Monday, July 20, 2009


It's almost laughable to read my last post, given the turn of events at the end of last week.

I can not believe how naively optimistic I was about my ability to help my sweet, troubled twenty-year-old niece. I thought it would do her good to spend a week with us in the "sunshine house"; if I could just get her to eat enough and rest enough and to get outside her own mind....if I just loved her enough I could "fix" her.

It so did not turn out that way.

The week got off to a rough start. Part of her problem is that she hasn't been sleeping properly. She has, for years, had no regular sleep schedule at all: she would stay up for days on end, on the computer or playing video games, and then eventually give in to her exhaustion and sleep for 20 hours at a time. Her body did not recognize day or night, so it was, of course, impossible to go to school or to keep a job. Her doctor had, just a few days prior to her visit, given her Ambien to help her sleep. The first night with us, she took one for the first time and, a few hours after David and I had gone to bed, we heard my niece stumbling around downstairs. The drug was causing her to hallucinate and she was completely out of it. She's tried to come find me and had ended up in the shower stall, tripping her brains out. I got her back in bed and lay with her, spooning her and rubbing her back, answering questions and talking calmly with her until finally she fell asleep. I stumbled back to bed myself and got up a few hours later to go to work. When I got home that evening, at almost 6pm, she was still in bed. She got up when I got home and said she'd woken up off and on during the day but had been "afraid" to get up. Why, I asked. "I don't know. I just know that I felt afraid."

The next several days also did not go as we'd hoped. She had, just before leaving Boise to come up here for 10 days, run out of her Paxil (an anti-depressant). It hadn't occurred to her to get the prescription filled, even though her father specifically asked her, two days prior to leaving, if she had enough to get her through the week. She didn't realize, she said, that she'd only had two pills left at that time. So the second day of her visit I frantically made phone calls to get her prescription filled at a pharmacy near our house in Spokane. For 3 days she could not manage to walk the two blocks to get the pills. Finally, on Wednesday, she walked to the store. Once there, she called me and said "Do you ever think that people are talking about you? Because I was just at the store and I think everyone was looking at me and whispering about me." "Well, honey," I said, "That might be because you've gone a few days without your pills. Now that you have them, you'll start to feel better." "Oh," she said. "I forgot to get my pills. I got to the store and I looked around and I bought some snacks and a sketchbook...but I forgot my pills." Breathe in....breathe out...stay calm.... "Ok, well, go back in there and get your pills. You really need them, sweetie." AAAarrrgggghhh.

During the days I was at work, I'd arranged for her to spend time with Anna and Anna's nanny (who is close to my niece's age and a total sweetheart.) My niece had been so excited about the plans: to go to Silverwood and then, the next day, to go to Cat Tails (she has always been obsessed with tigers, and this is an entire zoo for tigers.) Both days she backed out, at the last minute; the first day because she was having anxiety attacks, and then the next day, an hour before they were to leave, she called and told me she didn't want to go because she had "heartburn". Both days she made Anna and Chandra wait around for hours before deciding she just couldn't go. Both days I had to console Anna, who has been waiting for months for my niece's visit.

I was getting very frustrated. During this time period, my niece would text me several times throughout the day, with messages saying "I don't feel good." "My stomach hurts." "I'm scared." "I just heard a strange noise." To be honest, I felt like she was being melodramatic and that she needed to just "buck up." I was ready to strangle her.

By Thursday, it all came to a head. She had told David she wanted to go with him to the gym after work. I hadn't received a single text from her all day, which I took as a good sign. Then, just as I was leaving work, she sent me a text that she "didn't feel good". I didn't even reply. I spent the hour drive home from work feeling helpless, pissed and manipulated as hell. By the time I got home, David had convinced her to go, but she was moping around and I could tell she wanted me to get her out of it. I didn't. Except for the brief walk to the store, she had not left the house since she'd arrived 5 days prior.

I was at the end of my rope, and I'd asked David to talk to her. David is a very, very calm, fair and gentle person. He really should be a therapist. So he was going to share some of his personal experiences with her and urge her to force herself outside her "comfort zone" in order to be more engaged in life.

By the time they got home, I had been brooding for an hour or so, and she, apparently had already had enough of being "lectured" about having to make an effort if she is going to achieve the things she wants to in life. She sat down across from me on the porch, and I started in on her, saying "Honey, we'd agreed that you were going to come up here to try new things. You agreed that you needed and WANTED to have new experiences. And yet you haven't done anything other than exactly what you do at home: sleep all day, spend your time on the computer in a dark room....and every time an opportunity arises to go do something, you come up with an excuse not to do it." She glared at me and said "I didn't want to be left alone all day!" That pissed me off, because I had arranged for several things for her to do that I knew she would love. And I'd been very clear, before she came, about the fact that I would be at work many of the days she was here. The argument escalated from there, both of us frustrated by the way things were turning out. I thought she wasn't trying hard enough to get out of her comfort zone and she thought I was "dumping" her on Anna and Chandra. She didn't WANT to spend time with Anna, she said. She wanted me to herself. Well, that touched a nerve, my lioness-mother nerve. "I can't just make Anna disappear for a week so that you can have me to yourself! She lives here. You know that. Anna is my daughter. Do not make me choose between the two of you!" With that she stomped off to her room, slamming the door. I needed to cool down, so I put on my shoes and went for a walk. I thought about how maybe our upcoming trip to Leavenworth would help, that maybe getting outside, in the fresh mountain air would do us BOTH good.

I was gone only about 20 minutes. When I came back, I stopped to talk to David briefly, trying to get back to a place of feeling compassion for her. As we were talking about where to go from here, the doorbell rang. David and I gave each other an "Are you expecting someone?" look.

When I opened the door, I saw 4 firemen standing on our front porch, their gigantic red truck idling directly in front of our house.

"We got a phone call that someone at this address has taken an overdose of sleeping pills".

to be continued....


Dee said...

It was such an important effort on your part to try to help Andrea. Obviously you tried everything you could think of to offer changes and support. But she needed help way beyond what any of us could possibly do and still isn't getting it. You even made sure she got home where she could be near her immediate family and THAT is beyond her grasp.
Thank you Kate for trying, for caring and hoping.

Michelle said...

Oh my goodness! To be continued" AAAAAAH!

Blank Girl said...

You can't fail at something you never had the power to fix.

JACKI said...

I wouldn't call trying failing. You did what you could. Love you!

Jodi said...

I think this is all "steps" she is having to take to get well. I think you were step 2 and now we've moved to step 3.

I'll now do everything I can to try to ensure she feels safe, loved and protected. If that means keeping her away from toxic relationships, then that's what needs to be done and I will say or do anything I need to in order to make sure she is able to be healthy.

It's going to take a very long time and the cooperation of everyone who loves her, but it can and will be done and I won't let ANYONE hold her back.

Jodi said...

Another thing you have to remember sister, is that it took years for her to get to this point, something we all predicted. So it will take years for her to get healthy. There is no "quick fix" for this, but I also know that we will be beside her every step of the way.

Fancy Schmancy said...

Oh, heart wrenching. There was no fail here on your part. Mental illness is so very hard to deal with, and there is only so much you can do for the person. They have to be willing to put in some of the work, and you can't make them. Love and support are all you can offer, and you did that. My heart goes out to your family.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, my heart is hurting over this story!

Anonymous said...

WOW! Give your child and your honey big loves and know in your heart you tried something that is tougher than entering a hot dog eating contest!!! The best part is you now see why mental illness is and always will be one of thee toughest elements in society to work for resolve. I had a good friend with mental illness ( i have shared with you) and know exactly what you and your family are experiencing. I give you "HIGH FIVES" over and over again. Bless your big heart!