Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Our Teen Almost Died…




I’m about to be more open than I’ve ever been here. I’ve hesitated to write this because I want to protect my family’s privacy, but I just can’t hold this in anymore.

Everything changed in an instant. Four weeks ago today the world flipped upside down. It was my day off work, but I’d almost given it up to help with an extra large freight delivery. Ultimately, I decided that I was too exhausted (holiday retail is grueling) and that I needed the extra sleep, and my kids needed me to be present when they got home from school. I thought about not getting up with the kids to see them off to school, but after a restless night, and being unable to go back to sleep, I decided to get up after all (just 10 minutes before two of my daughters were supposed to go to the bus). I came out and saw my youngest son (9 years) and my youngest daughter (12 years) in the living room. I greeted them and moved on to the kitchen to brew some coffee to wake myself up. 

As I rinsed out the coffee pot, I’m thinking about how I’ll spend the day until the kids got home from school. Maybe I could start the new book I bought? Or maybe I could stream something on Netflix? Maybe a hot soak in the tub? I just knew I didn’t want to do anything where I had to leave the house. The hours had been pretty long at work, and home was stressful too—with having children struggling with depression, finding their identities and places in the world/school and feeling like they don’t fit anywhere. 

Kids can be mean to each other, and my kids have been at the receiving end of a lot of hateful comments and bullying. I don’t teach them how to fit in, but how to be themselves even when others say you shouldn’t be. I know it means backlash in school, but believe it helps them grow as individuals and become better adults in society. I’ve tried to teach them how to defend themselves, but learning it and putting it into practice can be a challenge.

Things were particularly difficult with my 15-year-old, Max. Max is the name they chose when they came out as non-binary last year. They’ve been struggling severely with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and other very serious issues. This led to comments from their school peers about being part of a “suicide squad” and they were barked at in the halls and called names. In January 2022,  Max overdosed. They were inpatient for a week at the hospital and then outpatient at a treatment school for troubled teens for a couple months. Returning to regular school brought in more comments like “dig deeper next time.”  We did what we could, working with the school to make this stop, but there will always be those bullies that just don’t care how their words affect others.

We tried therapy individually and as a family, but nothing seemed to get better. In August 2022, after some dangerous and risky behavior, I took Max’s phone and decided to go through it. I’ve told my kids that I reserve the right to do this, but rarely act on it so long as we’re communicating openly. I know I’ve been one of those parents who said in the past that kids don’t need privacy, but in seeing how that policy affected my older children (and learning of the creative ways kids circumvent around this), I tried to only act on checking things when there was cause. I had cause, and demanded the phone be handed over.

That search ended in a gut punch that would explain the extreme behavior change we’d been seeing in Max for over a year. They were sexually assaulted in the spring of 2021. They didn’t tell me because they thought it was their fault. My then 13 year old was lured out of the house by someone masquerading as another young teen while my husband and I were at work. I’d failed to protect my child, with all my social media rules, app rules, phone use rules. None of it helped. But because they were in place, even with what I thought was open communication, Max believed the blame was their own because they’d broken the rules and experienced the very consequences I’d warned could happen. 

Max believed they were the exception and everything would be fine, as all kids tend to do, when they left the house to meet who they thought would be a good friend. But without question that assault was not their fault. They’d been carrying this secret alone, feeling tortured and worthless inside for over a year. This resulted in unhealthy coping mechanisms that were excruciating to witness as their parent. Max confessed only the bare minimum of what happened to one friend over text, in a passing comment, and then moved on from it like it was just a side note without emotion. I read it and felt completely destroyed. I’d always promised my kids would never experience that if I could help it. I’d failed.

We reported the assault, went through the children’s justice center and tried to get Max into a program, but most didn’t respond back, others were full, some were out of our insurance network and not affordable. We resorted to trying online therapy in November when we couldn’t find a good therapist with an opening. Max liked the idea of the texting/chat platform so we’d hoped this might be a good fit until we could find something better.

Often, at work, I’d find myself on the phone with Max, either talking or texting, trying to calm them down. The week of December 5 had been particularly difficult for them, with rumors going around school about them, leading to them feeling more outcast. I’d come home earlier than usual those past two days to be here for them. Max told me they wanted to change their online therapist that Monday, so we looked through the options and found a new one. On December 6, they were having an argument with a friend. I’d tried to get them to talk about it, but they weren’t in the mood. I asked them the usual question, “are you safe?” “Yes.” They answered. We did our usual good nights. I went to bed. 

That next morning, after rinsing out the coffee pot, I realized that I should’ve seen Max up with the others kids, since the time to leave for the bus was nearing. “Where’s Max?” My 12 yo responded, “They said they’re sick and not going to school today.” I assumed that conversation took place this morning (I later learned it was a text sent the night before) and set the coffee pot down.  Max had missed a lot of school the prior year, but this year had been doing much better. I wasn’t going to let that change. “Nope,” I said and started to head downstairs to their room.

I remember walking down the stairs, ready to argue with them and drag them upstairs and drive them myself if necessary. I remember hearing the shower going as I walked toward Max’s room. As I opened the door, my eyes were attempting to adjust to the dark of the room, and I’d already started speaking before I could see anything, “You don’t get to decide you’re not going to school today, I get to decide that.” As I peered into the room, I could make out the white of Max’s bed sheets. They weren’t in bed. Were they in the shower? I’d assumed it was my aunt getting ready for work, but maybe it was Max.

“Max?” I started to turn around to investigate who it was in the bathroom when something on the floor caught my eye. My heart stopped. I think I froze for a second but then my brain kicked in and talked me down. Max was being dramatic. They typically were. We often laughed about the antics they would go to in order to stay home from school, or be picked up from school. Just a couple months earlier Max had a friend send me a picture of them on the ground saying, “Max is really sick, please pick them up.”

“Seriously? Why are you on the ground?” I asked, moving toward them. Max didn’t move. “Okay, what kind of sick is it? Talk to me.”

I knelt down and ran my hands over them, trying to hold the panic back. This was an act. Everything would be fine. “Come on, Max. This isn’t funny. You know I get PTSD over this stuff.” (This was due to me finding my mom after an overdose when I was 11). 

My hand touched cold flesh and the panic made its way back in to take over. NO! They were fine! “I’m going to call 911!” I’d hoped this would get a response and make this charade stop. I pulled out my phone but continued to touch them, trying to get a stronger reaction. My touch became firmer and I gently shook Max. “Max! Come on, get up. This isn’t funny!” They moved again and as I ran my hand lower I felt wetness indicating a loss of bladder control. This was real! 

“Max!” I sobbed! They moved a little but didn’t respond. I pushed send on the call to 911 and tried to keep my voice steady so they could understand me while I answered their questions. Then Max’s body began to quiver and shake, and any semblance of calm left me as their body seized and convulsed under my hands. “What did you do? What did you do?!” I cried.

“Mom?” I looked behind me and saw my 12 year old daughter taking everything in with wide eyes. 

“Go get Becky!” I had to get her out of there, and I needed help. I tried to continue to answer the questions but I don’t recall much from those moments outside of the terror and pain tearing through as I realized what was going on. 

When the paramedics got there and pulled Max out and turned them over, I saw the swelling and bruises that likely came from their face repeatedly hitting against the hard floor as they seized repeatedly throughout the night.
 

We spent four days in the hospital, the first few Max was completely out of it. I stayed with them through the days and nights, terrified to leave them—not wanting to be separated for any reason. They almost died. It’s a mantra in my head now.

I’d almost gone to work. I wouldn’t have found them in time. I’d almost slept in. I wouldn’t have found them in time. My baby almost died. I almost lost them. 

I took a Leave of Absence, and worked to get Max into an intensive inpatient program. There were no beds available in the reputable ones, and our insurance tried to force us into one that I’d read horror stories about in the news. I refused and took Max home, terrified and praying that a bed would open at our chosen place, after insurance refused to pay for the out of network center near us—they were still pushing for us to accept the bed at the disreputable facility over an hour away from us (this facility had substantiated claims of sexual assault between patients, neglect and other abuses—I refused without hesitation to send my child there).

A couple days after we got home, we got Max into inpatient. Once there, and after evaluation, the center recommended residential inpatient. Again, there aren’t many reputable facilities and many are understaffed and in high demand. We didn’t find one we felt comfortable with that was in our insurance network, and opted to go out of network, even though we worry about how we’ll pay for it. The program did offer a scholarship to cover half our out-of-network deductible, but it’s still quite high. We feel we don’t have a choice though. Our child almost died. 

And now I’m struggling with what comes next. Life is nowhere near what I thought it would be. I loved being home with our children, but things are so expensive that I had to work. Now my job is so demanding, I feel like I’m not present enough for my children through all the hell this new world puts them through. I’m torn. I want to be home for them. 

In an ideal world I would write to help support my family while they’re at school, and be present for them when they’re home. But it’s a financial risk. Especially with these medical bills added to everything from the past year. 

But Max almost died. Our 12 yo is struggling too. So what do I do? What’s the right choice? I wish it were simple. It seems nothing ever is. 

Have any of you experienced anything like this? How did you navigate it? I’m definitely needing guidance through all of this. 

If you’ve made it through all of this, please be kind. I know I’ve made mistakes as a parent. I’m learning from those mistakes every day. Whatever critical things you have to say, believe me, I’ve said them to myself repeatedly. I’m human. I make mistakes. But I try to do better when I know better. That’s the best I can do.

12 comments:

  1. Nellie, as your family were my sweet neighbors many years ago, I know what a good mom you are, how much you love and care about your children. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family especially Max. It took a lot of guts to bare your soul/insecurities here.

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    1. It wasn’t easy to put this out there with so much detail. But I felt that it might help to end the isolation and find some connection that is so needed right now. Thank you for your kind words.

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  2. I love you Nellie and I’m praying for your family and especially Max. ❤️

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  3. I don’t have the answers. Therapy for you and your family while Max goes through their treatment as well.

    This has to be absolutely terrifying for you, and rightfully so. I feel like in these times we have to arm ourselves with knowledge, love and power. It’s the only way we can fight back.

    We’re on your side. We’re on Max’s side.

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    1. Terrifying is exactly what it is. Every choice we make has an impact on Max—on us all. We keep trying to research each option, but the information is conflicting and so limited—as are the resources/options put in front of us. We just keep praying and hoping that each choice we make will give our children a better future. Sometimes it’s hard to see our way through, but we keep pressing on anyway.

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  4. You don't know me, but I live here in Hooper. Momma, you are doing everything you can, I promise you that!
    I have been were Max is with the mind, and how it becomes overloaded with thought. I tried to kill myself 9 times since I was 6. About 15 years ago, I almost lost my life to an attempted overdose.
    You're completely on point with the struggles with getting the right or adequate help. I wish I had answers for you. I do know an actual life coach helped me, and yoga. I had to learn what triggered the emotions. Sometimes I didn't understand it, and couldn't stop my brain.
    I just want you to know and Max, that I'm praying for you all. Not sure if you have tried Equine Therapy? If I can be of any help or support, reach out anytime

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    1. I actually did look into equine therapy, but they were pretty booked up and had a long wait list—I should have kept looking, but my time has been so limited with work. The program we have Max in now says it has yoga and equine therapy as part of their offered therapies. They’ve only been there a week, so we still have a long way to go before we can see if we made the right decision.

      I’m glad you were able to find your way through. I appreciate you sharing your story.

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  5. Nicolesb85@gmail.comJanuary 4, 2023 at 8:12 PM

    I’m sending hugs. My nephew has gone through similar. Kids in this area are rude.

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    1. I try to teach my kids that the bullies have something going on in their own lives and are choosing targets to vent on. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the one being bullied. But when you’re the target, as I know from my own childhood, it’s really hard to see that. It’s heart-wrenching to watch them go through it and not be able to effectively stop it.

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  6. Don’t even think this is your fault. Sounds to me like your the best mom max could have. The world unfortunately has become a very hard place. Especially for those special ones like max. It’s not fair at all. 2 of my girls fall into the same category. One is lesbian and the other is non binary. So we know what your dealing with. Prayers to you, max and your family. Stay strong and keep your head up. The lord will help your family through this. Your protecting one’s of his children. Your loving and supporting them through everything! That along make you an incredible mom and family!!!

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    1. Thank you. It’s true the world has become a hard place. I think that technology has just made it harder to escape. I have a love/hate relationship with the access we have at our fingertips. Yes, it can help us reach out to invaluable information and resources when our local ones are so limited, but it also gives those will ill intentions unlimited access to our children, and that has had a devastating effect on our family in so many ways.

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