Thief of life

             It came upon her slowly, stealing away every bit of happiness.  It didn’t steal her personality in one grand break-in, like a thief arriving while you’re away at work and emptying your house.  Instead, it stole a chair one morning.  Then next afternoon, a lamp went missing.  A week later it was the rug. 

            And we tried to replace the items as we noticed them missing.  Perhaps we tried to imagine that they were still there: squinting our eyes and pretending, humming softly to ourselves.

            But then, over the course of three horrific days, we realized that the house was empty: the theft was complete, awful and horrific.

            Three years ago it became obvious that my youngest daughter was facing a growing illness; she was barely fifteen years old. She had been born to drug addicted parents. Her biological mother had ingested crack cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana while she was pregnant; she’d also smoked—and drank alcohol to excess.  She was a prostitute and her father was the pimp.  Before and ever after, they have regularly been in and out of prison.

            We took our youngest daughter into our home as a foster child when she was only five days old.  She was, at that time, still going through withdrawal symptoms.  We adopted her by the time she was three. 

Over the years, we were careful to get her the best treatment.  She received physical and speech therapy.  She went to Head Start.  She enjoyed special kindergarten before beginning her normal schooling.  By the age of five she had been diagnosed with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); our pediatrician told us it was the worst he had ever seen.

            Our youngest daughter has received a variety of medications for the ADHD.  They have helped her tremendously.  She prospered through elementary school and through most of middle school.  We also saw to it that she got therapy. 

But three years ago she started having ever more trouble managing her life.  She suffered severe mood swings and uncontrollable rage.  Her grades began dropping.  Where before, she had been a mostly happy, carefree, and vivacious girl, she became dark, morose, and lonely.  We put her back in therapy.  We changed her ADHD medication once again.  We found her a psychiatrist.

            For awhile, the medication change seemed to make things better, but the darkness continued to grow.  Her rage was sometimes uncontrollable: she punched holes in the walls; she broke windows.  She began using foul language.  She would scream that we were not her family and that she didn’t deserve us.  She stopped getting along with her sisters.  She became increasingly difficult to discipline.  The least criticism or innocuous question could trigger explosive rage. 

            And then, one week, the rage stopped going away.  It grew; she twice ran out of the house and down the street.  One night I followed her in the car for a mile and a half, hazard lights blinking as she ran, before I could talk her into getting in the car and coming home.  The next day, she spoke back to one of her teachers and received a detention.  It was the first time in her life she’d ever gotten into trouble in school.

            That afternoon, when I picked her and her older sister up after school, she was in full rage.  She screamed at her sister and screamed at me without provocation. The rage was escalating beyond anything I had seen before.  So I took her older sister to her boyfriend’s house, and then drove my youngest daughter to the emergency room at the hospital. 

As we pulled into the parking lot, she began crying, begging me not to take her to the emergency room.  She refused to get out of the car.  Then she began screaming and yelling.  Fear and crying traded places with cursing and yelling.  She hit and kicked me multiple times.  She began clawing the seat covers.  She gnawed them with her teeth and chewed on the straps of the seatbelts.  Periodically she lay curled in a fetal position for a few moments before launching into rage once again.

            My wife arrived and went into the emergency room to let the doctors know the situation.  A nurse came out and asked my daughter to come with her.  She explained that if she didn’t, then she would have security and the Sheriff’s deputies take her in.  My daughter finally calmed down.  The storm passed; tears flowed.

            It was a long evening.

We arrived at the hospital about 2:45 PM.  We did not leave until after 7:30.  Our daughter apologized to us in tears.  The next day she had an appointment with her psychiatrist, who prescribed an anti-psychotic mood stabilizer for her—a drug normally prescribed to those suffering from bipolar disorder, which is now her current diagnosis. 

            After the first day on this new medication, the thief returned all the furniture that had been stolen from her mental house. 

The rage had disappeared. The mostly happy, carefree, and vivacious girl seemed to have come back.  She no longer reacted with out of control rage.  She joked, she hugged, she laughed.   She acted once again like a normal teenager: listening to music, singing, and enjoying her life.  But the relief has only been intermittent since then. The thief has returned several times. 

Sometimes he stays away from her for days, even weeks.  With her current medication the thief has been absent for nearly two months. We are cautiously optimistic that her psychiatrist has finally found the right balance to keep her stabilized.  My youngest daughter likes her current therapist and her weekly meetings with her; she is good about taking her medication—always has been, in fact.  We are very thankful about it.  And she enjoys the group meetings at NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).  My wife and I attend group meetings with NAMI, too, for those who have family members suffering with mental illness.

Last night my wife and I finally saw the movie, Silver Linings Playbook.  It is an outstanding film that captures well the nature of living with bi-polar illness.  Thankfully our daughter has never had any legal problems, has thus far not used alcohol or abused drugs, and she remains in school—albeit on independent study; she can’t handle a normal classroom.  We take it a day at a time; we continue to hope for the best possible outcome.