Good news or bad? Got a frequent-visitor punchcard from the coffee shop in the lobby of the children’s hospital.
If a parking garage uses music as a floor-reminder system, shouldn’t that music be upbeat?
Chicago’s “Color My World” will forever be linked to a freezing gray hospital parking garage.
Learned this about the school system: policy mandates that if a student mentions suicide, she must be seen by a medical professional.
Note to future parents of teens: the pencil sharpener is not as innocuous as it looks.
Dialectical behavior therapy involves a whole new vocabulary. And spelling counts. It’s dysregulation, with a Y.
The streets around the adolescent behavioral health center are lined with movie-set trailers. The adjoining building is now the Daily Planet.
I hope Superman is close at hand.
Is it cruel to tell other parents about the pencil sharpener?
Made Thanksgiving dinner using the one knife that isn’t locked up, with medication, razors, matches. And now pencil sharpeners.
We’ve been officially classified a family in crisis. After thousands in hospital payments, we’re on some sort of A-list with our insurer.
Haunted by the father in our multifamily DBT group who says Mark Zuckerberg has ruined adolescence.
He says, chin quivering, if he ever saw Mark Zuckerberg on the street he’d break his knees.
In the same breath, he says his one goal in life, his ONE GOAL, is to keep his daughter alive until she’s twenty-two.
I no longer believe the line, “hell is other parents.” The weekly parent support group is heaven.
This isn’t our first psychiatric-ward rodeo. In his freshman year, our son was hospitalized, diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
We came in knowing the alphabet of care level: IOP, PHP, IPU. Just found out about RTC: residential treatment centers.
Holiday decorations in the shops around the clinic, steps away from Chicago’s Miracle Mile, feel grossly inappropriate.
Christmas has been abbreviated this year to Crisis.
The week we spend calling residential centers, the Chicago Tribune runs a series of articles about mistreatment of patients at some RTCs.
The centers in the news treat the most serious cases: kids without parents, supported by money from the state.
These are in stark contrast to the centers we’re calling, with our insurance A-list status.
One residential treatment center asks for tens of thousands of dollars up front.
The center closest to Chicago has been in magazines because of celebrity patients. They have a three-week wait list.
After my daughter punches me, we step up our search. She uses her cell phone; I use the house phone.
Having a child in need of acute care, and having that level of care just out of reach, is worse than the physical pain of a punch.
I comment on one center’s Facebook page about financial barriers to quality care and how difficult it is for a family in crisis.
Two hours later my comments are deleted.
The celebrity facility waives the fifteen thousand dollar deposit and puts us on a wait list.
Why is healthcare about money before it’s about health?
I plan to ask the next person who tells me treatment requires thousands of dollars up front how it feels to turn away families in crisis.
A bed has opened up. And close to home. I sing the opening lines of Heatwave’s “Grooveline”: pack your grip; takin you on a trip.
The place looks like a resort but feels like a well-groomed prison.
The women and girls here are referred to as residents. Most of them are from out of state.
Things that make me cry this holiday season: the song “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home.” My daughter’s Facebook profile picture.
And especially the little boy in the park who tells his dad, through tears, to stop laughing at him.
She asks for coloring books and yarn.
From the looks of the packages other families bring, it’s clear the recovery industry and the yarn industry are closely tied.
I bring a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer coloring book. She doodles in it as we sit in the crowded dining hall among other family visits.
We’re on the island of misfit toys.
My parents come from Pittsburgh one weekend for visitation. They bring gifts, which have to be bagged and labeled so staff can screen them.
Families are not allowed to eat or drink in the dining hall. The girls have a mandated snack.
Wood plaques hang on most of the walls. They say things like, “You are enough” and “Hold on to hope.”
The wrapping on the spare rolls of toilet paper say “envision” over and over.
Our son admits during one visit that it’s hard for him, home alone. He has to do the work of two in mocking his parents.
I’ve come to appreciate the warmth of the neighboring businesses. They’re used to serving shell-shocked parents.
On Christmas Eve a shopkeeper Googles the ingredients of a perfume oil. It’s alcohol free. We can give it as a gift.
No, we can’t. I find out days later the glass vial is not allowed.
Endorphins make me weep when I jog. So do half of the songs on my iPhone, which are her favorites too.
I don’t go to the gym as often.
Like many women in crisis, I’ve latched on to the words of Cheryl Strayed.
I send a New Year’s card with this: “Sometimes the best thing we can do with life is tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”
My nephews think she’s at a knitting camp. They talk to her on the phone. The oldest says it sounds a lot like his camp.
Each week there’s a multifamily therapy phone call. The girls one by one ask if their parents are on the line.
It provides a few moments of light, hearing the girls yell, “Hi, mom.”
So does hearing the whole room laugh when a parent misspeaks.
These girls want to heal.
We circle the same subject: It’s best if parents don’t show emotion when they hear talk of suicide, see bleeding cut marks, get punched.
We’re told: Don’t ride the rollercoaster.
I turn from Cheryl Strayed to Liza Long, the woman who wrote an essay comparing herself to Adam Lanza’s mother.
By telling our stories, she says, maybe we can write a happy ending to the mental health crisis in America.
Sixty-seven days later we have our final family therapy session. We talk about life being a journey. There will be bumps.
That night my husband and I go out to dinner. In the quiet of the women’s room I hear “Grooveline” coming from the speakers.
Lori Barrett is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She has an MFA from the low-residency fiction program at Chatham University and is an assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel. Her writing has appeared in New Horizons, a journal from The British Fantasy Society; Entropy; The Wall Street Journal; and the book Mamas and Papas: On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting.