Tonight, watching Strictly Come Dancing I was reminded of another Strictly results show, spent watching with sub titles in the A and E waiting room. We are coming up to the anniversary of my girl’s admission to hospital, so the wheels were very much coming off the wagon. This was the final week before the decision to admit her was made; we then spent the better part of one of the most surreal weeks of my life waiting for her to get a bed.
Our visits to A and E had become increasingly frequent, we were now regulars. You become to recognise the staff you like, who are sympathetic and efficient, are not scared to break out the iodine in quantity. Despite being young and with a reasonable diet, well what stays inside anyway, even youth cannot cope and regenerate as quickly as the emotional turmoil needs it too.
It is injury on top of injury, a catalogue of distress. Each one seems to take it further down the path of greater obviousness;, we have moved towards and then beyond the point where this is going to be something that will leave no trace and however good the recovery there will always be evidence to be seen.
Throughout the self-harming the most we could go between visits was ten days. This is not to say there was no self-harm in those ten days but we had developed a very efficient and effective first aid system. We had our own steri-strips, salt water at the ready, dry spray iodine, a vast array of dressings. We got very good at patching her up, for us it was better to deal with the more superficial injuries at home. If you can’t see fat it will probably be OK to treat at home was the maxim we lived by.
As her self-harm was very tied to her sense of being able to do something ‘right’, it was very wrapped up with her voices and therefore if we went to A and E and they considered the injuries to only require gluing and not stitching, this would lead to another round of self-recrimination and self-hatred.
I am not medical, I base my first aid on the Brownie badge I got when I was eight years old and a first aid course in work some twenty odd years ago. This is not my thing, I am very squeamish, these events are another opportunity to develop my new uber-competent persona.
Despite having had loads of involvement with mental health services, it still surprises me that there are no booklets, guides or even classes about what to do under these circumstances.
What do you say? At times, I would have given pretty much anything to have been given a clue, a little guidance, better still a script.
The need to improvise each and every time is exhausting and nerve wracking. This whole experience has the feeling that you have messed up as a parent, that you have failed to notice something massive that has had a catastrophic effect on your kid’s well-being . The desire not to make things worse, to fail when it really counts, is very strong and you’re winging it. It is not a comfortable feeling.
I did have some knowledge of self-harm before and the importance of being calm and not being judgemental.
However, this is beyond, that knowledge, this is ridiculous, this is really, really stupid, this has no sensible explanation. It feels that a stern talking to, should really be the order of the day.
In other times, when your kid does something wrong, you tell them, you try to put them on the path you feel is correct, surely it is worth a go at this approach under these circumstances? Desperate measures?
Clearly, you are not pleased with this activity so it is a good idea to be cross parent? Pointing out that this is not a good thing? That the voices can go and do one and that they do not have her best interests at heart and that they are not real?
Then you look at this pale, shaking, sweaty, clammy person and the realisation that tough love and a reality check is not going to cut it under these circumstances. This is the time in the cycle when she knows, where her feelings of shame and confusion seem to be at their height. Stern words are not going to help.
There have been plenty of times when you have needed to be tough and push her into doing things that she didn’t think she could do, be that another appointment, going to school, talking to someone in a shop, answering the phone. You need to pick your battles; this one is too big to win.
It was all about swallowing the fear and screaming frustration. The accepting that for now you will not be having the conversation you feel you have inside and learning to front it.
It is so one sided, there is no space for your emotions. The role that you play is to suppress as much as possible. You long for the opportunity to not have to think about what you say before you say it. The need to be accepting and positive means that there is no place to actually speak as you see it.
It is all about keeping the personalised censor on high alert. It is mind meltingly tiring, you worry that you will never have a genuine conversation where you are dealing with a young adult. Where you can discuss situations and events in a way that feels real. That is not an attempt to manage difficult emotions and say something that makes a positive difference.
It is now a year since we have been in our local A and E, feeling the irritation that someone who is not a regular is in my seat. It is amazing how territorial you can become over very little things. The conversations are still tempered and guarded; my role is still one of being the back-stop of trying to provide positive explanations and encouragement.
Although there is no end in sight, she is looking forward and I will continue to take my place as the suppressor of my emotions for as long as is needed.
I am in the groove.