After staying in the behavioral health hospital, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, for about three or four days, my wife received a phone call from one of the doctors.
The doctor was calling us for a couple of reasons:
One: to give us a health and welfare update regarding Elizabeth, and
Two: to advise us about some of the more clinical aspects that were related to her behavior.
The doctor explained to Erica that after observing Elizabeth for over 48 hours; the hospital had reached a diagnosis for our daughter. Elizabeth had demonstrated behavior consistent with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Active Disorder), Depression, and “Mood Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.”
My wife slowly listened and took notes. We were somewhat familiar with these terms and words. Because of the behavioral changes which Elizabeth had demonstrated over the past 18 months, we had already done some ‘amateur research’ and seen descriptions of our daughter’s behavior match these same labels.
The entire duration of Elizabeth’s stay at that hospital hurt our family. Our nightly routine of dinner, preparing for bedtime, tucking in and saying prayers was suddenly and drastically altered.
There was a strange and eerie silence to our house. Our youngest daughter Isabella missed her big sister; the companionship of shared sisterhood was suddenly and dramatically halted.
Routines were suddenly changed. Instead of Erica having to get two kids up in the morning and ready for school, there was only one.
It was a harsh and heartbreaking reality; one that would repeat itself two more times over the course of as many years.
Elizabeth was only in that behavioral health treatment facility for about five days. That was an emotionally and spiritually difficult time on my family and me. We were in the beginning stages of losing our child, and neither of us could see it.
My heart, as a father was torn. My little girl was in a facility almost 200 miles away, and there was nothing I could do for her. During her stay at the hospital, Elizabeth would call her mom and I before it was time for all the patients to go to bed. She sounded so small and helpless on the phone. Every time I heard her voice, I’d have to fight back the tears. “Daddy, when can I come home?”, Elizabeth would ask. Through my heartbreak I would have to answer, “I don’t know sweetie…whenever the doctors say it’s ok for you to come back.”
It was absolute torture. The helplessness we felt as parents was overwhelming. No matter how my daughter was acting and no matter what she was going through, all I saw was my baby girl. The same baby I watched being brought into this world 13 years prior at the naval hospital in San Diego, California.
Finally, after being at the hospital in Raleigh for about five days, it was time for Elizabeth to come home.
Erica, Isabella (our youngest daughter) and I drove almost four hours to pick up Elizabeth. My wife and I sat down with the doctor on duty and went over the notes that the staff had put together. The diagnosis was given, and a recommended treatment plan was provided: continued medication and psychological therapy.
During the car ride home, my wife and I could tell that whatever was wrong with Elizabeth hadn’t been fixed. While driving back to our house, Erica and I discussed the treatment notes the doctor had given and the recommendations for recovery; Elizabeth was resistant to it all. There was something still influencing her mind and emotions.
It was as if the drama and chaos of the last six days had little to no impact. In my heart, I had a distinct impression that if whatever issue was plaguing Elizabeth’s mind, couldn’t be resolved through an acute inpatient visit at a psychiatric hospital, then medication and therapy were almost certainly holding in abeyance a deeper problem.
The following weeks and months were spent staying diligently engaged in the treatment regimen of medicine and therapy. Several times a month, including some weekends, were spent seeing the therapist, in search of a solution to the disturbing, dark, and destructive thought patterns which had such a deep-rooted hold on Elizabeth’s mind.
There were peaks and valleys in her behavior; she would erratically vacillate between either depressed and lethargic to violent and erratic. The side effects of the medication would often compound these radical changes in Elizabeth’s mood and climate.
Meanwhile, her grades continued to suffer, and her interactions with her peers slowly deteriorated. Erica and I started to recognize a pattern develop; the most severe and damaging behavior changes would center around her social interactions with her friends, especially when it involved whatever boy she was interested in at the time.
Elizabeth having access to electronic devices with social media had an especially profound effect. For my wife and I, it became a cycle of restricting and granting supervised access to these devices and mediums.
As parents, we didn’t want to prevent our daughter from having social engagement with her friends, and we tried to encourage her to have positive interactions with the opposite sex, but it was a losing battle. Nothing we said or did seemed to make a difference and provide a healthy balance.
As the pages of 2013 drew to a close, our family climate in 2014 was very much the same as the previous year.
Erica and I co-managed the routine of taking Elizabeth to the therapist and making sure she took her medication as prescribed. Our home had a looming sense of tension and edge; it was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Elizabeth would go days and even weeks with no blatant behavioral outbursts, but my wife and I could sense our daughter wrestled with still a slow simmer of despair.
During those weeks-long stretches of apparent calm, we could see a metamorphosis take place. Elizabeth would immerse herself more in-depth into the dark and morbid sub-culture she had become obsessed with; so much so in fact that the bright and cheery little girl I had known only a few short years prior, was but a faint memory. The music she listened to became the anthem and soundtrack for the brooding and depressed climate which had taken over her mind, will, and emotions. That same genre had also assimilated into her fashion. Her clothes, makeup, and hairstyle portrayed an image of sadness, depression and self-loathing.
All through 2014, Erica and I tried to find new ways to break the cycle of dysfunction that had taken hold of our family. As the spring gave way to summer, Elizabeth’s grades reflected that, unless a drastic change for the better took place, she could potentially remain behind and repeat the 7th grade.
With the prospect of her summer being negatively impacted and the possibility of repeating a failed grade, Elizabeth’s behavior and attitude took a turn for the better. Erica and I thought that perhaps we had turned a corner; that our daughter was breaking free of the cycle of madness and depression which had held our family in its clutches for so many months.
However, progress and improvement would end up being short lived. Once Elizabeth had successfully graduated 7th grade, we once again saw a familiar yet unwelcome presence which had been lurking behind the apparent bliss.
Around June 2014, Erica and I discovered that Elizabeth was interested in a boy who lived down the road, in a nearby neighborhood. My wife and I had no issues with this; in fact, we already knew the boy and had an opportunity to speak with him and his parents on a few occasions.
Elizabeth had our permission to talk with him and to hang out with him, as long as they had parental supervision.
At first, everything seemed like it was going great. Elizabeth had just graduated 7th grade was showing some improvement in her attitude and was showing an interest in a new group of kids who seemed like more of a positive influence versus her usual circle of peers.
Then, unrepentantly, the malevolent and destructive presence manifested itself. One evening, about a week before July 4th, Elizabeth had an emotional and mental breakdown.
Within 48 hours, we had seen our daughter’s behavior rapidly descend from being relatively happy to becoming dark and depressed. On this particular evening, when we went to tuck her into bed, we saw that she had been cutting herself again. This was a behavior that my wife and I had discussed at length with Elizabeth’s therapist, and we had been told what to do if Elizabeth started behaving that way again.
Erica and I took the appropriate steps, as per the therapist’s recommendations, but nothing seemed to work. Elizabeth’s behavior had become so erratic and irrational. In spite of our best efforts to calm her down and regain a sense of order, Elizabeth continued to spiral out of control rapidly.
She became violent and angry; screaming and yelling obscenities at her mom and me. Our first concern was for Elizabeth’s safety as well as the safety of our other daughter Isabella, who was only six years old at the time.
Erica stood with Elizabeth in the middle of the hallway between the girls’ rooms, trying to calm Elizabeth down and get her to reason rationally. While Erica and Elizabeth were in the hallway, I went into Elizabeth’s room to check for any kind of sharp object which may have been used by Elizbeth to hurt herself. This only infuriated and aggravated the situation further.
By this point, everything was beginning to unravel. Elizabeth’s demeanor and mental state had rapidly declined to the point where she was starting to say things that were alarming and frightening.
Erica grabbed her phone and called the therapist; who had given us her number, just in case of events like the one unfolding.
After explaining the situation and receiving guidance from the therapist, Erica hung up the phone. “Matthew, we have to get her checked into the hospital; I spoke to the therapist and based on what’s happening, it’s not safe for Elizabeth or us for her to be here.”
I was stunned. I kept thinking: How could this be happening again? Why does it keep happening and what is so wrong with our daughter that the professionals can’t seem to fix it?
My heart and mind were a cloudy haze of emotions. I was watching the slow demise and decline of our own child, and there seemed to be no way to stop it. I had already lost so many others that I loved; the idea of my child wrestling with this unseen darkness rendered me weak and powerless.
Erica, seeing my brokenness, took the lead. She explained to Elizabeth that she would be taking her to the mental health hospital across town and that she needed to get her stuff ready and packed up. Elizabeth didn’t want to go to the hospital; she protested and promised that she would behave and that she was sorry for acting out…but it was too late.
Erica and I had been expressly and specifically instructed by the doctor to have Elizabeth admitted to the mental health hospital if an event like this ever happened again.
As Erica had Elizabeth pack up a suitcase, with enough clothes to last at least a week, I stood by with our youngest daughter Isabella. Over the course of the previous few years, Isabella watched, from the periphery, the chaos which had been unfolding in our family. She witnessed the slow erosion of her big sister’s behavior and the sad, dark persona which seemed to envelop Elizabeth’s very core.
Clutching Isabella close, I watched as my oldest daughter packed up her last few items into a suitcase and walked towards the front door.
As Erica and Elizabeth got ready to leave and head to the hospital, I told them to wait.
Erica looked weary and worn out. The cycle of up and down – threat and safety – conflict and peace, had started to show. The heart of mother was breaking, yet Erica was trying so hard to be strong for the rest of the family.
Before they walked out the door, I looked at Elizabeth and drew her in close for a hug. She was tired, worn and hurting. I told her I love her…and that everything was going to be ok.
Erica and Elizabeth walked out the door and got in the car. They were headed to a behavioral health hospital about 45 minutes away; a place which was recommended by the therapist who had been treating Elizabeth on a regular basis.
This would be the second time Elizabeth was admitted into the hospital, for the same things that caused her first hospital stay back in March of 2013. A little over a year later and my little girl still wasn’t getting any better…in fact, she was only getting worse.
Deep down in my gut, I knew that whatever Elizabeth was wrestling with, was a whole lot bigger than what the doctors, professionals, and therapists were able to deal with.
Elizabeth wanted the pain to stop, just as much as her mommy and I did. Each and every day we had seen the pain and hurt caused by an unnamed darkness that she was wrestling with.
Countless times, though heartbreaking tears, Elizabeth would try and explain to Erica and me, how the noise of self-hate and depression had been haunting her. She would tell us how she wanted it all to stop; that she wanted to be happy and ‘normal.’
The very best and brightest minds from the psychological and mental health community had no idea how to cure our daughter…at best they could only treat the symptoms which were the result of a deeper cause which they, as secular mental professionals, were neither equipped or qualified to handle.
The second hospital stay would prove to be just another step further down a dark road; nothing was fixed.
Elizabeth would end up being admitted to the hospital a third time, about 10 months later; but the worst was yet to come…