On a good day, parenting will test the integrity of your character. On a bad day, parenting will test your will to live. Parenting children with trauma histories will cause you to test the integrity of everything and everyone you thought you knew, for the rest of your life.
~J. Skrobisz

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Horses don't hurt but Mental health does

We turned off the main road and began the mile or so drive on the winding dirt road toward the open field. "Mom. It's getting dirty." The tires had kicked up a plume of dry red dirt, billowing behind us as we jostled over the hard-packed surface, gravel crunching loudly beneath the weight off the vehicle.

"Yes son, that happens when you go down a dirt road."

"But mom, the van needs to get washed now."


We parked the van and got out, the sun beginning to sink in the west while the cattle in the field on the other side of the road lowed and inquired about the new people and horses. The horses whinnied back in response. "Hey, who's over there?" Asked the cows. "We are!" said the horses. seriously, that's what is sounds like.

"Mom. Mom." AB was talking into the wind, away from me. Despite the cuing his OT has taught him for conversation starters, he is reluctant to catch on. "Mom." He continued. "Will I be riding forever?"

We were getting our bearings, finally at the new site, Rock Creek Farm, more than a year in the making. He was excited as was everyone else, horses included. "AB," I replied. "Don't you like riding?"


"So...is it OK if you ride forever?"

"Yeah. I just wanted to know."

"Well, if you want to ride forever, you can."

"So then can I keep it?"

"Keep what?" AB's cryptic conversations are the norm so I just roll with it.


"What is this?" He has trouble producing nouns on command.

"My ... wait, what's it called again?"

"Show me." He pointed to his riding helmet. "Your helmet."

"Oh, yeah. So can I keep it? Like forever?"

Stumped, I answered with a question, "If you want to?"

"OK. Good. You know, for memories."

I laughed. He groaned at my laugh then I handed him the reigns. "Walk your horse to the ring, son."

"Wait, what?"

"The fenced area. Take Sterling to the fenced area so you can mount."


Every Friday night is riding. At one time AB had formal hippotherapy at a different farm. He rode in a Western saddle and was guided through a maze of obstacles all while having to do claps in a rhythm, catching a ball, etc. There's a place for that type of guided therapy but for AB, I felt like it usurped his autonomy. In addition, the proprietor of that farm was reluctant to have parent involvement, seeking to have absolute control of the therapy session. We switched farms where it is an unspoken rule that we come as we are, everyone is welcome, anyone can help out (which is greatly appreciated) and it's a rousing good time for all. AB rides English and is in control of the horse he is riding. He jumps low cross ties, trots and if I say so myself, has a decent post in the saddle when he tries hard and is anxious to learn to canter. According to AB, "that's easy." But of course, he hasn't had the chance to find out yet.

Then after riding, we put up tack, sponge off horses if it's hot or blanket them when it's cold, let them out to pasture and head home. I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday evening. For me, I've learned that the open air of the farm, the gentle nature of the horses and the camaraderie of the parents and riders is a perfect balm for my anxiety. I find myself daydreaming of ways I can get out to the farm more often than once a week, even if it means picking up horse piles and gleaning for rocks in the field. I'm with AB, I hope we do this forever.

Sissy, of course, doesn't usually come. Typically, she will already have had a snooty attitude and lost the privilege but in general, I can't trust that she won't fly into a rage and horses bearing riders are not keen on raging spectators. In other words, I've unofficially decided that unless she's having an unusually good day, she's not welcome. Of course, knowing that I have a Sissy-free zone helps to settle my nerves. But mostly, it's the horses. I just love being with them. They're nothing more than tall dogs, each with their own personalities, quirks, attitudes and favorite people.

It's been busy the past few weeks. Yesterday The Dad remarked that he was sad that we haven't taken full advantage of our Sissy-free time by doing family activities we couldn't otherwise do if she was home. I agreed but mostly I'm just glad for the peace and ease of life. Sure, WG has had her moments lately, taking the opportunity to vent her pent up anger and in true seven year old fashion, has been a royal pest. And AB has had his own moments including a rage on the way home from school on Thursday, complete with kicking the dashboard and tossing his book bag into the front yard. Nothing that a v!sataril and a nap couldn't cure. I've volunteering in the school now, three days a week in the resource room, working with sluggish first grade readers. I'm trying to determine if I'm officially done with being in the classroom or if the teacher flame in me hasn't gone out altogether. I'm thinking, naively, that life is peaceful again and I can begin to think about a career, possibly furthering my education, etc.

Then I make a weekday trip to do a face-to-face therapy session with Sissy at the hospital and I am reminded like a slap in the face with a cold cod fish that this peace isn't forever. After yet one more panic attack on the drive home this week, I've made the decision to never make the hospital trek alone again. The journey home is too isolating and there's not another person to talk to so I can decompress and process my feelings about Sissy and her reluctance to alter her behavior.

Currently, she is not meeting the criteria for placement but medicaid has approved her hospitalization through the first full week of October. After so many hospitalizations and with the limited resources available in our community to assist with her mental health challenges, medicaid thought it beneficial to grant us a little more time to get our ducks in a row. Which of course, is a joke because there aren't any ducks to get in a row. In fact, there's no such thing as water fowl at all when it comes to Sissy and managing her challenges. She still rages there, still refuses to take responsibility for her actions, still won't accept that she has an unhealthy attachment to us, still blames everyone and anything for her present situation and is no different now than she was the first week of August when she entered the hospital. There is no win, there is no hope, there are no ducks to line up. Sissy will come home and hell will return with her.

In a last ditch effort to stir up PRTF level behaviors, next weekend we are doing an overnight TL (therapeutic leave). The objective is to get her home and demonstrate that in the home environment she returns to her dangerous ideations, return her to the hospital and let the staff treat her emotional breakdown. Ideally, they'll have something to chart which will let medicaid know that she does meet medical necessity. In other words, it's all a game. Long gone are the days when healthcare was interested in the well being of the patient. It's all about dollars.

And don't even bother to mention the fact that my mental health is faltering under the weight of this burden. Or that the family isn't functional when Sissy is here but we're a close-kint unit when she's absent. I've gotten a rehearsed response from many different professionals in many different positions in the mental health community. "My mental health has no bearing on the decisions that are made regarding Sissy's mental health." In other words, if I end up in the psych ward because Sissy's challenges are so overwhelming that I lose my stuffing, it's MY problem. Put up or shut up.

It's like playing poker with the dealer using a marked deck in favor of the house.

Until I can learn the marks on the dealer's cards so I can beat the house, I'll be at the farm, spending time with horses that don't reduce me to a panic attack in ten seconds flat. Unfortunately, I fear that the only way I'll beat the house is if someone gets hurt.


Ashley said...

I love the riding part of this post, it makes me miss my own riding days.

as fr the rest... I just don't know. The cards don't make sense. And I'm sorry.

Elizabeth-Anne said...

((((HUGS)))) I have been forcefully reminded this week that when we don't or can't believe in miracles, God sends us friends to pray for them on our behalf. Having seen my miracles and a friend's as well (both in the category that someone else prayed them into being), I am now praying that God sends you a friend like that, with a vision of his healing, that will pray it into existance. Until then, the rest of us are praying for your peace and sanity.

Much love!

Becky said...

^ What she said.

Praying that next weekend stirs the pot and PRTF becomes a potential...

Hugs to you <3

beemommy said...

Oh Lord, I wish Texas was closer to you. Glad that the riding is therapeutic for you both, wishing that the stupid system worked better. Praying that the switch flips immediately upon entering the house and she can return to the environment where she is safe from her own self.

Acceptance with Joy said...

I hope that the overnight leave works to get her the help she needs.

cinch said...

I will give you days and times we are at the barn and you can come anytime just to hang out...you are welcome anytime. It IS peacefull there and we LOVE having you not to mention you are excellent with the horses and the kids - becoming a real pro at everything. Just come on...be with us!