A few years ago, I heard a mom at an adoption conference share her story about when her son had to be admitted for residential treatment and I remember thinking, “Thank God that will never happen to me.” I mean how does it get that bad? He must have tried to kill them or something.
Then a month ago I thought, “I could totally see us needing residential treatment for Charlie.” Life was completely out of control. He needed help that we couldn’t give him, and we so desperately needed a break.
I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Got Love? Adopt!” It makes it sound so simple. I took it off. It takes a lot more than love. And as cute as the bumper sticker was, it was kind of dumb. Adoption is in no way simple, or easy.
Sometimes meds work, sometimes a specific kind of parenting works, sometimes counseling or prayer works. But sometimes they don’t, and that can leave you feeling very lonely and desperate.
When everything that you know and have learned doesn’t work, when the meds you’ve tried don’t work, when you are out of steam, out of patience, and even tapping out on your compassion, you need more than love.
It had gotten to the point that we were all pretty miserable, but nobody more so than Charlie. One of the hardest things about where we were was watching this joyful child suffer internally. We all suffered externally in many ways, but when he would say, “Mom, would you pray with me that I’ll do good today? I want to be good, and I already prayed, but would you pray too?” and then two hours later I'd get a call from the school, and we knew our prayers didn’t work. It was heart breaking.
Charlie has had an amazing team around him all year. His teachers are wonderful, he has sweet friends, the school counselor is on his team and advocating for him daily, we see a counselor weekly; it just wasn’t enough. Between his anxiety, his fear, and his past, he really had zero coping skills. His MO was to shut down, lie, fight, or make threats.
His biggest threat at school lately has been to swallow things (*awesome*). Batteries, thumb tacks, magnets, these are all things that the school takes very seriously. I knew that he was lying 90% of the time, but telling people that he wanted to die when things got just a little hard, was kind of a big deal. Even when he was at school, I was stressed out all day and getting LOTS of phone calls.
Last Monday I got the ultimate phone call that every parent of a traumatized child fears: “I think it’s time to consider the psychiatric hospital.” I had been tired and frustrated for a long time, but basically pretty strong and put together. But with those words came the water works. Tears poured from my eyes: part sadness, part relief.
I called my husband, went to the school to get Charlie, and we met at the hospital. Charlie was in the back of the trunk with all of the groceries that I had been in the middle of unloading when I got the call. He had refused to get in his seat and then when we got there he refused to get out. I was weirdly calm (thank you Holy Spirit) and went in to check him in.
When my husband went to get him out, Charlie completely flipped out and was screaming, biting, scratching, etc and we had to get two orderlies to come and help us bring him in. They put me in a wheelchair and I restrained him in my lap. We were wheeled into an intake area where he pretty quickly calmed down.
The intake process was pretty awful and we were in the same gross room for almost six hours, but Charlie’s counselor was texting us and reassuring us that this was where he needed to be and he would be well taken care of. She told us to ask for a specific doctor that has lots of experience with similar kids, and when we did we found out that was already whose case he was on.
We were not there long when we knew he would be admitted and worried immediately how he would handle that news, but when we told him he would have his own room and a buddy and a playroom he said, “Kind of like camp?” He has always been jealous that his brother and sister have sleepovers and get to go to overnight camp, etc. so I said, “Maybe a little?”
It worked. He happily went with the nurse when it was time for us to leave. It was incredibly scary to us to leave him there, but apparently it wasn’t scary to him. (Thank you Holy Spirit.)
We talked to him every night and saw him once at Family Visitation. He was always happy when he talked to us. He missed us and wanted to come home but said he was “working on his goals and learning coping skills.”
He was there for five days. Even after discharge we really don’t have that much info about what actually went on. We know that they changed one of his medications, that he talked with his psychiatrist every day and spent lots of time in group sessions. He says that he had fun and slept good. He loved the food and got to drink soda at lunch and dinner!
Yesterday when we picked him up he was so happy and boasting about how he is all done lying and swallowing things. He said, “I’m not going to break things anymore either. I will only fix things that are already broken.”
I asked him if he worried we wouldn’t come back and he said just once, on Monday. "I cried, but only on Monday."
He said, “I learned a lot and got better, but I don’t want to go back there, okay?”
We are only one day on the other side, but so far I have zero regrets about the decision. His skin is dry and has a rash from the harsh detergent, but physically he is fine. Mentally he is much better and emotionally he is great.
He is so happy to be home and finally seems to be owning his past and determined to handle frustration and difficulties with the tools that he has. His toolbox was almost empty and all he knew was to shut down and want to disappear (which is why he said he wanted to die).
We are adding tools all the time. His box is not full yet, but being aware of his triggers and teaching him to find the appropriate tool at the appropriate time is a great place to start.
Since last Monday I have gotten private phone calls from people who were treated at the same hospital. They just wanted to let me know and give me reassurance that everything would be alright. I have also had people tell me not to tell anyone about this because you know how people judge.
I am sure that people will also judge me for putting this out there for everyone to see. Mental health issues are private and hard, but when no one talks about it, you can feel so alone going through it.
What will Charlie feel like as an adult knowing that I told people about this? I can’t know for sure, but at 10 he says he is okay with it. He wants to hang the art he made there on our refrigerator “to remember Peachford” and all he learned while he was there. He also put pictures of the therapy dogs he met on our prayer board because “they help kids when they’re sad and they need prayer too.”
So many people love Charlie and want to know how to support and pray for him. Many others can relate to us as the parents and have (or will) wrestle through a tough decision like this for their hurting child. And a few will judge: us and/or him, but I believe the former outweighs the latter. Sharing this puts us in a vulnerable place, but we believe it is worth it.
If you ask him where he was last week he’ll say, “I was at Peachford. I was sad and mad but I’m getting better.” His sister wrote him a letter while he was there that said, “We are so proud of you for getting the help you need. You are as brave as a knight.” I certainly agree with that.