This week I find myself sitting in front of yet another psychiatrist in a string of specialists that we have worked with over the last three years. I find my mind drifting as I stare at the felt painting I have seen in this same office, in this same treatment center, with different doctors over the last 3 years. I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about my vacuum cleaner. It’s supposed to be new and amazing but it never seems to pick up any dirt. It just sort of disperses bits of daily debris from our everyday lives. Our carpet must be looking very gray at this point.
We are at a partial-hospitalization program that provides treatment in the afternoons each weekday. Luke clears his throat to bring my focus back to the task at hand. I’ve come prepared with a typed lists of our daughter’s treatment providers, insurance information, medications, sensory diet, presenting behaviors, and coping skills. I am also carrying a suitcase-sized manilla file with past psychiatric evaluations, occupational evaluations, and records from emergency services, in-home services, out-patient services, and in-patient services. Luke and I are sitting through what is probably our 1, 456th intake appointment at a mental health treatment facility.
Luke comes on strong. He starts by saying, “Look, we’ve been here before. We’ve talked to a lot of professionals. We know our daughter best and we can tell you what’s going on.”The doctor nods and takes a few notes. He asks for a history, although he assures us he can get most of it from the therapist at the center who has worked with Carl and Mary in the past.
We both review the story from start to finish with a strong emphasis on trauma and the trauma-focused therapy and therapeutic parenting we do. To my surprise, this doctor nods and take notes. He agrees with us that our daughter doesn’t fit into any one box or diagnosis (Thank you!) He agrees that trauma-focused therapy is paramount (THANK YOU!) he also agrees that medications should treat symptoms and not a diagnosis. I can’t even say how relieved I am.
For the last three years Luke and I have had to learn brand-new parenting techniques that focus on connection and felt-safety for the child, rather than consequences and control. All of the books we read by Dr. Karyn Purvis, Heather T. Forbes, and Bryan Post have been stepping stones along the way to becoming therapeutic parents. The classes we’ve taken for “The Circle of Security,” and the webinars we watched with Dr. Siegal have helped us better understand our adopted children.
After a grueling 2 hour intake session, Mary is accepted into the PHP program. It’s a day program with group therapy, coping skills, and social skills. Mary will continue to see her long-time trauma therapist separately for the trauma-focused cognitive behavioral work she does. My husband and I will continue to see the partner therapist who helps us become a better therapeutic parenting team. We also have a referral for in-home clinical services and we have requested the program that provides a trauma-informed approach.
Our kids are phenomenally resilient. They have survived detrimental, developmental trauma and managed to survive. They have managed to attach to us and love us despite their fears. They have managed to live in a house with an ever-dirtier carpet on the darker side of beige. Somedays I feel like we are super parents with super skills to meet their needs. Somedays I feel like we are parents with a very dis-colored carpet.
On days like today I feel a bit defeated. I’m just a tired mom with a broken vacuum cleaner and a very long reading list. As we trudge home I explain to Luke that I wish we could be enough as parents. Just us. I wish that was all our kids needed. The truth is that our children need the vast trauma team and array of services they receive.
After everyone is sleeping, I tip-toe down the stairs to look at the vacuum. I take each hose apart until I find the one that is clogged. I have absolutely no knowledge about vacuums, household items, or fixing things in general. It doesn’t matter. Without even touching the manual I find the clog and dig out clumps of matted cat hair and other crunchy, fuzzy, questionable bits. It looks like a dead furry creature has been pulled out.
When I am finally ready, I flip the on-switch. It works! The suction is back! Our carpet is now covered in the clog of waste I have extracted. The family may wake up tomorrow thinking there is a dead hairy creature on our floor. I’m ok with it. It doesn’t matter. Victory is mine!
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.