When Tough Love Gets Really Tough
Slowly, we put together a plan. Pedro felt that we had a duty to Sarah to not let her make bad choices during her difficult time. I felt that we shouldn’t harp on the eating issues, but should come alongside her with tenderness. We compromised. He started reading Chasing Silhouettes and I agreed to try my hardest to act with consistency.
The elementary teacher at our school had an influx of students and needed some extra help, so Pedro and I volunteered Sarah. We funded a small stipend for the school to pay her so that she could feel as if she were making some sort of progress in life (earning money). She would work for an hour in the cafeteria after breakfast each morning, and then work for four or five hours as a teacher’s aide.
We also came up with a contract of sorts where we laid out our expectations for her as long as she lived with us:
Room and board: $200.00 a month
Chores: Keep room and bathroom clean
Food: No eating alone, help make menu and help prepare food.
Self-help: Choose several books about eating disorders or depression and commit to reading them.
My constant prayer became, “Father God, let us do no harm while you reveal the right pathway to us.”
To all outward appearances, we seemed to remain functioning as a normal family (albeit with a rather mopey daughter in tow). We continued to work. We went camping with Sarah and my parents. We shopped, cooked, ate, watched TV, went to church—all those quotidian things that form the fabric of life.
But daily life felt strained and uncomfortable. I didn’t like having to wake someone else up (we gave our daughters alarm clocks as soon as they could tell time and taught them how to wake themselves up). I didn’t relish trying to coax someone to go jogging or walking with me. I hated the tension at the supper table. I didn’t want to act as the medication police. I wearied of finding help for Sarah—because I kept searching and arguing with insurance adjusters and no one seemed to get it.
NOTHING seemed to help Sarah’s depression. We couldn’t find a counselor for her close to home. Insurance wouldn’t pay for her to participate in in-patient facilities. Because many of the holistic centers seek to treat the whole person—spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally, insurance companies claim that they are ‘unregulated’ and they won’t pay for a standard of care they can’t regulate. I argued that Alta Bates cost the insurance company $32,000 for fewer than eight days of ‘help’ and perhaps the same amount of money could have been spent more wisely at a center where Sarah would be able to spend the night and not have commuting, buying her own meals and stuff from the outside world distracting her. Not to mention that the total tab for at least one of the in-patient facilities would have cost the same for a month that insurance had paid to Alta Bates for a week. My arguments proved futile.
Sarah grudgingly got up each morning and went to work. She hated volunteering. She hated exercising. She hated not knowing what she would do with her life. She hated how she felt. After missing half the morning of work one day, Pedro and I added a condition to our list of expectations. She had to leave the house at the same time we did each morning. We couldn’t force her to go to work, but she couldn’t sit around the house or stay in bed all day. We would keep the house locked from 7:30 each morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. We cut off her Internet access.
I hated it, but knew we needed to take this step. Whatever we did, we didn’t want to enable Sarah. We wanted her to know that we loved her, but we didn’t want her to feel so comfortable that she had no motivation to change. I had entered a nightmare world where all my parenting insecurities came back to haunt me.I had entered a nightmare world where all my parenting insecurities came back to haunt me. #mentalhealth Click To Tweet
I hadn’t been consistent enough during the girls’ formative years, and now I had to work on consistency and firmness all over again—only this time with someone who had entered the age of reason but couldn’t act reasonable.
“It’s time to get up!” I chirped from Sarah’s bedroom doorway. Sarah had been home a little over two weeks, and I hoped against hope that her response would be different this morning.
“I don’t want to. I just want to die!”
I quietly closed the door and went to find Pedro. Up until now, all of her suicidal ideation had been expressed through texting. She had never uttered the words out loud.
Pedro and I agreed that we needed to take some kind of action—we couldn’t let her continue in her despair. We both went into her room and woke her up again. She seemed a little surprised at serious demeanor—as if perhaps she had said she wanted to die so many times to herself that it shocked her that her words shocked us.
“I just feel so helpless,” she told us. “I want to change, but it’s impossible. That means I have no hope and I want to cease to exist.”
We convinced her to get up and get ready for work and then we retreated to our bedroom to form a game plan. Pedro had heard about a crisis center in Flagstaff—a low-cost psychiatric care unit. I hesitated at taking such a drastic step—after all, we knew nothing about this facility. We didn’t know what kind of therapy they used (I had visions of shock therapy and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-like-conditions). We knew nothing. We also had nothing else in the way of options.
We agreed that as soon as we finished work that evening, we would load Sarah into the car and head to the crisis center—we had heard that one could just show up and check a patient in, even if the patient didn’t think they needed help.
It was a long, silent trip to Flagstaff.