Visitation Areas, Vending Machines & Doing Our Very Best…

Hoping to get off to a fresh start this year with minimal family drama, as usual, things have taken a step back with my niece, Stephaney missing two court dates while involuntarily committed at JPS Local Alternative Commitment for the thirteenth time in the last 12 months. 

For fourteen years now, we have hoped and prayed that Stephaney would straighten up and become an active part of her twin daughters lives. We had only three years of Stephaney being stable out of fourteen. Tragically, Stephaney will be moving from treatment to jail again. 

Stephaney is beautiful and funny but, she’s also Bipolar One and addicted to meth. It’s the hardest thing in the world to watch her backtrack and lose everything over and over. We are helpless. The twins are now fourteen years old. Trying to get my niece stable has been my biggest failure. At 31 years old, I have no idea if incarceration will work better than psychiatric care but, upon her release from JPS, she will report straight to Parker County Jail for outstanding bench warrants due to her missed court cases. 

Stephaney and her actions have left a cloud over our family for over a year now. The stress is taking a toll on my twin sister and I. 

Headed to Benbrook Stables to meet my clients, I decided to take a thirty minute ride to clear my head since I was an hour early. From getting to my doctor appointments to getting my nails done or even my hair cut the past year, finding time for myself between clients and Psych Ward visits has been an impossible task. 

It’s so hard to find any time for myself these days that I grab a moment whenever possible to occupy my mind. Work helps. I’m at so many Units this month with a mix of traditional clients that bouncing from visits to Stephaney at LCA must be “worked into” not only my schedule but also my twin sisters as well as visits to Maryssa at Mesa Springs. 

Last week, Stephaney’s daughter, Maryssa decided to run away from home due to falling grades. This was of course the last thing we needed but, Stephaney’s twin daughters have been raised since birth by my twin sister, Cindy the primary guardian. 

For a year now, Maryssa has been acting out and blaming her behavior on her mother, Stephaney. Maryssa was first committed a year ago after playing the choking game. Diagnosed with Suicidal Ideation, Maryssa is now on her 3rd involuntary commitment. 

At Christmas, Maryssa was happy and things were going well. How did we get from a happy holiday to running away and threatening to kill herself over grades? I have no idea. Just when I thought we had Maryssa back on track. We lost her again. 

Maryssa continues to make bad choices and we are now shifting from focusing on Stephaney, Dad and Maryssa to only Maryssa because bouncing to THREE Psych Wards to visit THREE relatives over and over again for over a year is killing us. 

What’s also stressing me out is interference from others who continue to give us uneducated advice. Unless someone has dealt with the family crisises we have, they have no idea what they are talking about. But, everyone contacting me has plenty of advice on a situation they are completely ignorant about. My dad is an adult. Stephaney is an adult. They are going to have to solve their own problems. I’ve spent a year trying to help get my dad and niece stable and, it’s been a year too long for me and my sister. 

My grandniece, Maryssa is fourteen and we still have a chance at getting her on the right path. Only dad and Stephaney can make the decision to get it together. We can’t do it for them and we are tired of trying. 

With a burdened schedule of up to 25 bookings a month, visiting relatives at three separate psych wards everyday is just too much. I went to visit Maryssa last night with her twin sister, Makenna. My heart is broken over trying to fix my family. I want peace and tranquility but, I’m not in control. 

Work is my only predictable aspect of life now. Work takes my mind away from family. I’m thankful for the breaks away from mental visits as is Cindy. We look forward to road trips and meeting clients. We look forward to not thinking or worrying about our families. We both look forward to drama free home lives at some point. 

Cindy and I have been caretakers all of our lives. I wonder if in our old age there will be anyone interested in caring for us? Our husbands are both significantly older than Cindy and I.

Visits to Psych Wards take place in a visitation area. I Officiate Prison Weddings in a visitation area. The similarities aren’t lost on me. Entering a Psych Ward, you are wanded. You bring nothing in with you other than your ID, a debit card or quarters at a Psych Ward. The vending machine is the highlight for patients as well as inmates. 

Watching Maryssa and Makenna go over to the vending machine together, I wonder how on earth my grandniece has continued to make bad choices? I consider the tens of thousands of dollars in psychiatric treatment and wonder when we can see results? 

This morning, Cindy and I went to a “family meeting” at Mesa Springs for Maryssa. These meetings usually don’t go well. Why? Because these meetings are all about Maryssa. Don’t try to interject how tired you are of the Psych Ward visits or how Maryssa’s decisions have affected your family. Oh no. Instead, you are told that Maryssa needs outpatient school miles from your home for up to 6-8 weeks. Upon release, you will now be driving her to a treatment center on outpatient basis. 

Today, I decided to go over how Maryssa has affected our entire family. How we are tired of these running away excursions that result in yet another stay of 7-14 days at a mental institution. Today, I decided to hold Maryssa accountable and stop allowing he to blame everything on everyone except herself. No, the counselor didn’t like it but, I didn’t care. 

Runaways cause stress to families and in my opinion, running away should be a crime. Runaways should be accountable for dragging their families through worry and sorrow but, in Texas, they aren’t. 

Maryssa had “friends” to hide her out. Maryssa also had a cell phone she could have used to call home and didn’t. Maryssa could have told us she was falling behind in school but, chose to lie about it. 

Maryssa is far more interested in social activities than school. Her twin, Makenna is a straight A student. Maryssa has gravitated towards the wrong crowd of friends. At this rate, I’m beginning to wonder if Maryssa will graduate high school? 

While waiting for Maryssa to be released from Mesa Springs and fielding calls from Stephaney at JPS LCA, Cindy and I both wonder if we can ever have a stress free day? Makenna has decided to go back to public school as has Maryssa after outpatient school. 

I felt Maryssa would be happy to have her twin sister back but, Maryssa wasn’t. I was upset by this? Why is Maryssa determined to isolate Makenna? I have no idea but I also decided to move Makenna to a separate counselor from Maryssa because of it. 

For six months the twins have gone to counseling together. After Maryssa ran away, I decided that their current counselor obviously wasn’t making a difference. 

Today, Cindy and I set Makenna up with her own counselor. It’s time to start giving Makenna the attention she hasn’t been getting while Cindy and I are pulled in every direction visiting three family members in three different Psych Wards. 

I’m sick of visiting Psych Wards. I’m angry about processing in and trying to cheer up the person who put themselves there. Cindy is too. We are tired of buying psych friendly clothing. We are exhausted from trying to look normal in the Hell Hole our family has sucked us into and we are sick and tired of “well wishers” butting in and giving us advice. 

Dragging yourself into yet another Psych Ward visit isn’t easy. It’s emotionally debilitating. Bouncing from one nut house to the next is exhausting! Putting on your happy and hopeful face trying to cheer up the patient is an escapade in futility. 

You are alone in a strange land. You are in unfamiliar and unstructured territory. You look at other Psych Ward visitors and feel their pain. They hopelessness. Their sorrow. They often haven’t slept or eaten. They are consumed with worry about their loved one. You are too. You try to smile back at them. They are as upset about being there as you are. 

Last night, one of the school friends from Hall was in the visitation area. I recognized her from 7th grade where the twins were in school. I asked Maryssa why she was there? “She was bullied at school and tried to kill herself. This is her first time. I feel sorry for her.” I feel sorry for every visitor in the room. Sitting across from us is a young man of about 14 yelling at his dad and grandfather. 

Behind us is a 15 year old girl telling her mom she hates her. Miserably, every visitor to a psych patient is in for a real treat. You don’t know what to expect. As you wait to be herded in, everyone is hopeful. As they sit down or visit the vending machines, things turn sour. Parents beg children to straighten up and get it together. Children rebel. Counselors watch. 

Maryssa isn’t confrontational. She laughs with her twin and acts as if nothing is wrong. As if we are just dropping by to say hello. I’m lost in a Psych Ward visitation area. I’m depressed to even be there again. It exhausts me to run from one relative to the next trying to drag out my happy or hopeful face. Cindy understands this. She feels the same way. Makenna has always went to visit Maryssa and support her sister. 

I reminded Maryssa of this today at the family meeting. I reminded Maryssa how her actions have diverted our attention from her twin too. I reminded Maryssa that she needed to get her act together and fast because we are old and tired. We are overwhelmed. We need her to recognize that this isn’t how we plan to spend our lives. 

Visiting family members 5-7 days a week at mental institutes is the most emotionally debilitating thing I’ve ever done in my life. It is for my twin sister as well. 

Tomorrow, I go back to visit Maryssa because only two visitors are allowed. Tonight, Cindy and Makenna are going to visit. It’s emotionally draining. 

Not knowing what the future holds is the frightening reality of family members who hope for the best while preparing for the worst. 

Stephaney was a problem child by 14. At 15, Stephaney was pregnant with the twins. Cindy and I took on raising the twins because we knew Stephaney wouldn’t. We don’t want to raise more children. Promiscuous teenagers are a real problem. Tying down the reigns with Maryssa is now a priority. 

You don’t ever have the luxury of not being a parent or guardian. Stephaney is 31 and we must step back and let her be held accountable for her actions. We can’t save her anymore. We must put our energy into saving Maryssa and spending more time with Makenna. I’ve given up on my dad. I had to. There isn’t enough of me to juggle all three of them and all four of my businesses. 

The difference between a prison visitation area and a Psych Ward visitation area are structure and predictability. There aren’t any outbursts. Mental patient visits are full of outbursts. The calming point of the visit is the vending machine. Ironic isn’t it? 

I find myself looking at the options of vending machines at Prisons and Psych Wards now. Prisons offer beef jerky. 

Psych Wards offer the traditional crackers or candy. I’ve never bought anything from either variety of vending machines. I have no appetite in a Prison or a Psych Ward. In a Prison, I’m working and in a Psych Ward I’m fretting and worrying. 

Hopefully, Cindy and Makenna’s visit to Maryssa goes well today. I skipped visiting Stephaney today because I’ve got to focus on finding peace. Stephaney wants me to pick her up upon release to take her to Parker County Jail. She wants to stop for a steak. I have treated her to a nice meal over and over after release from Jail or Psych Wards as has Cindy. We wonder why we celebrate these releases but, go along with it. We have no choice. We are ducks rolling in the waves…