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.

Waiting in the uncertainty

One day Arabella handed me a baggie full of pills. Inside was a month’s supply of sleeping pills. I didn’t understand. How did this happen when I watched her take her medication every morning and every night? I couldn’t imagine it would be that easy to stockpile pills while under supervision.

She gave me the pills because she said she was no longer planning on using them to kill herself. She said she was surprised that I never found them after outpatient said I should search her room. I also remember the late night text from Jordan’s mom saying that she had pills and was planning on using them.

Arabella said that on some nights she wouldn’t take her sleeping pills but instead would drink energy drinks so she could stay up all night. That is what she did to finish high school. I don’t understand why she would even want to do that. At the time she seemed rather manic and didn’t feel the need for sleep. But she didn’t feel like killing herself either. I would almost prefer mania to suicidal depression.

But was she really bipolar then? She told the doctor she couldn’t sleep at night even with the sleeping pills. But she didn’t tell him that she wasn’t always taking them.

I’m glad she handed over the sleeping pills. I finally felt some peace after hearing that my daughter was going to OD on pills but never being able to find anything.

The hard part was that her psychiatrist thought she could be bipolar but said he was retiring and just left us. He never put her on medication that would manage bipolar. At residential, they didn’t think she was bipolar. At home right now, she seems manic.

Over the past year, my daughter has had 6 different possible psychiatric diagnoses. It seems to me that the experts don’t agree. She still needs my help to manage her medications because she is not taking them properly. I still don’t have the answers that I need. I’m not sure what the future holds as far as her care goes. She is having a hard time finding a job because it is obvious that she has some serious mental health issues if you have a conversation with her. I don’t know where to turn.

But as for now, she gave me the pills back. She seems manic which presents itself with other safety concerns. At least she isn’t suicidal at the moment.

But now what? She wants me to butt out because she is an adult now. I can’t in good conscience walk away. I really would like her to have psychological testing for a firm diagnosis. The jury is still out whether or not she is going to be able to live independently and take care of herself someday. The uncertainty and lack of control over the situation is hard to deal with. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see and hope she doesn’t do something to destroy herself in the meantime.

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.

Living in the real world

Right after Arabella started outpatient, I spoke to her case manager there and she told me of a safety concern. The case manager mentioned that Arabella talked about wanting to overdose again. She suggested that I search her room before she got home that day.

I have never been the room searching type of parent. It reminded me of that one time as a teenager my mom went into my room when I wasn’t home, found my diaries, and read them. Then she got angry at me for the things I wrote, some of it from many years before. I will never forget feeling upset over my privacy being violated for no particular reason. Even my innermost private thoughts were not safe. So I was totally against violating the privacy of my teenagers unless I thought maybe my children were unsafe.

I did a sweep of Arabella’s room that afternoon. I found some contraband, but I didn’t find a stockpile of pills. Granted my daughter is a bit of a hoarder. It made it harder to search every nook and cranny amongst the clutter.

But I did make sure that the pills in my house were hidden away out of reach. Nary a bottle of Tylenol could be found in my medicine cabinet at the time. This was problematic at times. Around that time, my son had his wisdom teeth removed. I had to keep his pain medicine locked up along with the Tylenol. It was a royal pain because it made it hard for him to manage his medication himself.

It’s hard to live in a world where I had to keep hyper-vigilant of every little pill and sharp objects. It wasn’t convenient for other family members. It was a lot of hassle and work. As if she couldn’t find a way around it if she wanted to. But that is the advice that every doctor gave me. Lock everything up. It wasn’t practical. I couldn’t lock up every knife and have my family ask for permission to unlock them if they wanted to make themselves something to eat. I felt guilty that I didn’t lock up every knife.

But sometime, somewhere my daughter was going to have to live in the real world.

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…

It’s not summer camp

Sometimes the friends you meet at the psychiatric hospital are not the best kind of friends to have. It’s not summer camp, you know.

But it was hard because Arabella missed so much school due to mental health issues that she needed to finish her education online. This meant that she had to drop out of the play she had a part in. She had to drop her extracurricular activities. She also lost the comradery with her friends from not attending school in person and being involved like she used to be.

She started hanging out with kids from the hospital. Some of them came from rough backgrounds. I know this because one girl was living in the homeless shelter and another at the domestic violence shelter. Another girl that she developed a friendship with made a serious suicide attempt right after Arabella visited her at her house. It really shook Arabella up because she was the last person to see her until she was found and the rescue squad came. Let’s put it this way, friendships formed in the psychiatric ward do not foster healthy relationships. But my daughter wasn’t healthy either and needed friends.

There was this one girl that was especially a bad apple and I will call her Ashlynn. She was into shoplifting and smoking. She pulled my daughter into it with her. I say this because my daughter did not do these things before she met Ashlynn. I do understand that my daughter is responsible for her behavior, but she is also easily influenced due to her fear of abandonment and own impulsiveness. Arabella decided to shoplift Christmas gifts for her old friend group. When her old friend group found out about the shoplifting, they had an intervention with my daughter and almost every one of her friends cut her out of their lives. I had no idea any of this was happening at the time.

What I do know and what I was able to piece together later was that Arabella came home very depressed from the intervention with her friends. She told me she was afraid that her friends were going to abandon her. It was not uncommon for her to feel this way whether it was a legitimate concern or not. I told her she should try some of her strategies on her list she made at the hospital to help her feel better when she was depressed. She decided to take a shower and listen to some music.

Afterwards, Arabella had a really good conversation with Angel and I. I thought maybe Arabella was feeling better. She seemed to be doing well. Maybe her strategies worked. I let my guard down. Big mistake.

After our conversation, Arabella went into her room and created a noose with one of her dresses in the closet. But she decided not to go through with it and called the crisis center instead. I had no idea what was going on until I talked to one of the people at the crisis center. It was terribly shocking. I thought she was doing better. My daughter wanted to go back to the hospital, but it was the weekend and my daughter was scheduled to start her outpatient program on Monday.

I opted instead to have the crisis center call her and myself several times a day to see how she was doing. I didn’t want her to lose her place at outpatient which took a month to set up to have her go back to the hospital which didn’t do as much to help her long term like I thought outpatient would. I set up new boundaries for her as well such as she could stay in her room by herself but needed to keep the door open at all times.

She was feeling better the next day and wanted to drive to her friend’s house but I said no. I didn’t want to let her use my car if she was feeling suicidal in any way. Obviously I couldn’t really tell or believe she was feeling better after the night before. But I also felt like I was punishing her for something she didn’t do wrong. Do I take away privileges for her doing the right thing by reaching out for help? That is something I always struggle with. I told her she could visit with a friend but she would have to come here and find her own ride.

We made it through but I’ve never been more afraid in my life having a mentally ill, impulsive, suicidal daughter that once only spent a whole week just at summer camp.

pick me up

After Arabella was in the hospital for a week, it was time for her to be released. This time we didn’t have a family therapy session scheduled. They just told us to come pick her up.

This time it seemed like I sat in the waiting room close to an eternity. I wasn’t the only one. There were two other women waiting with me. One of the women was not memorable, perhaps she was only a figment of my imagination. The other woman looked like she got hit by a bus. Her hair was unkept and she wore pajamas. She spoke loudly on the phone as the rest of us politely tried not to listen. She sobbed as she told the other person how awful it was to find her son’s body then to see him taken away in a body bag. Somehow he lived and she was waiting for his transfer from the hospital to the psychiatric hospital.

I wanted to cry for that woman. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be that mom someday. Would I find my child dead or unconscious from a suicide attempt? I couldn’t stomach the thought but that was the deep water I was wading in. I can’t even imagine the horror. It ripped her apart. She couldn’t even think about doing the little things to take care of herself at that point. A story like hers is the reason why parents of suicidal children don’t sleep at night. The pain never ends until it ends and that is painful too. It seemed incredibly traumatic even though her child lived.

Arabella finally came out of the locked doors carrying a paper bag of her belongings. She was sobbing hysterically. She couldn’t even talk to tell me what was wrong. The other moms glanced her way. Was she really ready to come back home? The nurse came out with papers for me to sign and a new two sided medication list to be picked up at the pharmacy. When the old pills didn’t work, they just threw more her way. The nurse tersely said ‘good luck’ then turned and walked away.

What could I do about it? It’s one of the most painful things as a parent to watch as mental illness devours your child. There was nothing I could do but hope and pray I wouldn’t be in the same shoes as the other mom someday. But after three hospitalizations in the last few months how could I magically believe that things were going to be better after this one?

Admitting questions

When my daughter was admitted into residential they asked her a lot of questions. One of them was if anyone she knew committed suicide. She said ‘yes’.

It brings us back to a year and a couple days ago. A friend from our theatre group decided to end his life. I had known him a couple of years by that time. Since I’d known him he was in dialysis. He even had a kidney transplant that failed before I met him. Every week he would go to dialysis for 30 hours. He couldn’t work. He lived by himself. He didn’t have a girlfriend, wife, kids, or barely any family. He didn’t have much of a support system from what I saw.

He wasn’t good looking. He wasn’t popular. Most people thought he was weird. He was kind, but I got the impression that most people didn’t really like him. He wasn’t even a good actor. He never got any good parts.

One day he posted on Facebook that he was trying to find a good home for his pets because he decided to discontinue dialysis. Some people tried to talk him out of it. Others tried to convert him because he didn’t have faith in any God or creed. I have to pose the question if it really was suicide. Technically, I suppose it was because he decided to discontinue the treatment that was keeping him alive.

I know he was suffering greatly. He had lost hope. There wasn’t a cure just spending the rest of his life tied to a dialysis machine. Could anyone blame him for his decision? Maybe I would’ve chosen the same thing if I was in his situation. But who really wants to think about that? We just want to judge. As an adult I can understand and reason. But maybe the young folks in the theatre who didn’t fully understand his suffering might think that suicide is a good solution for dealing with pain.

I felt sorry for the man and about the situation he found himself in. He passed away right before the lock down started. Because of COVID we didn’t even have the chance to say good-bye. His funeral was cancelled. In most respects, he was forgotten until a couple days ago when he was remembered as the man that committed suicide.

I seem to find myself in a moral dilemma. Is suicide okay in some scenarios and not others? What about emotional pain and suffering? I have a friend that decided to stop Chemo because it greatly affects her quality of life. Is it okay to discontinue life extending treatment if the quality of life it gives you is horrible? We are not going to escape this life alive.

Are we going to cut off the elderly from our lives because they could die of COVID? Just for them to die in a nursing home alone without their family. Is it worth it? We are making those level of decisions right now. Is the emotional pain of being separated from loved ones worth an extra year of life?

I would have to say that the answer to these questions should come down to individual choice. I don’t have to agree with it. But as far as my family is concerned I would like to have some say.

A year and two days ago

It’s been a year and two days since my daughter tried to take her life. It was on a day like today. It happened while I was sitting in the same spot I’m in today, writing my post oblivious to what was happening a couple rooms away.

It came out of nowhere. I blamed myself for not noticing something was wrong. Me, the hyper-vigilant one. I was focused on other things, other problems.

There was a fight between my daughter and our foreign exchange student Estelle. Before then things were great between them, better than I could’ve ever expected. Arabella and Estelle were best friends. We even signed Arabella up to be a foreign exchange student hosted by Estelle’s family. Then there was the fight. Arabella accused Estelle of trying to steal her friends. I thought it was temporary, petty even. They would work it out themselves. But a few days later my daughter tried to kill herself.

She tried to OD and laid down in her bed to go into a forever sleep. She was filled with horror and threw up the pills she ingested. She reached out to her friends, then she reached out to me. That is when she found me writing my post on a day just like today. She came into the room sobbing hysterically. I literally thought someone had died. She said it was a mistake and it wouldn’t happen again. I don’t know why I believed her. We were naïve and new to her mental health struggles back then. We didn’t know what to do and certainly had no idea what would happen next.

One of the first feelings I felt was enraged. I screamed and kicked the garbage can across the room spilling its contents everywhere. I can’t remember a time of such anger and uncontrolled rage in myself. I wanted to punch a wall or through the glass in the door. Looking back it seemed like an unusual response because I usually suppress my anger. But that is what happened.

Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if she succeeded that night in February. Succeeded, what a horrible word to describe something like that. I don’t think I would’ve made it through to share my story. My demons could have me. I just wouldn’t have the fight to run from them anymore.

For a long time after that night, I would awake in the middle of the night to see if she was still breathing. I would watch for the rise and fall of the blankets. Sometimes I couldn’t see and would reach out to touch her gently as to not wake her reminiscent of the early years when I checked on my sweet baby to see if she was still breathing after she stopped crying out for me in the middle of the night.

Now there was a new fear that robbed me of my peace both day and night. Will my daughter choose life today? I rejoice that it’s been over a year and she is alive!!

It was the start of a new journey. I was no longer just a sibling of someone with serious mental health issues, now I am a mother.

What could’ve been

Last month someone close to me attempted suicide.

Maybe you noticed I didn’t write much during that time, maybe not. It’s been easier to write about crusty old scabbed over wounds than the ones currently tearing open my flesh. But now I’m ready to jump back into the flames of the fire that consumes me and threatens the very walls of my foundation.

Part of it I blame myself. I was where I spent most of my life, in survival mode. I was consumed by everything going on with my dad. It’s very bad and it sucked every ounce of energy, joy and peace out of my life. I thought about it every day and every night much like we are thinking about the corona virus. There is not a day that goes by we can completely purge this crisis from our minds.

I didn’t notice anything was wrong. If I did, I dismissed it as superficial (not as bad as what I was going through with my dad). When you are drowning, you tend not to notice if someone else is going too deep.

This person took a handful of pills and settled into bed for their last peaceful slumber. But it wasn’t like that, peaceful. Their life passed before their eyes taking a nightmarish turn. What have I done? Terror coursed through their veins as they struggled to purge the pills. Then they reached out for help.

When I found out, I screamed wildly with rage. I kicked the garbage can and assaulted the contents within. I wanted to put my fist through the wall, but restrained myself. For a few days after, my logic brain shut down. I forgot what day it was. I couldn’t process things in my mind that before I did with ease. My strong suit of structure shut down. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write. Fear coursed through me day and night making it nearly impossible to sleep.

I felt angry with my dad. After what he did, I didn’t think I would ever smile again. Did this person think I was angry with them because of my reaction to my dad? I pushed everyone away. I’m so sorry I didn’t realize they needed help until it was almost too late.

I’m not going to lie, this past year has been tremendously difficult. What little joy remained within me was destroyed after the suicide attempt.

I feel like the mistakes of others are ruining my life. My childhood was ruined and is not salvageable. I tried really hard not to let the things other people do ruin my life, but it is easier said than done. If I am going to wallow in despair my whole life from the mistakes of other people, I might as well just screw up my life myself.

I can’t bear the weight of this anymore. Have it back. I don’t want it. Call me selfish, but I just want to worry about myself.

Thankfully this person realized they made a mistake to try to end their life. They are now getting the help they need. But still my mind wanders to what might have been. What would life be like if this person was not around? It would be horrible to find them dead.  Gone forever. There is much sorrow in thinking of what might’ve been. Thankfully this is not how their story ends. If nothing else, I can take comfort in that.