Note: We are not divulging any information that has not already been made public by my daughter. Quite simply this is the other side of the story…
“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy
The story of our unhappiness is not so complicated. My oldest daughter Samantha ran away the day before her 18th birthday. She ran because she felt unsafe — that is what she said. So afraid for her safety was she that she walked, at 4 o’clock in the morning, across 4 lanes of highway down to the MBTA commuter rail, 7 miles away where, using loose change, she bought a train ticket to Boston because she was… unsafe…
The town cop standing in my kitchen that morning helped us locate her and once we knew she was in Boston he seemed genuinely surprised she made it from our house to the train station without getting hit by a car. Not the safest move, he said or something to that effect. She put herself in harms way. She took a major risk with her life, and even now she claims she had no choice. I guess this is where things get complicated.
My daughter was diagnosed with clinical depression in June of 2014, just shortly after graduating high school. That diagnosis clarified many of the behaviors that my wife and I had struggled to understand over the six or so prior months. On one level we thought she was just “being a teenager”. On another unspoken level we probably knew something more was going on below the surface but we could not name it. Once it had a name and a treatment we then had to assist my daughter in wrestling down the impact of such a diagnosis.
In August she was hospitalized. This caught all of us by surprise. Incidents led us to Butler Hospital to have her evaluated. In all honesty, I figured we would be told that things were being blown out of proportion. No big deal. Thanks for spending four hours in the waiting room. You overreacted; you can go now. That didn’t happen. The average stay in the adolescent unit is 7 – 10 days. She stayed eight. She seemed better and by the end of her stay she seemed like my daughter. This wouldn’t last.
She went to therapy. She worked two jobs and an internship through the summer. She never was afraid of work, that one. She broke up with her boyfriend in July. She did her best to stay physically fit, but not without some prodding. Weight management had been a struggle and working in an ice cream shop did not help when food had been a coping mechanism. We needed to delay her entrance into college, a reality that came with some relief; too many risk factors to ignore. Things seemed to be going better. Then she lied.
Part of my daughter’s issue is not being honest about her emotions and some of her actions. With the diagnosis of depression, the hospitalization and making the adjustments to both, we needed her to be honest about everything no matter how big or small. There could be no lies. Period. We had to be able to trust her and she had to be able to trust us. She didn’t. One of the possible aspects of depression is that those suffering from depression can sometimes create an “alternate reality” for themselves that allows for them to “feel”. We feared that without complete transparency such a result was not only plausible but also very, highly likely. Social media had been discouraged, limited and monitored. Any isolating behaviors were questioned and redirected into family socialization, physical activities or productive uses of one’s time. Controlling? Perhaps, but given the frightening alternatives we faced what other choice was there? The goal has always been to offer healthy alternatives to potentially damaging behavior so that both my daughters can model positive choices. That’s parenting, right?
My oldest daughter chose to run instead of dealing with the problem. Clinicians evaluated her in Boston. She exhibited so many “tendencies” at that time they wanted to hold her, but our insurance forced them to send her back to Rhode Island. The ER doc at Butler that night spoke with me and initiated a 14-day hold. This behavior, he said, is erratic and dangerous and she needs to be fully evaluated. When I left the conference room with him, I felt relieved until I looked at the clock. She was on an ambulance heading south from Boston. It was 1:30 am. It was her birthday. She had turned 18. I wrote her a note on a piece of yellow legal paper saying that we loved her, we were going to get her help, she would recover and that this would get better. It didn’t.
The next day all of our concerns were dismissed. The psychiatrist treating her rescinded the 14-day hold saying that legally she did not meet the criteria – she was of no danger to herself or others. As for fully evaluating her condition, well, that was completely up to her. She was now in charge of her own care and we would have no say in these matters. We were not to call her; she would contact us if she wanted to when she was ready. Trust the process, he said. Accept that this may not be her last hospitalization, he remarked. However, he added, you will need to come in at some point for a “family meeting”. WTF! This is a major sticking point for us and for many families across the country. How do you respect the rights and freedoms of a recent adult individual (18, 19, 20) while at the same time making certain that their mental health issues are properly addressed? Right now the laws “de-privilege” immediate family members unless competency becomes an issue and it takes a lot for competency to be called into question.
Two days later the phone rang. It was our daughter. You need to come in for a meeting, she said. I asked the purpose of such a meeting. In short she said we needed to take responsibility for what we did wrong, for how we wronged her. We did not take such a meeting. I left several messages over the course of my daughter’s stay with the social worker overseeing her care telling her my daughter was welcome to come home at any time. However, if she was in charge of her own care then what value would a family meeting serve? Several clinicians urged us to avoid a family session wherein we were made scapegoats. No good comes from that, they said. Set the goals for a meeting up front, they urged. My requests for this were ignored, phone messages went unreturned and yet we still urged for our daughter eventual return to our home.
Several days later my daughter phoned me at work saying she would be released but she was not coming home. It is an unsafe environment. I am staying at a friend’s, she said. It’s been arranged and I can stay as long as necessary. I felt sick. It was my father’s birthday and I was supposed to be there for lunch or something. Instead I called, told my mom what happened him, wished him a happy birthday and said I wasn’t coming. I hung up the phone and sat at my desk, numb.
Plans to stay with her friend fell through after the girl’s mother called me the following night. I didn’t feel right not speaking with you first, the mother said. I thanked her for that. She told me that my daughter was welcome to stay for a night, maybe the weekend but she would need to come home by Monday. That’s not what she told me, I remarked and then explained. Again, I thanked this stranger for her generosity and said she should not have to deal with someone else’s mess. I felt badly about that. It wasn’t fair to drag them into this. We found out later that the woman changed her mind but the hospital insisted on discharging my daughter, and my daughter insisted she could not come home. She had nowhere to go. Or so we thought.
My parent’s picked her up on a Saturday. They were supposed to attend my youngest daughter’s middle school soccer match – a cup match that the team won and in which our daughter, Alexandra, scored two goals. They lied about my mother having a migraine. Towards the end of the match I received a text from my mother’s number, “This is Samantha. I’m at Grandma and Poppa’s house.” Just two hours earlier my father failed to mention this plan. When I got them on the phone, I lost it. Sitting in my car, reading them the riot act, I missed the trophy presentation. My father still maintains I have little reason to be upset with him. He was only doing what the psychiatrist told him to do. Nothing he did was wrong.
Samantha is living with them now. Yes, they love her. Yes, she is safe. But she is not being held accountable, and in the end aren’t we all stronger for accepting responsibility for any damage we do in the world? They overstepped their bounds and this enables my daughter to avoid facing the full weight of her rebellion. Taking her in severely undermines any authority we have as her parents and insulates her from dealing with the consequences of her actions. Much has transpired between us since then, none of it good and far too much to recount in detail here. We have had no substantial or meaningful contact with our daughter, or her grandparent’s since September.
According to what we’ve gleaned from social media and people that Samantha has spoken to, she cannot be at home because she has been oppressed – she is now a lesbian. As we have repeatedly said, we have no issue with her sexual identity. All we did was question whether or not this identity was part of some alternate reality. We also questioned her choice of partner – a 21 year-old who, by my daughter’s admission, along with several others had been drinking during their internship work. If she were a potential boyfriend I’d still have concerns. Gender does not matter. We may have questioned these things, but we never questioned Samantha’s self, her identity or her being. We are her parents; we love her no matter what.
Perception often becomes reality, but what happens when the world one perceives is viewed through a cloudy lens? Decisions, reactions, beliefs are all then products of that cloud, of that fog. Not all perceptions are correct. We believe that numerous factors cloud my daughter’s perception, her judgment and her actions. We believe, after doing plenty of research and interviewing a number of psychiatric professionals that our daughter may suffer from issues in addition to depression. At this point we will never know what has or has not been diagnosed, as we have no legal right to any of that information. We have been disengaged from the process having been told by her therapist that my daughter wants it this way. All we have been told is, she’s doing “better”.
Define better? Is better having no contact with her immediate family? Is better being told not to have contact with the parents who raised her and the sister who misses her because they are angry and confused? Is better posting in her own blog mischaracterizations and lies about life inside this house? I question any therapy that seems to discourage confronting the hard truths we must eventually face about ourselves. My daughter seems remorseless and she seems bent on never having contact with us again.
Overlooked in all of this is Alexandra, my 13-year-old daughter, an innocent bystander. She has lost more than one can imagine. She has lost contact with her grandparents and her sister. We waited seven weeks for my parents to contact their granddaughter. Then on three separate occasions we reached out to them asking them to contact her. After she texted them on Thanksgiving, they finally responded. When she reacted with anger and disappointment at this situation, neither her grandparents nor her sister pursued the matter further choosing instead to suggest we caused that reaction. Until this point we had been reassuring Alexandra that her sister and her grandparents loved her despite their avoidance. I could be wrong, but it’s not my place to explain their actions. Nor is it my place to stand in their way should they attempt making amends — which we encouraged thoroughout our conversations at the beginning of this mess. Regardless, Alexandra is a bright and intuitive young woman who has seen deeply into this situation and her insights have been a solace to us. A family therapist asked a critical question in a recent session, “What is the message a 13 year old extracts from this situation?”
And so, here we are: birthdays have passed, one holiday gone, a second barking at the door and in the midst of this I ask: What message are we to extract from this situation? Tolstoy is right we are absurdly unique in our unhappiness. I don’t want us to be unique any more. I want us to be ordinary, bland, uniform and similar. I want us to be, well, happy.