Have you ever seen the inside of a psychiatric ward? If not, allow me to paint the picture for you.
The walls are painted a dull, neutral off-white. Every room is devoid of anything that can be used as a weapon. This includes electrical cords, thin sheets, shoes, pencils; you get the idea. There is a box shielded with a thick layer of plastic hanging in the corner of the room where the television sits. Mattresses are lined with plastic and patients are given paper thin scrubs in exchange for their “street clothes.”
Now if you can, picture a child eight years of age. Imagine that child grew inside of you for nine months, that child made you a mother. One evening, her switch is flipped and you turn to see her standing on the top of the couch with a knife about the size of your forearm.
Contrary to popular belief, my child hasn’t been abused.
She wasn’t left to self soothe as an infant. Every boo-boo was tended with compassion and kisses. Dinner options vary drastically from macaroni and cheese and Spaghetti-Os. I don’t expect her to call me mommy dearest, or ask her to scrub my kitchen floor with a toothbrush.
My daughter is intelligent. Reading levels have been met and exceeded. Her ability to empathize is astounding. When her ailing great-grandfather began to lose his vision, she tended him with a tenderness not often seen in a child of her age.
So why is it that I should feel such an immense, soul crushing guilt, for seeking care that I am at this point unable to provide? If a child becomes ill due to pneumonia or measles, surely their parents wouldn’t be judged for hospitalization. Why is it any different for a child suffering from an illness that you are unable to see?
Mothers were not meant to hand off their children to strangers in the midst of emotional pandemonium.
It goes against our natural desire to “fix” what is ailing them. So every day, I stare at the clock and wait for one of three times I am able to speak with her. Unable to sit or relax, I pace for hours wondering which version I’m going to get. Will she be angry with me, or will she sob uncontrollably begging me to bring her home?
Can you imagine that? Telling your child they can’t come home. I am living in a constant state of turmoil, unable to focus on anything other than that tiny human I cannot make better. Is she eating well? Are the nurses treating her with kindness and compassion? Not only have I handed off my child and essentially said “good luck,” our dearest friend Rona prevents me from visiting and providing her with any sense of familiarity, even for a short while.
I can feel the words I wish to say stacking heavily in my chest. The pressure becomes so profound it’s a wonder I’m still able to take a breath. Finally I take pen to paper, and carefully string the words together. Selecting each one as if it were a delicate pearl, I slide them carefully one by one until they begin to resemble an accurate depiction of what they are to become.
Strength returns, momentarily at best, to soothe her tears as she sobs on the other end of the phone.
She is reminded how much she is loved, and that our only hope is to help her soothe the incessant storm that rages inside of her.
Family members with good intentions suggest brain scans and blood work. Rapid fire questions regarding her length of stay and medication changes are enough in and of themselves to push me over the very thin ledge I’m attempting to balance on.
Mental illness is not clear cut.
There is not always a “trigger.” Searching for a diagnosis does nothing more than set your own mind at ease. Medication is not “one size fits all.” Even if something is found to curb the symptoms, it will not and cannot provide a cure.
This storm violently thrashes against the foundation we rely on. Cracks have begun to spread, and the ground is no longer solid. I fear that one day, she will not be the only one swept away in the eye of the hurricane.