Just when you think everything is calm… by Tami

Published on 28 March 2023 at 14:04

I can handle hard days.  Days when everything is topsy turvy and my child is acting out, repeatedly mean, the threats and yelling.  I know how to settle into those days, set boundaries, and watch for signs of improvement or worsening.  I can manage her with rescue meds and diversions and we have a crisis plan.  Those long days, thankfully are less frequent now, but I’m ready for them.


What is hard is when the good days go from great to suddenly violent and horrible.  


Yesterday M and I had a pretty great day.  We were able to go to work and school and therapy and had lots of laughs together on our way home.  Before bed, we had a sing-along and dance party, and everything as a mom you’d hope for the end of a great day.  As she settled into bed I went in for a hug and she said without hesitation “Stay away from me Mom, I want to hurt you and myself”.  Then she began digging her fingernails into her skin and removing deep layers of skin from her forearm.  


I felt like I got kicked in the gut.


Where did this come from?  Why the sudden change in mood?  She didn't know or didn't have the language to explain it.  She locked up and challenged me to stop her.


We’re in the middle of trying a new tactic for behaviors such as this.  We’ve set boundaries with rewards and consequences for behaviors.  She agreed to them.  She has the choice to receive the reward or the consequence because we all have choices.  She’s been doing well in choosing to receive rewards and avoiding consequences so far, but last night, well, she chose consequences.  


The rule is “No acts of violence to yourself, other people, pets, or property”.  The reward is that she gets to keep her cell phone. The consequence is she loses her phone until the following evening and she’s able to earn it back if school and therapies go well.  Pretty straightforward.  When she was violent to herself, I reminded her that she agreed to the boundary and the reward/consequence, and because she chose violence, she chose the consequence.  She continued to harm herself and there went her phone.  It didn't phase her.  She said, “You can take everything away, I won't stop”.  


My sweet giggling girl who just moments before was singing her favorite songs from “Encanto” with me was suddenly intent on damaging her beautiful skin and causing herself pain.  No warning, no reason, and no way to change her mind.


In those moments I’d like to shake her and scream “STOP HURTING YOURSELF” but that wouldn't work.  Her pain lies there just under the surface.  The giggles hide grief.  The singing hides the stabbing reminders of abandonment.  The smiles hide scorching self-hatred.  The displays of self-harm bring me a little bit into her darkness, she likes to see me worry and set me back because then I join her in the dysfunction.  She wants to show me her pain, and I’m not sure if it's because she wants me to help her or if she enjoys the knowledge that her pain hurts me.  


When I offer help, she’ll often tell me she likes feeling this way and doesn't want to stop hurting herself.  


What then do I do?  When this little broken heart is oozing pain and my options are to do nothing or give consequences that only serve to hurt her more, expressing my concern and care for her is either not believed or gives her power over me.  What do I do?


On a perfectly happy day, where nothing was wrong or amiss - when everything goes sideways and violence and discord have their way, I choose to remind her that her behavior doesn't change how I feel.  I love her, and always will.  I ask her to choose to be safe and not to give up on herself, because I’ll never give up on her.  I make myself available to talk or hold her hand or hug her when she feels it's safe for her to do so.  I pray she’ll choose to be safe, but I never really know which way it will go.


We live in a world of the unexpected and unknown.  We never know what is coming, but I know I will never leave her there alone.