The Lost River
By Susan DeBow
Last night I admitted my daughter to a mental health hospital. The last ten years have been a ride on the Lost River, which used to be a ride at Coney Island. You would get into a wooden boat and go into a lightless tunnel that flowed with water from the Ohio River. It was scary. Word had it that you should keep your hands inside the boat lest a water moccasin bite you. In the dark, the twists and turns jolted you, teasing you, until the boat caught the chain and was then pulled up a big hill. Once over the top, the boat plummeted, seemingly out of control and splashed down hard into the water, spraying water on anyone standing near.
That’s how mental illness is. It is a ride in the dark. Life is the hill you climb. The free fall is your mind, hurling out of control. The splash is what washes on family along on this ride, too.
It has taken me all of this time, all of these years, to get to the point where I can say, “My daughter has a mental illness.”
She had, “issues” or she was “immature,” or was “different.” But, the truth is, my daughter has a mental illness. The state calls it a severe disability.
My jaws are tight, and my eyes have a wet veil on them as I write those words
I can hear the clock tick, the dogs, one of them my daughter’s, lie at my feet, breathing heavy sighs. They must have learned how to do that from me. My husband and I have become masters of the heavy sigh.
For years I have taken my daughter from doctor to doctor, therapist to therapist, tried medication after medication, hoping and believing these gremlins would just go away.
But they haven’t. Sure, occasionally they subside, but it is as though they stop for a time to refuel and then return guised as anxiety or lack of focus or impulsiveness or unbearable depression. The gremlins are never far away from your thoughts. They not only eat their host, but they give off an aura that permeates family, friends, vacations and your home. There is little tranquility.
To watch your child suffer is to watch part of yourself die. For each tear they shed, there is a good chance you will shed two. One for them and one for the hopelessness you feel as a mother who can’t make her child well. Mothers are supposed to fix things.
What was different last night that made me feel the right thing to do was hospitalize my daughter? It was the anguish in her cries, a sound that said I have lost control; nothing is as it should be. If her cries had words, they would have been, “Oh God, help me.”
It wasn’t the stigma of mental illness that prevented me from saying my daughter has a mental illness, although God knows many people don’t understand. It is that I didn’t see the big picture. In my quest to help her get better, I didn’t see she was getting worse. Optimism is good, unless it is blind.
After she was admitted about midnight last night, after the nurses had her remove all of her clothes to check for bruises or cuts and after the nurses did their assessment, my daughter called. In a child’s scared, lost voice, she said, “Mom, I want to come home. You’ve taken away everything I know.”
It had been dark in our bedroom, but neither my husband nor I slept or talked. The house was quiet. This was about the time that, many nights, our daughter would pop her head into our room and say, “I’m home.”
But last night that wasn’t so.
The facility our daughter is in has “Center of Hope” in its name. As in fighting any illness, hope is what holds your hand as you enter the unknown.
It took us nine years of zigging and zagging from place to place, feeling like we were alone in our struggles. But last year we learned we are not. With the help and guidance of friends, we were led to NAMI, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. From there we were led to Family to Family, a program for people with loved ones who have mental illness. Recently, doors opened to a countywide mental health program that offers our daughter many possibilities. For all of that, we are grateful.
Mental illness can send your loved one and family on a trip down the Lost River, but thankfully, there are lifeguards and life angels during turbulent times.
About this writer
- Susan DeBow is a Midwest writer with a Southern heart. Her work has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Christian Science Monitor, Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Writer, Poets and Writers, among many others. Her first novel, Cleaning Closets, was published in 2007 by Dialogue Publishing.