I could hear the sirens approaching. Then, flashes of red and blue filled my dark living room. I sat on the floor, wedged in between the sofa and the coffee table holding the body of a tiny six year old who was wailing and thrashing. We were both drenched with sweat. My body hurt. I desperately needed a restroom. From the kitchen, my wife said, “yes ma’am, they’re here,” before beginning to sob heavily. Then heavy boot steps made their way toward me.
I couldn’t speak. My mind raced over the past 4 1/2 hours of raging tantrum that began at the big park downtown to a very dangerous ride home and then our living room in the final. Sweat-soaked, bruised, bleeding, drained of energy and without any hope, we remembered a piece of paper with the number for the mental health crisis line.
I silently said my final goodbyes to this beautiful boy that we said yes to about 18 months prior. I wondered if I would be able to say goodbye to his sibling upstairs, no doubt terrified in their shared room. Surely the officer was going to snatch my kids, we would be arrested and DSS would say we were the worst adoptive parents ever.
Instead, he lowered to the floor and softly said “Dad, you’re doing a great job. We’re here to help. What happened tonight?” Everything I had been holding back burst out from my eyes and my mouth. Another officer was comforting my wife in the kitchen. This was our first time calling the mental health crisis line. This week, we made our eight, or ninth. I’ve lost count over the years.
My wife and I were speaking with a friend this week who is walking a very similar road. I pled with her to to make the call in those darkest of moments. I’ve been reflecting on that conversation over the past few days. Was I too pushy? Too harsh? No, I would have done anything for someone to have told me it was OK to make that call hours before we actually did.
Mental health is one of the untold storylines of foster care and adoption. We’re quick to talk about trauma, the importance of reunification, the process and all of the therapies. But underlining those rightly important issues is mental health- one of the most stigmatized aspects of our society. But in foster and adopted children, it’s often (not always) an underlining influencer that abuse, neglect, trauma forces to the surface.
In the moment the police were in our home, we were at the lowest moment of our lives. We were failures. We were embarrassed. We believed we had hurt these precious children. All lies of the enemy. The Bible speaks of the greatest form of love being that one lays down their life for another. I think that it also means figuratively speaking as well.
We waited until we couldn’t do anything BUT make that call. A pastor recently told me, “ya’ll are working in a world that is tumultuous. It’s like being surrounded by hot water. You can handle the heat, but you also don’t notice it getting hotter. You’ll be able to handle it until the day you can’t.” The implication there that waiting until you break means someone gets seriously hurt.
I had to be reminded of this because our years of stability have suddenly come to an end. Since April 30, all hell has broken out with the mental health issues in our children. Over the past nearly 3 months now, we’ve gotten better at recognizing our limits and choosing to call for help sooner.
We, collectively, as foster/adoptive parents are a strong bunch — used to working in the hard places. We have to put our pride aside and decide in those hard moments to make the call and trust our children to an imperfect mental health system so they get the treatment we can’t provide.
Foster/adoptive dad, mom, trust me. Here’s why: The local police sergeant told me that the entire police department in our small town knows about our home and the (his words) good work taking place here. They even had a training, using us as an example, on how to respond to pediatric psychiatric emergencies. Talk about humbling.
Here’s what I have learned over the years: When we put ourselves aside and make that call, we often find a whole new set of resources to help our children. After the officer in the opening story helped us off the floor, we went to the local hospital with our child. There, we were connected to an organization that provided our family with treatment, therapy and stability for the next five years.
I’m also learning that mental health is still somewhat a mystery to even the professionals. When it is entrenched with traumatic life events, it takes time and layers to heal. There are no quick solutions. Acute crisis care, hospitalization, intensive in home therapy, outpatient therapy, medication, counseling, psychiatric care — these are all tools on the road to healing.
Your child is worth using ALL of the tools, including the mental health crisis line. It is far better to call before you get way in over your head than to be reaching out when you’re drowning.
Confession: For the first time this week, we called our crisis number early enough for a therapist to get to our home to see things unfold. She made the decision to call for additional help, but in that process the things she witnessed will go a long, long way to helping our child get healing.
Bottom line: You have permission to make the call.
Two things I would ask from here. One, don’t respond that you’re sorry for us. We’re not. If you do, we’ll all know you didn’t read all the way to the end. Second, please share this with someone in the trenches. It’s not about clicks to this blog — it’s about empowering someone to seek help.