Ramblings of a Cathy
Look, somebody laid on the concrete
More than any job in my career, the Youth Mobile Crisis Team made me see life the way things are, regardless of how television and media tries to frame things.
The job is formally supposed to be a team of licensed mental health counselors who are willing to struggle for minimal pay to drive around their community to houses/churches/schools/jails/shelters/grocery stores/parks/trailer parks/offices to conduct crisis interventions - and make decisions to ensure someone's safety. The calls are about children (and adults too, informally) who actively disclose suicidal or homicidal intent. Someone like me, who is super trained in counseling but has a God complex and likes to feel the rush of adrenaline sometimes, will legit negotiate with someone on why taking their own life, or the life of others, is a shitty idea.
I learned A LOT about people, about myself, and about the type of person I wanted to be.
One particular night the team was SLAMMED with calls an hour before we were supposed to call. Which meant that we were not going to go home anytime soon. To top it all off they had reduced our night time to 3 Clinicians. It was me, another licensed counselor named Devin, and an unlicensed counselor girl named Terry. We had been circled around the call desk staring at the 4 referral sheets that listed the calls we had just gotten.
It was like chess, in that we had to strategize by Clinician, rules, and call location. All calls after a certain hour require a team of at least 2, or police escort. However, we were reduced to 3, and police were backed up by 2 hours that night, apparently.
Me and Terry rolled to the south homes, and Devin (being the only guy) went solo to 2 homes up north. The calls were routed to the on-call Clinician, who would dispatch us to any new calls if we were in the area of them.
Terry and I went in the company van, we went to a house in a very very very shady part of Fort Lauderdale - where I essentially had to stay a few feet back from a grandmother who was clearly on crack/meth/something - and then we headed down to our last call down south.
She drove as we got the call about a teenager in Weston (a very high class part of my town). At that time the day had worn on me. I had been brooding about a particular call in which I had to Baker Act a little indian Autistic boy, who was fixated on the knives on his mother's reachable kitchen table, and who was going to be home alone for the 3 hours after school. I was breathing through the pain in my chest, thinking about how he cried when I told him where he was going and how he apologized for being so honest with me about his intent to die. But if you looked at me I was just laying my head on the seat, staring at the sky. Terry - my partner for the night - was irritable and tired. She complained about management the whole ride over, claiming - like a lot of us had - that she was already looking around for another job.
I told her I'd buy her a McFlurry and this helped to pacify her.
When we parked our van I marveled at the beautiful light pink home - 2 stories, manicured, small lawn lights lining the front walkway. I took my time, admiring the dual toned steps in front of the 2-door front entrance. The trees by the front sidewalk had this umbrella effect over the pavement that shone ominously from fancy columned street lights along the front. My brain dissociated to thoughts of me and my little family moving to a place like this, as my eyes scanned the BMW parked in the front.
Terry was unamused, she looked over at me from where she already stood in front of the door, unsurprised by my eccentricities. She is from Parkland - an even wealthier community. As I looked around like fuckin Charlie in the Chocolate Factory she rang the doorbell.
The mother was an overdressed Portuguese looking woman in tears. She had on a dark blue pant suit, her makeup on-point. We were led into the kitchen, where she abruptly stopped walking and stood to face us. Her moist eyes flicked at my Payless purse for longer than casual, but I met her gaze with a small smile.
"Hi I'm Catherine, this is Terry. We're from the youth emergency services. Before we speak with your daughter, can you tell me why you called?"
The mother spoke avidly with me as Terry automatically rounded into the grand hallway towards the room where the mother pointed our that the daughter was. My inner defenses were crumbling from my hunger, fatigue, and the fact that we had apparently received 2 more calls on the way to this home. (Such gross negligence and aloofness from our Executive Overlords. They were probably warm in their beds...)
I handed the Mom one of the fancy Kleenexes I kept stuffed in my worn out binder.
The mother was helplessly explaining that she found the daughter with a pencil against her skin and that the girl had jabbed it into her wrists after a recent argument that they had.
As the mother spoke I listened, but my inner dialogue filled in a lot of blanks. The family was privileged and disjointed. It was obvious that the parents were never home. The father was a big time surgeon and was away at a conference. The mom owned a business and had stepped in from a long day, and yet her hair, nails, clothes and everything were done. The way the mother spoke it sounded like she and her daughter were autonomous from the father - but the mother was not too interested in being a nurturer. The daughter sounds like someone who got caught up with the more adventurous kids, perhaps the kind of kids that do drugs and skip school but actually care for her. Regardless, the mother has written her off as a bad kid. This woman obviously reaps a lot of benefits from this marriage/family, but there is no bond among them. She spoke about the friends that the girls has, the amount of days the girl has missed from school, the parties the girl escapes to every other day. "I just can't control her!" She yelled histrionically.
I was aware of my lack of respect for her, mostly as a mom. But those thoughts went into a little box in my brain as I maintained eye contact. My aggressive annoyance at her yell manifested in a small nod. I waited a beat and then explained to her what my conversation with the daughter was going to be like. When I mentioned that the girl may go to a hospital if I thought she was a danger, the mother changed her tune. She began to smile uncomfortably and dismissed it as teen angst, tried to charm me into seeing it as a child looking for attention. "It was just a pencil. She has her tantrums. I made sure to take all the sharp objects away from her room." She said this like she was the best mom in the world. When I nodded and - with practiced Dominican laissez faire - said "I just want to prepare you for what might happen," she got up from the table visibly shaken, and absentmindedly offered me a water as she walked away.
I heard her grab the telephone to call the dad. Mentally I gave myself 30 minutes before she and the dad got brave enough to make demands, so I excused myself to see the 16 year old girl who we got the call about.
Terry was sitting on the floor in front of the girl, who was crying silently while sitting up on her bed. Terry had her plastic clipboard out... she had agreed to do the note when we to the office again tomorrow. (Yes!!)
Terry looked casual as well, sitting indian style on the floor and sitting back on her arms. She spoke when she saw me, "She says she got a bit upset, stabbed herself with a pencil on her hand, and is okay." There was obvious optimism in Terry's voice, but she was obviously uncomfortable. Terry had done her initial evaluation, and now I as the licensed counselor had to cosign it. It was my turn. However, I was walking along the side of her Japanese-looking room. It had minimalist designs, but really nice art and decor around the walls and table.
The girl was silent, and Terry looked at me desperately, as I eyed all the books in the girl's bookcase. I wasn't aware of the silence in the room until the girl joined Terry in looking at me wearily from where I stood.
"Babysitters Club?! That's old school!" I finally said, allowing my surprise to shine out. The humor out of place.
The girl smiled a little bit, "Yeah, I like to read."
I spoke to her about the little I knew of Babysitters Club. Then she slowly started opening up... about how no one cares. How her parents were always gone. How her friends are betraying her, and the mother doesn't let her do what she wants. How she doesn't give a shit about school.
I listened, matching her concern. I felt the feeling of suffocation from her, the lack of control over her own life, and yet the fact that there were so many rules from parents who aren't prioritizing her in their lives - much different than her friends' parents. After a bit of empathizing I said, "Wow, you're 16. Looks like you're almost out of here!"
This made her look at me weird at first, and as we engaged in the small guerilla counseling dance that comes with crisis counseling she gushed about her college prospects, acknowledged the friends that weren't really her friends, identified the friends that were shame-based and didn't deserve her attention, and the fact that she has unlimited options ahead of her in life now that she was in her last years of high school.
35 minutes it took before I saw her wrists. Her cuts were thin, but her upper arm shined with beads of blood along irratic lines that crossed each other on her skin. There were 3 on each wrist, long ways.
After a moment of contemplation I deliberately allowed my face to drop, slightly disappointed. "Are those the only places you cut?" I asked almost casually.
She shook her head and showed me her upper right thigh, caked with blood.
I nodded when I saw it, noticing Terry walk out of the room behind me. "You must have a lot of pain inside." I said it like a child would, casually and kind of sad. She started to cry as I automatically went on my spiel about self-harm, focusing only on the amount of empathy and distress that I drip into the words.
"What did you use to cut yourself?" I knew the answer to this already.
The girl looked nervous, "a pencil"
I betrayed a small laugh and sat in front of her as comfortably as I could. "I want to help you. What did you use?"
The girl was crying hard now. Shaking and crying, like someone who was stuck in a pitch black room with no lights.
"Please don't tell my mom."
I shook my head and said, "I cant promise that, I'm sorry." After going on my auto-speech on ensuring safety I waited and leaned in, willing myself to externalize my empathy towards her as much I could (I don't formally believe in auras and energy, but I don't deny it either...). "I think your mom knows more than you think she knows... so there's no point in keeping this stuff secret anymore".
This made her cry so much. I've seen it before, the loaded heavy weight of darkness and sadness that consumes people. I sat next to her and welcomed the energy like an old friend.
Do NOT trust anyone who says that hell isn't a place in our heads that we work, day in and out, to not fall into. Hell is not a place we go when we die, or a formal condemnation of a lifetime. Hell is the negative thoughts and delusions that wrap themselves around us when we're not okay. Hell is palpable, unchecked bereavement, loneliness, fear and eternal sorrow. Hell is living daily longing for a better past, or feeling like you can't control anything in your life.
Hell is here on Earth. Hell is a mindset.
The girl leaned into her hands as she cried, her mascara lining her cheeks. She took a deep, wet breath in and made eye contact with me for the first time. "I'm gay." She said it like if that was the answer to my last question.
I smiled kindly at the admission. I shook my head animatedly and blinked at her. "That's awesome." I said, my voice breaking with excitement.
She laughed and so did I.
"I cant wait for the life you're gonna live when you don't have to hide that anymore." My smile was bright, my manner convincing. "You just have to let yourself live day by day to get there."
She breathed, and appeared to think about this. Hey eyes flooded over with fresh tears.
We looked at each other for a long time. I waited, focusing on my breath, no longer the type of counselor that cringes at silence.
She, however, crumbled in the silence. She sobbed. "I have a razor hidden in there." She pointed at her beside table. I stood up and she opened a book where a razor was kept tucked between two pages - a part of the page was red with blood.
I sigh. So much for Super Mom over there. "Thank you for tell me." She was crying into her knees on her bed. My eyes didn't leave the new looking razor, my brain mentally recalling times where I handled those little sharp things. "Where is the other one?" I said it as one of those things I throw in the air, just cuz, but I was already planning the safety plan that I could do with her.
When I looked over because of the silence she looked shocked.
Her eyes were wide and she started to shake with tears, as she pointed at her connected bathroom.
I walked over to the bathroom and saw a razor behind a fancy soap container. There was a line of blood along the beautiful porcelain looking material. Pools of blood lined the path between the door and the sink, and smudges of it on the wall.
I looked at that for a while. I guess that's showbiz...
After a minute I backed out of the room and met Terry in the hallway, where she also almost bumped into me. She was telling me warily that the mother was getting aggressive and the dad was on the phone threatening legal action against us if we didn't leave. This is laughable, since the mother called us and we have certain rights as crisis responders.
"She's gotta go, man." I said it matter-of-factly. "Check out the bathroom."
Her face didn't change when she walked back there. She's a tough girl.
I found the mother, who was angrily telling us that she called us without knowing "who the fuck you are" and blah blah.
But I sat down calmly on the shiny wood barstool and nodded, waiting for her to finish.
"Your daughter has harmed herself and I am obligated under Florida law to make sure that law enforcement takes her to the hospital for a 72 hour hold."
She stared at me, her face looking like someone who was trying to find the words to tell me to fuck off. But I just look at her empathetically. And she stares back.
You can tell that she knew. That her daughter is sick and that I'm not trying to fuck her family over. I didn't have to say out loud that this was for the best. That something had to change to help this girl. The mother started violently crying.
"Tell him, please." She handed me the phone and ran towards her daughter.
I broke it down to the father very objectively, very frankly. His charming-social-skillsy-rich-salesman voice turned to anger. "I dont know who the fuck you think you are but my daughter isnt going anywhere,"
I was tired, but I was already writing the Baker Act.
Diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder, Severe, with no known psychotic features, single episode.
"Sir, your daughter has hidden at least 2 razor blades in her room and has demonstrated intent to harm herself..." He said nothing. I stopped myself and sighed. "There was a lot of blood..."
More silence, my pen moving on the paper still.
"Thank you, Doctor." He sounded resigned.
My autistic rage peaked a bit at that (I'm not a doctor...) but I let it go.
I called the police, and they showed up right away. (Weston, amiright?)
15 minutes later Terry and I sat tiredly on the van, she was plugging in the next call address on her phone and I watched quietly as the cops cuffed the young girl in front of their affluent home. The girl was dejectedly crying and the mother, in her high heels and Michael Kors purse, watched hopelessly from close by.
The irony of life is that that scene plays out everywhere - despite race, socioeconomic level, or social class. The only thing that changes is the names and clothes.