“I can’t believe this actually happened.”
Shh, Don’t Tell! stories are meant to be heard – in the person’s own voice – as well as for the original music. Please click above and listen, if you can! The transcript is also below.
Narrator: A whole lot had happened, over years before TJ got this phone call.
TJ: My ex-wife calls me says hey, your adopted daughter is now in a mental institution. Can you take her?
Narrator: In this Shh, Don’t Tell Story, TJ and his new wife say yes. A couple of days later, the girl shows up on their doorstep. She has three boxes of stuff.
TJ: I’d say there was maybe four sets of clothes, a bunch of junk.
Narrator: TJ remembers what she looked like that day.
TJ: Black hair. Spitting image of her mother. And she was probably around 50 pounds overweight. No, she was probably more like almost a hundred pounds overweight. And she was on a slew of medications. And when she showed up to the door, she was blank faced. There was no personality, there was nothing
First thing we did was get her in front of a mental health provider, a primary care provider, a dietician, and basically a hospital advocate that helps you get through the care coordination process.
About a year and a half after she’d shown up, we were finally getting the help that we needed and we were, we were actually progressing at that point. We were seeing some light in a tunnel that had had no light for for a year. She’s now 14, 14 and a half? Going on 15 and we’re now running into the teenage stuff, right? This is where things get a little weird.
There was constant lying, even just like, Hey, what’s on that sandwich? Is it butter and jelly or what’s on it? No, it’s a ham sandwich. You go look and it’s peanut butter and jelly. Like there was just a need to lie. There was a need to manipulate. There was a need to not get caught doing something wrong.
She just had these needs and myself, I’m a very blunt, straightforward, straight shooting guy so I get lied to and it just like sends me over the edge. Freaks me out.
I opened up the sandwich. I’m like, okay, if it’s a ham sandwich, where’s the ham? This is not something you can lie to me about. So why are you lying to me?
So when she ended up getting emotional, it was full on 14-year-old kid on the floor doing full on tantrums. And that’s you know, kicking your legs and flinging your arms and screaming at the top of your lungs. You know, crying until you puke. Three days a week, somebody was coming into our home and sitting down with the family and doing a full on therapy session with everybody. And it was to help us teach our adopted daughter how to communicate, how to self-manage and regulate her emotions herself and how for us to be able to interact with her in such a way that it was actually positive reinforcement, how to ensure that she was actually receiving the, the tough love that she needed as it may be. I mean, there’s stuff that you just can’t allow in your home. Right? I mean, it got to the point to where we had to remove all sharps. Anything with any edges, razorblades knives, steak knives, anything you’d cut your meat with like, a pair of scissors we couldn’t have in our home.
She’d cut herself. She would harm herself and we actually got to the point where we realized that if we ended up breaking her reality as it may be, she would actually come after us. And it happened a few times in regard to her coming after us, locking us in a room, blocking a door or something along those lines. It got to the point where my wife and I were sleeping in shifts to make sure that one of us was awake so our daughter didn’t have the opportunity to walk in and stab us in our sleep.
I was scared, overwhelmed, lost and trying to find any solution that would work for my situation. And I wanted it to be instantaneous and it, it wasn’t available.
I don’t know how many times I ended up calling the cops as I was restraining my daughter on the floor, holding her down and just laying on top of her and being like, nope, you’re not moving, you’re not. You’re done. You are now restrained. The cop that actually helped me taught me how to restrain a very large person, told me exactly how far I could go in regard to what my restraints were, um, and told me when my triggers were. So the triggers in this case, if she said that she was going to harm herself, if she was over the top, emotionally unstable, or if she threatened us. In any one of those three instances, I was allowed to restrain her and call the cops instantly.
They would usually come in and arrest her.
One time, I can’t believe this actually happened. So her room was getting to the point to where we started actually having rats come into the house. So we decided that we were going to have her leave the house with one of the psychiatrists so that we could actually clean the room. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist bailed on us, so she was actually in the room and we were like, we need to do this. This is now like a health hazard. This has to be taken care of. So my wife went into the room, went to go start cleaning up and my daughter swung at her. At which point my wife actually – I’m quite impressed by this – turned her around and put her on the bed and then sat on her, at which point she ended up getting elbowed in the face by my daughter. At which point I was like, you’re out.
So I kicked my wife out of the room. I walked in and said, you’re going to try that with me? And she was like, yeah, and swung. And I took it, put her on the ground, left her there. She is now doing the eight-year-old tantrum thing. My wife is on the phone with the cops. The cops are hearing all of it. They were at our house within like three minutes. I mean, it was probably the fastest response time we’d ever had. Cop walks in. Sees what’s going on. Looks at my daughter and says, are you done now? I’m here. You’re going to have to stop this. And my daughter actually threatened him, at which point he pulls his gun on her and says for me to get up and get out of the way.
At which point my daughter looking at him…and actually stopped.
So now I’m sitting there with cop who’s now put his gun away, thank God. And the cop looking at me going, you’ve done everything you can, you need to go. We will figure out how to deal with your daughter. Okay. So I went outside and I’m a smoker. I smoked, freaked out myself, like not understanding how we landed in this place, not understanding how it could get this far. Um, and not understanding what my next steps were. Like there was no next steps at this point. She couldn’t come back into our home, She couldn’t go anywhere. And the cop was giving us no options.
Honestly, there was a level of relief because it pretty much broke the camel’s back. It basically created a situation in which there was no way we were going to be able to manage it any longer.
We weren’t making any progress at that point. We’d, we’d hit a plateau and there was nothing else we could do and we knew it. And it sucked. As a father, I felt like I had truly failed my daughter.
Right after that episode she ended up going into a residential. Which was basically a psychiatric group home for teens who are all kind of facing the same thing. So she went for eight months to do that program. About six months after she comes back, she’s now ran away once, has gotten in trouble with the cops twice now and things are going south again pretty quickly, At which point I finally went to the DSHS, which is the department of child and care safety. And basically said, look, my daughter is again, a hazard to herself and a hazard to us. We don’t feel safe in our own home. I pretty much dropped two binders in front of them and said, look, here’s all the notes from the past three and a half years. You can’t force us to keep her.
At which point the state basically said, okay, we’re going to ship her to Nevada. There is an intensive care unit down there. We will pay for her to be in that facility for three months. You’ll have to pay for three months. That’s the full program. When it’s done, we’ll reevaluate. O-kay. So we paid out the nose. Getting her down there and getting everything done, getting it taken care of. And when the evaluation came back, they said, she’s still a danger to herself and to others. You cannot put her into a family structured home. It just, it won’t work. At which point we were like, okay, she’s not allowed in our home, we’re done. So we had to go stand in front of the judge and the DA and tell them flat out, I’m sorry we cannot take care of our child any longer. (sigh)
Narrator: And TJ didn’t, any more. At least, not in his home.
Narrator: But a lot happened after that moment in the courtroom. And TJ and his daughter are in regular touch.
Special thanks to Baby Blues Connection for help with Shh, Don’t Tell! Stories, to Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists for our awesome theme and other music and to cellist Collin Oldham for his terrific compositions and scoring.