She’s safe…for now!

This powerful and  intensely personal post was written by my friend Fiona, after a particularly distressing incident with her teenage daughter. She intended to send it to the newspapers, but for now she has allowed me to post it here, in the interests of raising awareness. Fiona feels that people need to know how incredibly serious the issue of the mental health of our teenagers has become. She says her experience has reaffirmed the belief  she had as a new teacher, that the social, emotional care and development of our students should be as important to us as numeracy and literacy or even more important…

She’s safe…for now! The lacerations on her arms and legs…observed and noted. Signs of where the cord bit into her throat, observed and noted. The desolate cries for help, chemically subdued and noted. The ride in the back of the police car, efficiently noted. The birthdate, name and address of the child recorded and recorded and recorded…noted. The memories of the cold, fluorescent back of a paddy wagon, stored away for future nightmares.

Her shaking body, her tears mingling with mine, her arms clinging onto me …absorbed,embraced…felt!

No crime has been committed and this is not the scene of an accident. On paper, efficiently, clearly, extensively researched and noted, this is environmentally and genetically explained. This is quite clearly, a fifteen year old experiencing Borderline Personality traits, depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.

On paper, efficiently, academically, extensively outlined is the therapeutic pathway to follow. There are phone numbers to dial, appointments to attend and behavioural strategies to practice just before the fog of self-loathing, loneliness and helplessness rolls over her.

To some, this is an attention seeking, manipulative, self-absorbed teenager. She should toughen up. Get over it. Think of all the people in the world worse off than her. Go for a long walk. Hug a puppy. Go to school. Get your homework done … that always feels good! Don’t you know how upsetting this is for your mum, your family? Everyone has a bad day, tomorrow will be better.

To me? She’s my baby. I have nursed her, bathed her and rocked her to sleep. I have tended to her scraped knees, dried her tears, celebrated her successes, stared in wonder at her beauty and marveled at her intelligence.

Last night? Again, I tended to her cuts, dried her tears, rocked her and fought like a tigress (albeit tearfully) to get her help. I answered the questions so the person on the other end of the line could tick their boxes (I did stumble for a moment and my stoic, matter of fact 21-year-old daughter picked up the ball until the goal was in sight), I kept the back of that paddy wagon just a close-call not an experience and every wave of physical or digital note paper was efficiently and quickly dealt with and batted away. I fought so my child’s pain, not her mental illness could be felt, not noted.

She’s safe…for now.

A crisis admission into an adolescent mental health unit.

Twenty four hours for us to re-group. Twenty four hours to prepare for the next duly noted crisis.

Twenty four hours before I meet with the team of mental health professionals to hear “yes, I can see how distressing this is for you”, “it’s pleasing that she has been seeing her case worker” “yes, I think we will review her medication”, “she is better served out in the community”, “that’s good to hear that she will be attending group sessions next Term” “now, you have her health care plan and you have the crisis numbers?” “yes, I understand your concerns, as you know this is a long-term journey” “yes, there is a chance she will succeed with one of her suicide attempts” “there is light at the end of the tunnel” “yes, I understand, the light is hard to see” “are you being counseled yourself?” “that must be helpful for you”, “well, nice to see you again, hopefully we won’t see you again too soon”

I know that there is another side to this story. The ones who are efficiently trained to manage, contain, attend to and transport these children in crisis. They are soldiers on the frontline, for them the call for help or the cry “medic!” means manage, contain, attend to and transport. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, I know that dealing with all the human suffering and violence would leave me numb! I also know these people are not super human, and like all of us they are prone to prejudice, assumptions, exhaustion and mistakes.

Trying to convince a distraught, mentally unwell, non-violent teenager to get into the back of a paddy wagon (“it’s ok it’s been washed”), because bags and folders are on the back seat of the sedan – mistake.

Not having enough ambulances to cater for all cries for help – mistake

Not increasing funding for mental health services – mistake

And what of her duly noted siblings? How have they fared? They are also of the same environment and genetic material and yet, of course, different. One, has taken on the intolerant and less informed view that much of the general public has. The other struggles with the great divide between knowledge and emotional connection; despite studying psychology, she is first and foremost, the big sister to a teenage sister, who just happens to suffer mental ill-health.

If my young daughter survives this war, she will be strong. If she doesn’t, she will have found peace. Peace in the sense that her pain will end. No more slicing into her arms and legs so that the physical pain will drown out the mental turmoil. No more feelings of worthlessness, no more memories. For me, my pain will continue.

15 thoughts on “She’s safe…for now!

  1. Oh my …so very sad … at least she is safe for now, but a long road ahead for all. We have a close connection with one who was not safe … her first attempt was her last. We didn’t know … no one knew. Please pass on my thoughts to this family x

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  2. This post touched the core of me!
    It is impossible to try to image Fiona’s pain.
    May she receive the strength and support she needs for herself and her children.
    A remarkable Mother!

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  3. Fiona is one of the bravest people I know. She carries on regardless of the pain and turmoil in her family, and is a rock for them.

    This is an extremely important issue obviously for her personally, but also for our community – there is a clear need for compassionate and ongoing support. From the description in this post, it is falling short.

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  4. This happened to a family friend – and reading this is both painful and illuminating. My friend said exactly those words, “she’s safe…for now”.

    A school counsellor recently told me that teenage depression is on the rise. That, where in previous generations the issues were alcoholism or drugs, now it is depression. Her advice to teachers was to connect – be that adult the student can connect with, you may be the only one.

    Thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you, your daughter, your whole family….and your friends, too.

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  5. What a wonderful brave blog, my daughter after 10 years is now more stable but every day is a challenge. She is brave enough to have recently decided to stand for governor for the local NHS board on Mental health and has just been accepted. She has been given the area she asked for adolescent health and the transition to adult services so there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it is for Fiona as well.

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  6. Hi,
    I am recovering from a PD, for 10 years I have taken over doses, self harmed and wanted not to be alive, not to feel the pain I was in, not to continually feel like I was a looser, because I couldnt see any light. At times I tried to ask for help, at others I thought whats the point. Pd’s are classed as munipulative but were not. I can be the most well controlled, articulate person you would see yet I am saying the words I want to die. Yeah this looks like I am just making it up! But I am not, I just cant express any emotion so I go on autopilot and put on the act of I am fine. Parents can be so supportive. The first overdoses I took, when asked why I did it I said “there was no one about” this was at 3 am in the morning. Everyday for the next 10 years my dad woke up if I was up and checked I was ok he still does! My Parents continually asked for help, I was admitted into a ward for 24 hrs then released with a crisis team number and a cpn would be in contact within a two week period. The crisis team on a number of occasions told me when I rang up literally with tablets or a knife at hand. Told me to have a bath, they were then suprised when they had to come and assess me in the morning, (shock horror). I had been stuck in the revolving door syndrome which makes out the person isnt wanting to get better, when really when the doctors say revolving door syndrome you should be asking them why they havent stopped it, what they are going to do! alone we cant stop it!. I will add until the person gets to the stage when they are wanting to change, when they want things to be different! you can try and make them but it wont work. I made a desicion in my mind that i had to die or i had to start living, the choice wasnt easy but once i had decided I am going to do my upmost to try for a different life, Life was so hard you have to relearn whats normal, how do i respond to that without taking an overdose. This is something people take for granted but if you have an illness wether physical or otherwise there is always a period of adjustment or rehabilitation. I hope to help as many people as possible. I am now in recovery and have been for 2 years now, I still get down days but I have ups now as well. x
    Recovery is hard and its for life!

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  7. There is not much you can say – my words would be inadequate. My thoughts are with you Fiona and come from the heart as we have been close to situations involving young people and depression. Please also take care of yourself so that you can stay strong for your daughter.

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  8. Yet….. you come each day and face work and the book ordering and the other stuff. Your outside does not begin to show what you have shared today. Words … words… brave… suffering…. compassion… bubble around but they are just words. I have none for you only thoughts and prayer that we can find ways to say and do anything that might help and just be there for you.

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  9. Our children are ours. We remain their advocates and support networks at all times but particularly times like these when they feel they are alone. While I know it is difficult, remain strong, understanding, and adamant that you, your daughter’s and your family’s needs are met. my thoughts and prayers are with you all

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  10. This is a powerful, sad reflection on a family’s pain and a system still in need of reform. It’s heartbreaking and I thank you and Fiona for allowing us to read it. These personal and distressing first hand accounts of mental illness are so important for increasing the awareness of others. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this.
    During her secondary school years my sister was a disengaged, disruptive, misunderstood and misdiagnosed teen. During her late 20’s she was a brilliant scientist struggling to finish her PhD in between the extreme, self destructive episodes of mania and depression that define Bipolar Disorder. My sister didn’t survive her last manic episode.
    As a secondary teacher, over the years I’ve looked beyond the test results of my troubled students. They are trivial in comparison to helping them cope with their disparate feelings and actions.

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  11. I feel speechless and gutted. Trapped here behind a screen when I feel like just giving Fiona a supportive hug. I don’t know what to say, other than please encourage Fiona to publish her story. You mentioned she was going to send this to a newspaper. I believe this painful story needs to be heard. Conversations need to be started and action taken. Mental illness needs attention. Rhi, thanks for sharing your perspective. 2 years! Wonderful news🙂

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