The phone woke me up; it was my husband calling from downstairs. “You have to bring Erin to the Emergency Room. “She called the suicide hotline; she doesn’t have a plan, but she called.” I’m in shock and respond to him, “That’s impossible, she just spent the day in New York City with the Girl Scouts. She’s probably tired and overwhelmed. Let her sleep, and we’ll discuss it with her in the morning.” My husband replied sternly, “They said we have to take her to the Emergency Room within 20 minutes or they are sending the police.”
We drove to the hospital in complete silence; I was petrified to say the wrong thing and cause irreparable damage. Erin just stared out the window blankly, void of emotion and disconnected from this world.
We walked in to register, I didn’t know what to say, so I just started at the beginning. “She called the hotline and…………………………”. The triage nurse stopped me from speaking and immediately took us back into a room. A mixture of fear, paranoia, and confusion quickly set in and paralyzed me as thoughts ran through my head at warped speeds. It was still so surreal. Four hours ago, she was laughing, and showing us pictures at the Madame Trousseau Museum with all of her fellow scouts. Maybe it’s a phase, or she’s testing us to see what happens if someone calls the hotline” What are they going to do? Holy shit! What if they take her away from me because I can’t keep her safe? As parents, we live our lives protecting our children and keeping them safe from harm’s way, and now I can’t keep my daughter safe from herself. For the first time, I questioned my ability to care for my children and it scared the hell out of me.
Nurses and doctors come in asking Erin very personal and pointed questions on drug use, sex, and violence. They ask me the same questions and then picked our home life apart looking for anything that could be a red flag. Each time a nurse or doctor would come they would ask her if she had gotten her menses yet. The answer to that one question would prove to be the absolute defining moments of this experience.
Labs were drawn, including consent for a toxicology and pregnancy screening. Hours went by and still no information on why we were still there and what was going to happen. At 3 AM, a social worker came in and asked to speak with me privately in her office. She explained the lab results were in and they had sent her information over to several in-patient facilities and had to wait until morning to see who had beds open and could accept her. Confusion morphed into frustration, and I asked her for the lab results and to explain where and what type of facility she would be going to and why.
The social worker explained that because Erin had menstruated, under the law she is now at “the age of reason” and has the right to her body and the information associated with it. For me to view the results and had to give permission for me to see them.
I was livid and told her I am her mother, she is my responsibility and I want those results. She stared directly into my eyes and, once again she advised me that Erin was the only person that she could share the results with. She must have seen the terror in my face; as she was speaking, the lab paper suddenly appeared within viewing distance, and she looked away and started flipping through files. It was a humbling moment, and I will forever be thankful for this woman for her kindness.
Erin was accepted into a mental health facility and was to be transferred within hours. I could follow the ambulance and would be provided more information once we arrived. My oldest daughter met me, and together we drove to the facility. Once inside we were brought into a room and informed that we would not be seeing Erin, she was already inside and being orientated. The fact that I could not hug her or tell her I loved her completely ripped my insides to pieces. I felt like a monster abandoning my daughter and leaving her with mentally sick people that she did not belong with. Fear, heartbreak, and failure consumed me and for the first time in hours, reality set in. They handed us her belongings and told us she wouldn’t be needing them here. My oldest daughter took the bag, opened it, inhaled the scent of her sister’s clothing, hugged it tightly and wept.
They reviewed the rules. Visitation daily for one hour at 6 PM, only parents, no siblings or grandparents until they felt it was appropriate. The school would be notified, and the curriculum would be sent over daily, we could bring food for the visit but only if the patient ate their meals for the day. I work an hour away from home and requested an alternative time to visit; however, it was denied.
Once home the logistics of the situation ran through my head; I’ve heard about kids who have gone to rehabs before, and they are forever tainted, ostracized and shunned when they return to school. If she had demons before, returning to school with this stigma would certainly not be healthy for her.
I chose to lie. Ironic as I drilled into my children to never lie to me. Be honest with me, deal with me yelling and the grounding but then it’s over, and we move on. Once you lie to me, our relationship will be fractured, and it will be a long road that may never properly heal.
Calls were made to the school, girl scouts, CCD, and soccer explaining that Erin had experienced some dizzy spells and was admitted for observation for the next few weeks. Those who had similar experiences did not pry but simply offered support. Mental health is still one of those topics that are brought into the public eye for awareness except when it hits close to home; then it is still swept under the carpet.
The real challenge was telling three generations what had occurred. The grandparents still did not consider mental health illness “real,” they simply mumbled something in Italian and with their hands, they made the sign of the cross and said a prayer. My parents were just confused, but supportive, and thought a week away at a spa would fix the issues. My siblings and friends genuinely realized this was heartbreaking, and offered space, support or an open invitation for a glass of wine and shoulder to meltdown on with no explanation needed.
Erin was inpatient for a week. I was able to visit four out of those days, and she seemed surprisingly unaffected by my presence or excited by the fun food I brought her. It was an eerie change in the effervescent personality I was used to but an awakening that what I was used to was a façade to get through the days without breaking. This was a whole new world to me and her future and success in life depended on how we worked through this.
The transition back into school and extracurricular activities happened slowly, and everyone went along with the medical reason for her being out for those weeks. Eventually, another student became the highlight of the spotlight and Erin could resume her life with some semblance of normalcy. One of the very first conversations my daughter and I had was on communication. Erin confided in me that part of the pressure was her not wanting to let me down. She felt she was different than the other kids in school and girls scouts and most of the time kept to herself. This made her even more of an outcast, and she hated going to Scouts and being in that situation. In school, she felt she just had nowhere to fit in and was lost. She wasn’t smart enough to be in with the honor roll geeks, not athletic enough to run with the jocks and not a drug head to be in with the stoners. She felt discounted, alienated and alone watching everyone else find their fit.
I decided to put down the “mom” hat and confided in Erin that I don’t know what to do or say and I’m scared shitless to say the wrong thing and make it worse. We struck a deal. If she was struggling or having a trigger moment, I would get out ice cream, and I wouldn’t say a word. It was one of the best experiences we have ever had and continue it today. The ice cream simply represented me showing affirmation that she is struggling and that I love her unconditionally and am there with her through this. That is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about parenting… we don’t have to know all of the answers. Being present and providing unconditional love isn’t going to fix the problem, but it sure provides strength to conquer anything.
Allison Stewart lives in a very small suburban town with her four children and her inappropriate, politically incorrect, incorrigible father. She works as a Patient Advocate at a Trauma Center by day and spends most evenings juggling sports, family events, fundraisers, broken down vehicles and meltdowns. Allison also makes an attempt at attending the gym several times a month……….usually on 20% off smoothie days. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her guy who still gives her butterflies every time he winks at her.