Ranee had a rough morning, she came home from her day program in tears, she got off the bus and walked herself to her closet and closed the door. Her closet is her quiet place she’s turned it into her haven when she’s stressed or overwhelmed she takes space in there. She’s outfitted it with a blanket and cards of well wishes that she received when she was in institutions. It’s just her safe place and we respect that. I could hear her sobbing from outside the door but wanted to give her a little space and time before I stepped in. I stood there for a bit and listened to her cry, believe me, I wanted to rip that door open and grab her and wrap her in my arms. But I have learned to step back sometimes take some deep breaths and just let her have her moment. I tentatively knocked and to my surprise she flew herself out of that closet and into my arms sobbing, through her shaky little voiced she let go the origin of her heartbreak. “Lindsey* is leaving the program, she’s better now.”
When Ranee first came out of her first institutionalization she was a changed girl from the child we had known our whole lives. Her spunkiness and fire in her eyes had dulled, maybe it was medication or maybe just the effect of a brain that was virtually on fire, but it was like her energy was drained out of her. It took so much energy to combat the chaos in her brain that it left her colorless. People that met her for the first time met a different child than the one that we had known. She was quiet and reserved a shell of her former self, I would catch glimpses from time to time of my old Ranee, but she was a new version of herself. I prayed that one day she would return but we had to accept and come to know this new child among us.
Part of her innocence had been taken away, she had been exposed to a whole new world and learned of things that she never knew existed. She had a new vocabulary that included mental health disorders and things that I hoped she would never need to learn about. She knew the names of medications and what they were for. She was suddenly aware of her body, she talked about her weight, flaws and insecurities things that she had never noticed before. She had been robbed of her innocence and had a new outlook on the world. Little girls should be having sleepovers with their friends, staying up all night talking about books playing pretend, singing and dancing. Instead, she’s spent weeks on end away from her family with strangers, staying up all night because her roommate wouldn’t stop crying, and another screaming profanities. We had sheltered her somewhat from how cruel the world could be, and that even children could suffer terrible things too, sometimes at the hands of people who were supposed to love them. She didn’t know about foster care or trauma or things like that, she didn’t need to know those things yet. But institutions and day programs bring together children of all backgrounds everyone has a story, and some of the stories are tragic.
The last major break down Carmelo took the call from Fences* her after school extended day program. She had only been home for a couple of weeks and seemed to be doing fine, although school was always a struggle. We noticed that her mouth had started to twitch a little, it became worse to the point where it was almost constant. She also complained of terrible pain in her joints to the point of having difficulty walking. We brought it to her psychiatrist’s attention and right away he recognized it as a reaction to the medication. She would need to be weaned off the medication while they slowly replaced it with another . She was still in school then, Fences would transport her from school to their building at the end of the school day. Her teacher said all day she seemed to be distracted, she was unfocused and did a lot of staring off into space. She had tried to go to the school psychologist but she wasn’t available. When it came time to leave for Fences she refused to get on the bus. The voices were telling her to not get on, she kept clawing at herself and scratched herself all up and down her arms. She had never harmed herself before. They managed to get her on the bus hoping if they could just get her to Fences they could calm her. Once she got there her psychiatrist could see her and give us advice and maybe avoid another hospitalization. We were told that she was having another breakdown and that we should come right away.
When we got to her that day she was in Simone’s* office, she was in an awful state her eyes red and bulging her arms swollen, lined with little droplets of blood. The look in her eyes was of sheer fear and panic, this was the worst she had ever been. Carmelo had never seen her in a breakdown only I had, I was hoping he would never have to see this part of it, that I could shelter him from it. When you are a parent there are things we all fear, one of the biggest fears is not being able to provide comfort to our children. Not being able to right the wrong or fix what’s broken.
I am helpless at times.
I have a constant dialogue going on within myself. What am I doing? What can I do? Why didn’t I see? Why did this happen again?
Please don’t let her go away again.
I saw the look on Carmelo’s face when he took the phone call and I knew. Every one of Ranee’s breakdowns are etched into the crevices of my mind. Her breakdowns haunt me, I dream about them, I have moments of sadness, wanting to take this burden away from her so badly but being limited. Seeing your child in such an altered state is devastating, to say the least, it leaves an impression that’s hard to shake. I was willing to take up that burden on my shoulders to protect my husband afraid of what it might do to his mind. My husband is strong in so many ways, physically he’s a powerhouse, but his mind is fragile he has limitations as well with his illness. He’s humble enough to recognize his limitations and trusts me to deal with some of the intricacies of her treatment. He recognizes the need for him to be well mentally so he can support the family spiritually, emotionally and financially. But he was home that day there was no keeping him from seeing the reality of how disturbing her episodes could be. I would always tell Carmelo about how Ranee was when she had these psychotic episodes, but seeing it with your own eyes is a whole other thing.
I ran to her and tried to take her into my arms but she didn’t know me, it was like she wasn’t seeing me. She was sobbing and shaking, I grabbed her and said her name, “I’m here Ranee I’m here” it took her a second to snap out of her psychosis to really see me. Once her eyes focused on mine she snapped out of it for a second “mama, mama” that was all she could say I grabbed her and held her tight to me, pushing her little face into my neck so she wouldn’t see my tears. She fought against my body trying to push away screaming no, no. Carmelo stood silently his face red and wet with tears, his face read sheer horror. We made eye contact and I tried to communicate through my eyes that we would be okay. I knew she would be going away again, that they wouldn’t let us take her home like this. I wanted to pick her up and run I was sick to my stomach, knowing my little girl would be going away from us again. Her psychiatrist confirmed my fears when he came in and swiftly said: “I want her hospitalized until she’s stable, it’s a reaction to the change in medications.” And that was how she ended up away from us for the third time.
From the very first institutionalization, Ranee has attended an extended day treatment program as part of her aftercare. it’s a program for children with emotional and mental health issues, the goal to give them coping skills to learn to deal with their issues. These kids needed to learn to be kids again, to shed the weight of their heavy worlds. She was put into a group with kids ranging in ages of nine through twelve A mixture of girls and boys. She would work closely with a psychiatrist that would monitor and advise us on medication as well as a clinician that she would work with one on one that would help her learn how to cope with her issues. With every institutionalization and release, they were gracious enough to take her back into their program which isn’t always the custom since they only have space for a limited amount of children. Her Clinicians name is Simone*.
Simone would check in with me weekly and coordinate family sessions to help us as a family learn to support Ranee’s progress. Ranee bonded with Simone learning to see her as a confidant and support. I appreciated her help but in the same way I resented it a bit too, in one family session Simone asked Ranee who she felt like she could go to when she had a problem and she said her, Simone had become her safe place. That was supposed to be my place, I’m her mom, her confidant should be me, it used to be but somewhere along the way that changed, I’m not sure where or when I lost her. I should be her safe place, not someone that’s only known her for a few months. Those words cut deep, but just like everything else that hurts in this illness you learn to accept it, bury it. Because it’s not about me it’s about Ranee’s well-being whatever she needs takes precedence over my hurt feelings.
When Ranee first came to Fences she barely talked, she was so broken from what she had been through. She would sit in on the groups and listen. Every week everyone was given a goal to work on for the week, Ranee’s goal for weeks was to just say hello to the person next to her, she struggled for weeks with that goal. Most group activities she would sit out on, wanting so badly to engage with the other children but being unsure of herself and insecure. Some days she would ask to leave the room so she could gather herself, to quiet the voices and get her anxiety under control.
There was one little girl that she connected with, she would sit next to her in silence every day wanting so badly to say something, anything. Ranee didn’t like to talk much about what happened at Fences, I didn’t even know about Lindsey until one day we were at the store and she asked if she could buy a bandana for Lindsey. Lindsey always wears bandana’s and has a small little voice and stature like Ranee. Then finally one day Ranee found her voice and she said hello, and that was the start of their friendship. As soon as she got those words out she finally found her words. At first, she would only talk to Lindsey or through her and that was okay because she was finally communicating to someone a peer, a friend. That friendship blossomed and they quickly became two peas in a pod. Every time Ranee went away Lindsey was there to welcome her back, no questions asked. They were just happy to be back together. Lindsey was the first person Ranee felt comfortable enough to tell about her issues. Lindsey was learning to be upfront about her issues and why she was in the program and that helped pave the way for Ranee to feel comfortable enough to share her story. It never occurred to her that one day Lindsey would move on just like she will one day too.
Ranee is slowly coming back to us now, she’s silly and giggly, she’s talking and affectionate again. To hold my child in my arms without her shrinking away is incredible, I can ask her how she feels and she will actually open up about her feelings. When she ran out of the closet and threw herself into my arms that was a pivotal moment. She needed me, wanted me, she saw me as her support again. We talked about it and I offered her comfort, explaining that the goal isn’t to stay at Fences forever. Moving on is a good thing and one day she will move on from that place too. She will be better one day too. She just kind of shrugged and went to do something else.
As we were preparing dinner Ranee turned to me and said
“mama I feel much better now, you always make it better mama”
Those words were like hearing her speak for the first time. I turned away so she wouldn’t see the tear that escaped my eye. This is what it’s all been for, that’s all I needed to hear. She’s seeing me again. I’m not screwing this up, I’m doing the best I can, and my best is good enough. I cannot fix this but I can make it better. All the nights I’m awake talking to God about her and my other children. Spending so much time coordinating appointments and trying to get results so she can get the best treatment possible. She is emerging from that dark place. With those words, I knew for sure she was coming back into the light. I am hopeful, but I am fearful too. She is becoming stable, nothing is certain or guaranteed so, for now, I’ll cherish every hug and every smile. I’ll bottle up her laugh and use it to mend the cracks in my heart. I’ll hold her for just a little longer.
I am a Warrior mom I will keep fighting to make her world a better place.