SURVIVOR STORY SPOTLIGHT: Challenged With The Love Of A Mentally Ill Child. A Parent's Story

"Focus On The Answer"
A Parent’s Story of Life with her Mentally Ill Daughter
And How We All Made Lemonade Out Of Lemons

After raising two children, managing sleep deprivation, diaper rashes, potty training, occasional temper tantrums, when Marissa arrived in this world, it did not take long for her to be clear that she was different. My third child was clearly not going to be unheard or unseen. She was born one day past her due date, at home – with a midwife. She was born with rolls on her wrists, thighs and neck. She was a pudgy, screaming baby. It took no time at all for her to start nursing – her favorite place to be. Within 2 weeks, the projectile vomiting commenced. Just as her siblings had done, the difference with Marissa was that I could NOT put her down without her screaming. She would not sleep alone; I had to be at her side. She was intense from the get-go.

As a hippy type of mama, I was up for the challenge, not that I had a choice. I wore her in a sling, as I had done with my two older children, and I was resigned to sleeping with her, safely in my bed at my side. She was nursing pretty much all the time – day and night. If I wanted any sleep, than I had to keep her with me. Not to mention, I was also raising her then 2 and 5 year old siblings. And to make the picture a bit more clear, her 2-year-old brother was also nursing. I was essentially a cow. I would sit on the sofa with my two nurslings suckling away.  

Isaiah and Marissa nursed together for 18 months. I weaned Isaiah when he was 3 ½ years old, after a failed attempt when he was three and dipped into a deep depression for one week... I clearly needed a different approach for my boy at that point in time. So, we resumed nursing for 6 more months and at that point in time, I had a “No More Nursie” party for him. Complete with guests, gifts, cake and balloons. While the reality that Marissa was still an avid nurser was looming, I was ready to nurse just one of my babies at that point in time. The party went off without a hitch and Isaiah was a big boy at that point. Well, kind of... he was only 3 ½, but mama was ready to well, not be touched so much anymore.

Marissa continued to develop as a normal toddler. But approaching her second birthday, I noticed some unusually intense temper tantrums. She would scream and bite her hand and arm, to the point that she left bruises on herself. My other children barely had tantrums, but that being said, the normal “walk away and they will realize that you aren’t paying attention” method never worked with her. She would scream for a long time. And let’s be honest here, crying, in general, is stressful on everyone, even the dog. So, I would see her getting ready to bite herself and swoop down and move her arm away. Making more of an issue? Maybe, but she was self-injuring and I had to stop it.

I mentioned it to her pediatrician at her two-year check up. The pediatrician told me not to worry and that I just had an intense child. I loved this doctor, I really did. But this intensity was out of the ordinary, and my motherly instinct told me that something was wrong with Marissa.

There really are so many details to fill in. By the time that Marissa about to turn three, my marriage with her father ended. I weaned Marissa at around that time and the behaviors continued. I still did not know whom to contact or if anything was really wrong with her. This intense behavior was becoming our norm.

Marissa and Isaiah attended a Montessori school for a period of time. Isaiah did fine and excelled, Marissa could not handle the class. She would hit other children, destroy things in the classroom and not nap when it was naptime.

Around this time, I discovered salsa and started dancing at every turn. Every moment that I had, I would go out and dance. This saved my life.  

When Marissa was 3 ½ years old, I moved into a town house. Marissa attended a day care center and low and behold, they had the same challenges that I had at home. Noncompliant, self-injuring, no napping child. The only way for me to get her to bed at night was with melatonin. I did not know what else to do, but I needed her to sleep at night and I was not willing to give her Benadryl. 

One day, the director of the say care center called me in to speak with me. He referred me to a county unit that could evaluate Marissa’s behaviors. I remember clearly sitting on my sofa with a woman and describing Marissa’s behaviors. She told me that I had to tell her how much I loved her every hour. And hug her every hour. I could have been insulted... Here I was, a single mother, raising three children, one of whom clearly had some type of emotional issue that was going undiagnosed.

But I continued to move forward and take any recommendations to heart. Marissa also started to see a play therapist at that time. I don’t think that it really made much of a difference to be honest. But again, I had to continue trying to find out what was going on with my daughter.

I could go on and on. There are many details to be had here. I continued to dance, as a part of my prescription for health, I also saw a therapist, received acupuncture treatments, had endless chats with friends and family members and kept a positive attitude.

Kindergarten was the beginning of the reality that something was wrong, we had no diagnosis and the school was the first to finally really listen to me. She could not stay in her classroom – eloping and running around the hallway, hitting children and staff, tearing things up in the classroom, rolling the carpet up in the classroom, pushing chairs around the classroom.  

At age 5, we had our first outpatient visit to Shepperd Pratt. This was also our first go with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with a mood disorder and ADHD. She attended the day hospital at Shepperd Pratt for one week and we started giving her some medication. The psychiatrist who prescribed the medication was not very available to us as far as answering our questions in regard to the side effects and her quick weight gain that we were watching before our eyes. After the addition of a second medication that made her bang her head against the walls. Her father and I did not want to go back to that doctor.  

We stopped giving her the medication and started to bring her to an occupational therapist that worked with her in many ways. While she was in session with the OT, she was very calm and in a good place. After we left, we would be back to the same child that was becoming more and more difficult to manage.

I continued dancing. :) I had to find a way to care for myself. I continued receiving acupuncture and that was my recipe... my recipe for health.

The school continued to collect data on Marissa’s behaviors, and well... not much more went on there as the school struggled to manage her. Often times, her father and I were called to the school every day to pick her up. She had many suspensions, it was such a difficult time...

In April of 2014, Marissa attempted suicide. She was 8 years old and tried to jump out of her bedroom window. I never lost hope. My child was smart. She was artistic. With one loose diagnosis, and now one attempted suicide, something had to change.

One good changed that happened shortly before this crisis was that we found a great psychiatrist. He listened to us and seemed to understand Marissa. I called him on hic cell phone while we were in crisis and he spoke directly with the Emergency Room.

Marissa spent 9 days inpatient at Shepperd Pratt after this crisis and 3 weeks in the day hospital. It was a long month, needless to say.

I never lost hope. I will never lose hope. My child is brilliant, strong, artistic and musical. I am a survivor, She is a survivor.

My story continues, I will write more in my book.  

I also have blog. . The goal of my book and my blog is this... People around the world dealing with childhood mental illness are not alone. We are here to support each other – without judgement. Just love and light.