably, she was not receptive. For the record, I’m not so sure I would have been either if I’d been in her shoes. Also predictably, her anger flared. She was not allowed contact with any friends while she was hospitalized, and even if the support system she’d built for herself was terribly dysfunctional and harmful, all she knew was that it had been taken from her. And she was mad.

There were some curious things I realized about myself in those few days, difficult things that made me sad and confused.

 alice in wonderland sad

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I knew that I was afraid for my daughter to be released from the psych ward and sent home. I was fearful that she would quickly return to her previous behaviors and that I was just too worn down to be an effective parent anymore. I was scared that there would be no lasting changes resulting from this awful ordeal. And I was so out of ideas.

I knew that my goal was not to keep my daughter from getting angry nor was it to have her like me. My goal was to keep her safe, even if she came to hate me in the process.

I knew that I wanted to put up all kinds of roadblocks so that her choices were limited and she couldn’t make decisions that would be harmful. But I knew that would be a disservice to her, that it would mistakenly teach her that she could not be responsible for herself.

I knew that, in the bigger picture, I couldn’t and really didn’t want to control my daughter; I wanted her to learn to control herself.

I knew that  for that to happen there had to be boundaries and consequences in place, and that she had to choose her actions and thus her own outcomes. This was a source of great pain for me, because I knew some of the choices she would make and that their results would be very hard for all of us.

But I had to let that go. Even though I could see that she was not yet willing (or able?) to face some of her bigger issues, I had to let her choose for herself.

I will once more refer to an email I wrote to my small and trusted circle of support. This was yet another middle of the night message, a bit disjointed and bearing witness to my fears and frustrations. This was written on day three of my daughter’s stay at the behavioral center, the day she had mistakenly decided she was going to be released and sent home.

* * *

I had a meeting today with C and her dad and caseworker.  There was a chance for C to have her say and a chance for us to, then time for us parents to meet alone with the caseworker.  We were told early in the meeting that C would not be released until Saturday (day five of her “72 hour” hold). We really lost her at that point. She wants to come home NOW.

She was not forthcoming about some stuff she’s been lying about lately, nor about what might have been bothering her that led up her hospitalization. She’s been telling me for weeks about some things that are just driving her crazy, but she never even mentioned them in today’s meeting. I told her that I’d learned about some of her deceptions but she would not acknowledge anything, just said she had no idea what I was talking about.

I tried to prepare her for the fact that things will be very different when she gets back home, that boundaries will be tighter, and privileges will need to be earned back.  I don’t think she has any idea what that means or thinks it will really happen anyway.

I am feeling extremely overwhelmed at the thought of her return home.  The caseworker had all kinds of thoughts and ideas, and while some of them may be helpful, the work of it all feels like it will bury me.

When her dad and I walked out of our meeting with the caseworker, C came straight over and asked me why she couldn’t be released sooner.  She was very angry and confrontational and kept demanding answers that I couldn’t give her.  I gave her the only answer there was to give, but she wanted more and I told her that was all I had, I couldn’t make anything up to satisfy her.

She directed all her anger and frustration towards me. I don’t think she even made eye contact with her dad for that 5 to 10 minute conversation.  She made vague threats about not eating (that’s her choice if she wants to make it) and swore she was better and ready to come home.  It was really pretty awful.

She chose me to be the one to pick her up when she is released on Saturday. She told me she wants me there at 6 in the morning. I told her I’d be there between 9 and 10.

I know there are many strategies to deal with her in the days ahead; I just honestly feel like there is nothing left in me to do it – to learn what I need to learn as a parent, to find her a new psychologist (her request and the caseworker’s recommendation), to drive her across town how many times a week for those appointments, to find extra-curricular activities & get her enrolled & to the activities, to meet with her school counselor and teachers and try to help her not fail her freshman year.

I am just spent, which may be exactly where I need to be but it doesn’t make any sense to me and I can’t see how it’s all supposed to get done.

I did tell her dad that with these added commitments I cannot logistically do all that needs to be done for both girls during the week (always on ongoing battle for me), and he said he’d be available but the truth is that he works during the hours these things are going on. I will have to continue to change and arrange my work schedule to take care of things.

I don’t expect him to make any sizable contribution to handling those details because he hasn’t before. It would be helpful if he actually had some input or action of his own; I feel like it’s up to me to take the lead on these things because he simply will not and we are at a critical juncture where action must be taken.  He does not seem to accept the seriousness of the situation. (Caution: ex-wife frustrations are surfacing!)

Again, the ideas for help and change sound really good in theory but the reality of it feels nearly impossible to me. There just isn’t enough of me to go around.

The diagnosis the caseworker gave for C today was General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Disorder.  I don’t know if a new therapist will reach a separate conclusion.  C says she hasn’t been suicidal for about a day and a half.  She says cutting is stupid and disgusting and she’ll never do it again (which she’s said before), and she swears that she has learned all she needs to know and will be fine.

She also says she wants to “help” her friends who cut to stop cutting, which basically translates to her taking responsibility for their actions – which scares me especially when she cannot take responsibility for her own.

After today, I cannot imagine a conversation with her that is not angry and confrontational and manipulative.

I do get that her choices are her own and that my job, after assuring her safety, is to allow her to deal with the consequences of her choices.  I know very well what some of those consequences could end up being, and I can honestly say I hate that.

Maybe that is where so much of my anxiety is coming from and I need to work towards what is acceptable and adequate, not what is perfect and guaranteed (those two options really don’t even exist).  But I selfishly look at those consequences, should they come – and I know some of them will – and I know that they will result in even more being put on my plate and I feel frustrated and angry about that.

Well so there it all is.  I am too tired to make this (or me) sound nice. I have no neat or tidy wrap up for this message; I’m just continuing to ask for and appreciate your prayers and hoping that my ranting and venting haven’t been too offensive.

In a few hours I start a very busy day, not only working on my taxes, etc., but also working out C’s discharge, contacting her school, trying to track down and interview therapists and stuff like that.  I appreciate your prayers and support.

© 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.)

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(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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

“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.”

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?

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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.

clock-partial

(Photo Source: Google Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

girl with noose

(Photo Source: Google Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

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.

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(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