Tell Me How to Do Tough Love

God will never forsake you

Continued from yesterday…

I stormed in the beach condo and slammed the door behind me. “I can’t take this anymore!” I practically yelled when Pedro looked up inquisitively.

“What?”

“This constant texting with Sarah and her incredibly self-involved, wallowing attitude. She needs help!”

I shoved my phone across the table where he waited for me to join him for breakfast and went to the bathroom to wipe away my tears.

Sarah Ojeda: Ahhhh Marm! I want to die!!
Anita Ojeda: Stop whining. Go read your Bible and pray. Let me know what you read and what specific thing you prayed about. I expect a text in ten minutes.
Sarah Ojeda: Ok. I read Proverbs 21. And I prayed for the desire to live and to get out of bed and stop being a lazy sluggard
Anita Ojeda: I will pray the same thing for you. What will you do now?
Sarah Ojeda: Lie in bed some more.
Anita Ojeda: Wrong answer!
Sarah Ojeda: Ahhhh. I hate this sluggard I’ve become!
Anita Ojeda: Get up, get your running clothes on. Get your pepper spray and go running. Run at least two miles. And tell the devil to shut up.
Sarah Ojeda: It’s too late. I was going to go two hours ago but I just wanted to sleep.
Anita Ojeda: Why is it too late?
Sarah Ojeda: I just want to do nothing…my stuff is so disorganized…
Anita Ojeda: Stop whining. You need to exercise. Go exercise.
Sarah Ojeda: I’m going!
Anita Ojeda: Yay!
Sarah Ojeda: I still want to cease to exist, though! I really need to change!!! I need to be kinder and stop being the laziest person in the world!
Anita Ojeda: You need to stop being so negative. Celebrate the positive things you do :).

When I came back into the kitchenette he handed me the phone. “You don’t have to do this alone, you know.”

I nodded my head miserably. I’d fallen into my old habits of trying to single parent. Oh, I had great excuses, just like I had great excuses when Pedro had cancer. But just like then, I thought I could protect him (he already had enough stress with his job) by handling the difficult conversations with Sarah.

“Stop texting Sarah,” he said. “Let me handle this.”

“But I don’t want her to get worse because she thinks I’ve abandoned her,” I wailed in frustration.

“Maybe it’s time for some tough love.”

Sarah had only been in Oregon for a week and a half, but it seemed as if every day brought a barrage of self-disparaging texts with confessions of binging and claims of stupidity. It had started the week she spent at Laura and Louis’s, and continued on her car trip north to her summer job. She had gotten lost a time or two (despite using her phone’s GPS), locked her keys in the car when she stopped at a friend’s grandparent’s house to spend the night, and had failed to go over the training materials before she arrived at her job.

Reluctantly, I agreed with Pedro that my sympathy method hadn’t done much good. I stopped texting her each morning to see how she felt. Of course, I ended up spending emotional energy worrying about her. Especially when one of her last texts included the phrase, “I still want to cease to exist.”

I couldn’t understand how our young adult daughter, who had traveled all over South America and Europe, could have such a difficult time rolling out of bed in the morning and use “My stuff is so disorganized” as an excuse to do even less.

Pedro and I managed to have fun during our two-week vacation, but the question of what to do about Sarah threatened to upstage our adventures. Sarah never sent despairing texts to Pedro, so I thought that perhaps my sympathy had given her an audience and that by taking away the audience, she would start focusing on the positive things in life.

“I’m really worried about Sarah,” my mom said, her voice crackling and buzzing with a bad cell connection. Pedro had headed home and I was driving towards my summer class in the western part of North Carolina.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, as fear squeezed its bony fingers around my lungs. “When did you see her?”

“She’s working in the neighborhood and we had her over for the afternoon. She’s so listless and disinterested in everything. I hardly recognize her.”

After Mom described in detail how Sarah had acted, I knew the time had come to change our approach. I called Pedro and related all that my mom had told me. “Maybe it’s time for me to contact her again,” I suggested, “and try to talk her into seeking help.”

He agreed.

I sent Sarah a cheery text, and asked her how she was doing.

Sarah Ojeda: If I laid in one place for three days would I die of thirst? That’s what I want to do but there are people that expect me to do things.. I’m so gross and I don’t want to do anything and I’m acting like a little kid but I can’t stop! I don’t know how to do anything and I don’t want to do anything. I’m starting to act like Maliah and Matthew and Alex… Just weird and whiny and lacking proper hygiene and whenever there is food I eat it until I’m stuffed….
I have not gotten any better and I don’t know what to do because I don’t think therapy is the answer because the root of my funk is that I don’t want to do anything and I’m addicted to food.
And I’m acting like a nasty moocher… Barely saying thank-you for things and never giving. And I can’t think about anything and I’m so slow and dumb and awkward..
And whenever I sit down I fall asleep, like Chen (a classmate that fell asleep whenever he sat down) would do! I’m being horrible horrible horrible and setting myself up for failure in life,.,
I don’t know how I’m going to make it to WWU or anywhere in life…
But it’s all my fault for not wanting to do anything
I’m becoming more bitter ….
I hate hate hate this ” job” and I feel like I’m trapped and wasting time because I’m wasting time and also because it’s such a stupid work and I just make a fool of myself every day.
Anita Ojeda: Would you be happy working at ANY job right now?
I think the key to the whole problem is what you said about being ‘addicted to food’. That’s called an eating disorder and it takes therapy to get over it.
I love you!
Sarah Ojeda:
No, no job. I don’t want to do anything but sleep.
Which is dumb, I know. I need to work.
I still don’t think I’m depressed. I’m just lazy and addicted to food.
I’m sorry….

I started making frantic phone calls, trying to locate a therapist who accepted our insurance plan and worked close to Sarah’s summer residence. The three-hour time difference made this even more frustrating. I kept assuring Sarah that once she saw a medical professional, who would probably prescribe something for her depression, she would feel better.

While protecting a patient’s health records is a wonderful thing, HIPPA also caused enormous stress for me as a parent. Since Sarah was over 18, I couldn’t just call a therapist and make an appointment for her. Sarah had to call the therapist and set up her own appointment.

After a week of constant urging from both Pedro and I, Sarah made an appointment with a therapist who was also a nurse practitioner. The therapist proscribed Zoloft for Sarah’s depression and made a follow-up appointment for the next week. It took several days for Sarah to fill the prescription, and then the therapist cancelled their next appointment at the last minute.

I enlisted Sarah’s friend and coworker to remind Sarah to take her medication every day, and tried not to stress too much—after all, according to the experts, it may take ten days for the medicine to make a person feel less depressed. I pragmatically started researching inpatient treatment facilities—another exercise in frustration. The typical call went something like this:

“XYZ Treatment Center, may I help you?”

“Yes, I’m trying to find help for my daughter. She’s binge eating, purging and horribly depressed.”

“I’m so sorry. Does she purge more than three times a day?”

“I’m not sure—she’s working away from home this summer.”

“Away from home? How old is she?”

“Twenty.”

“Oh, this is child treatment center and we only take patients up to the age of 17. Have you tried ABC Center?”

“Yes. They only take adults. My daughter is too young for their program and too old for yours. What do I do?”

I quickly learned the lingo of the trade—and the ridiculousness of insurance companies. Most programs that our insurance covered were PHP—partial hospitalization programs. Patients came to the center at eight and left at five. This was an option, but not the best one because Sarah really had no permanent place to stay close to any of the programs. Pedro was willing to go up to Oregon and rent an apartment and take her to a PHP program, as long as insurance would pay for the program and Sarah would call for a screening appointment.

She kept putting it off. I kept researching programs and my frustration level grew with each phone call. I believed that what Sarah really needed was a residential treatment facility—but it seemed unlikely that insurance would cover one of those. She wasn’t almost dead from anorexia, nor was she at medical risk from purging too often, ergo, according to the insurance experts she only needed to see a psychiatrist or therapist once every two weeks.

According to the mother expert (that would be me), seeing a psychiatrist or therapist every two weeks would do absolutely NOTHING for her. She needed help and she needed it now.

My daughter needed help and she needed it NOW. Why could no one else see this? #mentalhealth… Click To Tweet

To be continued…

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • I was in Sarah’s spot about a year after my son was born. It took that long for my husband and me to realize I wasn’t just being a negative person, but this was undiagnosed postpartum depression. I think a lot of people make the mistake that someone is lazy (and many times, that is the case) or negative when in fact they have full blown depression. It’s very difficult to tell the difference.
    Samantha recently posted…Day 6: Anything is Possible…Right?My Profile

    • My heart goes out to you, Samantha! I’ve had to totally reframe the way I look at my students who I judge to be ‘lazy’. Chances are, that’s not the real problem. God has taught me so much through this journey (and hopefully I’ve been learning what he wants me to learn!).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Sliding Towards the Pit of DepressionMy Profile

  • Wow, I can feel the frustration of this situation . . .
    Michele Morin recently posted…Giving Thanks Is a ChoiceMy Profile

  • Wow, Anita…parenting is just not for the faint of heart. And I believe the moral of your story is that we just never stop. Praying for the other side and that the right answers came for you and Sarah.
    Tiffany recently posted…Our Soft Place to LandMy Profile

  • I HATE that it is ALWAYS a choice between getting the mental health help needed and insurance/money. Thank you so much for sharing this story, I know so many people can relate.
    Melissa recently posted…DustingMy Profile

  • The frustration of having a system to help in situations like this must have been too much. When you seek help for someone it seems that the agencies make it harder than it should be. Coming back tomorrow to read more.
    Mary Geisen recently posted…God is in Charge ~ Day 6My Profile

    • Indeed! The ones who should help end up causing undue stress for the caregivers. If only insurance people, doctors, caregivers, patients and a disinterested third party could get together and actually review what’s going on–Sarah would have found relief a lot sooner.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Doubts and Decisions in ArgentinaMy Profile

  • The medical system can be so discouraging and disappointing especially in regards to mental health issues. I have learned that especially with my mom and her illness. It frustrates me to no end. I totally understand where you are coming from with this post.
    Tara recently posted…He Still Sings!My Profile

  • Wow, the medical industry can be so frustrating and unrealistic some times ( which of course you know all to well) How frustrating this must have been, especially being so far away. Praying for all of you, not sure how long ago all of this was, but praying any way. 🙂 Hugs my friend!

  • Oh, brave mama! I cannot begin to imagine everything you must have been feeling. What a horrible helplessness, when we can’t make things better for our own babies. Mine are 1 and 4… you are reminding me to squeeze them tightly now and cherish the days when the worst things that happen are tantrums and smashed fingers.
    Sarah recently posted…day 6: someone knows you are a rock starMy Profile

  • It’s terrible how insurance works. We have pretty good, universal health insurance in the Netherlands, but still you have to be practically on the edge of death before you get admitted to a psychiatric hospital and there’s little inbetween a meeting with a therapist every two weeks and hospitalization. At least when I was admitted to the psych hospital, the crisis team kept telling me to just distract myself until I was seriously suicidal. I was still in the diangostic process of the mental health agency so didn’t even see a therapist. It is so sad.
    Astrid recently posted…Life Events and My Mental Illness #Write31DaysMy Profile

  • Insurance is a business, despite all the saccharine commercials. They care about income. Period, end of story.

    Had my dealings with the vermin. Didn’t enjoy it. Almost happier to be uninsured and out of the medical ‘loop’. At least now I know who to depend on. Me.

    I’ve read all of the installments in this series; I really haven’t been well enough to comment. I apologize. But I think you are very brave, and far better, both as a person and as a mother, than you seem to accept.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2015/10/reaching-for-god-blogbattle.html

  • Oh goodness, I’m so sorry for all this frustration. Motherhood certainly is a privilege/ challenge/ blessing/ stress and a hundred other emotions, and it’s a lifelong commitment for sure. I feel your pain in watching your child suffer from a distance, it’s no picnic. Prayer has carried us through a good number of challenges, and is sometimes the only thing you can do. Thankfully, we are not alone in this journey (even if it feels like it sometimes!) Thanks for your vulnerability, and I truly hope you find some answers and help for your sweet girl. I love that she communicates with you… even if it sends you into panic mode :/ Hang in there!
    Laura Thomas recently posted…PRESS PAUSE. GIVE THANKS.My Profile

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