New diagnosis

I was very concerned about the things that were happening with Arabella.

On New Year’s Eve, she made a strange comment when we had some friends over. She told everyone that her dad was walking on the ceiling and laughed about it. No one else laughed. They glanced at me and looked at her as if she was crazy. Was she on something? Was she delusional? Was she just trying to get attention?

She said strange things before like the time she said that Jordan’s mom was her mom and I wasn’t. She said other things that weren’t true. At times I could classify her as delusional or paranoid.

Then there were other things like the eating of non food items such as plastic forks. The binge eating and weight gain. The extreme fluctuations between us being evil and the world’s best parents. She fluctuated that same way with herself. Sometimes she saw herself as fat and ugly. Then at other times she wanted to be a stripper and show the world how gorgeous she was. Sometimes she was gay and other days maybe straight.

Then there was the impulsivity. Money in her hands was money spent. The shoplifting. The need to be more extreme than everyone else. The cutting, the suicide attempts. All her relationships were turbulent.

She had unusual emotional reactions, laughing instead of crying upon the loss of friendships that once meant everything to her. She seemed almost manic. She had a hard time sleeping at night even with the sleeping pills. I wanted to tell the doctor that all of this happened within a month’s time. Perhaps her medication was off.

Arabella was in rare form when I picked her up from outpatient to take her to her psychiatrist appointment. She was bouncing off the walls. A combination of caffeine, candy, and mania perhaps? She couldn’t keep a constant thought. She talked about the heating ducts in the office. Things people really don’t care about. She was talking a million miles a minute and I was feeling frustrated. In my mind she was acting pretty crazy and I wanted her to stop. But did I? It was the perfect place to act like this. Every time before this visit, she was quiet and depressed. She couldn’t sit still. She told the psychiatrist that she had crackhead energy.

I explained to the psychiatrist everything I’ve been trying to explain to you. Something was really wrong with my daughter. He got it. He said it was obvious to him that my daughter had more than a case of depression. He said she had disordered mood, thoughts, and personality. He thought she had Schizoaffective disorder with Bipolar 2 along with Borderline Personality Disorder. I didn’t see it coming, really I didn’t.

Then he said that he was retiring. He didn’t have a replacement. He didn’t want to change her medication which was a mess and not even adequate for her new diagnosis. We would have to wait for residential to figure that out. He pretty much said good-bye and good luck.

I was heartbroken. I cried the whole ride home. How did I not see this coming? Schizophrenia?? My brother is schizophrenic. He hears voices.

I grieved for a long time. All my hopes and dreams for a normal life for her were dashed. I wasn’t even sure she would graduate from high school at that point. Remember when she was an honor student? I couldn’t stand to hear about the bright futures of other kids her age. Your daughter is going to college for physics. I’m spending my daughter’s college money for psychiatric care. Yup, hope she doesn’t kill herself.

I remembered the last play she was in. I cried not knowing it would be the last time everything seemed fine. I cried thinking about the last dance she went to where she wore a pretty sleeveless dress before she started cutting her arms.

I grieved for what was that will nevermore be. It was painful that somehow I could’ve caused this. Bad genetics, nary a sane soul on both sides. I was riddled with shame and guilt. I couldn’t understand why my daughter hated me. I was doing everything I could to help her. I couldn’t stand seeing other normal families doing normal things. I resented them. I envied them for what I didn’t have. I would give away everything I had just to have that one thing, normal.

My mom was very comforting at the time. She experienced a lot of the same feelings with my brother Matt.

Now I just had to wait. My life was in limbo in a chaotic holding pattern until residential, if she could make it until then.

Another sleepless night

Arabella wasn’t invited to her best friend’s birthday party. After the falling out with the friend group, any remaining friend she did have was pressured by the group not to be friends with my daughter. They said she was too toxic and kept a list of her wrongdoings.

The weekend of the birthday party, Ashlynn invited my daughter overnight. I thought it was a good idea because I didn’t want her at home alone depressed thinking about how she was abandoned by her friends. Arabella was running out of her medication and there was a snafu with getting the prescriptions filled earlier at the pharmacy. Arabella would be out of two of her medications the following morning. Since her friend lived close to an hour away, the only option was to pick up her pills before the pharmacy closed on the way to her friend’s house that Friday night to have them the following morning.

Everything seemed to be going alright. It was a typical Friday night. Paul and I were watching a movie and I fell asleep on the couch. If I had been in bed with the ringer off, I would’ve missed the text at 11PM. Jordan’s mom texted me saying that Arabella told another friend she had a plan to OD on her medication. I woke up really fast.

Immediately I called Arabella, thankfully she answered. She was alive and seemed to be alright. At the same time, Paul called the crisis center. We came up with a safety plan.

It was one of the hardest things as a parent. We were thinking about picking Arabella up from her friend’s house. But by that time it was close to midnight and the friend lived almost an hour away. We didn’t want to disrupt their family if we didn’t need to. Plus we were exhausted. We decided with the help of the crisis center that we needed to have Ashlynn wake up her parents to lock up Arabella’s medication. We knew Ashlynn, but we really didn’t know her parents. It’s asking a lot to wake someone up in the middle of the night to make sure your child is safe at their house. I felt maybe they would understand because after all Arabella and Ashlynn met at the psychiatric hospital.

Ashlynn’s mom was really understanding but that didn’t make it any easier for us to do. Hey stranger, can you make sure our daughter is safe at your house? Lock up your knives, alcohol, and pills. It was a responsibility I never wanted to place on another parent. I wondered if after that night their friendship would be over. That was before I learned Ashlynn was a bad influence and wanted the friendship to end.

Paul made plans with Ashlynn’s parents to pick up the locked up pills and escort Arabella back home in the morning. It was another sleepless night…

If I could change things…

If I could go back and change things, I would rewrite the whole story. I would throw out the manuscript and start over. I wouldn’t even be a character. My mom would still marry my dad. But I would change the timeline a bit. She would marry my dad before he went to Vietnam. She would be pregnant when he left with my brother Luke. There wouldn’t be a Matt, Mark, or me. Luke has had the most positive impact on the world. My dad would never return from the war. My grandparents would be heartbroken losing their only child. But they had Luke who is so much more than my dad ever would be. My mom would eventually move on with her life and everything would end happily.

Yet here I am, a part of me wishing I never was. I sometimes wonder why I’m still here. I could never leave my husband and children. Although I feel my sanity slipping. I have this feverish obsession to tell my story, all of it. I don’t even know why. It seems to be my purpose.

It’s been a week since my mom moved in. Over this week I’ve heard stories about my dad that I’ve never heard before that fueled my hatred for him even more. I think my parents marriage was a big mistake. I wish they never got married, but that leaves a big problem. If I wish away them, I wish away me. I was okay taking my mom in. I think she is safer here. I don’t even mind driving her to appointments. Yesterday I spent half a day with her in the ER because she had an adverse reaction to a medication.

It’s been an adjustment having my mom here. We’ve all switched up our routine a bit. My mom wants to help with household chores but more than anything ends up getting in the way. I want her to be able to fit within the flow of our life. Next weekend she wants my brother Matt to come. I’m not sure how that will all work out yet. I think she will want us to cater to him and adjust our home life around him which might not work out that well. I really need to have some time to myself once in a while. I need my space without feeling smothered or policed like a little child. I want life to be carefree without extra responsibilities. I long to break things but I am the broken one.

What has been really hard is helping my mom process her trauma. It’s not easy to see your mother in pain. My mom sobbed more days than she did not. I heard some things I would rather not have heard. It really has been triggering for me. There have been a lot of things that happened that my mom doesn’t even know about and I am not going to tell her. I feel re-pungent of the thought of sharing my trauma with my mother but even more so in front of my children. It’s painful to know my mother has been hurt and is not happy. It’s very heavy and it weighs down my soul.

It is especially hard because I probably should be taking this time while my daughter is in the hospital to strengthen myself for when she comes back home. Yet here I am completely depleted and devastated. Yesterday was prom at Arabella’s school. It pained me greatly that she will never be able to go. Her junior prom was cancelled because of COVID and now she is in the mental hospital. I felt sad to see all the prom pictures on social media. It is one more lost dream for my daughter. Her prom dress will forever hang in her closet never worn.

I am once again taking care of my mother when I need help. Will this suffering never end? I don’t know how much more of it I can take. Will I ever feel real joy again? It seems to slip through my fingers fleetingly at best. When will God intervene? His silence echoes I am alone in my darkest hours. I wish I could change things…

Coming home again

It was the toughest hospitalization yet. We weren’t sure how things were going to go once Arabella came home again. We weren’t sure if we could handle it. But ready or not back home she would come.

Everything about the process was difficult, seeing the extent of her cutting for the first time upon admission. Even the need for 24 hour surveillance, the panic attacks. No one really knew what was wrong. How hard is it to do a psych eval? They just kept throwing more pills her way. She was back on one that she was taken off of before. She has depression, maybe bipolar. Too young for a diagnosis of borderline. Trauma, perhaps?

Even the ride home was stressful. Traffic was heavy and I got rear ended on our way home. My car got totaled yet the other driver had barely a dent. Now I needed to find a new car. So much for delivering packages for the holiday season. That was definitely out of the question now. Was getting another job an option anyway?

I felt irritated and overwhelmed by the time we got home. Arabella was being rather quarrelsome. I thought my car was totaled. I had all of these medications to figure out. It took a lot of concentration to figure out her pill regime. I was pretty shook up about the car accident. I really liked my car and didn’t want to have to buy a new one. I’d never been in an accident before. My neck hurt. I was really feeling out of sorts.

Paul seemed to focus on making things nice for Arabella when she got home. I think they played a game together. He seemed irritated with me that that wasn’t my focus. I was very crabby. It’s not often that you pick up your daughter from the psychiatric hospital and total your car on the same day.

Paul helped Arabella switch her room around. Once she realized she couldn’t go back to Jordan’s, she surprisingly adjusted really well to being back at home. Over the time she was hospitalized, Arabella’s pet frog died at Jordan’s house. I felt really bad about the whole thing and went out and bought her two new frogs. It was a really rough time, but some good did come of it. My daughter moved back home and once again enjoyed being here.

Wanting to leave, not wanting to be left

Things really went south when Jordan’s parents went on vacation. Up until that point, Arabella was mostly going to school and staying mainly at Jordan’s house. The first day Jordan’s parents were gone, Arabella decided to take a mental health day from school. I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t already behind on her studies and actually did something to improve her mental health like get out of bed. Things went downhill from there. She attended school one day that week. By the end of the week, enough was enough.

We decided we were going to pick her up and force her to come back home. Paul and I rang the doorbell at Jordan’s house and her grandma answered. She was very kind as we explained things. Arabella rode back home with Paul. We were afraid she might try to jump out of the vehicle in an attempt to escape. I followed them home in our car that we let Arabella drive. Yes, up until that point we were letting her use our car. But that was going to change.

I remember it was a miserable night. I could barely see out of the fogged up windshield from the buckets of chilly autumn rain. I felt a sadness of the uncertainty to come. We sat down with Arabella once we got home. It didn’t go well. She was freaking out that we forced her to come back home. I’ve never seen her so agitated in my life. She insisted that Jordan’s mom was her real mother and I was her fake mom. I thought in the moment that she was delusional and out of touch with reality.

It was getting late and I finally made supper. Arabella refused to eat with us. I did check on her often and made the decision although we took away her car, we let her keep her phone. When she made the suicide attempt, she reached out to her friends for help first. I didn’t want to take her phone away in case she needed help. Maybe that was a mistake because that night she ran away. She called a friend to pick her up. She jumped out of her bedroom window and she was gone. She called after she left and told me she was running away and we couldn’t make her come back. Sure enough, her room was empty and a cool breeze was coming through the open window.

It was late, almost bedtime. We didn’t know what to do. I reached out to a couple of her friend’s parents but they didn’t know where she was. Meanwhile, Paul called the Crisis Center and from their recommendation called the police. We were deciding whether to report her as a runaway. If she was actively suicidal, they would search for her based on her cell phone location. If not, they would list her as a runaway and nothing would really happen. She called me while Paul was on the phone with the police and told us she was staying with a friend we didn’t know and she was alright. We decided not to list her as a runaway.

Paul wanted to speak to her friend’s parent. At this time, it was close to midnight. Her friend’s mom talked to Paul but refused to tell us where she was. She screamed at Paul as if she was afraid we would come over and beat our child. I can imagine Arabella told everyone how she wasn’t safe at home. It was very painful to be treated like monsters when we were trying to act in the best interest of our daughter with severe mental health issues. We were worried sick.

There was nothing else we could do. At least we thought she was safe for the time being.

Another sleepless night…

A couple days later she ended up back at Jordan’s house. We told Arabella we couldn’t do this anymore. It was tearing us apart. If she wanted to live with another family we weren’t going to try to force her back home. She was almost 18. But we weren’t going to let her use our car or give her money. She could come pick up her stuff. We were exhausted and reached the end of our rope.

She wanted to leave, but was upset when we let her go.

Taking a break down instead

Maybe she just needed a break. That always makes me feel better.

We had a trip planned. Paul and I were renting a van to drive down to Florida. We were taking Arabella and our two foreign exchange students with us.

I imagined how perfect spring break was going to be. Sunshine and shorts after another long winter. Estelle and Arabella together on a long road trip becoming best friends once again. My daughter becoming a functional depressed person like I am. She said it was a mistake and wouldn’t happen again.

But our magical trip wasn’t meant to be. The week we were scheduled to leave Disney World closed. A new virus was sweeping through the nation. In my lifetime I’ve seen many viruses come and go, but this was different. People were panicking. We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know what to believe. It reminded me of when HIV first came out and people were afraid to use public bathrooms. With a world of information at our fingertips, we still didn’t know what we were dealing with.

We debated whether or not to take the trip after Disney closed. Since we were driving, would we be able to stop to have sit down meals after a long drive? Some states were closing. Would gas station bathrooms and rest stops even be open? Was that the America we wanted our foreign visitors to see? What happens if someone gets sick? Could we get trapped somewhere? What if our decisions caused sickness and/or death in the children who weren’t ours that we were responsible for? The beaches in Florida started to close. We decided to stay home.

The high school closed and schooling went to online. The spring play, going to state, track, and prom all were cancelled yet the school work remained. Everyone felt the loss of what was planned that could no longer be. The beautiful prom dresses hung in the closets unworn. Time lost that could never be recaptured. Our German foreign exchange student Clara went home a couple months early whereas Estelle stayed an extra month.

I thought that Arabella and Estelle would be forced to work out their differences because they would have to be together all the time without much outside contact. It didn’t work out that way. Arabella withdrew into herself and snarled at me to leave her alone when I reached out. She would take long walks or drive to the park to sit by herself for hours sometimes after dark or in the rain. Estelle grew very close to me. She would fight with Arabella if she felt like Arabella was being mean to me.

Florida was gone. Arabella’s opportunity to be a foreign exchange student was gone. It was all she ever talked about for over a year. She was already signed up and the paperwork completed. Thankfully I could say that she wasn’t going because of COVID versus a suicide attempt. We were going to tour Europe in the summer, but that was gone too.

With everything that was lost, I’m grateful that we didn’t lose Arabella too.

Willing to listen

It was hard to work for the census because at times I knew I was causing others pain with the questions I was asking.

I had to deal with loss rather frequently. I can’t tell you how many times I spoke to people who lost someone close to them. I felt callous and impersonal about it sometimes. I know you told me that your dad died, but did he die before or after the census date.

I spoke to a man who lost his wife this year. He was out in the yard with his children when I pulled up. When did your wife die? Was it before or after the census date? I always felt a bit awful about it.

As I was getting ready to leave, he told me that I could turn my car around in the driveway and drive out instead of backing out. His driveway was on a hill. He said his wife left the house to go to work one icy morning and slid into a tree. He told me not to worry, she did not die in the driveway. She died after a long battle with leukemia.

I felt sad for his loss. I felt bad for his children. So I took a few extra minutes to listen. I told him I was sorry for his loss. I could tell it meant a lot to him. Sometimes people just need someone who is willing to listen.

The ultimatum, part 2

I think things got worse after his mother died from cancer.

Or maybe that’s when I noticed it more.

He was a happy drunk before. Or should I say it enhanced his good moods and his bad. It’s hard to be upset with someone who is spilling forth good things about you. You are so wonderful. You are so beautiful. I’m so happy I married you. Yeah, tell me that when you are sober I’d laugh.

After his mom died it wasn’t fun anymore.

He didn’t have any family left. That’s a hard pill to swallow. No one. He never had a dad or siblings. His step-dad Darryl started dating online a month after his mother died. Paul felt like he helped Darryl out more than Darryl helped him through the grieving process. The rest of the extended family were the wedding funeral types. Our teenage kids met most of them the first time at their grandma’s funeral.

He started drinking more than his usual routine. A typical summer Tuesday he went out with friends and had maybe half a dozen drinks. Wednesday and Thursday a bottle of wine. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he drank two bottles of wine. Monday he took the night off to prove he didn’t need to drink every night.

He was drinking somewhere around 40 drinks a week. Special occasions, hanging out with friends, or really bad days warranted a couple more drinks. So he had anywhere between 30 to 50+ drinks a week.

The year his mother died was a really rough year. I don’t think he cared anymore. His only parent was gone. He slowly watched her die. He coped with the loss by drinking more.

He said he wasn’t going to stop drinking until the doctor told him to. That year his liver numbers were a little high. It was just a fluke thing he said because he was out drinking with his friends the night before.

He wasn’t worried but I was.

The raging fire burns

I left shortly after I put my clothes back on. I was ready for bed. I thought I would check Facebook one last time as I waited for Paul to come back home. Facebook, that is where I learned that our previous family business was on fire. Paul arrived home after 10 PM tired without even eating yet. I left without him in great urgency as if my presence would stop the raging fire from burning.

Inside that building is where my family members lived on in my memory. My great-grandparents built the business 100 years before. Like a family farm, all of the family members lived next door or down the road. In my mind they worked together in a steady hum like a colony of bees. I don’t remember any conflict just hard work.

My grandpa and uncle Harold fixed cars. There were several other mechanics too that they treated like family. I remember Harold laughing and sharing stories with customers in his quiet way. My brothers and I were always running through the garage as kids only stopping to buy a bottle of soda from the machine for 25 cents. It was a magical place, a place where broken things got fixed. I loved the smell of tires and even the scent of gasoline because it only brings back good memories.

My aunt Grace did the bookkeeping with the help of my grandma. I can still see them pouring over the paper files and counting money in the antique cash register. It’s the one place I remember them all being together busy and productive.

I was pouring over these thoughts as I got closer to the scene. Roads were blocked, sirens blared and I was the only one from my family that was there. My parents were up north opening the cabin for the season. My brothers and I should’ve been there but even that is changing because of the conflict with my dad. The times at the cabin together as a family might have come to an end too. After not speaking to my dad for 5 months, I called him late that night to tell him the old family business was on fire.

I stood on the side street for over an hour and a half watching the orange glow as fire trucks steadily poured in and out. I talked to the only person watching with me, a stranger. At 1 AM, I told the stranger I was going home which wasn’t exactly true unless you consider home my parents house. I had to go to the bathroom really bad by this point.

My parents locked their house before leaving but they always have a spare key in the closet if you can find it.┬áMy parents could be considered hoarders. Their closet had 4 levels of tightly packed shelves of odds and ends. I found two keys, but they didn’t fit. I searched my purse hoping that I still had a spare but the keys I had didn’t fit so I left them. Finally I found the right key in the closest and let myself in.

I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I had to get closer to the flames. It was drawing me in like a June bug. I left my car in my parents driveway and decided to take the trail into town the back way. It was very dark and I felt anxious running down the road and trail by myself in the middle of the night. But I shown no light since I didn’t want to be seen. I was a little afraid of bypassing the police cars and sneaking in the back way. I was afraid of night animals but I figured the fire probably already scared them away. I ran without seeing what was ahead of me fighting my fear.

I couldn’t see the fire any better than before. There were trees in the way. I didn’t want to get any closer because there were many people there fighting the fire. There was another man leaving the area from the back way. I was afraid because I was alone and vulnerable, but the man meant me no harm.

I got home late that night. After a couple hours of sleep I awoke and went back for more. My parents came home early the following morning and found themselves locked out of the house. In my panic, I left the house keys in the bathroom and my own set outside the door. When I’m really stressed my mind stops processing the details which I so obsess over in normal times. I find it bizarre that the strongest part of my brain just quits working.

The building may have burned to the ground, but the memories of my family working together will always live on in my mind.

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The first fire

I never heard my mom cry like that before. It was the deep howling sorrow that was saved for behind closed doors. I could almost peak out the window she was staring out of if I stood on my tiptoes. The night sky a glowing orange haze in a hue I never saw outside before. Together we watched her childhood home burn down.

I went with my mom once to see her old house the year before when I was 3. I’m not sure how I remember it. Strong emotions of my mother typically elicited sparks of memories in me. There was a long dark inside staircase that went upstairs to the main floor of the house. There was a bright average sized kitchen with a window above the sink that I could imagine her mother standing at with her back to me. I never saw my grandmother’s face before but I was told my mother looked just like her.

We had to walk up one step to go into the living room from the kitchen. I found that rather strange. I saw the bedroom my mom shared with her sister Jan. It looked as small as a closet. I imagined my mother playing in that room with her one doll. Mom always said that Aunt Jan was messy and my mom was the clean one. They seemed to have switched roles. Aunt Jan never entertains because people get her house dirty. My mom never has people over because she is embarrassed by her clutter and hoarding.

I wonder now if she imagined her mother was still alive inside of that house cooking supper, washing dishes, or just living a normal life every time she used to walk by. That was the only house she remembered her mother living in. Her mother died and her family moved far away, but she remained in that small town.

My mom more often than not on nice days took us for walks by her old childhood home. Every day the memory of her mother was still alive inside of that house. I’m sure she thought of that when she took us on walks to visit her husband’s mother.

Until one day the house burned down and even those memories faded away. She couldn’t imagine her mother happy inside the house when the house was no longer there. It was almost like she lost her mother again.