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.

When fear calls

I called my daughter that Sunday morning right before church started.

She was worried about suicide…or murder/suicide. After everything that happened, I shared her concern. What could I do about it?

I had been scheduled to sing that morning with the worship team. I ended the call abruptly as I saw everyone head up to sing.

I worried. Maybe this is good-bye. Maybe I will never see my parents again. It’s a horrible feeling especially when I had to act happy and sing on a live recorded feed. I felt so fake.

Smile! I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out. I started shaking. Smile. This could be the last day he is alive, they are alive. My God, the horror. Twenty minutes later, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. Everything in my body told me to run off the stage. Flee. I had to stay. Everyone was watching me, in church and even online.

Maybe they would think I was having stage fright. I wish that was all it was. I couldn’t tell anybody. I wanted to drive out to the house. But the day before the car broke down, the only one free that afternoon. Plus I was asked not to because my family didn’t feel like it was safe.

I wanted to ask for prayer that day. But my husband was not in church that morning. He got asked by a friend of mine to help her out with something in place of her husband who spent the night in jail. I told him that helping out someone in need was more important than attending church. He agreed.

Shallow, I suppose. If I left the stage for prayer, it would be obvious. Then people might wonder if I was having problems with my husband because he wasn’t there. It could be misconstrued and gossiped about. I didn’t want that.

I called my brother Luke when I got home. Although he was treated the worst by our dad, he was the first to try to pull dad out of the grave he dug. That day my mom took my brother Matt back to his group home and stayed with us for several days. I made sure the doors were locked and became hyper-vigilant to signs of trouble.

Sometimes I wish my only stress was worrying about the holidays. The simple worries of getting that perfect gift. I couldn’t even think. Or worrying about hosting parties with special diets. Or having 4 teenagers in my house. Anything but this.

We are all worried. You’ve been depressed, suicidal before. Now you have a reason to end it all. Is this the only way your heart will change? Will your curses to God change to cries for help? Maybe this is the only way. But it’s not what I wanted for you, for the rest of us.

It’s been a month since I initially wrote this. I feel anxious. Tomorrow I will be singing on the worship team for the first time since this happened. I don’t want to do it anymore because it is triggering my feelings of fear. I understand why people seek isolation in times of despair. So many seemingly innocent things trigger bad feelings and memories associated with them. I’ve been trying to see my world as it really is but at times it is utterly terrifying and I question everything I blindly believed before.

Notes on music

Things went well this past weekend with my daughter Angel’s singing competition. She made it to the semi-finals. Although she didn’t make it to the final round, she was satisfied with her performance. Being satisfied with her performance was big. She is like her mother and tends to cut herself down if she makes mistakes. Plus earlier in the week she told me that she wasn’t doing it. She had tonsillitis and was not able to practice much.

We didn’t run into any of her previous stalkers on campus which was a plus. The biggest problem she encountered was on her way there. Her map wasn’t working on her phone and she got lost. I had to find her on my phone’s map and give her directions from where I thought she was which was no easy task in the dark in a strange town.

I checked into the hotel a long time before she arrived. I checked in at the same time as her singing professor whom I greeted in a very friendly manner. He didn’t recognize me and I was hoping that he didn’t think I was a lady of the night.

 

We ended up eating supper after 9 PM. It was great watching Angel perform. I think the visit will tide her over until she comes home at Thanksgiving. This is the longest she has been away from home and she was starting to feel homesick.

Then Paul and I returned back to the same college yesterday with Alex for a campus tour. His girlfriend also attended the tour. Alex and Baylee have been dating for almost a year and a half. They have been talking about going to the same college. We think that if they go to the same school they might get married someday.. Time will tell. I thought that Angel and Mitch would marry, but they broke up this year.

Alex wants to go to school for saxophone performance or possibly jazz studies. My oldest two children want to or are going to school for music performance and don’t want to be educators.. There will always be a spot open for them in my basement.. Although very talented, the likelihood of them both having a successful career as performers is slim. I always like it when people ask me what their backup plan is…My basement, that is their backup plan.

I remember when I bought Alex his saxophone. I bought the instrument used for half the price of a new one. New saxophones are pricey and I didn’t want it to end up collecting dust on the shelf after high school ended.

I went to a stranger’s house to purchase the instrument. She kept all of the receipts. She told me that her son lost interest in band. A few months after I purchased the instrument for my son, her son committed suicide. It was a strange feeling. Was the selling of his instrument a warning sign that he was losing interest in his hobbies? It was very sad. My son asked me afterwards if I bought the instrument from the boy that died. I did not lie.

I was afraid that my son would find playing the instrument distasteful after that, but he brought the instrument to life. Many years later, my son wants to take this instrument with him far into his future. I want the previous owners to know that this instrument that once belonged to their only son did not end up on a shelf somewhere. But maybe through it a small piece of his life is carrying on…

 

Depression, my old friend

In response to my neighbor’s suicide…

I understand your struggle…

When I grew up, my childhood was very difficult. It was so difficult that the big people in my life could barely cope with the circumstances that they had to deal with. In early childhood I developed two friendships to help me cope, depression and anxiety.

Depression was a close friend of the family. My dad made friends with depression too. Sometimes when the house was really quiet, I was afraid of what he might do. My brother Mark found friendship with depression too. When he was a teen, my mom found several nooses in the tree. I knew the temptation. I knew the struggle.

In late childhood, I tried to break my friendship with depression but she fell in love with me.

When I became an adult, I learned how to live with my friend. I kept myself very busy so I wouldn’t have time for my friend to visit. I worked harder and harder. When my friend noticed I was free, she would visit me.

Have you ever been suicidal before? Do you know what it is like to be that depressed? I do. It is very frightening. Thoughts and images popping into my head of my own demise over and over again. Me in the bathtub with slashed wrists. Driving very fast into a tree. A loaded gun. An empty bottle of pills. Horrible, intrusive thoughts that invade my mind unwanted. The more I try to push my friend away, the more she clings.

Over time I learned how to cope with having a difficult friend. I am a workaholic. Keeping busy keeps her away. I have a strong faith that exorcises my demons. I try to outrun my demons by running 100 miles a month. I take massive doses of vitamin D over the winter months. I try to have something to look forward to. I find the support of family and close friends who have survived difficult times.

What can others do to help that haven’t experienced it? Listen without condemnation. Allow venting, even if it means listening to things you don’t want to hear. Don’t tell them to get over it even if it has been several years since they experienced the initial pain. Sometimes being a good friend is encouraging others to seek professional help.

Does that mean that I no longer get depressed? No. Sometimes when I go through hard times, my friend comes back to help me. A few months ago when I was having difficulties with my son, she visited me for awhile. I spent a long time staring off into space. This is very hard to explain, but when I stared off into space I felt peaceful. When you sink down low enough, sometimes you feel so empty that even the pain is gone. It is a very alluring trap. I had to pull myself out of that dark void. I feel sorry for those that struggle to break free.

Over the years, I learned a few things about my friend. It is okay to feel sad. Sometimes the negative feelings in our life motivate change. During difficult times and emotions, I tell myself that the feelings will pass. I also tell myself over and over that I have felt this way before and survived it. I know how to cope, how to get through.

I am trying hard to face all of the feelings that were locked away for so many years. Writing has been very therapeutic. Maybe if I write honestly about my experiences and struggles, then others won’t feel so all alone. I am okay. You will be okay too. Find a way to cope. Be understanding toward others that struggle. Maybe it will prevent one more unnecessary death.