I’ve had so many low points this year, so many moments where the wind’s been knocked out of me and I feel like I’m down for the count, like I’ve hit my breaking point. Funny this time is no different from the rest, I lay in my bed thinking I can’t possibly move, I can’t face this, this is the last blow I’m broken beyond repair. I lay here paralyzed until I hear Christopher stir, I know what’s coming next the knock on my door telling me he needs a ride to school so I get up because as worn out as I feel my obligations as a wife and mother involve more than just Ranee’s mental status. There’s no time for pity I get up, I get up and go through the motions of my life. I know this is just a moment in time like the six other hospitalizations I’ve endured this past year between my daughter and my husband. We’ll get through this and things will settle just like every time before, but my heart is heavy despite this. In this moment in time, someone I love is hurting and I feel that hurt too. The lyrics of an old Shawn Colvin song keep playing in my head
“The blues just keep coming and drying out your eyes don’t you think I feel it too”
Man am I feeling it, It’s been six months since the last institutionalization, she’s had episodes of anxiety and depression but we’ve learned how to cope with them I’ve been able to talk her down from that awful place in her head where she goes. But not this time, I replay the last couple of weeks in my mind, she’s been a little moody, she’s taken to sleeping on the floor sometimes, she hasn’t wanted to be touched, she’s been scared. Were these signs that she was on the edge of a mental break? Signs that I somehow missed? It’s hard to know. Where do you draw the line on what’s normal for a ten-year-old child and what’s the start of something happening within her brain? I haven’t figured it out yet, it’s so unpredictable and it seems so wrong to assume just because someone’s in a bad mood they’re on the verge of a mental breakdown. What was the trigger? and if there is no trigger that just leads us back to the beginning back to a diagnosis that is so broad and rare that no one seems to know the intricacies of the illness.
This day seems no different from most, it’s the weekend so she sleeps in a little later we were out the night before enjoying the company of friends. But on this day something is broken in her that I don’t see she looks like herself, she speaks like herself until suddenly she is the sick version of herself she is terrified and crying, she’s getting louder and louder the dogs barking and trying to get at her to comfort her. The baby’s crying, as I hand her off to Christopher she clings to me not understanding why sissy is crying and why there’s such a commotion. We’re running down the hallway to get to her tripping and falling over the dog, he’s doing his job, that’s what we got him for her “therapy dog.” then the screaming starts and she doesn’t stop.
“They’ve got me mama, they’ve got me”
she’s rolling on the floor inconsolable, she seems to be in physical pain
the mean people are here again
I swear under my breath, and make the call to the crisis center. While Carmelo does his best to soothe her. It feels like an eternity before someone answers. I’ve never called the crisis hotline before, but that’s what her therapist told me to do if something happens on a weekend or after hours. I really don’t see what kind of assistance they can give me and they really are of no help, they can hear her screaming and crying they just tell me what I already know, bring her to the hospital. These moments feel like they’re really not happening like I’m present but I am outside of myself just watching, everything feels like slow motion and my brain and heart are going a mile a minute. We have to find someone to watch Charlene, the boys are going to need food, should I pack Ranee a bag of clothes? Where are they going to send her this time? I can’t believe this, she’s been doing so well, why now?
We were just starting to finally get our footing again. Flashes of words and images and sounds, I see the faces of my boys Christopher and Alexander, they’ve never seen side this is a little too real and I can see it all over their faces. Empathy, fear, confusion. I see Alexanders heartbreak as he watches in horror as my own tears start to fall. He hates when I cry, I hate when I cry. But My heart aches for them as well because I haven’t endured these institutionalizations alone, they have endured it with me.
The hospital we’re the most comfortable with is an hour away, Ranee knows the drive now and as she goes in and out of psychosis she recognizes it too. She knows that it’s 5 towns from where we live to the hospital, she wills her daddy to drive faster because something about walking through those doors means comfort, hospital means relief because they can help her when I can’t. The mean man is in the car now, he’s sitting next to her “drive faster daddy, drive faster.”
It’s been six months since we’ve been here but the faces are all too familiar she knows the routine and as she passes that threshold she is transformed her face softens, she is breathing stills, the tears have stopped. We take our place in the uncomfortable chairs in the hallway behind the locked doors and wait for them to strip her of her clothes and give her hospital attire, she’s one of the little one’s so she gets the baby pajamas the little hospital pants and the little button up shirt with the silly faces on it. The short sleeves reveal a gallery of artwork etched into her skin, she’d gotten a hold of a pen in the back seat and has drawn up and down her arms images of the mean people.
The mental health unit is always buzzing the rooms are always full, children come in strapped down on stretchers, security paces the halls and we wait. She’s rolling and twisting in her chair like a pretzel covering her ears, the staff is doing a good job keeping her occupied, they are completely sensitive to her delicate state of that I’m so appreciative. Her eyes bulge, her pupils fully dilated resting on soft purple bags that line her eyes, her hairs matted and her curls spring out in a disheveled mess. It catches me off guard that despite her shocking appearance my little girl is beautiful. She looks electric.
Every new doctor says the same thing when I give them her history and diagnosis. Children, this young can’t be diagnosed with schizophrenia it is too rare. And while I understand that, that is the label that has been placed on her for now, because on a neuro-psych test she meets the criteria. It makes no difference to me really, like I’ve said before the diagnosis is just a definition of certain traits that a person possesses it doesn’t tell the whole story. No one can say what set her off axis this time. The doctors all say the same thing we just have to wait and see as she develops where this goes. It doesn’t take long for a clinician to decide that Ranee needs an inpatient stay to regulate her, she doesn’t press her to talk about the madness that’s going on in her head, her disposition says it all.
There are no open beds in the state, it’s the weekend no facilities discharge on the weekend which means she’ll stay in the emergency room until they find a facility willing to take her. We’re faced with the same issues we’ve encountered in the past, so many children needing mental heath treatment and just not enough resources in the state to care for them all. It’s a never-ending cycle a revolving door, it’s part of the broken mental health system. We leave her on a cot in a hallway of mental health unit in the emergency room, she’s calm conversing with the other kids also in cots in the hallway. Every once in a while her eyes dart about following an image only she can see. She urges us to leave, reassuring us she’ll be okay. It strikes me strange that she is more comfortable with strangers rather than her own home. But she is home here these are her people, they share stories of what they’re in for. One kid got so angry he chased his mother and sister with a knife, one wanted to kill himself, one got in a fight with his brother and tore his ear. They talk about facilities they’ve been in like it’s normal. It is their normal and it’s our normal now.
The next day she is placed in an institution an hour away from our home. We make the daily trip to visit, this is a new facility for us. This one, unlike all the others, is lacking financially there is no school they lost their funding for that, there’s no closet full of games and toys for the children to play with. I bring her own comforts from home her blanket and toys, legos there’s a lot of free time and visits are not limited to every other place. This is the first facility that allows Charlene to come in. That makes this separation so much easier on everyone. One of the hardest parts of having a loved on in a mental health facility and having a baby is arranging child care so we can visit. Not that any of my friends mind watching Charlene but I do. Every time I leave her, she cries for me only adding to my guilt. It’s a relief that I don’t have to leave her at all this time.
The children are given a lot of control here, they can go to group if they want to or they can stay in their room they can eat in the dining room or take their meals in their rooms, no one calls us in for family sessions, If I don’t call daily I don’t get a check in from staff. I only speak to a doctor once, I never even speak to the therapist that’s supposed to be working with her. They can’t do anything for her here that she doesn’t get at home, they don’t provide any extra insight. It’s just a holding place until her psychosis is under control. I find it strange that her pupils have been fully dilated for three days I bring it to the nurse’s attention and they say they’ll look into it. They never do, her medication is increased and the next day her pupils retract. And so do the mean people. That was the goal, she is discharged.
I watch her as she lays sleeping in her own bed in our home, she’s hardly aware of the turmoil that she’s been through. It’s another mark, another battle wound etched into my memory. Nothing is certain, it may be weeks or months before she has another bad episode or years even. I know you can’t fully prepare for it, after all, is it ever a good time to have a mental breakdown? As she gets older and her brain continues to change and develop theses episodes may increase or lessen, it does no good to try to predict the future, to be fearful of the unknown.
The blues just keep coming but after the tears stop we get up and keep moving. Because the good times keep coming too. Ranee will go back to seeing her own psychiatrists and therapists, except now we’ll have a new team working with her that come into our home twice a week just for continued support. I am grateful to have her back home. I hold on to what I do know, I love my God, I love my child, I love my family and I’ll keep doing my best by them and for now, that just has to be good enough.