During Elizabeth’s second hospital stay, in July of 2014, it seemed like a repeat of her first hospital visit a little less than a year prior.
Much of the ‘treatment plan,’ provided by the staff, consisted of the same remedial steps and actions that both Elizabeth was supposed to take, as well as what my wife and I needed to do as her parents.
Around the third day of Elizabeth’s stay, we went to visit her. Erica and I sat with the staff therapist who had been managing Elizabeth’s care. We made our introductions and had some small talk as he prepared his notes. He was a young guy around his mid to late 20’s, seemed to be out of school only a few years and was pretentiously enthusiastic about his job.
I, on the other hand, was neither interested in small talk or cute niceties…I was there on a mission. I wanted to get to the bottom of what was wrong with my little girl; more importantly, I wanted to know if they found a way to fix her.
It was hard for me to focus on what he had to say; everything seemed to be just a droning repeat of what we already knew. The therapist wasn’t telling us anything new. “Mr. and Mrs. Mattera based on our observations, it appears that Elizabeth is suffering from Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, depression, and a mood-disorder that we are unable to classify at this time,” the young man told us.
I sarcastically thought to myself, ‘Really…that’s the best you’ve got? Thanks, Sherlock, for pointing out the obvious…you went to school for that?’.
By now, my family and I had been spending the last year and a half navigating, real-time, through some of the most vivid scenes of mental torment imaginable, with our own child.
We already knew there was something wrong with her; based on the last hospital stay and all the follow-on therapy. We even knew some of the names to call Elizabeth’s problems…what we didn’t have was a solution.
It was as if the answer was uncomfortably simple to such a complex problem. The best minds and most advanced education either refused to acknowledge or was unable to understand the pieces needed to form a trifecta solution.
All throughout the previous 18 months, I knew that there was an integral piece missing for the ‘solution’ that the secular professionals of the mental health arena were giving us.
It wasn’t until I started talking to this young psychotherapist kid, that my instincts were beginning to be confirmed.
Everything he was saying was just a rewrapping of the same set of problems. I wanted solutions, not a list of what I already knew was wrong. Finally, I spoke up…after all, this is my child we were talking about. I couldn’t just sit back and listen to the ineffectual and patronizing rambling by a guy who was almost half my age.
“In addition to continued counseling, we’ve also been considering being more involved in enriching the spiritual aspect of our lives. It seems to me that there’s a component to all of this which is missing…and based on what I know and believe, I think that going back to church and Elizabeth having interaction with kids there, may be what helps us turn a corner”, I suggested.
The young therapist’s snarky reply quietly confirmed what my gut was telling me about the secular mental health treatment approach. “Well, sometimes things like religion are what people in crisis feel they need to do in order to help themselves feel better, so I can see your point, Mr. Mattera.”
Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed; the patronizing tone and tenor of what he said wasn’t lost on me. My family and I had been on roller-coaster ride which had been lasting almost two years and torment, which had taken hold Elizabeth’s mind and soul, kept the hellish ride going.
As the meeting with the hospital therapist drew to a close, my wife and I felt no better off than when we first walked in about half an hour prior.
I stood up, extended my hand and politely said, “Well, if there isn’t anything further, we’d like to see Elizabeth before we go…”
“Certainly, and thank you so much for coming in. I’ll go and have your daughter sent in”, the young man replied with an air of condescending over-politeness, as he quickly shook my hand.
Elizabeth still had a few more days in that hospital before she was going to be released; but even though we hadn’t received any answers regarding our daughter’s mental and emotional health, we wanted to hug her and tell her how much we missed and loved her.
While the therapist was in the other room getting Elizabeth, Erica and I looked at each other. My wife could sense my irritation with the young staffer who seemed to patronize us as if we were just another couple of old-fashioned parents who were foolishly trying to depend on something as archaic as ‘religion’ to help our misunderstood child. Erica, putting her on my shoulder, gently replied “It’s ok love…we’re gonna get through this…all of us.”
After about 10 minutes, the therapist returned, and walked into the room my wife and I were waiting in…a few steps behind him was our little girl.
As I write this, I’ve taken a moment to close my eyes and think back to that day. I’m taking in a deep breath as my heart swells with sadness and the computer screen starts to blur from the tears. Oh, if I could just go back in time and tell us all what I know now.
Remembering back, I recall how Elizabeth looked so tired, sad and helpless. Her thick brown hair was a mess, and her clothes looked wrinkled and messy. I wanted to scoop up my little princess and rescue her from that place. Glancing over at Erica I could see the heart of a mommy yearning to save her baby and make everything better.
Elizabeth clung to her mommy and me. She wanted to come home with us, just as desperately as we wanted her to, but she still had a few more days left in her stay.
My wife and I said shared a few final words with the therapist before we departed.
As we left, I remember looking back at Elizabeth, as she was escorted back through the inpatient ward doors…she was waving goodbye to us, as her mom and I headed towards the exit. It still hurts just think back on it all. So sad.
A few days later, we returned to pick up our daughter. Her near-weeklong stay at the behavioral health hospital was concluded. Just like before, my wife and I collected the staff notes and diagnosis…as expected; nothing new…no breakthrough. We were back at square one.
About two weeks after Elizabeth checked out of the hospital, we all took a family vacation to Texas, to visit my wife’s family. It had been something we’d all planned a few months prior. Considering the drama which had unfolded over the previous couple of weeks, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to regroup and reconnect as a family.
The dark oppressiveness which tormented us all seemed to withdraw, but we could still feel its chilling presence. Elizabeth’s emotional and behavioral climate seemed to just barely hover above the same abyss which had led to both of the previous hospital stays.
It was as if the malevolence sat hiding in the shadows, peering at us through squinted hate-filled eyes; watching and waiting for just the right series of events to unfold. Waiting so it could exploit them and weave its bramble of thorny vines made of lies, madness, and hopelessness; all designed to encase and entrap our daughter’s mind, to one morbid end.
Our 2014 family summer vacation was a welcome rest from the battlefield we all had been trying to survive for almost two years.
During our two week vacation, we enjoyed the company of family…things like BBQs, theme parks and late-night s’mores. Although pleasant, it was all just a distraction from what was smoldering in the background. The fire had never really been put out; the dragon was only asleep…not dead.
Within a short time of returning back to North Carolina, it was time for school to start back up again. Our youngest daughter, Isabella was going into 2nd grade, and Elizbeth was going into 9th grade. She was about to be a freshman in high school. This, we would soon learn, brought with it a whole new dynamic of challenges and turmoil.
Within about a month of starting school the unwelcome and vile presence of lies, depression, and hopelessness, awoke. The framework of nuances and events it had been waiting to exploit; teenage social interactions, cyber-bullying, peer-pressure, poor performance at school and adolescent sexuality…all of it, had been built. It was ready to strike…and, so it did.
One Sunday afternoon in mid-September 2014, horror and terror seized my family. The fear and madness which unfolded resulted in Elizabeth’s third, and what eventually became, her final stay in a behavioral health institution. Unknowingly we would receive only partial ‘answers’ to what the real problem was.
An ‘official diagnosis’ was provided, but the doctors and professionals kept using the same failed tactics to fix something they didn’t have the eyes see or faith to believe.
That thing; that vile and twisted wickedness which had already laid waste to the minds of others in my family, would not be satisfied until it continued its singular objective. It was obsessed with not just causing misery; it wanted to extinguish the last little embers of hope and life.
Little did we know, that our hardest days were still ahead…