Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. I’ll tell you about how I became hospitalized after admitting to a teacher I had attempted suicide.
Wait, that’s not how that goes…
Ahem, well I’ll tell you anyway.
It was May of 2005 and I was a mere 13 years young in my last weeks of my middle school career. All of my teachers knew I was more mentally advanced than the other students thanks to standardized testing (could do it in my sleep) and my acceptance into the Rollins College Talent Search Program. I never applied to be in it, I just got called to the office one day in 6th grade and they just told me they wanted me and inferred this was the type of opportunity you don’t say no to. It was like the mafia or something, I don’t know. They were going to “groom [me] for greatness”. All I knew is it got me out of a class once a week (super, mega bonus points if it was math) and they would take us on free college field trips all over Florida so I was on board even though I was young and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. (Still don’t. Thanks, Talent Search Program! 👏🏼 👍🏼) I had taken the SATs the previous year with actual stressed out, college hopeful seniors and I scored a healthy 1142 (impressive for a 12 year old I was told).
So when I started pulling D’s in my favorite class (AP English), my teacher, Mrs. Hill, got concerned.
“It doesn’t seem like you care anymore. I don’t understand it. Is something wrong?” I denied and feigned disinterest in Romeo and Juliet which we were analyzing for our final projects. Luckily, she had this intuition to know that I was lying and it was something deeper.
And it was. For as long as I could remember I had been dealing with soul crushing child abuse. I had admitted it to my 7th grade guidance counselor who filed a report with the Department of Children and Families, but after a case worker reported inconclusive results thanks to a pleasant pow wow in our living room with my mother, the case was closed. And the abuse got worse.
It felt like a horror movie where you’re begging people to believe you that a certain lovely seeming person is the killer, but they tell you you’re crazy. I felt utter hopelessness. Everyday I came home with a feeling of dread and fear. I didn’t care about school at all anymore. I was just existing and I began to not even want to do that anymore.
I had begun cutting myself at 12, and I can’t really explain to you how or why. I know it gave me a certain release to be able to control one thing in my life, one type of pain. And I think maybe deep down even though I did try to hide it, maybe it was a huge cry for help. Like if someone saw my arms they would finally realize “Something is wrong in this child’s life. We have to help her.” But they never did and after my one verbal request for help was denied by DCF, I didn’t care anymore. If no one else cared about me, then why should I?
Things came to a head one night after my mother tried to choke me out. I had figured out she had been stealing money and blaming it on me and when I called her out with the evidence in front of my father she reacted violently. If it wasn’t for my dad she might have succeeded, but he broke it up and told me to go to my room and lock the door while he handled the situation. One thing we did not do in our house was call the police though I probably should have of all nights, that one particularly. My parents grew up in a rough neighborhood and were taught to deal with things within the family even when it came to domestic violence and child abuse, and after my unsuccessful attempt at getting help from authority figures I wasn’t about to try again only for them not to arrest her. Who knows what she would’ve done to me?
I remember sitting there at the foot of my bed crying while listening to my parents screaming at each other in the other room. I thought about cutting myself in hopes of a release, but I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to do any of this anymore. I didn’t want to hurt myself everyday or be hurt. I wanted peace. I went into my bathroom and picked out the first pill bottle I saw which was a half full container of Tylenol. At 12 I didn’t realize the most this would cause me is minor liver damage, so I proceeded to take every last one. I laid in my bed and waited for my heart to seize up or my body to drift asleep, but after about a half hour of my heart racing and my body breaking out into a sweat I think I realized I wasn’t going to my final destination.
I started crying thinking “I can’t even kill myself properly.” But when I really started to think about it I realized I was happy in a way. I didn’t want to die. I was content to if that was my only way of finding calm in life, but my first choice was to live. I went to sleep that night, with my parents’ screaming and door slamming acting as the worst lullaby, and knew what I had to do the next morning.
I didn’t cry at all when I got ready for school the next morning. I didn’t cry as I walked to the bus stop or when I disembarked at Neptune Middle. I ate breakfast like normal and talked to other kids who were oblivious to the night I had just had. I’m not sure if I was calm or numb, but I think after you try to kill yourself you’re just indifferent to things of a smaller scale.
The bell rang for first period and I walked across campus to my AP English class with Mrs. Hill. She was a tall, skinny woman with a Reba Macintyre haircut and a penchant for denim on denim outfits. She had thin, round frame glasses and her face vaguely reminded me of a chicken. All the other kids were practicing their lines as we were going to class read Romeo and Juliet that morning. (Not sure why they were practicing lines when we were reading out of the book. Maybe that’s just the M.O. of AP kids.) I saw three or four kids form a line to ask questions about the story so I fell in behind them and waited. When it came to my turn she cheerfully asked me “What can I do ya for, darlin’?” (I grew up in the south where they do actually say things like that.) “Can I talk to you outside for a second?” I asked quietly. “Oh, sure,” she said sounding surprised. She asked everyone to read quietly while she stepped out into the humid morning air with me. “So, what’s going on, sweetheart?” she asked me with genuine concern in her voice. I couldn’t look at her or muster more than a whisper when I said hesitantly, “I tried to…kill myself last night. But I don’t think I really want to die. I just really need help, please.” I couldn’t garner the strength to look at her expression, but I heard her breath catch in her throat in the middle of my statement. She rested her hand on my shoulder and said, almost to herself, “Poor thing,” before lowering herself to nearly my face level. “I’m going to make a phone call and we’re going to get you some help, okay?” I nodded and she told me to take a seat and wait outside of the classroom. She went inside and I stared out onto the empty P.E. field unsure if I had done the right thing or of what was going to happen next.
About two minutes later I heard tell the kids to keep reading and she would be back shortly. When she walked back outside and knelt beside me I heard her sniff like you do when you’re either sick or crying. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and saw her eyes starting to get glassy and red. She was crying. It caught me off guard that I had illicited such a strong reaction from someone I wasn’t even that close to. Why did Mrs. Hill care about me and my well being when my own mother didn’t?
“It’s gonna be okay,” she kept repeating while rubbing my back soothingly while I stared at the ground. “I can’t believe you’d want to do that. We can’t have that. No, we can not have that.” I honestly didn’t know after a few minutes if she was comforting me or herself. Other than her back patting and reassurance it was all going to be okay, not much else was said while we waited for an unspecified person to show up. After a total of ten minutes a golf cart came around the corner and Mrs. Booth (the dean of students) and Officer Cardosa (the school resource officer who probably didn’t see much action at our tiny middle school) stopped in front of us. I didn’t have any interaction with these figures previously other than one awkward time where due to a misunderstanding in 6th grade I was sent to Mrs. Booth’s office where she explained what sex was to me (that’s a long story for another time), but we both had probably tried to push that uncomfortable moment out of our heads. As I was not a troublesome kid I never had a need to be on a first name basis with them and honestly I feared them both greatly. Which is why it was so startling when they gently asked me if I would be willing to get in the golf cart and talk to them in Mrs. Booth’s office. I’m sure I didn’t have a choice in the matter but I complied and off we drove.
We sat in her wood walled office, with Cardosa on my left and Mrs. Booth behind her desk and I began to unfold without hesitation when she asked me what would drive me to want to take my life. It felt so amazing to just unload the weights from shoulders. I almost didn’t care about any repercussions this might lead to at home for me. The officer took notes and I saw them glance at each other numerous times when I described the way my mom would choke or beat on me and when I showed them all the cuts I had along my right arm. When I finished recounting the events that led to my actions from the previous night the officer said “Well here’s what we’re going to do, we’re gonna call your parents, have them come down and see if we can work this thing out and get you some help okay?” I shook my head no vigorously. It was like the horror movie again. My mom was going to come down and the whole thing was going to get swept under the rug again. I wouldn’t go through that once more. I couldn’t believe I had thought these people were going to help me…
“I promise you nothing is going to happen to you,” he said to me. “Yeah, maybe while you’re here, but home is another story,” I thought.
He stepped out of the room with Mrs. Booth with her telling me on the way out “It’s gonna be okay. Just relax. Listen to some music if you want. But nothing angry okay? ” Looking back this was probably so they could talk about me without me hearing it, but I did as I was allowed and pulled my CD player out and began listening to Gwen Stefani (it was 2005 and she was everywhere). Ten minutes later they walked back into the room and Cardosa said “Your parents aren’t picking up, but we’re gonna get you some help okay? We’re going to take you to a hospital and you’re gonna stay they for a few days and get better alright?”
“Are they going to let me out?” I asked weirdly worried I was being taken to jail for some reason. “Of course,” he said “It’s just a few days I promise.” And before I knew it my little purple backpack and I were in the back of a cop car listening to faint pop music on the radio as the officer called his wife and discussed what they’d have for dinner.
We pulled up to a mental health rehabilitation center called Park Place about 20 minutes later. He walked with me inside and spoke to the receptionist at the intake window about me. Apparently they had been anticipating my arrival which kind of creeped me out and was enhanced by how over the top friendly they were even when they asked me to do unnatural tasks like take the laces out of my sneakers so they could hold onto them to prevent me from strangling myself. The officer didn’t stay long and didn’t even say goodbye as he left the building. I instantly felt I had made the wrong decision. I was about half way done reading all of their staple free magazines in the waiting room when a heavy set Hispanic lady came to fetch me. “Hey Christine! Want to come with me? I’ll show you your room!”
The children’s ward of this rehab center consisted of three rooms; two bedrooms side by side and a tiny TV room across the hall. I was the only kid there…for about an hour.
I was just getting adjusted to the huge open space of my own room and its accompanying camera in the corner when a girl a few years younger than me came to claim the gym mat masquerading as a bed on the other side of the cold tiled room. Her name was Natalie and she had been through this before. “It’s not so bad,” she reassured me, “You watch a lot of TV, nap, and talk about your feelings for an hour everyday. You’ll be out in a few days.” And I was, but I didn’t want to experience the revolving door this place possessed with people like Natalie.
They gave us pills without specifying what they were, wouldn’t let us go outside or open any windows, and left us with the adult rehab patients when the counselors wanted to take smoke breaks. The adult men would make sexually explicit comments towards us because they knew we were too scared to say anything back as all that separated our rooms was an easily penetrated push door. I regularly went back to my room as soon as I was able to and cried knowing I didn’t belong here and nothing about this place was helping my depression or conditions.
I didn’t even see my parents or a doctor until the last day when after seeing me for 45 minutes, writing prescriptions, and writing referrals for outpatient therapists, he cleared me to go home as my mother cried disgusting fake tears more than likely of fear as I had told on her.
My mother was on her best behavior after this knowing that I didn’t care to cover up her secrets any longer and I was wholeheartedly willing to get her in trouble for her actions. I quite liked the outpatient doctor I had begun seeing named Dr. Lisa Johnson at Turning Point. That was until the doctor called DCF herself and they reopened an investigation into my home life. My mom left for good after this, taking my insurance to continue seeing Dr. Johnson with her. I don’t know where she is, even today. I’m not sad about my mother’s absence. If anything I’m grateful because I just don’t believe my life would have been as good if she had been present. So thanks in that respect, Mom…
My brief Baker Act in the children’s crisis center did nothing for me quite honestly, and depression, suicide, and self harm would continue to be big issues in my life even into my 20s. We need better options for mentally ill children and adults. Locking them up for three days and feeding them juice boxes doesn’t do the trick and BOOM! They’re cured! We need better. Everyone should have access to FREE medical care. Mental health is still health. A therapist or psychiatrist shouldn’t be a luxury. They should be a right because so many people silently struggle like I did and still do. And kids need to know that it really, genuinely does get so much better. It’s sad that I had to realize this on my own without anyone to help me through the tough times, but it made me resilient and stronger than I ever knew I was.
I worry for the thousands of kids who won’t be as lucky or know how to be as strong when it comes to their crippling depression. My project is for them to know that you’re not defined by the bad things that happen to you in life or by the challenges you grapple with in your head or within yourself daily. You are made of much more than these things will lead you to believe and I hope that my project and I can lead you to believe that. I need you to know that I care about you. You are not alone.