Pen, notebook, coffee, my comfy chair. This should be a happy moment except that upstairs, a child wants to die.
Yesterday, she sees tear-streaks on my face. “Have you been crying? Why are you upset?” My lips make words. “It’s hard to watch you suffer.” She puts a hand on my arm. “I don’t want to invalidate your feelings,” she says, parroting Dialectical Behaviour Therapy scripts, “but it’s hard to suffer.” Her tone is condescending.
I kiss the top of her head. I can’t say, “I know.” She hates that, always says, “Do you?” or “How can you?” or screams, “You don’t know.”
i don’t know.
Yesterday, we kept her alive.
Today’s task is the same.
I am confused, caught off-guard by this. It’s not new—the depression, the darkness, the suicidal ideation have been part of what she’s struggled with as she’s battled what I still think of as “the real illness.” The symptoms of that have receded, are finally responding to treatment. I had thought the accompanying darkness was situational. Caused by the illness, and why not? Who could endure what Flora has been going through for the last two years and not wish for release, however final?
I misunderstood, again, everything.
Tomorrow, Flora turns 15.
Tomorrow, Flora will turn 15.
Tomorrow, Flora will turn 15.
Please, child, daughter, love, please turn 15 tomorrow. Sixteen the year after. Kiss a girl, a boy. Fall in love. Go to Wales again—test for your second degree black belt. Find, follow your passions. Genetically modify pigs so that they have wings. Do all the things. Live. Please.
Motherhood—parenthood—is this relentless process of finding out you don’t control your children. You can’t protect your children. You can do all things… and you still cannot save them from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
You cannot save them from themselves.
Flora. Turn 15. Live.
You can only love them.
On Friday morning, Sean takes Flora to an emergency appointment with one of her doctors, who is concerned enough that she essentially says, take her to the hospital. If you can’t get her in the car, call an ambulance.
Sean spends the day with her at the hospital. Triage. Resident. Psychiatric nurse. Psychiatrist.
I’m in an all-day instructors’ course. I learn shit until 10:30 a.m., at which point I get the call from Sean that they’re on their way to the hospital. I have no idea what happens after that. I’m nominally in the classroom. I even talk to my chair about my winter schedule. Get my ID card. There’s a tour. Ironically, we visit Student Development & Counselling Services. Talk a lot about mental health. I can’t breathe. I will not leave her in the hospital again, I will not, but oh-my-god, suppose I don’t and she dies?
I text something along those lines to Sean. His answers are clipped. Triage. Resident. Psychiatrict nurse. Psychiatrist. Waiting.
I don’t want to talk shit about our medical system because I am so grateful for universal free healthcare, and I know the system is full of well-intentioned healers who want to help people. Nobody goes into nursing, medicine, psychology, psychiatry because they want to be a bureaucrat, gatekeeper or hateful asshole.
The system just turns them into that…
I don’t want to talk shit about the youth mental health ward where Flora spent most of last spring either.
But I will.
Yes, she got help. Assessment, diagnosis, the beginning of treatment.
She was also traumatized and emotionally abused.
We might as well have put her in jail.
Flora’s not happy at home. When she talks to the psychologist, doctors, psychiatrists, she tells them she hates her life at home. Doesn’t get along with her brothers. I don’t know what she says about her parents—she saves that for when I leave the room. The little I do hear is hard enough to take. I don’t know what I could have done to have given this child a more stress-free, trauma-free, happy childhood.
I don’t know what I could, should do differently now.
Not cry in front of her now, maybe, but fuck me, I have no reserves left and the tears just come when they want to. I need to save my energy for the battles, conversations, emotional labours that matter.
Friday night, I sleep in Flora’s top bunk so that she’s not alone in the night. Saturday night, Sean does Friday evening, he watches movies with her while I feed us, put Ender to bed Check on Cinder. The boys are not doing well. Ender is clingy, behaviourally regressive. Cinder, fully my son, is disassociating, directing impossible to articulate fear and anger at schoolwork—“stupid and not worth doing”—and inanimate objects, there are new holes in walls.
Saturday morning, we sell Ender to a friend and neighbour, and go look at puppies. I need another living, needy, vulnerable thing in the house like I need… I can’t even find the appropriate metaphor. But when we ask Flora what she needs, what might help, a dog into whose fur she could bury her face is all that she can express.
Our dog is a very selfish emotional support animal. Also, she thinks she’s Ender’s. Also, I will grasp at any straw.
We don’t come home with a puppy. Flora has moments of happiness during the search, I think, but also much longer moments of despair. When we get home, Sean takes Cinder to a movie. I sit on the couch with Flora. Hold her for hours.
In the hospital, staff are not allowed to touch the kids—unless they’re restraining them, that’s ok.* The kids aren’t allowed to touch each other either. The kids also have to spend chunks of each day in “quiet time” in their rooms, doors closed. That’s supposed to be part of their therapy. It’s also the go-to punishment. Isolation. Staff can’t handle you? You’re not behaving?
You’re locked, alone, in your room.
The first week Flora’s at the hospital last spring, the kids start a riot to protest what they see as an unjust punishment of one of them. They’re all forced to spend the rest of the day in their rooms.
I am not a nurse, doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist.
But I am a child, mother, wife, friend, lover, boss, teacher, neighbour, colleague. Human.
And I can tell you without any equivocation that the key to good mental health is love and connection.
The psychiatrist from the hospital ER calls Friday night, Saturday night. Promises to call again Sunday. Talks to Flora. Sean.
He calls on his free time, after his shift is over.
The people who work in the system? Most of them, healers with hearts of gold.
He’s talked with Flora’s outpatient medical team. Is worried that he made the wrong call not insisting on admission.
I know he didn’t.
I don’t know if we can keep her safe.
I don’t know what else we need to hide, put away. I don’t know the right things to say.
I don’t know if we can keep her safe.
But we can keep her loved.
Post-script: Sean talks to Flora for hours. Short conversations, interspersed with hugs, silence, life. Trying to make all of us accept that the hospital is not the worst option. It’s the second worst option, and the worst option is unthinkable, unacceptable. If you can’t keep yourself safe, if we can’t keep you safe—will you tell us? Will you choose to go?
But she’s only a child. What a burden to bear.
Flora, child, love, most beloved.
You will turn 15 tomorrow.
Turn 15 tomorrow.
* * *
We are still home.