I think it’s a good thing to remember what it’s like to be young. I have vivid memories of middle school and high school. I even remember Ms. Mercado, my fourth grade teacher, who never let anyone go to the bathroom even if they really had to go. Consequently, Tyson Landry peed himself in the cafeteria. I remember turning 18 at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was a legal adult! I could vote on who would become the next leader of the free world, but I still couldn’t go to the bathroom without a pass.
I also remember feeling out of place, insecure, and like I was under a captive audience. That “feeling” that permeates our adolescent years is called the imaginary audience. When Eadaoin and I were taking the DBT skills class together last summer, the group leaders discussed it. Apparently, this is a developmental stage in adolescence, and everyone experiences it. It’s what makes everything seem so much bigger and so much worse. Those bad hair days are really bad because the brain somehow believes that it’s being watched and even judged by the entire world. Every detail of every item of clothing is being looked upon. Every tiny imperfection is magnified and picked apart. That’s the perception. This is the reality for adolescents without any DSM diagnoses. Imagine what the invisible audience might be like for someone with an anxiety diagnosis or a mood disorder. I think their audience might be full of hecklers and rotten tomato throwers. What about shy people? Do people carry their imaginary audience into young adulthood? I did although it got better.
I spent most of my 20’s feeling exactly as I did in my teens–anxious and judged. I spent my 30’s dismantling…everything, and now I don’t really care. The adolescent experience, however, isn’t the 40 something experience. As a parent, I must remember what it was like when I was 14 or 16 if I am to make a connection with my daughters even though they are wearing me out.
I think Eadaoin and Grace have crafted a plan to exhaust me before Hanukkah. I’m not sure to what end but the means are clear. Eadaoin’s school counselor phoned me yesterday morning. She had her “I need to handle the parent” voice on. Oh boy.
“Hi, this is Ms. Payne, Eadaoin’s school counselor. I’ve got Eadaoin in here with me. I think we need to talk together so I’m going to put you on speaker, okay?”
I rolled my eyes. I know, I know.
“One of Eadaoin’s friends was concerned about her which is why she’s in here today.”
Oh boy! One of her friends was concerned? What is Eadaoin up to?
“It seems that Eadaoin is cutting. Now, before you get upset I just need you to understand that cutting is not a suicide attempt. So, let me tell you what cutting is…”
Stop. Hold it. I know what cutting is. Eadaoin knows that I know that she cuts. Eadaoin usually gives me her X-Acto knife when she starts cutting, or, at the very least, she tells me that she’s doing it. I grew up with a mother who cut often. It’s not something that causes me to run around flailing my arms in the air. People generally cut for emotional pain relief and the subsequent endorphin release. Our pain receptors and emotional pain receptors run on the same neural pathways in the brain. This is why cutting makes sense as a coping strategy. It’s highly maladaptive, but it is a strategy nonetheless.
I interrupted Ms. Payne, “I know that Eadaoin cuts. I know the reasons behind cutting. Eadaoin has been cutting for over a year. This isn’t new to me. Is this why she’s in your office?”
“Oh, well, okay. No, there is another reason. Apparently, she has been, on occasion, making herself throw up after she has eaten.”
And, there it is. My empathetic parent wanted to get up and leave the house. I felt done. No more. My inner well of patience felt dried up. I needed to start digging. I did not know what to say. I could hear Ms. Payne say, “I would say that this is disordered eating. It’s early.”
My next question was, “Does your therapist know, Eadaoin? Have you told Jessie?”
I knew exactly what she looked like when I heard her quiet response, “No…”
Ms. Payne answered for her, “She was afraid of telling you. She thought that if her therapist knew that you would find out.”
“What have I ever done that would provoke fear?”
“Nothing. I don’t know why I’m scared.”
Doireann has always said that everyone is afraid of disappointing me. No one cares if they disappoint their dad, but it suddenly becomes real if I know. From my perspective, I just want to know the truth so that I can connect them to the right resources. They are afraid that I’ll be disappointed. Truthfully, I was pissed. I was angry because we’ve given Eadaoin every therapeutic opportunity possible short of an inpatient setting, and she half-asses her way through all of it. I’ve got to agree with Ron Swanson on this one:
I really want Eadaoin to whole-ass therapy. So, I asked her directly, “Eadaoin, do you want the inpatient experience? Are you trying to ask for that by increasing your target behaviors? It’s not enjoyable. Grace can fill you in on that.”
She was quick to deny it. No! She didn’t want that at all!
“Then, what is going on?”
Little was resolved on the phone what with Ms. Payne trying to be the counselor. It wasn’t a long call. She commented on what a short call it was. Well, we’re not novices at this point. Eadaoin may appear to be the mental health ingénue, but she’s far from it. When I finally was able to speak to her in person, she admitted that cutting had become a habit. She did it when she was stressed. She also said that she wasn’t quite sure why she was making herself throw up. She didn’t understand her own motivation.
It’s complicated. I know that this isn’t necessarily uncommon for 16 year-olds with developing mood disorders. I also know that it’s also common for teens to think that the rules don’t apply to them. Somehow they are the first person in the world who doesn’t need to try in therapy. Sure, their therapist has a PhD, but they know better. They know more than their doctors. I saw this in our DBT skills group–adolescent hubris. No one wanted to look like they actually cared. I recall feeling the same way as a teenager.
To be honest, Grace is easier to manage than Eadaoin because Grace knows that she needs help. Grace seeks it out. Eadaoin, on the other hand, isn’t attached to reality. She seems to think that cutting and purging are all signs of mental stability and appropriate stress management tools.
Right. And I want world peace and a self-warming toilet seat.
And a unicorn.