Throughout this whole experience I have remained a middle aged woman and as I enter deeper into middle age I have become extremely cognizant of how I look and how I come across. It’s almost as though I’m back to my daughter’s fragile age of 13; unsure of how my body is changing, freaked out by hair growing in really bizarre places, my changing femininity, and horrified that elastic band pants may be in my life sooner than I thought. I was very aware of this as I got ready to go to our first family meeting with the primary clinician for our daughter at McLean Hospital. I don’t know why in the world I was obsessing over what I was going to wear, how much makeup was going to be smeared on my face or if I washed my hair or not that day but I was. First impressions are everything I kept hearing in the back of my head, especially when your child is in a psychiatric hospital and you are meeting with her team for the first time. So I broke out the tweezers so I didn’t look like I lived in the hills of the Appalachian trail, pulled on mom jeans instead of the skinny jeans that don’t really fit anymore since I’m eating all my feelings and that means all the carbs, and chose a long and covering cardigan. To be clear, I don’t stress out at all about this stuff when getting ready to go out for dinner with my husband or friends. I don’t obsess over what I wear to work as an OT (usually yoga pants and long shirt all day everyday). But here I was absolutely frantic about what I would look like meeting these people working with my precious child. And I wondered WHY THE FUCK DO I CARE SO MUCH?
And then it came to me, the big DUH moment. It’s the anticipated judgement. When your child is in a psychiatric hospital, there is a certain assumption that we think people make and that is that it is all the parents’ fault. It must be, right? The child was abused, or neglected, or put down, or the family lacks structure, or whatever is what you think they are thinking about you. And you want them to see that maybe you haven’t always had shining moments of parenting but for the most part you’re doing the best you can with the skill set you were given and own. And maybe you’ve said shit or fuck one too many times in front of your kid, or ignored them when on the phone or computer, or yelled at them when your last nerve was lit up like the tree at Rockefeller plaza but all in all you’re doing the best you can with what you have and you love your child with your whole heart and just want to see her get better. So the rationale with obsessing over presentation is that you want them to see you as having it all together even if you really don’t because that’s just impossible.
And as I sat in my car thinking about what shade of lipstick would go best with a team meeting about my suicidal daughter I laughed until the tears came. If I were going to hear about the treatment plan if my child had diabetes, would I give a rat’s ass about my lip color or clothing? Maybe I would care about the chin hairs but the lipstick? No, I think not. And I realized it is me that is holding onto the assinine assumption that I am to blame for my daughter’s illness. That somehow this whole great big mess is all my fault. And when my husband and I sat down with the team, they never once assumed this was all our fault for being the only parents we know how to be. The only assumption they had was that our daughter is sick and she needs help and they can help her. Sure there are things we need to do for her once she comes home, much like we would have to give her insulin if she had diabetes. So yesterday I not only shed the notion that I am somehow ultimately to blame for my daughter’s illness but also the notion that everyone else is thinking that about me. And it felt freeing to sit and listen to the clinician talk about how hard working and motivated and sweet our beautiful daughter is and not about finding the blame for her illness. So here’s to letting go of our own perception of judgement around our own and/or our loved one’s mental health.
And elastic waist pants.