A Mother's Story
Five years ago, my oldest daughter suffered brain damage from an accidental overdose, right after her thirteenth birthday. Until then, she had been a highly successful, outgoing, loving child. After the overdose, I noticed strange behavioral problems developing that finally resulted in a frightening psychotic change. Many well-known doctors assured me that this was the beginning presentation of a mental illness, bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality - the labels changed with her presentations. I was also assured that there was no way this could have been caused by the overdose, though she had seized and was in a coma for a while; the doctors all told me that it made no difference. I'll never forget the parting words of one doctor after her first discharge from a psychiatric unit. He told me, "Mrs. Smith, your daughter has less than a 50 percent chance of surviving adolescence if her condition worsens. You are in for a bumpy ride and you need to accept this."
How do you accept a pending death sentence for your child? The only truth to his words was it WAS a very bumpy ride for the last five years. I watched my beautiful daughter melt into a world of multiple psychotropic medications. Almost once a month for four years, 911 lived at our house or my daughter lived in repeated short-term psychiatric impatient care. Voices in her head told her to do terrible harm to her body and medications bloated her body up to 100 pounds on her little 5'3" frame. We, her family, lived in daily fear of harm for us or her - a nightmare that we could never wake from.
We had moved back to Washington from Oregon two years into this nightmare. A month after our move, she decompensated and became violent. The hospital put me in touch with DSHS, and a caseworker there referred me to Catholic Community Services' Family Preservation Program. Many times I've been frustrated with state agencies, but thank heavens for a caseworker that knew who was out there in the community for help. Other organizations we were referred to never came through or did not know how to help in situations like ours. Catholic Community Services became my lifeline.
Many times I've started to feel guilty for the "neediness" of our situation. NEVER have any of the family support team at CCS ever made me feel so. In fact, they came to know us so well that help was offered in such special ways that my pride would never have allowed me to voice. They've held my hand when the strain of living like this - trying to keep my child alive, trying to access help, protect her and her younger sister, and keep our family together and still work to support us all - almost broke me. Even at one point, when my family begged me to give up and commit my daughter, CCS helped me to find the strength to believe in a better tomorrow. There was never hesitation or any support that belittled me or my family, or made me feel like we were ever a problem, with our frequent needs for crisis intervention, respite, case aides, etc. What was always provided was calm, caring support to get us through those times, an amazing flexibility to meet every-changing needs and their belief in our family's strength and love.
This week my daughter will graduate from high school. She's gone from functioning at a fourth-grade level to functioning as a wonderful young woman, with a life of potential ahead of her. With CCS's support, we were able to convince the physicians to evaluate a potential for brain injury and guess what? She had suffered significant brain damage.
Stopping all meds more than a year ago, many of her psychotic presentations disappeared. She has not been hospitalized in this last year, either. WOW! While we still have a lot of neuro-rehab to completely support her in the future, I can tell you straight from my heart and soul that we would not have had this future without the support of CCS.
My daughters both smile easily these days and do tickle fights and have talks that only teen sisters can have. Locks are gone from my doors, pepper spray protection is now lost in the drawers, and 911 doesn't call me by my first name. All this because of CCS support.
Client of Family Preservation Services
Northend Family Center, Tacoma