The chaos had become too intense, and it had gone on for too long. I thought about Googling those words—those words that no parent wants to Google.
It will get better, I thought.
But it got worse. So I took my phone out to the far reaches of the orchard and sat in the prickly bark where no one could see or hear me. I Googled “child psychiatric hospitals” as tears ran down my face.
What would happen if I dialed that number? For certain, my life would change forever, and I would never be able to bring it back to the way it was before I called the hospital.
What kind of parents do this? What kind of parents would send their kid away to a mental hospital? What kind of kids live in mental hospitals? Were they kids like my kid—smart, kind and beautiful—who was born with parts of her brain not working correctly?
I imagined the look on my daughter’s face as I dropped her off. She would scream and cry, of course. She would look at me with betrayal in her eyes and loathing in her heart.
“What kind of mom would drop their kid off at a place like this?” she would scream at me.
The guilt would split me open like lightening through a redwood tree during a storm.
The story to tell is of a mother and father who have a sick child in a country that doesn’t provide easily accessible mental health care. There are child psychiatrists, but not enough. Their offices are full, and they aren’t accepting new patients. They don’t take health insurance, and so my family will need to pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket to get my daughter the care she needs.
The system is broken. In a crisis, parents feel lost and alone.
I wish my daughter had a broken bone. I would take her to the doctor, we would put a cast on it, and the bones would grow back together and heal. Friends would write things on her cast like “Get well soon!” and “Heal quickly!” and it would be true that those things would happen for her. In six weeks, her arm would be good as new.
With mental illness, there is no quick healing. Biochemical processes and misfiring brain circuitry cannot be treated with a simple ointment. Therapy and medication help, but it takes time to find the right treatments.
Maybe I didn’t do enough as a mom to help her heal her mind. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough. Or maybe I did too much.
I dial the number and hold my breath.
After the first ring, Mike answers the phone. “Psychiatric unit,” I hear him say.
I give him the information he requests. I don’t know Mike, but he seems like a nice enough guy, straightforward and knowledgeable. I answer each of his questions as I swallow back my tears. A big hard lump has formed in my throat. It feels like a fluid-filled blister ready to burst.
He asks, “Has she ever said she wants to kill or harm herself?”
The blister pops. Tears roll down my face, and I can no longer speak.
Mike is kind, and he tells me to take my time. He says that he knows how hard it is to talk to him about this stuff and that he will sit on the other end of the line and wait until I am ready. He gives me permission to release my tears. I tell him that she has told me that she wishes she were not alive and that nobody wants her around.
The tears roll down my cheeks, one after the other, as I gasp for air. I have never told anyone this before. Maybe if I never speak those words, those terrible words my daughter told me, then they won’t have to exist.
I am told that there are beds available that night. Mike needs to call me back because he must fill out a release form that very minute, but I will hear from him in an hour.
We hang up. An hour later he calls, and I do not answer. I know my daughter needs help, but I can’t drop her off at a psychiatric unit. I will dedicate my days to finding her the help she needs. I will make calls until I find a mental health professional who will take my daughter and my insurance. I will cry myself to sleep at night. I will hope it gets better one day.
I will keep advocating for her and her happiness for the rest of my life, because I am her mom and she is worth fighting for.