Now snakes too!

I am hosting a grad party for Arabella this weekend in two days. Two days! I just spent the morning cleaning the house and spent 5 hours this week weeding. I think there is going to be a point where it is just going to have to be good enough. That’s the thing about weeding. Everyone notices if you don’t do it but no one really realizes how tedious of a chore it is if you do.

I’m feeling a little stressed about the party. All of my closest friends will not be able to attend. My best friend has the funeral of her uncle/godfather out of town. Most of the other people that are coming haven’t seen my daughter since before COVID. So in other words, before she really started to struggle with mental health issues.

There are two questions I am dreading. The first one is why isn’t your dad at the party. I can only hope no one notices since he wasn’t the most involved before. I am sure I am going to have at least one person ask me that though. I’m not much of a liar. Perhaps I should say that my dad is a pedophile and was not invited. Maybe I should just say that he is sick. But then they might think he has COVID since I’ve been having a lot of questions about that as well. What are my chances of getting the Delta variant if I come to the party? Will there be any of those unvaccinated people there? Really, how should I know who is vaccinated or not?? I’m not going to be checking vaccine cards at the door. I told those people to make whatever choice they feel most comfortable with.

The second question might even be harder. Arabella has extensive cutting scars on her arm. Almost everyone coming has not seen her since before COVID meaning that they are not used to seeing her wounds. Now she could cover her arms but she probably won’t. She recently got a semicolon tattoo on her wrist. It’s really quite moving that she wants to be authentic and remove the stigma of keeping mental health issues and suicide attempts hush hush. She can’t undo the scars. Is she supposed to spend the rest of her life covering it up? She is not ashamed of her struggles, but her arms are a painful reminder of what she and all of us went through. I have mixed feelings about whether she should cover them or not but it is not my decision to make. I should probably warn her about comments though.

I’m sure I will get questions about it that I don’t want to answer. I can pretty much guarantee that my niece Gracie will say something blunt and rude. Right now I am happy that my daughter is still alive. But I am afraid of the comments she might get because her arms are really shocking. She also cut up her legs but you can’t really see that unless she wears a swimming suit. Plus she grew a couple more cups sizes since residential so her appearance is very attention grabbing.

Also, today my mom is getting a heart monitor. Her anxiety medicine is giving her tachycardia so she has to wear the monitor for 2 weeks. She is going to love all the attention she gets at the party. Tomorrow is her birthday and she wants us to take her sailing. I thought having the party the weekend of her birthday would be a good opportunity to get together with my brothers for her birthday. But the only brother able to go is Matt and he is disabled and has a hard time getting around. My mom is also afraid of water but she wants to go. It is supposed to rain and she can’t get the heart monitor wet. We’ll see how it all goes. It really couldn’t be worse timing since I have so much to do for the party.

I really hope the party goes well. I am a little worried about it. Well, I better get back outside to do more weeding. It’s kind of funny because yesterday after weeding my husband saw a rather large snake by a bush I just put my hands under to grab weeds. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. Now snakes!!

Residential care

The first couple of weeks at residential were really rough. I was afraid that Arabella was going to get kicked out of the program. They told us while she was on the waiting list if she did any self-harm, such as banging her head against the wall like she did at her second inpatient stay, they would release her. She knew that because she was part of that conversation. She hated it there at first. She didn’t have any friends. They purposefully kept her alone to increase her tolerance in a safe environment.

We received nightly calls from her which were not always good. She begged us to send her expensive gifts overlooking the cost of treatment. She bragged about her arguments with staff and how she broke the rules. They had a hard time waking her up in the morning like we did. It wasn’t going well because she didn’t want to be there. She argued with us and hung up on us on multiple occasions. I was always waiting for a call that we should come pick her up and there was nothing they could do for her.

The first call from the therapist was rough because she said that Arabella made allegations of abuse against us which they had to report to social services. Nice! What were they going to do anyway? Take her away? I jokingly said to my husband that maybe then the county would pay for her residential treatment. But nothing ever happened.

Arabella caught on fast, but she couldn’t focus. She was easily distracted which lead to a diagnosis of ADHD. She improved greatly in the program after she was treated for this. I felt like this was a turning point in her treatment. She wanted to be there after that and wanted to get better. She could finally focus on studying and new hobbies.

Some other strange things happened while she was there. Arabella went into a dissociative state and freaked out scaring other patients. She didn’t know who she was or where she was. In this dissociative state, Arabella ate plastic which prompted more testing for pica. Dissociation can be a symptom of borderline. After this she had every single diagnostic characteristic of borderline. I wondered if this had anything to do with her eating nonfood items before. I was completely puzzled.

Before this I did not know she experienced dissociative episodes. She admitted to dissociating in the shower. She also said that she had episodes in her room where she looked down at herself and thought that she was a very bad person that didn’t deserve to live or a very good person. I found it very hard to understand and didn’t even know it was possible or likely without experiencing major trauma.

After the treatment for ADHD and after her dissociative episode ended, there was a time of tremendous growth. She started working on learning and applying skills. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we were very fearful at first about whether or not this treatment was going to work. We had a lot invested in it and not just financially. I think our fear in early treatment was normal, we just didn’t know what to expect.

I think the residential DBT program was a lifesaver. It gave her (and us) more tools to work on some of her mental health issues she was struggling with. But we were also worried about how things were going to be when she got home. Would the skills carry over? Would she be able to live independently or would she need lifetime care? Again, we just didn’t know what to expect in recovery.

Residential waiting list

We received the call that Arabella’s name came up on the waiting list for the DBT residential program for adolescent girls. We had less than a week to get everything together. She had to be there within a certain time period or she would lose her place. This was her last opportunity since they said she could not be there after turning 18. She was less than 3 months until 18 which meant by the time she came up on the waiting list again, she would be too old for the program.

She abruptly ended her time with the outpatient program that she was in for 2 months. I had to switch a dentist appointment around last minute. Thankfully they were able to sneak her in earlier with short notice. The residential program needed her dental records. We ended up getting all of the paperwork together and appointments done as soon as we possibly could. It was months of wait, wait, wait then boom hurry as fast as you could to get everything together. Plus I had to work with the insurance company which was pretty much a waste of my time. We ended up paying for everything out of pocket which wasn’t cheap. We emptied Arabella’s college fund. She wasn’t interested in college anyway. Without residential we honestly didn’t know if she would live that long anyway. This was our last ditch effort to save her life.

To make matters far more stressful, we also had a COVID scare within that time period. My daughter Angel’s boyfriend Dan tested positive then my daughter got sick with COVID as well. Once we found out he was sick, my daughter stayed with him at his parent’s house and didn’t come back home until she was better. It was a matter of life and death. If Arabella couldn’t go into the program because of a positive test I feared she would die. It was horrible and terrifying. FYI admitting your child into an inpatient, outpatient, or residential program is stressful and crappy as it is without the extra stress.

They ask questions such as how many suicide attempts have you made and when was the last one. My daughter answered that many times she cut herself so deeply that she was hoping not to wake up in the morning. They ask so many disturbing personal questions that no parent wants to hear the answer to. I suffered greatly the first time I saw the cutting on her arm. I had nightmares for days when I could sleep that is. It was very traumatic for me.

Thankfully Arabella’s COVID test came back negative and we all remained healthy at our house. I do think that the residential program has helped Arabella tremendously learn the skills that are needed to live a healthy and productive emotionally regulated life. We, as her parents, worked very closely with her therapist and the psychiatrist. We received a DBT parent workbook and listened to podcasts. It didn’t cure her. She is still taking plenty of medications. It was a very rewarding experience except for the cost. But as the saying goes…you get what you pay for.

Arabella was in the residential program for a little over 2 months. I’ve noticed a lot of improvements since she got back. It was worth it to give her a second chance at life. Now it is up to her what happens next. We did everything we could.

Carrying a heavy weight

She gained 13 lbs. in a month.

Arabella wasn’t on any medications that could cause weight gain. She also went through periods of restricted eating. This really didn’t concern me as much because at the time she was easily over 250 lbs. I was more concerned about diabetes and other health related issues. She wasn’t eating meals with us anymore. I would tell her it was time to eat only to find her eating a bag of Oreos in her room. She only wanted junk food.

It struck a painful chord in me. I show I care about my family by doing nice things for them such as their laundry or cooking nice meals. It was triggering of childhood memories of my own mom working hard to cook nice meals only to have my dad ask her what kind of dog shit she made for supper. I feel hurt and unappreciated when my efforts are scorned. It takes a lot of work to cook supper and make healthy homemade meals for a family of 5 or 6. It makes me angry when my cooking is replaced by a cheap sugary substitute.

My dad also struggles with obesity and unhealthy eating. He does not exercise and now can barely walk. I saw how he struggles with his weight and I don’t want that for my daughter. Not only that but it is hard to care for someone who is elderly and prone to falls. He is over 300 lbs. and there is no way I could lift him.

What was even more concerning besides her obesity and binge eating of junk was that she started to eat non food items as well. She ate woodchips. She cut up a Capri Sun pouch and ate that. She ate paper and several plastic forks. What if that was to tear up her intestines? To me it seemed like a whole new way to self-harm. The doctors were puzzled by it as well. They ran all sorts of blood work but nothing could be determined what was causing her pica. Was it some strange side effect to her medication? Was it for attention?

One of the hardest things was that I didn’t have any control over it. She was twice my size. Although I could share with her my experience with healthy eating and exercise, she wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, to this day I am not allowed to talk about it.

While she was in residential, Arabella still went through periods of eating paper and plastic silverware. Again, more tests were run and not surprisingly nothing was found. The best anyone could tell me was that she should take a multi-vitamin because she wasn’t getting any nutrients from what she was eating. Things haven’t really gotten much better since she came home. Her meals consist of chips, candy, cookies, and sugary foods. I can’t stand it really. I don’t know what to do about it. If I talk to her about it she gets angry with me. She tells me that I don’t understand and quite frankly I don’t.

I won’t take her shopping because she fills my cart with junk. I don’t mind buying some snacks, but I don’t want to fill my cart with them. When she has money, she buys her own snacks. It was hard when she worked at the grocery store because she would spend her paycheck there. It didn’t matter if she didn’t have money. Sometimes her friends would be her junk food junkies and bring her a new stash.

The therapist said that I shouldn’t be nagging her about it because it would cause her to feel shame which would cause more stress eating which would cause a perpetual shame cycle. Instead she should feel natural consequences, such as diabetes. Who wants their teenager to struggle with body image and health concerns due to obesity in a society that pressures women especially young women to look a certain way? I am in my 40’s and I still feel the pressure to look a certain way. It’s not as bad as when I was a teenager, but still.

My intention is not to fat shame my daughter. It’s hard to talk about because I’ve never really struggled a lot with my own weight. But it’s a big problem and I’m not sure she is going to be able to fix it. It’s going to have to be another thing I have to let go because there is nothing I can do about it. When I do try to help I only seem to make things worse.

Sometimes it’s really hard to let my adult children go and watch them struggle.