Chapter 4: The Litmus Test

February 19, 2018

1 Peter 5:8 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.


Things seem to go fine for Grace at St. Rita’s initially. I had a blessing of entering a research phase with my job, so I was able to work from home a bit which allowed me to pick up this new carpool routine I now drove. I had the morning shift for Caroline, which meant picking up our rider, going to the school, and then coming back to the house. This was a 40-minute round trip drive. I would then pick up Grace and then take her to school which was further than Caroline’s school. This was about an hour round trip drive. In the afternoons, I left early to get Grace. There were no busses and I did not have a carpool option for Grace.  Over two hours was now taken out of my day with this new routine; this meant my writing and research had to be done not only in the in between time when they were at school, but also before we left for school and in the evenings after homework and supper, and on weekends. 


Grace enjoyed getting the attention of her former friends from her old private elementary and middle school- most of who had moved on to this private high school.  She joined track - and did well. For the first time in many, many months, I feel hopeful. I feel things are finally back on track and that I am not constantly consumed with Grace. My commitment to action had paid off.


Then she lost a geography book - which cost 150.00. She had not written her name in her book - as I had asked. And seemed relatively unconcerned; she said she would just borrow one. That to me was one indicator that this opportunity was taken for granted. I tried to tell myself that it was just a teenager being unorganized - but as I thought on it - if parents and grandparents and siblings had gone through so many things to get you into this school.... wouldn't you be very careful and responsible ... with everything?


Because of the salacious texts which I discovered from her other school - I am checking Grace's phone randomly for language and pictures. I can tell she is erasing them. She tells me she is not doing anything bad - and also tells me she is not erasing them. I know she is lying. She tells me the foul language I am seeing on her phone is no big deal - everyone does it - I tell her I don't care. I don't want her using it.


I institute a time in which her phone has to be off for the night. She said she uses her phone for her alarm - so I let it stay in the room. I tell her no texting or phone calls and no phone use period after 10.

I think she adheres to this for a while - and I occasionally ask her - and she says she is adhering to it.


Then one day - just to make sure we are saying the same thing - I verify - no phone OR texting after 10, correct? And she claims she did not know. I kind of knew she was going to say that - which is why I made a point to clarify.  So - now we have clarified... again.


Remember earlier when I said your parenting begins to alter in ways you would not have believed? In your mind you think – consciously or not – if I punish, if I call her out, she will cut. Doing anything that encourages your child to self-harm goes against every natural instinct we, as parents – as mothers  - have. The desire to protect your child is very strong.  Especially when your child has an automatic wake up message on her phone that she programmed to read: “It’s best if you get up now. Everything is better.”


One afternoon while I was working from the house, Grace came into my office and told me that she and a friend, a boy, were returning chairs to the locker room at school and that another girl started spreading rumors about her being with this boy while they were in the locker room returning chairs. Grace fretted over it. They were not true, Grace said. She called her friends about it. I counseled her repeatedly that afternoon- and through the next day to not worry. I told Grace that if it was not true - she had nothing to hide. If she was clear with God - nothing else mattered. She said she was. So I reassured her it was fine and to not worry about what other people said. She had a clean heart. It seemed like each week brought both defeats, like the text book, and success, like sharing with me.


On the way to school the next morning, she was again worried about the rumors. She even said so before she got out of the car. We talked about how sometimes people can be mean - and I reminded her not to worry: She had no reason not to have a clear conscience about the matter.  As Grace got out of the car - I prayed for her. I prayed for her not to worry. And - throughout the day - I prayed that she was weathering things just fine. She was never far from my thoughts this day; I really felt for her.

After school - I asked how it went. She said it was fine. I told her that we all need to be careful about how much we worry about things that never come to pass. A success! A moment when my parenting advice given her had proven true.


And come to find out the following week, the rumors Grace was so worried about - were not rumors at all. I found myself in a familiar position – and more concerning to me, was that Grace, too, was in her same position. Despite medication, despite weekly counseling sessions, despite family encouragement, despite giving her – at great cost – a new start in a new school – Grace was making the same choices, including lying to me.


And we had also fallen into a pattern of sameness with her. When Grace doesn't want to do something, a chore I’ve asked of her, as example, she tells me she is feeing anxious and might go do something “bad” - and then I back off. End of interaction. I have simplified it a bit, but in the main, the above is the scenario.  Every time she has a cutting episode, I get frustrated because it’s a perpetual pendulum. We have some good days with no cutting, and then it swings the other way. And, I start to believe Grace is using the cutting as leverage in addition to it now being a habit, and a sedative for her.


I am in a continual circular loop on how much of Grace's dysfunction is mental, how much is chosen oppositional behavior, and how much is spiritual. I over analyze each event trying to figure out which behavior I was primarily dealing with.  My sense was that there was a large amount of chosen oppositional behavior and manipulation. Parenting this child who cut was like having to row a boat, with no oars.  I knew we were at the whim of the current, Grace, but I was hesitant to use any hard discipline, to get her back on course. Why? Because she would cut. And there we were.  Whether Grace did this intentionally or not each and every time – I don’t know.


Grace continues with her meds, her counseling sessions are going “well,” and we are downgraded from going weekly to going monthly. It will be our first time in quite a while to forego seeing the counselor for weeks.  I am nervous about it; Grace is fine with it.

But, in therapy world, this would be considered patient progress.


And so -

I am off to work the morning after I discovered Grace sneaking out at night from the beginning of this story, and I have pulled Grace's phone and lap tap. It is a holiday for both Grace and Caroline. I knew I would be working at the office 3/4 or so of a day - and left the girls at home as Grace was 14 and Caroline was 12; I had no concerns especially because Grace was cut off from electronics.


Around noon, I begin getting some texts from Caroline. She is saying that Grace is acting weird.


I asked:


She replies:

I don't know - weird.

She says she is going to hurt herself.


I am weary of this. I am weary of being at Grace’s whim. I tell Caroline:

Don't worry Caroline. She will be fine. Grace is threatening.  I am coming home soon.


I knew Grace was likely crabby over no phone or laptop. And I also knew that Grace and I had just been to the psychiatrist for med management and Grace was told upfront at this appointment: Cutting is partly for attention; let's face it.  And Grace agreed! That was revelatory to me.


Operating on that - and on the fact that Grace would not do anything with her younger sister there, who Grace adores, I repeatedly told Caroline not to worry. Grace was playing her and maybe me.  I go ahead and leave my office and head toward the house.


Grace told Caroline she needed to use her phone. Caroline said no - you are grounded.  Grace said she was going to do "something stupid" if Caroline did not let her have the phone. At this point, I suspect Grace knew that Caroline was hooked. She knew that her younger sister would start watching her or following her.


Grace then very openly goes to the medicine cabinet and gets some pills. So open that Caroline was able to take a picture and send it to me. Then Grace went to my bathroom and Caroline said she could hear her getting some more pills.


I asked Caroline over text if she could tell if she really got them or was it a big public display for her benefit?


Meanwhile, I am driving and checking my phone when I can for updates; I’m annoyed at being placed in one of Grace’s urgencies yet again. But, there I am, swept up in it.


Then, I get a text from Caroline that says:

Come home! Hurry!


At this point - I am on our street.


I walk inside our home and Caroline is on the stairs crying. I ask what is wrong. Caroline says through sputtered breaths:

 Grace said she was going to try to kill herself.


Caroline was shaking, her face was red - she said Grace told her if she didn't give her the phone, she would kill herself, and then Grace ran to her room and shut the door. Caroline ran in after her - and Grace had a bowl of her Lexapro and Advil by her bed.  Caroline took the plate of pills and put them in the kitchen.


Grace was so intent on getting her way to get a phone that she put Caroline in a horrid position of threatening her own life if she did not get her way. If Caroline would not give her the phone, Grace would kill herself.  What emotional manipulation. The ultimate. Caroline is shaken from it.


I walk upstairs to Grace’s room and confront her. She is laying in her bed.  I ask if it was true she threatened this to Caroline. She said yes. I ask her if she meant it. She said yes.


I leave Grace's room and call our therapist. I know from my own reading on suicide that even if someone jokes about it, you are to take it seriously. Even though I suspected this was manipulation by Grace because she was unhappy she was punished and I pulled her electronics. But, I wanted counsel.


The counselor told me that she had a suspicion that with Grace- this was manipulation. She asked me my thoughts - I fully agreed.


She advised me to take Grace over to a psychiatric hospital where they could evaluate her. She told me to take Caroline, too - and Grace could see what this manipulation does to people. She suggested we would have Grace listen to Caroline have to re-live this as Caroline told what she saw, and it would also let Grace see what a psychiatric hospital is like.  She said they would do an intake evaluation, they would go through the whole process, and then they would turn us out.  She said if they made a recommendation to us, that I could tell them I would think about it.  I asked which hospital I should go to and my counselor named three that were in our area and was quick to add: none of them are good options.


So, I get off the phone and I go back in Grace's room and tell her - "Ok, since you said you were serious, we are going to hospital for an evaluation. Let's go."


I knew this would be the event that would knock Grace off her feet. We would go, Grace would see what a psych hospital was like, she would understand the position she put Caroline in, she would understand that her decisions had real life consequences.


We get in the car, and Grace immediately puts on her seatbelt.  Now - reader, a silly thing that has stuck with me to this day:

Why would a person who has just threatened suicide put their seatbelt on?


We three are driving and I am fuming. Caroline is worried and scared. Grace is withdrawn and angry. I know that at the end of this night, Grace will have some humility forced upon her, so there is a victory in at least that.


At the hospital, which the therapist told me how to find, we sit in the waiting room, after signing in at the reception desk with the clerk who could not have been much older than 18. The hospital has a nice name - Sundance.  Like all these facilities do. Bright Horizons, Sunrise, New Day.  These facilities do not name themselves like other businesses so you can actually tell what they are - Psych Hospital, Mental Illness Place, Imbalance Facility, Oppositional and Entitlement Disorder Place, Spiritual Vacuum.


We wait until called back to the counseling area by a male in scrubs, and then walk through the locked security doors to another set of security doors and go into what can best be described as a fishbowl room. A small round table with chairs, and large glass clear windows. There are at least 4 of these such fishbowl rooms and there are several women in what I would call regular street clothes, and men dressed in scrubs who are in this area doing various things. I suspect the men are the ones who help keep order with the patients.


I am not really talking to Grace- I am just giving her orders: Get out of the car. Let’s go. Sit down. I am fuming the entire time and thinking to myself: This will show Grace. She will see what misery she has put us all through and her being so spoiled that she didn't get her way and can't take her punishment for sneaking out.


We all three - Grace, myself and Caroline sit in one of the several fishbowl rooms and answer all kinds of questions. Questions that date back pretty far, about labor and delivery even, and the intake counselor asks Caroline to leave the room.


The conversation turns to specific family history - who in the family is depressed? Who in the family has problems with addictions? Who in the family has anger problems? (What divorced parent would not answer these affirmatively that, heck yes - the other side is all messed up?) I am frustrated that we are not talking about any of Grace’s out of bounds oppositional behaviors. All we are talking about is old family history. What about the present? What about the things we have been dealing with in the immediate past with the  self harm, the therapy, the medication, the opposition, the lying. No questions about that. No questions about Grace in specific. Then the question that seems to become The One that changes the course of the conversation: Have there been any suicides in the family?


Well - yes - my brother. 6 years ago.


Grace was about 7 or 8  when it happened.


Then the intake counselor turns to Grace and asks if Grace has had suicidal thoughts before. She said... yes.


For anyone who has had a child in therapy and is seeing a psychiatrist for depression meds, you will know that every time you go in for a visit, every one, two or three weeks... the child is specifically asked: Are you having dark thoughts? Are you having suicidal thoughts? Do you know what one is? Do you know the difference between suicidal thoughts and just being sad? And Grace always answered these questions fine. To everyone’s satisfaction. Every time.


Yet - now - she is saying otherwise. 

I suspect Grace is lying; she lies all the time.

Or perhaps she feels this way right now because she got in trouble. This answer might get her a pass somehow.


Then - the therapist asks Grace how she was going to do it. Grace said she was going to hang herself in her brother's closet. She had a belt. But it was too long. Then she got another - but it wouldn't work either.

So then - she decided to get a bunch of pills - but didn't do that either because she had heard it really upset your stomach.

The therapist asks some other questions about the house in general. There really is no chance or opportunity at all for me to get out my frustrations with this child - the things I have done to help her, the times she has disobeyed me when the pressure got high, or when she was told she couldn't do something, the counseling, the predictable behavior patterns, the manipulation, the lying.


The counselor was emotionally moved, and through teary eyes told Grace that she would get better. She would not always feel this way.


Then she asked Grace to leave the room.


I suspected now was my time to tell this intake person what all we have been doing for Grace for close to half a year – if not more. About the different professionals we have been meeting with.   However, the intake counselor put down her clipboard and said to me:


"Well, this is a no brainer. She is going to have to be admitted to the hospital."


I was stunned.



The counselor replies:

You have a family history.

She had a plan A - the belt.

She had a plan B - the pills

I cannot allow you to take her from this facility.


I am shocked.  


I said - but, what if I refuse?

She said in those rare cases, we call the police - and the police decide. If the police say she can leave with me, then the facility will file a CPS report against me – e.g., I was negligent.


I told her I would not leave my child there, who by this time had been taken to the cafeteria to get something to eat.  The intake counselor said that this would then force their hand.  I feel cornered and threatened and scared. 

I asked about time to research other facilities; how did I know this was the one I wanted? I didn’t want to do this of course but was looking for ways to buy myself some time.


The intake counselor said no - it was nearly 9 pm. We had been there since 6.


My choices as the intake counselor told me were: Leave Grace here or take her and face police at my house and a CPS charge. We would be allowed to talk to her by phone at a scheduled time each day. Visits were permitted 2x a week.


I told her I wanted to call Grace's therapist.  The intake counselor said this was not allowed. I persisted. The counselor had to go talk to her supervisor about it. After waiting for what seemed like 30 minutes, the counselor came back in and said I was allowed to call her.


When I called our therapist - she, too, was surprised. She thought they would check her, release her - and that Grace, the manipulator, would see this was serious stuff.


Our therapist called the administrator of the facility, who she knew, but the administrator was out of town, or unreachable - I forget which, but our therapist became our advocate. She asked to speak to the intake counselor - who now, did not want to speak to our therapist.


I told the intake counselor that our therapist, who had worked with Grace the past 6 months wanted to at least talk to Grace. Could we do that? The intake counselor said she would have to check with her supervisor to see if that was “allowed.”


Now, reader, in my perspective - I have a facility who is telling me I cannot have my child back, I cannot let her speak with her therapist - and, I need to leave because it is close to the new patient’s bedtime.

I am scared, and angry and shell shocked – and am being threatened. If I do not leave my child, the police will be called. If I leave with Grace, a CPS charge will be filed.  Whether or not this is true or even legal, I do not know. 


For the facility to be able to make a claim for the child’s welfare over and above the parent’s wishes and the regular counselor’s recommendation is unfathomable to me. But reader – it is routinely done.  And recall this is a facility that has multiple sets of locked doors. I cannot just run out with my child. We are all unbelievably fatigued. I don’t know what to do.


At that moment, Grace returns from eating and tells the intake counselor she wants to stay.


I was defeated.  I was battling both the facility, and now Grace. I gave up.


The intake counselor put an ipad in front of us and we were connected via camera to a doctor somewhere who asked Kate some of the same questions – Are you having suicidal thoughts? is the only one I remember. It felt like this video chat/call was simply part of a process to be completed for insurance or something – believe me, there was no actual patient care going on.


 I don’t recall much else after that but I do recall one the orderlies (for lack of a better word to use) came to escort Grace away.  I hugged Grace and cried all the way home - and wasn't even sure I should drive. I felt other-worldly - like when you are swimming and are underwater and you can see things - but only enough to get an impression of them.  Grace seemed kind of ok with the whole thing. A new adventure.


I had a child in a psych ward. I had a child who is saying she has thought about suicide multiple times. I have a child who so objects to parental authority of me pulling her electronics that she will escalate the situation to harm herself.


At the house, I discover that Grace had tied belts to the closet hanging clothes bar. And, she wrote a suicide note.  And I discovered more: there were two beer cans in her room, and she had our bottle of tequila under her bed. I’m blown away.


 Partial of suicide note I found when I returned home.

Next: Chapter 5: In the Desert


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