It really does feel like one minute your sleeping, angelic baby is in your arms, in peaceful repose and the next, a hardened, angry teenager is skulking in the shadows, desperately seeking a sense of self and autonomy.
All that lies in the wake are flashes of footy pajamas, midnight snuggles and bad dreams, the countless hours of worry over formula, diapers, making the rent, daycare, preschool, learning the alphabet, screams for mommy, bathtime, I love yous, tantrums, I hate yous, leave me alones, happy birthday, clean your room, mother’s day cards, big hugs, Christmas mornings, first days of school, last days of school, beach trips, camping trips, i love you mama. . . .
When the shift is not just typical teenage angst a la John Hughes via The Breakfast Club/Pretty In Pink/Sixteen Candles, and it’s something bigger, but more sinister, you might wonder what you missed. Because, here, in the place where I am sitting, it is not just a kid that wants to die. That might be the focal point for most because it seems like the most difficult. And depression is real, scary, but that can be treated. I’m not saying it’s not hard or that all treatments are effective. Odds are statistically better.
My child is manipulative. Lies. Works the system. Likes to think that we are the marionettes, and she is the one directing our moves. I play this emotion here, I get this reaction. I play that emotion there, I get that reaction. I can use this thing in this place, and I’ll get this from it. When I look at it through another lens and widen the scope to get a better view of the entire landscape, I see a different picture.
“She lies,” I practically snarled into the phone, with the psychiatrist I finally managed to get on the phone.
“What?” he asked.
“She. Lies. She has figured out what to say to get in, and figured out what to say to get out, and she will spin you like a top.” This was inpatient hospitalization number three. Suicide attempt number two. And not an entirely comfortable characterization of my child’s utilization of mental health services.
This was the first psychiatrist that ever listened to me. All I could think was to keep her in as long as I could so that she actually got the help she needed. Explain the situation over, and over, and over again.
“She can’t be in charge of this,” I stated flatly. I was really hoping that he would object to the idea of being manipulated. Somebody read her damn chart.
“I agree,” he said, sounding more concerned than I had ever heard anyone sound. He ordered another round of psychiatric evaluations. Tried to administer medications. Listened to my kid for the fifteen minutes a day allotted each patient. This, sandwiched in-between their group sessions, coloring packets, and mealtimes, days packed with activity that looked more like twenty minute increments of distraction for eight to ten hours a day.
Fast forward to today. Inpatient, same scenario. Inpatient hospitalization number six. I lost count of the psychiatrists.
“Yeah, the doctors are really impressed with how insightful her comments are about her eating disorder,” her medical doctor informed me, after calling to update me on her “condition” and confused about the lengthy message I left with the nurse when I paged.
“Here’s the thing: she will sound like she is doing really, really well. She’s good at that. Good at the intellectual piece, but the whole undercurrent of what is actually happening is not real. It seems like the focus has been on the eating disorder and the treatment for everything else has fallen off.”
“Wait, what do you mean ‘fallen off’?” she asked.
“I mean the treatment for the depression, the anxiety, the BPD. I’ve known my kid for eighteen years, and I can tell you, she will fixate on the thing that she thinks is the real problem. She says there isn’t enough treatment for the eating disorder. I don’t know what is being done or what isn’t, but that’s what she said.”
“Borderline personality disorder.”
They didn’t know. Nobody read her chart, or had her chart, or they just saw a kid with an eating disorder. None of the records from anywhere else followed this kid into the next hospital environment. And, as you can imagine, suddenly a lot of other things made sense. The fixation on the eating disorder, which, amazingly, now, is the real problem. And it has been all along, according to Rachel. The frustration about this part not being over, because it wasn’t supposed to be this long. Because, this, like many other things, is probably part of a planned event.
And then I get a phone call, and find out seventeen things my kid told me with a straight face are lies. And I am not surprised. Because this is what it is like. What is real is the almost dying. What is real is the mental illness. What is real is have done what I have had to do to keep her alive until she’s eighteen. And then I have no power. What is real is the fact that I have to go along with things with my kid and wait for the floor to drop out. Because I know it’s going to happen. I have to prepare myself that there’s going to be a next thing. Like winter, it’s coming.