***TRIGGER WARNING; DEPRESSION, SUICIDAL IDEATION, SELF-HARM, MENTAL HEALTH HOSPITALIZATIONS***
I am all over the place in my head with what I want to include in a blog post. While I’m trying to let my heart lead me, my brain has strong opinions about what I should share.
Since the second week of October, I have been experiencing flashbacks to last year at this time. My older son Preston was experiencing a severe depressive episode complicated with suicidal ideation and self harm. I struggle with knowing how much detail is too much and how much is needed to convey how amazing it is that we are where we are today. Even though this blog is my outlet, I want to offer hope to others that may be in a similar situation.
When Preston was found to be in crisis, the only experience I had to draw from was my own as a teenager. I was unwilling to take any medication for my own dysregulation and refused to participate in counseling so my first major depressive episode became a horrible way of life. Not only for myself, but for those who loved and lived with me. I spent many years on an emotional roller-coaster that caused hell and havoc for myself and my entire family. I am not exaggerating to say I suffered. At one of the worst points, my parents arranged for me to have an inpatient psychiatric stay for a short period of time. I did myself no favors by lying my way through that brief treatment period. I wasn’t truly invested in my own future and wouldn’t let anyone in to help me. I still have trouble with being vulnerable to anyone. I spent much of my teenage years unhappy. To this day, it hurts me to remember what I did to myself and those around me. The past is past and I’ve learned to live life differently. I know that this counts and my parents forgive me for being crazy. I mention all this about me to help you understand the decisions I made to help Preston “get well”. While Preston was in the emergency room being evaluated by the ER physician and social worker I was overwhelmed and in shock. I dug down deeper that I ever have before and made myself stay calm and keep the tears and terror in. I’m not exaggerating, I was terrified. My beautiful boy’s life was in danger from his own self. Despite a dramatic episode in a tree, he did not make a true suicide attempt so we were not trying to treat his physical well-being, but to address his mental health. I’m sure if I sat here long enough I could tell you every single detail but I don’t want to. I’ve spent the last year encouraging those memories to fade into the recesses somewhere, so I am not plagued by them or nightmares. What I do recall easily is having no hesitation at having him admitted on a one-do-one psych hold as an inpatient on the pediatric floor. I very clearly remember what it felt like to realize, and quickly admit, that I could not, nor would try, to keep him safe at home. I quickly moved from what I didn’t know to what I did know. I knew that this was our chance to blitz this horrible disease, depression, and throw everything at it. Intense inpatient treatment, medication, psychotherapy and so on. In the matter of a few hours I went from having a “normal” day at work to my entire world spinning on its’ axis and changing all of our lives forever. I can say now that it is for the better but then, in those moments, I felt like I was out of control, questioning everything I thought I knew. Paranoia about keeping everyone safe gripped me and didn’t let go for months and months. Not long after the discussion about Preston not being safe at home, it was suggested that he go to Portland (200 miles away) for inpatient, adolescent psychiatric treatment for an undetermined period of time. I said yes. Ironically, one of the triggers for Preston’s turmoil, his dad suing me for full-custody of him and losing, meant that I could make all of the treatment decisions for Preston on my own. I included his dad and kept him in the loop but it was up to me. I was so grateful for this. My own experience with depression and having worked in medicine for 13.5 years at that time, meant I had better knowledge and tools than his construction working dad did about medications and treatment modalities. We quickly decided on which medications to try and why. Let me say that I have always been anti-medication for many reasons. While it was a quick decision, it was not an easy one and went against my personal preference. However, when someone is drowning, do you thrown them the life preserver and stand by or do you throw the preserver, call the Coast Guard and pull your boat along side to scoop them up in a net? You do it all. You try every reasonable thing that you have at your disposal to save their life. Believe me when I say that we were fighting to do exactly that. Yes, we weren’t fighting cancer or Ebola, but we were fighting a potentially life-ending disease. To see your child with the light gone from their eyes is not something that I would wish on anyone. Ever. It burns a scar into your soul that will never be gone. Healed? Possibly. Gone? I don’t think so. While we waited for an inpatient bed for Preston, we passed the days in his hospital room playing card or board games, watching TV and he ordered cookies and milk shakes from the hospital “room service.” As I type this, the hollow pain in my chest that comes from these memories, takes my breath away. I have to stop and remind myself we aren’t living this now. That was then and it is over and we survived. The recollection of how uncertain I was, is so easy to bring back. As I quietly observed Preston in that room, I was able to see how thin he had gotten, how lost in himself and dark he was. It breaks my heart to admit it but I hadn’t seen it. I didn’t see the crisis coming and narrowly avoided having him remove himself from our lives, permanently.
Yikes. I had to take a break for several hours in the middle of this blog post. I’ve lot some momentum and I’m not sure if I should pick up where I left off…
After days of waiting, a bed became available in Oregon City and Preston had to travel there via secure transport. I am very particular about who drives my children around. Watching him be escorted via security guard to the waiting van and get with strangers, I feel like I was suffocating. (Really, I was having a panic attack that I couldn’t show to anyone.) I drove the 200 miles to Oregon City, behind the van. I could see Preston, but I felt so far away and out of control. I may write another blog post about the admissions process and what it was like for him to be there but not today. I was very fortunate to have a place to stay and was able to be with my parents at their house in Beaverton. I’d left everything behind suddenly, my job, my husband and my vulnerable, younger son. Those around me picked up all of my slack so that I could be all about Preston. While as a person, I’m not replaceable, others could do tasks that normally fell to me. I made a special trip to Central Oregon to be able to go to the pumpkin patch with Logan and try to do “normal” things with him. It was impossible to keep his routine while I was out of town but his grandparents and dad did the best they could. Preston seemed to use his time well during his inpatient stay.
Toward the end, we frantically tried to pull together outpatient mental health services for him in Central Oregon. Let me say this, the mental health services in rural Central Oregon are severely lacking. I struggled with the office staff at his psychiatrist’s office to get him a visit for when he was discharged. He didn’t already have a therapist so I needed to find one of those too. Again, limited options were available. If I had it to do all over again, I would have been more assertive, even aggressive, to get him appointments sooner and more of them. I’d never been responsible for anything so important before and hadn’t found enough valuable literature to direct me. Basically, we didn’t have a good enough outpatient plan for Preston and by the weekend of Thanksgiving, he was at a crisis point again.
On the Monday following Thanksgiving, we were in Preston’s psychiatrists office trying to problem-solve and figure out what to do next. Once again, he wasn’t safe at our house and once again, I knew that I couldn’t keep him there if that was true. Preston was very honest about his feelings and how overwhelmed he was. He told his psychiatrist that he knew that he needed inpatient psychiatric care. He also told him that he didn’t think a week or two at an inpatient psych unit was going to be enough to help him. Preston asked to go to residential treatment. I’m proud to say that I didn’t come unglued and freak out. Regardless of my mother’s desire to keep him close to me, my instincts told me to follow his. His psychiatrist told us about the residential treatment facilities in Oregon and their locations. Before we left his office to go to the ER, we already had an idea of where we wanted him to go. This conversation was pivotal in jump-starting getting him to residential treatment. Our local hospital doesn’t let his psychiatrist directly admit to pediatrics so we went back to the ER. They were great about making sure I could connect with the social worker early on. She had already received Preston’s info from the psych office which outlines the plan to go to residential treatment so she was able to put together a packet to send the referral to the Trillium Farm Home in Albany. When I called the following morning to check on the referral, they were already able to tell me that they had a spot for him. This time, instead of waiting many days to get to the next hospital, Emmanuel Adolescent Psych until had a spot the following day. I drove on ahead because he wasn’t leaving until after 10pm. Over the next several days I spoke with the intake coordinator at the Farm Home and went for a tour and filled out paperwork and provided necessary documentation. I also went back to Central Oregon this time. Unlike the previous visit, I didn’t stay the entire length of his stay. At home, I was able to be with Logan and AJ and go back to work. Now, I didn’t do any of those things very well. At all. I poured over the list of personal items that Preston was able to have, packed his things and met him at the Farm Home.
Very early on in his residential treatment stay, we would told that he’d be there from a month to three months, but that insurance doesn’t usually agree to pay for that long. Since he got there around the 13th of December, we soon realized that he would be missing the holiday season at home. To this day, we haven’t discussed this together. Already heartbroken, I was devastated that he would be away from our home during this favorite time of year. I was torn between wanting life to be as it should for Logan. I struggled to find an ounce of joy in anything. I battled my own anxiety and depression and overwhelming disappointment. I was on the road twice per week to Albany. I participated in family therapy and then had a visit on the weekend. No one but myself or his dad was allowed to visit. My choice. When he was well-enough emotionally to be away from the farm home, we would start to reintroduce family members. It was easier to control what was said and what wasn’t, if his communications were limited to those closest to him that were completely apprised of his situation. I don’t regret shielding him from anyone. I would do it again. The Farm Home had a Christmas tree in their common room. Our house felt lonely without Preston home. I know that we decorated here but I don’t remember how or when. I don’t recall making any baked treats that I am known to make year after year. I think we listened to a few Christmas carols but I don’t remember singing along like I usually do. My work decorations were fewer than prior years. We went through the motions, we bought gifts for both boys, (Preston’s had to be approved for safety reasons) and had a visit here from Santa. I drove to the Farm Home on Christmas Day to make a meal for Preston. However, he was noticeably missing in every holiday activity that we typically participate in.
This year, as Thanksgiving approached, the feelings from last year were closer to the surface. I could tell I was optimistic but emotionally holding my breath. Having learned the Heart Math tools, I was able to process and handle the negative emotions and remain positive and look forward to enjoying the season surrounding Jesus’ birth. I cannot go back and make up for what was lost, but I can appreciate this all the more because I know what it’s like to not have it. We have baked cookies, sung Carols together, attended a holiday concert and loved and laughed and have loved some more. We are living in Christmas present. Honoring the past but not letting the demons and darkness, disrupt our lives now. It is with full hearts that we go through life and share the Christmas spirit. The Holy Spirit.
(Preston spent 4 weeks at the Farm Home and his outpatient, discharge plan has gone well. He is happy and healthy with “normal” teenage ups and downs.)
Life is not without conflict or challenges. However, my life has perspective. I am so grateful that as a family, we have all worked hard to come together to face, and embrace, the challenges we’ve been given.
Thanks for making it all the way through this long blog post. I recognize that it was scattered at times. As I get ready to close the laptop lid, and head back to the kitchen to dip spritz cookies in peppermint flavored candy coating, I am looking forward to the freedom that comes with sharing these memories.
Love and hugs, Rebecca