The Back And Forth Dance Of My Daughter’s Battle With Mental Illness

Today is Chaya’s birthday on the solar calendar. We make a big to do on Hebrew birthdays and just say Happy Birthday on solar birthdays. I wish I could be there to dance with her in person to celebrate another year older.

She was the most wanted baby. We were married three long years before she came along. She was an “oops” baby, conceived during a break from treatments. Funny she didn’t want to be born – I spent 3 days in labor in the hospital trying to get her to come out. Her father kept watching the clock hoping to see if he could get in for mincha to name her before Shabbos was over. She decided to keep us guessing and made her appearance in Bein Hashmashos – the time in between dusk and nightfall when Hashem created so many special things – especially tongs.

Ten things were created at twilight of Shabbat eve. These are: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; the mouth of [Miriam’s] well; the mouth of [Balaam’s] donkey; the rainbow; the manna; [Moses’] staff; the shamir; the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments]. Some say also the burial place of Moses and the ram of our father Abraham. And some say also the spirits of destruction as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.

(Pirkei Avos 5;6)

This always fascinates me. Half the things created are things which bode badly for the yidden; the mouth of the earth, the mouth of Bilaam’s donkey, the rainbow, Miriam’s well and the staff that struck it. The other half are things that bode well for the yidden; the manna, the shamir worm that cut the stones for the beit hamikdash, the writing and inscription of the luchos. Things that are all above nature. Like mental illness – it too is above nature – for we oft find it incomprehensible like these special things created in the twilight.

So much has happened between when I penned the first essay, when it posted and today. A few weeks ago she started a new medication; it has made a HUGE difference. HUGE. I feel like I am starting to get my kid back. She is so much better. She can laugh again. She can stop long enough to tell us what emotion she’s feeling before she falls to pieces and starts raging. She can handle when there are small bumps. We agreed to a residential treatment facility; a place that is longer term but less than a year and with a goal of coming home. She even tells us she wants to just come home and go back to school already, no residential facility please.

We tried over and over and over again to get her into a specialized facility. They won’t take her because she remains in a cycle of being better and then getting distressed and beginning self-harming again, which in turn lands her back on 1:1 supervision. Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back. Cha-Cha-Cha.

They won’t take her so long as she remains in this cycle. We are forced to look at state run facilities which run from bad to… well, probably criminal. I don’t know what to do, but our choices are minimal.

She came home for the weekend and did great. We agreed she could come home again this weekend. I started to believe that maybe she can come home. I began thinking about how we could make Tishrei work for all of us. It was like a giant leap forward towards normalcy. I felt hope.

Yesterday they called in the morning to say she drank a cup of hand sanitizer. Then they called in the afternoon to say she had taken a rock from outside and began scratching her arms with it and trying to cut herself. They decided to put her back on 1:1 because it was clear she was distressed. Here was a big step back. Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back. Cha-Cha-Cha.

I called her in the evening to see what was happening. She answered the phone gruffly, “If you’re calling to ask me about it I don’t want to talk about it.”

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it but I just want to make sure you’re okay. Are you hurt?” I answered.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“Okay, I’m just worried because these things happen when you’re feeling distressed. Is there something that is bothering you? Do you want to tell me about it?” I asked gently.

Her voice softened and she answered, “It’s just that it’s my birthday tomorrow. Every year I get older and the anxiety never gets better. It just get worse and worse. Why should I try? I’m sick of trying.”

“Oy mamale. It will get better. We just have to find the right medication. Maybe you need more of something or a different medicine all together. You just need to keep working your program and you will get better. We just have to find the right thing that works. I know you can’t always control the bad feelings but you need to talk to someone, a staff member when you feel like doing these things. I don’t want you to get hurt further. I love you, we all love you and we all want you to get better. I know it’s hard to be in the hospital on your birthday. I love you.” I said, my heart breaking.

Her mood shifted again, “Okay Mommy. I will keep trying. Mommy if I can’t come home this Shabbos, will you come on Sunday to visit me?”

“Of course we will. What could I bring you special for your birthday?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I’ll let you know okay?” she said.

“Okay! I love you!” I said.

“I love you too mommy. Bye.” she then hung up.

Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back. Cha-Cha-Cha.