I glanced at my daughter sitting on the hospital bed waiting for someone from Mental Health Intervention to come and talk to us. The harsh light outlined the contours of her face. Her legs were folded under her as only the very young can do effortlessly. She kept tucking an escaped curl behind her left ear. How did we get to this point? I thought to myself, what is going on behind those beautiful brown eyes that she isn’t telling me? Why would she do this to herself? I felt helpless, confused and totally overwhelmed.
I gave Sara an encouraging smile while butterflies skittered in my stomach. A light knock at the door and a pleasant faced man came into the room. He smiled at both of us and then spoke to Sara.
“Hi, I’m Tom from Mental Health Intervention. I’m here to ask you some questions and evaluate what’s going on with you and what we can do about it.”
His next statement made me sit up a little straighter in my chair.
“Okay Sara, since you’re fifteen and because of the Privacy Act, is it okay if your Mom stays for this?”
I felt shock register on my face. “Excuse me, you mean if she says no, I have to leave the room?”
“Well, yes, she’s of legal age to make her own decisions.” Tom looked a little uncomfortable.
Racing through my mind were angry thoughts: I can’t believe this! She is my child. She only fifteen, for God’s sake! I pay her insurance but I haven’t the right to find out what’s going on unless Sara say’s it’s alright?
“It’s okay, Mom” interjected Sara quietly, “I want you to stay.”
Tom pulled a clipboard from under his arm.
“Okay, let’s start these questions.”
He asked Sara basic questions which she answered easily. Even joking a little at some of the answers she gave. Then he asked to see her arms. My daughter pushed the sleeves of her hoody up her arms. Dark red scratches and angry welts crisscrossed her wrists following the inside of her arms and ended near her elbows. Tears threatened to spill from my eyes as I followed the path of her injuries. Tom shook his head at the scratches and scrapes.
“What did you use when you did this?”
“A razor.” Her eyes didn’t quite meet Toms as the color rose in her cheeks.
“You do realize that if you cut a tendon, you’ll have all kinds of complications? Sometimes the tendon can’t be reattached and then the use of the arm is lost. Cutting is a dangerous thing to be doing.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sara squirmed a little looking up at him from under her eyelashes.
“Why do you cut yourself? What makes you want to hurt yourself like that?” Tom asked gently.
“When I have pressures at school or sometimes when everything overwhelms me, it’s the only way I can deal with it. Sometimes when my friends and I have arguments or there’s a rumor at school someone started about me, it helps me to handle it. High school is tough and there are lots of things going on that adults don’t understand. When I get, mad or upset, it’s the only way that relieves the stress and anger. I don’t even know I do it most of the time till I look down and see the cuts.” Sara looked at me out of the corner of her eye to see my reaction.
“Don’t you talk to anyone about it?”
“Yeah, I talk to my friends but some of them do it too. There’s always peer pressure and the other kids not accepting you unless you’re a certain way. You have to be preppie, punk, skater, a nerd or goth. No one wants to accept you if you’re just you. It’s hard.”
“Then we need to find another way, a safer way to relieve anger and stress,” Tom said.
My feelings of failure as a parent were running rampant by this time. I had always considered myself an involved parent with Sara’s safety and happiness one of my main concerns. Why didn’t I see this before? Why didn’t she tell me what was bothering her? Somehow I had failed her.
Tom went further down the list.
“Have you thought about suicide, hurting yourself or others? My heart pounded as I waited for her answer.
“No, just the cutting. Nothing else. I have been tired and feeling depressed sometimes though.”
Tom nodded his head and continued to write.
“Well, that wraps up the questions. Now, Sara, if you don’t feel safe or feel as if you’re going to hurt yourself again, you can admit yourself. We can find you a room in the Juvenile Behavior Clinic for tonight.”
Sara looked at him thoughtfully taking in what he said.
“You mean I can commit myself to mental health?”
“Yes, if you feel the need for it or feel unsafe.”
He glanced at me. “If you feel she needs admitted and she doesn’t want to go, you can force her with an intervention. I don’t believe she’ll hurt herself again tonight though. The crisis seems to have passed. I would recommend that you set her up with a therapist as soon as possible if she isn’t admitted tonight. She does have issues that need dealt with. She’ll need professional help to do it. She may also need to be on medication. I want you to know your options.”
My options? Admitting my daughter to mental health? Outpatient therapy? Drug therapy? My head was spinning and my world was crashing.
“I’ll give you both a few minutes to discuss what you want to do. I’ll be back.” I looked at Sara after he left.
“What do you want to do? How do you feel? Do you want to admit yourself?” Sara took a deep breath and was quiet for a few minutes. I could see her weighing her options. I wondered what she would chose and if she was capable of making her own decisions about something as serious as this.
“I think I want to go home tonight. I feel better after talking to Tom and I realize I have a problem. I don’t have all the feelings I had when I did this.” She looked down at her arms. “I want to go and talk to someone though as soon as you can make an appointment.”
There was a soft tap as Tom stepped back into the room.
“What have you decided?”
Sara looked at him and said “I want to go home tonight. I want to talk to someone who can help me as soon as we can get an appointment. I don’t feel like harming myself again.”
Tom nodded his head. “I have a name of a therapist who deal with this type of problem. Her name is Holly and she is recommended highly.”
He handed me a paper with her name written on it and the phone number.
“I would suggest you call her first thing tomorrow and get things set up. The sooner Sara is in therapy, the sooner she’ll get better. If there are any more problems before you see a therapist, you can bring her back.” He smiled and shook Sara’s and my hand, said we could leave when we were ready and left the room. We gathered our belongings, paperwork and left the building. As we were leaving, Sara turned to me.
“Thanks Mom, for bringing me here. I needed to talk to someone.” I gave her a tight hug as we walked to the car.
That was six months ago. Sara has been seeing Holly about twice a month. She has learned to channel her anger and stress into the treadmill and weights we installed in the basement. Sometimes I can hear her running the treadmill at odd hours and I know she’s upset about something. When she feels able, she’ll talk to me about it. Sara is making progress but it’s a slow recovery. She had one setback in six months. Holly said that is to be expected, but seeing the trail of scratches and cuts is still upsetting. Acceptance that she does have a problem makes it more bearable for both of us, Hopefully, with prayers, a supportive family and a desire to overcome this, Sara will stay on the road to recovery.
Sara is now 26 with two little daughters of her own, ages 3 & 6. Throughout the years, she has been diagnosed with Bipolar, depression, and anxiety. The medications she is on does help her keep herself in control and on top of her mental illnesses.
Being a mother has been the biggest push for her by far. Her girls are one of the main reasons she tries for 100% in everything that she does. At 24, she decided to get two hearts intertwined on each wrist with Alexa on the left above the heart and Aubree on the right above the heart. The two hearts are intertwined which is the Celtic symbol for “Motherhood.” The tattoos have stopped the urge for her to cut when it resurfaces. When she looks at the tattoos and sees the names of her two beautiful children she brought into this world, she closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and the urge retreats to the ugly place where it belongs.