I am a 35-year-old mother of two girls, 14 and 10 years old, who have
been paroled to my parents’ care since September 22, 2009. I can visit my children as often as I like but I am no longer allowed to lie down beside them at night and sink into a world of pure innocence, or rise up with them in the morning to feel the warmth of the glowing sun.
Something Was Wrong
My story is strange to me. I am a person who has often felt confused, frustrated and lost. I was 14 years old when I started feeling an overwhelming sense of depression. I did not want to get up in the morning, stopped taking an interest in activities, felt different from other kids and even from my siblings, and just wanted to be left alone. I did not know what depression was, but I knew there was something wrong with me.
After I attempted suicide at age 15, my guidance counselor referred me to a mental health clinic for adolescents. There I met with a psychologist and had group sessions with other teens who were going through some of the same things that I was experiencing. I was relieved and continued going for a year. Then I just stopped attending. It was difficult feeling like I was different and needed help dealing with the craziness that I was feeling. I wanted to be a normal kid.
‘Mommy Is Not Feeling Good’
But my depression never went away, and in 2007, when I was 33, I had a breakdown.
At the time, my daughters and I were living with my parents because of financial difficulties. I did the best I could to keep things together despite my depression. I cooked for my girls as much as I could and I continued attending an 11-month training course to become a Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC). But I was crying a lot. On weekends, I was in bed sobbing. Sometimes I could not get out of bed for a full 24 hours. My mother picked up the slack for me with my girls, doing most of the cooking and washing and making sure my daughters were attending school regularly.
I don’t know what my girls understood about my depression, but I would tell them, “Mommy is not feeling good today” and they would go about their business.
Then I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks because I had attempted suicide. I must say that my hospital stay was calming. Some may feel that listening to patients screaming, yelling, cursing and talking to themselves would freak them out. Not me. Oddly enough, I was not afraid or even rushing to leave. I found silence, an inner stillness.
Feeling Worse, Not Better
Two weeks after I was discharged, I went to an outpatient mental health clinic. I looked forward to a feeling of relief. But my appointment with the psychiatrist was frightening and disorienting. Within 15 minutes, the psychiatrist diagnosed me as having bipolar, major depression, PTSD and borderline personality disorder. I was given medications that I did not even know how to pronounce. I felt like I’d been dropped in a lab full of caged rats.
My prescription was for Zoloft, Trileptal and Ativan, which I called “shaking elixir.” The strangest things began occurring. Mentally, I was unable to concentrate and I was feeling more depressed than ever. My mood swings were increasingly unpredictable. Physically, I started shaking, having panic attacks and having trouble breathing.
My psychiatrist kept telling me that my body just had to get used to the psychotropic medication. She also told me I had developed asthma and gave me medication for my breathing problems. But four months went by and I did not feel better. In fact, I ended up back in the psychiatric ward twice during that time because my anxiety was increasing and the shakes were getting more intense. After my second trip to the hospital, I promised myself no more medication (and no more alcohol). I needed to take control of my life.
Accused of Neglect
By June 2008 I felt I was doing much better. I got a full-time job and moved out of my parents’ house and into supportive housing. I had a two-bedroom apartment and paid rent.
But a year later, I broke up with a boyfriend who then harassed me for months and called child welfare on me. Child welfare workers appeared at my door, saying they’d received a report that I was not taking my medication. My family was investigated and I was charged with neglect.
I felt like the workers were enjoying every second of the investigation. They kept asking why I had not been taking my medication, and they examined every inch of my home. The second time they came, they arrived at 4:30 in the morning and said they’d received a second call alleging child neglect.
The investigation lasted three and a half months. During that time, my ex harassed me on the job and came by my apartment, ringing the doorbell and yelling profanity constantly. He just would not let up. He even called my parents and my sister, harassing them. I was so stressed and afraid for my safety and for my girls. This man was just unrelenting. I made a police complaint but the harassment did not stop, and neither did the child welfare investigation.
Eventually, I threw my hands up in the air and said, “I cannot.” I lost my job and I relapsed (alcohol is my poison). Then I checked myself into the hospital. My girls were at my parents’, but on my second day in the hospital, I was placed on a conference call with child protection, and they decided to take my girls away.
Now it’s been a year since my parents have had temporary custody of my daughters. Only a few months ago, my case went to “fact finding.” To my surprise, that meant trial. I was found guilty of neglect.
Right now, I feel so lost. I don’t understand the child welfare process. So far, I have taken a 12-week parenting class and I have gone to the treatment recommended for me.
Since January, have been seeing a psychologist once a week. It’s actually been a wonderful experience. He did a psychological assessment and diagnosed me as suffering from depression. His recommendation was that I receive therapy but that medication is not necessary.
Someone Who Listens
I am at ease with this psychologist. Treatment has been doing some good. My depression and anxiety have improved tremendously. I do not get panic attacks at all. I feel more in tune and in control of me. I feel that he has worked miracles with me.
At my attorney’s suggestion, I am also seeing another therapist. My attorney wants to make sure that more than one mental health professional agrees that I do not need medication. The new therapist informed me that after she and I have had a few sessions under our belt, she will make an assessment of whether I need to see take medication.
I keep wondering if things would’ve turned out differently if I had found a more empathetic psychiatrist two years ago. I needed someone who listened to what I was telling her about my medication.
Is My Voice on Mute?
Looking back, I feel that I did not protect my girls as best I could. I did not understand the child welfare system. I allowed the workers to play out my case instead of taking charge. I wish that I had tried to seek further assistance for myself by attending support groups, learning more about the system, finding services, or getting my family more involved with my treatment process.
My experience with the mental health and child welfare systems also made me feel only confused and silenced. How could that psychiatrist have diagnosed me within minutes and ignored my pleas to change my medication? How could child welfare remove my girls from my care without first helping me find treatment while my girls stayed temporarily with my parents? I sometimes wonder if I am delusional. I wonder if my voice is currently on mute.
I also misunderstood how my actions would be viewed. Checking into the hospital brought me a lot of relief. I was in a place where my ex was unable to bother me. However, child welfare used my hospitalization against me in court, even though I placed myself voluntarily. During my first few court appearances, my hospitalization was used to show my inability to care for my girls.
In the past few months, I have gotten a new job and relocated to New Jersey. Right now, I feel like I am out to prove to this world that I do not need to be drugged up and that I am one hell of a mother. I am looking to hire a private attorney and am determined to do everything in my power to get my girls home.
Looking back, I see that I was naïve. I was trusting and believed that my girls and I would be reunited if I just bowed down and did what I was told.
I keep rewinding the tape in my mind. I can’t understand why I’ve lost my babies. I do own up to what I’ve done, or not done. I own up to being a mother who was misguided and afraid of asking for help, because of shame. I believe that my girls needed to live with my parents at that time, because I was so caught up in my own pain and disruption. But my parents, my girls and I all feel that my girls belong with me now that I’m in treatment and more stable.
Fighting for Breath
I visit my daughters at least twice a month. Unfortunately, the only time that I have is on the weekends, and sometimes they spend weekends with their father. My visits are supervised by my parents. In other words, I may not leave my parents’ home with my girls, not even to go to the corner store.
Even so, my most recent visit was extraordinary. I spent the night and my girls and I talked, ate and laughed. My 11-year-old was graduating from 5th grade and she tried on her graduation and prom outfit. Can you believe that 5th graders have proms? We giggled, then fell asleep and started the next day as though the past 10 months had not occurred. It felt so good, so real.
Missing Birthdays, Boy Crushes
My girls and I have always been close, even inseparable. Being apart for holidays, birthdays, and boy crushes is killing us. For a while, I had become so self-involved with the case and my own pain that I did not notice how our separation was affecting my daughters. I told myself that being in my parents’ home was not such a bad thing for them. But recently, my 14-year-old said over the phone, “No matter what I try to do during the day, the problem of not being home with you is always there.” I couldn’t speak. I just wanted to hold her and let her cry.
My relationship with my daughters has been tested and tried. I wonder if a part of us has been permanently lost. Thinking about my girls, I feel that I have to fight for my next breath. Some days I find myself wanting to be a grain of salt, hoping that someone will just dump water on me, allowing me to dissolve, vanish. But I have to keep putting on my armor and continue my battle.