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 which allowed me to pick up the new carpool routine. I had the morning shift for Caroline, which meant picking up our rider, going to the school, and then coming back to the house for Grace. 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 in the opposite direction. 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 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. I knew I was fortunate to be able to do this.
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 back on track and that I am not constantly mentally and emotionally consumed with Grace. My decision for a “new start” seemed to be the right one.
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 some. She tells me she is not doing anything “bad” and tells me she is not erasing anything. 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 must 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 calls 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 verify. 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. She said everyone was talking about it. Grace fretted over it. The rumors were not true, Grace said. 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 textbook, and successes, like sharing with me.
On the way to school the next morning, she was again worried about the rumors. She even said so right 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 pulled over in the parking lot and I prayed for her. I prayed for her not to worry. And throughout the day, I prayed that she was weathering things just fine. I hoped that this would not lead to a cutting episode. She was never far from my thoughts this day; I really felt for her. Most of us have been the topic of rumors at some point in high school.
After school, when I went to pick her up, I watched her walk to car. I was attempting to see if I could figure out from her demeanor, her walk, if everything was ok. She got in the car and I asked how it went. She said it was fine. In my mind – I thought, a success! I told her that we all need to be careful about how much we worry about things that never come to pass. This was 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 out because the boy’s parents called me because they were just as upset as I now was. Why did she even go through the ruse of telling me that these were “rumors?” Was it in preparation in case I did get a phone call from the school possibly, and I would then already have her version of what happened? This was almost the same scenario as what happened at the previous school. Right down to me trying to lift her up and be encouraging, only to find out she was taking advantage of me and lying.
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.
We had fallen into a pattern of sameness with her with respect to her household obligations as well. 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. 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 processing loop on how much of Grace's dysfunction is a mental health issue, how much is chosen oppositional behavior, how much is learned 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 fair amount of chosen oppositional behavior and manipulation.
I talk with the boy’s parents. We are both upset about it. Grace says she likes the boy. As if that would make this any better.
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 laptop. It is a holiday for both Grace and Caroline. I knew I would be working at the office a half day or so 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 texted back: “How?”
Caroline 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. 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, by the nurse: “Cutting is partly for attention; let's face it.” And Grace agreed! That was revelatory to me. She admitted to this in front of me and another person!
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.
My phone starts to vibrate with updates from Caroline: “She told me she needed to use my phone. I told her no because she’s grounded. She said was going to do something stupid if I didn’t let her have it!!”
At this point, I suspect Grace knew that she had Caroline’s attention. Grace 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 was a big public display for her benefit?
Meanwhile, I am driving and checking my phone at stoplights 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, checking my phone at red lights.
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, and it would be Caroline’s fault. What emotional manipulation. The ultimate. Caroline is shaken from it. I am angry.
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. It is a very short and curt conversation.
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 and I fully agreed.
She had an idea. 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 and the position Grace put her in. It would 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. It never occurred to me that there were psychiatric hospitals for kids, but it makes sense. It also never occurred to me that you could get an evaluation, like a quote for getting your lawn mowed, or new flooring.
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. I mapped the one that was closest to our house.
We three get in the car, and Grace immediately puts on her seatbelt which struck me as odd only because not that long ago she supposedly was actively trying to end her life. It annoys me and I interpret it as confirmation that her behavior at the house with Caroline was manipulation.
We three are driving and I am fuming the more I think on it. 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. I’m not backing off of my punishment for the previous night, either.
At the psychiatric hospital, 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. It has large glass clear windows on all sides, including the door and a round table in the middle. There are at least 4 of these such fishbowl rooms all across from each other. There are several women in regular street clothes in what looks like an office, 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. Come on. The lengths that she will go to to resist punishment, a punishment she brought on herself, were astounding.
We all three, Grace, myself and Caroline sit in one of the several fishbowl rooms and answer all kinds of past history 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? I know the history is important, but 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 recent past and 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 Question that changes the course of the conversation: Have there been any suicides in the family?
I hesitate before answering. “Well, yes. My brother. 6 years ago.” I knew where this was going. “Grace was about 7 or 8 when it happened,” I tell her.
Then the intake counselor turns to Grace and asks if Grace has had suicidal thoughts before.
Grace responds, “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, however often you go, 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. I recall the time she drew a tombstone the day before she was to visit her dad.
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. This last statement, to me, seemed to demonstrate there was some manipulation! She only wanted to commit suicide if it didn’t upset her 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 Grace, 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. And, her being punished for sneaking out the night prior.
The intake counselor was emotionally moved, and through teary eyes told Grace that she would get better. She would not always feel this way. I think we are both taken back at the counselor’s sudden emotion.
Then she asked Grace to leave the room.
I suspected now was my time to tell the 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, the weekly and monthly visits for medication management.
However, the intake counselor put down her clipboard and had no questions of me but instead said to me, "Well, this is a no brainer. She is going to have to be admitted to the hospital."
I was stunned. “What?”
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?”
“In those rare cases,” she says, “we call the police, and the police decide. If the police say she can leave, then we will file a CPS report against you claiming negligence.”
I feel threatened. “I’m not leaving my child here,” I reply. Grace, in the meantime had been taken to the cafeteria to get something to eat.
“Then you would be forcing us to notify CPS,” she said. I feel cornered and scared. Her tenderness which was exhibited with Grace in the room was now absent.
“I’m going to need to time to research other facilities,” I said, looking for a way to buy some time and maybe get out of there. “How do I even know this is the one I want?”
The intake counselor said, “It is nearly 9 p.m. and you have been here since 6. There is no time.”
My choices: Leave Grace here or take her and face police at my house or here, I wasn’t sure how that worked, 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 want to call Grace’s therapist,” I announced.
The intake counselor said this was not allowed. I told her we’d been seeing a family counselor, and Grace had been under this counselor’s care. I wanted to talk to her. The intake counselor, after some back and forth, said she would go talk to her supervisor about it. Since I was in the fishbowl room, I could see by their body language in the office that it was clear the discussion of me wanting to talk to our therapist was not a request that was made often. After waiting for what seemed like 30 minutes, the counselor came back in and said I was allowed to call her.
Why I didn’t just use my cell phone and call our therapist, I don’t know, looking back. I think I was so shocked at what had happened, from the moment I got Caroline’s texts to being told that CPS would be involved. I had never had any kind of interaction with CPS, but I was intimidated. And, since I was in a glass room, my movements were easily seen. Under the auspices of safety monitoring for the child, they could also monitor me.
When I called our therapist, she, too, was surprised. She thought they would check her, release her and that Grace, the manipulator, would see what resisting parental authority could lead to when taken to extremes. I told her they were not letting me go without calling police officers and then calling CPS.
Our therapist told me she knew the administrator of the facility and would call her. However, the administrator was out of town, or unreachable, I forget which, but our therapist tried to become our advocate. She asked to speak to the intake counselor. I waved the intake counselor back in the room and told her that our therapist wanted to speak with her. The intake counselor declined.
Then my therapist told me to ask if she could at least talk to Grace. The intake counselor said she would have to check with her supervisor to see if that was “allowed.” So, the intake counselor left the room again, went two rooms over to the office for another discussion with her supervisor.
I am scared, and angry and stunned. If I do not leave my child, the police will be called. I cannot imagine making this whole night even more scary for my two children than by involving the police, having them show up and do what? I was not sure! Would someone be arrested? Then a CPS charge will be filed. I don’t even know to this day if what happened that night of the intake was legal. Or, if it is true they will call police.
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, although it did cross my mind. We are all unbelievably fatigued and I am intimidated. I don’t know what to do. I feel trapped. Recall, this visit to the psychiatric hospital was to have been a ruse, an avenue to demonstrate to Grace that she had no idea where her behaviors would ultimately lead. That therapeutic plan was how this evening started.
At that moment, Grace returns from eating and the intake counselor has returned as well. She tells me that our therapist cannot talk to Grace. She then turns and asks Grace, “Would you like to stay with us?” Grace says yes.
I was defeated. I was battling the facility, and now Grace. I gave up.
The intake counselor put an ipad in front of us on the table and we were connected via camera to a doctor somewhere who asked Grace some of the same questions the intake counselor did, like, “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” The video chat/call was simply part of a process to be completed for insurance, believe me, there was no actual patient care going on. Recall, this was not quite a decade before people were participating in medicine via video calls. So, the ipad doctor visit had almost a parody-like quality to it at the time, like this can’t be a real doctor.
I don’t recall much else after the short video call but I do recall one the orderlies came to give me papers to sign and to escort Grace away. He just showed up in our fishbowl room and told Grace it was time to go. Just like that. 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 very ok with the whole thing. A new adventure.
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 would not have believed it had I not seen it.
And the things we’d just experienced that day started to gel in my mind: 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 and threaten her sister.
Partial of suicide note I found when I returned home.