Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Long Journey Begins

You may have some questions after reading how I "met" Brandon Boyd, such as "Wait. I thought Kelsey had an eating disorder?" or "Well, what kind of mental illness?" That's the problem with blogs: you have to boil long complicated topics down into readable bites. But, it's also the problem with grieving mothers whose memories ebb and flow depending upon what pokes at her that moment. Suddenly every lyric I listen to reminds me of Kelsey or seems to have something to say directly related to her. Sometimes in a comforting way, sometimes not. So, coupled with the upcoming concert, it led me to ponder the events I described. The next day I was off thinking about football, because - well, I love thinking about football. My thought process these days is like a leaf floating on a river's surface. It gets tossed around in the rapids, bounced off jutting rocks and nipped at by fish, only to hit a calm part of the river where it floats steadily for a moment, only to repeat the cycle. I was always a little scattered like that, but grief I think must exacerbate it. However, I also am pulling memories off my mental shelf and having to dust them off and try to see them through more objective eyes than I often times lived them, so things will be lost, sometimes probably important things. That being said, I honestly do not recall anyone putting a label on what they believed Kelsey to be suffering from that day. And that makes sense actually. One thing I did learn fairly early on in is that the field of psychiatry is a difficult one. Some of the tools other doctors have at their disposal don't work when it comes to figuring out the complex workings of the brain. You can't run a blood test or take and x-ray and see exactly what is happening. So, a good psychiatrist has to be a detective and sometimes it's hit and miss. Scary thought? Yes, yes it is, particularly when you think of the side effects of the medication used to treat mental illness. And, over time, Kelsey was diagnosed with all flavors of depression. I lost track. Compound that with the fact that we were dealing with a teenage brain, which is still developing, and things are even more complicated. As a matter of fact, it took some doing to find a doctor who would even treat first one and then the other daughter. It was a delicate process that developed over time. So, I think truly all I got that day was a general diagnosis and not much more.

The other thing I learned was that I could get people to answer my questions, but sometimes I wasn't clued in enough to ask the right ones. I got wiser at that over time of course, which is why we were able to get a better and more comprehensive care team pulled together for Marissa when we had to. But, still, I didn't know there was such a thing as an educational consultant until Marissa's junior year. Almost seven years into trying to care for two children in crisis, someone finally asked me why I wasn't working with one. What an educational consultant does, I learned eventually, is to evaluate your child and then make recommendations of alternative placement, sometimes boarding school (hence the term "educational" I guess), but sometimes wilderness camp or hospitalization. I met with one once, but I didn't like the experience and Greg wasn't excited about the expense. But I was the only Alldredge parent in Marissa's group not working with one.

There just is no blueprint to any of this, and I found that other local parents were not particularly forthcoming, which would have been welcome to us early on to provide some guidance and support. There is shame attached to a child in trouble. I regret that even I fell into that rut at first. I would avoid social outings where I would see friends with similarly aged children. They would always pull out the snapshots and tell the stories of academic, sport or social successes and then, invariably, ask "So, how are your girls?" It was easier not to go than to have to try and field that question. Alldredge Academy, where Marissa went in the spring/summer of 2007, was a great boon in that they insisted on a series of mandatory parent workshops, so parents with similar socio-economic backgrounds are all in a room together for two long days of intense work. There's no denying we are all in there because we had kids in crisis, so that shame barrier is broken and suddenly you realize that parents who are normal, well intentioned, educated people have issues just like you. But, back in my little part of the world, outside the safe bubble of Alldredge, it was different. Once I began to get past my own reticence and began to accept the situation better, I wanted to be as helpful as I could to other parents starting down the same path. In speaking with the school's crisis counselor, I knew a lot of the parents of the kids he saw were having a hard time dealing with the reality of their child's situation, so I offered to have parents call me. Not once did I ever get a call. I think until society can break down that feeling of shame, pride, ego or whatever it is so parents can share experiences and resources, bad decisions will continue to be made and young people will continue to needlessly suffer.

And, yes, ultimately it was the eating disorder that became the mammoth issue that eventually cost Kelsey her life. Dual diagnoses are not uncommon, and many individuals with eating disorders share certain traits, depression being one. But, to say which is the chicken and which is the egg, I am not sure, even after all those years living with it. Either way, at first, it was not our larger concern. We had no idea what domino to put in the front of the stack, but it was buried somewhere in the middle initially. I honestly don't know if, by the time I took her to Shoal Creek Hospital that first time, she was bulimic or not. And if she was, I no longer remember if I realized it yet or not. I know that I became aware of it some time around then, but it was just another color in a larger palette of the picture I was trying to form of what was happening to my daughter. As might be expected, we dealt with the issues most visible to us, and the ones we felt were the most threatening to her and her little sister. The wild mood swings, the plummeting grades, the increasingly rebellious attitude, the drug use were all happening at the same time. We knew fairly early on that she was purposefully making herself throw up, and I knew enough about eating disorders to call it for what it was. But, still, I was very slow to see it for the danger that it was.

I remember very specifically a spring day when I finally had a quiet period one weekend and thought I would try the pool for the first time that season. I remember having on this swimsuit that a friend had given me that was vintage early 70's. The suit was awesome (I like vintage clothing), but I looked ridiculous in it. It didn't fit right and was way too revealing for my age and shape, but I hadn't had a chance to get a suit for the season yet, and figured, what the hell, no one was around anyway. I was trying to acclimate myself to the still chilly water when I looked up to the roof line and saw something bright orange splashed across about a three foot square outside the study window. I immediately figured we had been vandalized, but could not for the life of me figure out why, by whom or with what, so I tore out of the pool and up to the study. I leaned out the window and could see it was chunks of something. I climbed out the window onto the roof and got right up next to it. That's when I saw that it was vomit, and lots of it. And I knew how it had gotten there. Kelsey had been climbing out onto the roof to sneak cigarettes for a while, so now she was using to roof to purge. I sat down on my roof where I was probably visible to just about anyone in the neighborhood, in that skimpy old bathing suit and cried. Greg came home and found me there. He washed it off and yelled at Kelsey when she got home from wherever she was for upsetting me. That's how bad we were early on. Upsetting me?! Who the heck really cares about stuff like that? We both honestly were ignorant enough to think that this an activity that she could turn on and off at will at that point. And, after that, we thought she did turn it off. We saw no further evidence of it for a long time. Those events were pivotal. We achieved two things that day, in my opinion: we caused her to commit to it more deeply than ever before and forced her to take it underground. And whether it truly was the biggest issue before, it was for evermore. As long as she purged, no medication was going to be in her system consistently enough to work, no physical or psychological normacly could be achieved when her body was in constant trauma and flux like that, and the drag it put on her body would impact every other aspect of her life from that point forward. I think that day, maybe more than any other, set some things in motion that we could never quite undo. But we didn't see that or know that for a long time.

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