What You Left Behind- Mental Illness, Addiction And My Niece Stephaney Mahaney…

UPDATE 12-01-2018– My niece was located by Officer Davis this evening at 4:49PM living in a box and choosing to be homeless. While her mother, Cindy and I are helpless to change her mind and force her into treatment because she’s an adult, we are heartbroken that my niece has apparently been using drugs again and was highly confrontational and agitated. Because officers were unable to issue a medical warrant, my sister and I had no choice other than to leave Stephaney in her box until we can get psychologists at JPS to interview her and issue a mental warrant in order to return her to psychiatric care. Thank you for your prayers and shares. 

While we hope my niece will finally straighten up and turn her life around but, it’s been a choice that only she can make. Parents and family members of drug addicts with mental health issues are sadly, those who struggle with an inability to change the dynamics of a loved one. 

While it is my fervent hope that one day my niece decided to turn her life around, at 31 years old, the reality of her choices is breaking not only my heart but also my twin sisters and Stephaney’s twin daughters.

Looking for my niece has become a part time job for Cindy and I. For seventeen years now, disappearances for a day here or a few days there have been a regular occurrence. 

Cindy and I have learned to look for the car she lost while wandering aimlessly around forgetting she had a car to begin with. We’ve learned that homeless people talk for enough money and 10% of the time, they’ve helped us locate Stephaney. Ninety percent of the time, they lie and happily take our money. 

We’ve had years of worrying about Stephaney. Years. Stephaney is Bipolar and like my stepdaughter, Ann, Stephaney does well for a while and then goes off her meds. 

We lost Ann a few months ago. My husband had forty years of his life spent trying to get Ann on track again only to lose her over and over again. My husband realizes that dealing with a family member with mental illness is painful, unrewarding and often dissapointing. 

You try to help but, eventually, the Psych Ward visits and the demands to take medication often have the patient retaliating and/or going off on their own, making bad choices. 

My husband reminded me today about Oklahoma and Stephaney missing. I’ve been so preoccupied the past three days running here, there or anywhere after yet another false sighting that I had forgotten Oklahoma. Lack of sleep and appetite have gotten the better of me. 

But, unlike Oklahoma, this time Stephaney hasn’t called home. I reminded my husband that this time is different. Stephaney always calls home. 

Five years ago, I was looking for my niece to join me as a translator at one of the largest weddings I’ve ever officiated in downtown Fort Worth. Stephaney had been living in an apartment her mother was paying for at the time. Cindy and I bought her groceries and begged her to get a job on a weekly basis. 

On the day before my extravagant booking, I picked Stephaney up and brought her to my home, I dressed her up and took her job hunting. Stephaney was hired twice that day. She’s beautiful, she’s funny and she’s articulate and I assumed that our issue of Stephaney going back to work had been solved. Thinking my niece would pull out of it, I was sadly mistaken. 

The following morning, I drove to her apartment to take her to the wedding with me and, she’s in the wind.

I found another translator for the wedding on short notice and while I wondered why Stephaney who had been so excited about going back to work and joining me at the wedding one day earlier hadn’t bothered to call me? I called Cindy on the way to the wedding while both of us wondered where she could be and more importantly, who she was with. 

At the time, Stephaney didn’t have a car. I had a great day with her playing dress up going through my closets and taking her to lunch before job hunting. Why would she run off? Stephaney had hitched a ride in a stolen 18 wheeler with Mr Wrong leaving her worried family back home in Texas. 

Stephaney had gone off her medication again and my day of thinking I had her back on track was blown to Hell. Stephaney trusts the wrong people. Stephaney makes choices that put her in danger and Stephaney wound up in jail. 

Last February, Stephaney was arrested on a DWI. For months she’s been out on bond and, out of control. The man who posted her bond, Larry Brown didn’t listen to her mother or I when we begged him not to bond her out. Because Larry posted bond, the last year of dealing with Stephaney has destroyed our family. Larry thought Cindy and I were being mean begging him not to post bond but, we’ve had 31 years of this and therefore knew better. Had he left her in jail, she would still be incarcerated and safe now. 

Stephaney has been involuntarily committed eleven times in 9 months. Trying to get my niece stable has been my biggest failure in life. I can do a lot of things but, I can’t fix Stephaney. 

Thanksgiving Day was a great day with Stephaney. She was stable on her medication in a group home and supposedly looking for a job. Cindy and I took her to lunch every few days and bought her clothing. We brought her cigarettes and bus passes and we hoped she would finally “pull out of it” but, again we would be counting our chickens before they had hatched. 

On 11-28-2018, my twin sister met me at my home to drive to South Fort Worth for a meeting with the owner of the Group Home that MHMR had paid for my niece to be a resident at. Transferred to the Group home from JPS LCA, we thought that Stephaney would adjust, get a job, save up money and eventually, get an apartment but, we were wrong again. Our begging and pleading for Stephaney to get on track fell on deaf ears. 

The owner of the Group home called me several times Tuesday after we had taken Stephaney shopping and to lunch before bringing her back to the home. The owner, Angela claimed that she “wanted to talk to Cindy and I” on Wednesday but, what she really wanted was to evict Stephaney although she had been paid a full months rent by MHMR. 

For fifteen months now, my niece has been out of control. From refusing to take her medication to refusing to look for a job, Stephaney has also been involuntarily committed over and over again and once released, the cycle starts all over again. 

Many people have responded to the latest developments with Stephaney shaking their heads and asking us “again?” What they fail to realize is that if you have a member of  your family struggling with mental illness, you don’t just give up on them. You don’t stop loving someone because they can’t get their shit together. Instead, you try to pull them back up and get them back on track. 

You take a deep breath and you become a detective when they go missing again. Cindy and I have successfully found my niece time and time again over the years. We’ve went to bad areas, we have looked under bridges and overpasses, we’ve checked bus stops and when we can’t find her the police have. If we can’t find her, she’s ALWAYS previously been involuntarily committed after being transferred by the police to JPS. The psychologists call me or Cindy and tell us “we have her.” 

Yes, my niece is missing AGAIN but, this time it’s different. This time, a stranger had her phone within an hour of me speaking to her. This time she was nowhere to be found and this time, Stephaney is still missing. 

Cindy and I left the Group Home with Stephaney in my SUV at approximately 11AM on 11-28-2018 after loading all of her possessions into my SUV. Yes, it was a “heavy” moment of more despair for us again as usual not knowing what to do with Stephaney but, I had already called JPS LCA to return Stephaney. They had a bed waiting but, Stephaney insisted on going to MHMR. I have no idea what Stephaney was opposed to JPS. But, I didn’t want to argue. 

I had been in Stephaney’s “room” at the Group home while unloading clothing we had bought for her. I had seen the stark walls and the cots without blankets or pillows and I had told her “this is temporary. You can get on track and get your own place after you get a job. Maybe you could meet a nice friend and have a real relationship. Just take your medicine and stay stable. It’s just a place that’s a pause in your life. Try to stay positive. We love you. The twins love you. It will be okay.”  

The “rooms” of these Group Homes are remarkably similar to a prison cell. How so? Two cots to a room. That’s right I said cots. “Guests” of group homes are charged 5-800 a month for paltry meals and also assigned housework chores. They are depressing. People wandering around and often talking to themselves. Everyone in that home was transplanted from JPS. These homes are traditional 3 bedroom 2 bath homes that house 2-3 people per room.

Group homes are a money maker. Psych Wards refer patients to group homes. MHMR helps subsidize the transition. 

The Group home Stephaney was evicted from had been paid by MHMR for a month. Stephaney was being evicted after two weeks. The Group home owner, Angela  had told me she had already contacted MHMR about evicting Stephaney. Angela had “rope a doped” Cindy and I By not telling us she would be kicking out Stephaney until we arrived. 

The owner also lied about contacting MHMR about evicting Stephaney. Why? To continue receiving payments from MHMR that’s why. I told MHMR for her about the eviction upon arriving with Stephaney to check her in. 

Upon arriving at MHMR, my niece was agitated. She was angry and off her meds and advised her mother, Cindy and I “I’m an adult. I don’t need you in here with me.” Because of her agitated state, Cindy and I walked back to my SUV. We were deflated. 

What were we going to do about Stephaney? She’s healthy, happy and stable one day and the next? Who knows. 

Why couldn’t my niece get a good job, or find a life partner? Why couldn’t Stephaney straighten up? Mental illness is a cloud of fear and worry for families of those struggling with mental illness, addiction or both. You never are really at peace. You worry all the time. Late night phone calls scare you. Not being able to contact your loved one terrifies you. 

Cindy and I waited in my SUV at MHMR with all of Stephaney’s hastily packed  “latest belongings” from the Group home  for an hour or so before Stephaney decided to tell us to leave. She was angry at us for being angry about her being homeless by getting evicted. Cindy and I were angry at her for getting evicted. We didn’t want to leave Stephaney at MHMR but, knew it would be 2-3 hours for Stephaney to get a list of new group homes and she obviously didn’t want us to be there waiting with her. 

Right now as I look out my living room window, all of the clothes the shoes the purses and the jackets Cindy and I bought Stephaney the past two weeks sit in the back of my SUV. I cannot bring myself to unload them. Simply can’t. The last time I saw my niece she was yelling at Cindy and I to “go away. I can handle this. You act like I’m a child. I’m going to get another group home.” 

If I had just taken her to JPS rather than MHMR, my niece would be safe right now. My niece would be in a controlled environment but, my niece didn’t want to go back to JPS. 

Stephaney insisted on MHMR where everyone is a number and where no one cares that she disappeared from. Guilt wraps me in its ugly embrace because I didn’t do things differently. I should have ignored Stephaney and waited. I should have asked her to take her medication and I should have probably taken her to eat. But, she wanted to go straight to MHMR from the Group home and, I had listened to her.

I had allowed Stephaney’s anger to affect my decision to wait on her at MHMR. Guilt that I can’t fix Stephaney or this time find her haunts my waking hours. Nightmares rob me of any sleep. 

Cindy and I blame ourselves for running errands while waiting for her to see a case worker and leaving MHMR. Cindy and I blame ourselves about losing Stephaney in a seedy area. We cry. We get angry about the things we’ve been through with Stephaney. We blame ourselves. Why couldn’t we save Stephaney? 

Last night, my husband reminded me that Cindy and I have done far more than anyone else would to help Stephaney. He watches me cry calling every number to get in touch with someone. He sees my helplessness. I’m a planner. I like predictability and stability. My niece is neither predictable or stable. 

Since I needed to mail marriage licenses,  Cindy and I left Stephaney at MHMR on 11-28-2018 and went to Hulen post office and upon parking, got a call from Stephaney’s cell phone asking about a bus pass. 

The timeline of this call would be very important in her disappearance. 

At 2:04PM Stephaney called my cell phone from her cell phone. I told her we were running a few errands and leaving the post office but. would be back to pick her up at MHMR and buy her a bus pass in 15-20 minutes. 

Cindy and I left the post office and returned to MHMR where the lady helping her advised us she had left. Why would Stephaney leave when she knew we were coming to pick her up? She had no money, no food, no bus pass and nowhere to go. I don’t believe my niece left MHMR. I believe my niece was abducted. 

Cindy and I drove for hours searching for my niece near MHMR. We drove back to the Group home we drove to the bus stops we drove to the mall and we couldn’t find her anywhere. Throughout our search, we continued to call Stephaney’s cell phone every 2-3 minutes. We would never talk to her again on her cell phone. 

Cindy and I had assumed that we had to wait 24 hours to file a missing persons report. This is inaccurate. If someone is missing- call 911 immediately. 

I’ve never filed a missing persons report and hoped my niece would call as she always has in the past. This time she hasn’t. The reason for this is because she doesn’t have her cell phone. 

Of course Cindy and I had no idea that Stephaney’s cell phone had been stolen or sold within minutes of me telling her I would be back in 15-20 minutes. 

From 2PM on 11-28-2018 to 11:15AM on 11-29-2018, Cindy and I continued to call Stephaney’s cell phone. We had told her Stephaney we were coming back to MHMR to pick her up and she would have waited for us. She always has. But, Stephaney was missing. 

On Thursday, calling Stephaney’s cell phone again, a man answered my nieces cell phone at 11:15AM which was why Cindy and I knew someone had somehow obtained her cell phone. We also had assumed that Stephaney was most likely in trouble and a victim of robbery. Hearing the homeless man tell me he had bought the phone from a man, Cindy and I were alarmed, frightened and horrified. I offered to buy the phone back from him. It was the only link to finding Stephaney we had. 

No, we weren’t afraid to go find this guy and buy that phone back because he was the missing link. That phone contained the last phone calls or text messages my niece had made. That phone was mysteriously out of her hands and in his within an hour. 

He had declined our calls for 22 hours before finally answering. He had something to hide. If the police would ever contact us- they could find out what. If someone would pull that video, they might find out where and how Stephaney disappeared. 

The cell phone lifeline for Stephaney to contact her mother and I had managed to fall into someone else’s hands. We told this person that we were going to the police to file a missing persons report and that we would buy it back from him upon leaving the police. 

At the police station, we advised the officer that a man had her phone and we were going to meet him. He took our report but failed to give us the assigned detectives contact information. I called him back after meeting the phone guy. He’s yet to return my call or tell me the detective on this case. 

We finally met the stolen phone guy in Kennedale and bought the phone back for $30. He claims he bought it from another man but, until police interview him, he’s my main suspect. How could someone steal a phone and within an hour resell it five miles from where Stephaney was? I don’t believe it. 

Checking Stephaney’s phone, the last call was to me at the post office. The next call was to the man who had the phone. He had called himself from her phone. He knows something but, without help from the police, I cannot force him to tell us how he had the phone. 

However, getting the police to contact us is so impossible at this point that I’ve filed a complaint against the officer who took the report but won’t take our calls. 

On 11-28-2018 at 2PM, Stephaney was at MHMR on Campus. By 3PM, the man “claiming to have bought it from a bearded white male at the bus stop on McCart in front of the McCart Pharmacy” was. The man had called himself to see if the phone was active. He was also going through Stephaney’s photos and pretty comfortable about telling us he had bought the phone for $15 from someone else. He claimed to not have seen Stephaney. 

How did her cell phone get from MHMR to McCart? This man knows more than he’s telling us. He’s chatty. He calls us to tell us he’s looking for her and so on. 

What he isn’t telling us is whether he was at MHMR on 11-28-2018 at approximately 2PM. I believe he was. Without assistance from the PD though, I cannot force MHMR to pull the video. 

Stephaney is well known as a customer of McCart Pharmacy and Cindy went in to ask if they had seen her on 11-28-2018. They hadn’t. The last time Stephaney picked up her medication was on 11-20-2018 when Cindy took her there. 

Stephaney left behind her twin daughters, her mother and her aunt. Stephaney left behind a family that care about her. Stephaney is missing under mysterious circumstances that most likely involve foul play. 

Stephaney would never have willingly gave up her cell phone. A cell phone her mother has replaced over and over when it was lost for my niece. The cell phone is how we know Stephaney is okay. It’s vitally important that Stephaney has a way to contact us. 

Stephaney will borrow a phone to call her mother or I. Stephaney has never went without checking in with us for more than 24 hours. Stephaney knows Cindy or I will go wherever she is regardless of how dangerous it may be to pick her up. Stephaney has always called us ALWAYS. 

While a few people may roll their eyes that my niece is missing “again,” it should be noted that I hope they never have someone they love missing. 

I hope you never lose sleep and have difficulty eating wondering if your loved one is dead or alive. I hope you never face the frustration of begging someone at the police department to answer your calls or emails and I hope you never face trying to act normal and go to work while wondering if your loved one is being held against their will. 

My sister and I have spent over a year trying to get my niece help. We’ve cried ourselves to sleep hopeless in a world we don’t understand of Psych Wards and homeless people when my niece loses her phone again or wanders the streets off her meds or is involuntarily committed again to JPS. 

It’s an underworld of mysterious people that promise to “help you find her for this or that.” It’s a world where people sell stolen property to one another and think nothing of it. No one wonders where the phone came from or how the other person obtained it. 

It’s a world where no one cares about the person who had a cell phone with photos of their children or their family on it. 

A disposable society where selling a phone isn’t criminal activity? A world where police officers begrudgingly take a missing persons report ONLY after checking the jails. 

The officer frowns about having to prepare the paperwork because the missing person isn’t in jail and treats you like a criminal because you need help. 

You become a beggar. A beggar for assistance or someone willing to follow the leads you have because a person claiming to have bought a stolen phone will sell it back to you. 

You don’t care if you are in danger buying that cell phone back from someone who probably stole it because you need leads. You need whatever you can find for more information. People don’t vanish. 

We’ve paid homeless people for often useless information and we’ve had people tell us “I can help you find her but, I need $500.” When you are desperate you do desperate things. You go to dangerous places and you pay liars, thieves and opportunists for worthless information and broken promises to help you find your loved one. Cindy and I have done all of these things. They see your despair. You are an “EASY MARK.”  

You beg the police officer taking the report to call MHMR and pull the video. You drive the streets stopping officers and strangers to show them a photo. 

You DO WHATEVER YOU CAN to keep looking. You go home change clothes and go to work pretending your life isn’t focused on looking at every person walking and wondering if it’s Stephaney? You nearly rear end the car in front of you to get a better look. 

You cry at the desperation your life has become and you promise her children you will do whatever it takes to find her. 

What you don’t do is listen to people telling you “she’s done this before. I’m sure she’s fine. Stop worrying. Stop looking. Stop paying people for information or calling police numbers for missing persons that go to voice mail and no one answers or calls you back. Stop. Give up.”

Yesterday, I emailed the coroner because I have no idea where my niece is and because I’m desperate to find her. 

I hope you never have to send an email describing your loved ones birthmark or a scar she has from being attacked by a dog as a child. 

I hope you never have to go through photos to make missing posters because the police officer didn’t bother giving you a flyer or a police officer telling you when he took your report “an officer MAY OR MAY NOT CALL YOU IF THEY FIND HER.” This officer acted as if filing a missing persons report was something he wasn’t interested in doing. There is a person missing with mental illness. In nearly three days, no one from Fort Worth PD has called or emailed or bothered to contact us. 

As you sit patiently watching the hours tick away and knowing that every hour is an hour Stephaney is without food, medication, a phone or possibly shelter, you ask yourself if you could have done everything differently? 

My grandniece, Makenna asks if Cindy and I are doing everything we can to find her mom yesterday. Trying to act normal is taking a toll on Cindy and I. 

The next 2 weeks of my schedule are booked solid. Cindy and I took Makenna Christmas shopping while looking at every person walking wherever we went. 

Our minds have never stopped our focus of finding Stephaney. At the grocery store, I think I see her. At the car wash, the pharmacy and anywhere I go I think I see her. It’s devastating. 

We call back missing persons every hour and never get a return call. We try to look happy with Makenna shopping for a Christmas gift for her mother while wondering if Stephaney will ever open it?  

While waiting for Makenna to finish shopping, Twila calls and thinks she has seen Stephaney near Ridgmar. You check out of Ross and drive quickly to scan the area looking for Stephaney but never finding her. 

Desperation brings you to tears but, you have a wedding rehearsal in a few hours at Bell Tower. You need to change clothes and put your “happy face” on. 

You need to tell Makenna and Maryssa “it’s okay we will find her” wondering if you will. 

Arriving at Bell Tower, you meet happy people excited about their wedding. You look at Christmas decorations on the houses and you wonder if Stephaney has eaten? Is she warm? Is she safe? You decide to call hospitals after the rehearsal. 

You look at gas stations, bus stops and everywhere in between all the way home. You sister cries about the helpless reality our lives have become. You cry too. 

We left Cindy’s car at Cooks Childrens Hospital Thursday to file a police report after the strange man answered my call to Stephaney’s phone. Cindy was too upset to drive so I loaded her and Makenna into my SUV. 

Makenna is having blinding headaches and we were at her neurology appointment. Your responsibilities don’t end. You become an actress for your clients, your husband, your grandnieces. You hide your fear and your pain. You are a zombie of worry but, you hide your pain. 

What if she hadn’t been angry and told us to leave? What if we had ignored her? What if we had called 911 from MHMR? What if the lady helping Stephaney had called us and told us Stephaney left MHMR?  We gave her a business card. She had our information. She simply LET Stephaney a mentally ill patient of MHMR walk away? 

Why doesn’t anyone at MHMR call us about reviewing the video although they said they would? We went back Thursday and told them Stephaney was missing from THEIR FACILITY. 

Did Stephaney walk away with a stranger? Was Stephaney grabbed in the parking lot of MHMR or off Campus or Seminary? 

There is no way Stephaney could walk to McCart from Campus within an hour. The man who had the phone had it within an hour of me speaking to her on the phone. Was he lying about where he says he bought it? Is he playing with us by calling to say he’s looking for her and wants to help? 

Psychiatric treatment in America sucks. No one cares. It’s a revolving door. For months, people trying to find a loved one have contacted me. Three of them have finally found their loved one. I listened. I cared. I gave them tips on finding them by filing a missing persons report and having the police go to JPS. Yet, I cannot get the police to help me find my niece. 

Everywhere I go, I think I see her. The consistent disappointment of not finding her haunts me. I don’t know why I have been unable to “fix” or “save Stephaney.” Her mother doesn’t either. We love my niece and we desperately want to find her.

Stephaney is 5’7 31 years old and white with long auburn hair. Stephaney has green or hazel eyes. Stephaney is bilingual and speaks fluent Spanish. 

Stephaney was last seen 11-28-2018 at 1PM off Campus Dr at MHMR wearing a black tee shirt, blue denim jeans, a black jacket and black boots. If you have seen her- call Cindy or I at 817-629-0013 or 682-229-6838.