Many years ago, I was working on a research study evaluating the efficacy of bullying prevention program for elementary schools. To do this kind of research, schools must be recruited for participation. I was placed in charge of the task of contacting schools and districts as well as making presentations onsite. If memory serves, I made over 50 presentations. (In perhaps another post, I will write more about this. I enjoy public speaking but this was a very high pressure situation. Basically, I threw up about 2o minutes before nearly every presentation though I think I did a good to excellent job with everyone. Looks can be deceiving. A person can be funny, informative, and relaxed, and still have thrown up 20 minutes earlier. You just never know about another person’s life, just by looking.)
One of the presentations was to all elementary principals in a particular school district. After I was completed, there was a bit of time for one on one conversations. There was one principal who made a bee-line for me. She gave me the kind of handshake that starts as a firm “how do you do” and turns quickly in a seemingly never ending grip. Meanwhile she was earnestly telling me about her school. My co-worker, Truc, was also there. Truc observed this action intently; Truc is an excellent observer as well as being very funny. Later Truc said, ‘Elizabeth, she was saying, “Please, Elizabeth you must help our school. You ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP US!”‘
School principals have very demanding jobs with a lot of rushing around. That principal had a story to tell me and she was going to hold onto me until she had a chance to finish and could see that I understood.
Back in days as a researcher, that kind of poignant social interaction was rare. In my clinical life in private practice, especially as a psychologist with a specialty in diagnostic assessment, it is a frequent occurrence.
Everyone has a story, a life story. Families in need, need to tell their story. Some of them do not know where to start. Some of them don’t know how to stop. Both of those extremes keep me on my toes. In particular, parents and their teen children who engage in self-harmful and life threatening behaviors carry an incredible urgency in their stories. This is not my treatment specialty but within my diagnostic specialty, suicidality is much more prevalent than in the general population, especially for girls. So I encounter this situation with some frequency and help families secure appropriate services, which unfortunately, are in short supply.
Parents of suicidal teens are some of the most isolated people you will ever meet. They have a story that they are afraid to tell for fear of being judged harshly, among other reasons. Given the way that many people judge teens and their parents, it is a realistic fear, unfortunately. Sometimes we see another person’s tragic situation and blame them for it. To believe that they have control over it makes us feel safe.
I have heard many stories from parents, so many in fact, that I can tell you one that story is based on many.
I am incredibly alone. My house is full of people and each of us are shell shocked and alone. The loneliest moments are when we are yelling at each other.
I have met many many healthcare providers. I have gotten anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes to tell my story. There is so much to say, much more than I ever thought there would be to say in my life, ever.
You are a stranger to me but I need to tell my story. I will trust you with my helplessness. I will trust you with my failures as a person and as a parent. I will trust you with my shame at times for the unspoken regrets I have about ever choosing to be a parent. Bringing this child into the world has been painful and ungratifying but I will try to move try to move Heaven and Earth to save him.
I will trust you the best that I can. Sometimes I may not do a very good job. Three seconds later, I may do a good job again. My emotional life is like that; it is lived three seconds at a time, either dealing with, waiting for, or trying to ward off the next crisis.
I will do this because it is my job, to put myself second when my child is sick, so very sick that she may take herself from this world before she really even knows who she is, where she is, or the things that can heal with maturity.
Please help us.
We want a different story to tell.