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The Most Traumatic Birthday Present – Lemons

By May 21, 2015May 15th, 20202 Comments

Happy Birthday Chloe! She’s 14 today.

One year ago on her birthday, I signed the paperwork to send my 13 year old daughter to residential treatment for her mental illness. What a birthday present! After sending the papers, it was a waiting game to find out when the facility would have a bed available for her. I was a mess. Not only because the treatment facility was located nearly four hours away but because Chloe had no idea of our decision. Furthermore, we were clueless about what to expect. This was new to my husband and me. Neither of us had ever been in the “system.” We both had come from middle class families and had post graduate degrees. This didn’t happen to people like us. We never imagined one of our children would need to be committed to a treatment facility involuntarily.

But this does happen to people like us and we didn’t make the decision lightly. We knew for a while that this would be the result for Chloe. Years of dysfunctional coping skills, parenting and inadequate support in the public schools left Chloe with little hope to be successful. It was past the point of no return and it was obvious to us if we didn’t take drastic action, something catastrophic might likely occur in her life, our other daughter’s life and ours.

I  checked almost daily with the treatment facility whether a bed had opened for her while dreading the day it did. I remember like it was yesterday. I had checked on a Monday, June 2, 2014, to be exact. The intake coordinator said it could be months before something opened. There wasn’t a bed available anywhere in the state. I felt relieved but anxious. I had a meeting the next morning and headed into the office around noon, opened my email and there it was. “URGENT: Bed Available!” The intake coordinator said we could have the spot at the treatment center on Thursday, June 4, if we wanted it. “Oh God, that’s only two days away!” I panicked. But I called Jeff to confirm what I already knew we needed to do and quickly replied yes to the administrator.

The next 48 hours were a blur filled with anxiety, guilt and determination. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was prepare the best I could for the hellish day Thursday would be. Since we had been planning on sending Chloe to treatment, I had purchased a large bag, some clothes and bathroom essentials. That was the easy part. The hard part would be getting her there and we knew the only way we could was to trick her and lie to her. Chloe and I had been planning on traveling to California to see my nephew graduate from high school, so my husband and I decided that would be the ruse. On Thursday, June 4, with a prescribed sedative added to her morning meds, Chloe, my mom and I headed for what Chloe thought was California.

Luckily, she fell asleep in the car within the first half hour. My mom and I chatted our way up Interstate 5, hoping Chloe would continue snoring until we arrived at the treatment center. About one hour outside of the facility location, Chloe woke up. My stomach dropped and I thought I might throw up. But she didn’t even notice that all the road signs were pointing north to Portland instead of south. She happily popped in a DVD, put on her headphones and started coloring to keep herself busy.

She continued to color and watch her movie as we drove into the city and arrived at the campus of the treatment facility. Thinking we were lost and needing directions, Chloe kept asking us where we were and what we were doing. I told her Ma Ber (my mom) needed to get something. When we finally found her unit, my mom hopped out of the car to retrieve some staff to help us out. Chloe still thought we were getting directions. She didn’t have a clue. Three staff members came out to greet us and I got out of the car and Chloe followed suit. One of the staff said, “You must be Chloe,” and extended a hand to shake.

That’s when it hit her that something was off. “What is this place,” she demanded, as the color drained from her face. “Let’s go inside,” my mom said. So we started walking toward the secured 10 foot gate to enter the unit with Chloe reluctantly following.

The next two hours were hell. I can easily say this was the hardest, most traumatic day of my life, as it definitely was for Chloe. While I went in another room for about an hour to speak with the psychiatrist and therapist, mom helped the staff unload Chloe’s belongings from the car and sit with her. Chloe would have nothing to do with my mom and sat in a corner hugging her stuff, wailing like a primal animal and banging her head against the wall. It was torture.

After my meeting with the staff was finished, we made a plan on how I would exit the facility and leave Chloe there. When I went out to the room she was in we embraced and she bawled asking over and over, “Why mama, why? I’ll be better. I promise. I’ll be good.” I knew it was time to go and promised I would be back to visit her the next day. She wrapped her arms around me not letting go. The treatment staff had to pry her arms away and hold her back while mom and I jumped in the car and left.

Sometimes doing the right thing is also the hardest. Jeff and I can definitely attest to that. It was by far the hardest decision either of us have ever made but certainly the best for Chloe. We started to see little changes in Chloe at first but during her stay in treatment something finally clicked. She called me one night and told me she had an epiphany during one of her groups. “I saw my bad behaviors and habits in other members in my group and I don’t want to be like that anymore!” It was music to my ears. She got it and from that point on has worked hard to redefine herself.

After she returned home, everyone noticed a difference in Chloe – friends, teachers, neighbors. “She’s a different kid,” they’d say. We say she’s not a different Chloe just a better version.

Happy birthday Chloe! We’re definitely celebrating with lemonade this year!

Andrea Berryman Childreth

Author Andrea Berryman Childreth

Andrea Berryman Childreth is an award-winning author of the book, ON THE EDGE: Help and hope for parenting children with mental illness, founder of The Lemonade Project, advocate and parent coach. She has first-hand experience with parenting a mentally ill daughter and has struggled with mental illness, herself. Her goal is to help empower people to openly share their stories and improve access to equitable mental health services.

More posts by Andrea Berryman Childreth

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Avatar Jason Wright says:

    that is so touching. It hits home in so many ways. Not only did i have to check into a facility, my daughter harley had to do the sAme. She fortunatley told me she wanted to kill herself, and told me how she was going to do it. My heArt just burst! What did i do that messed up my baby so bad?? I carried a ton of guilt, still do.

    • Andrea Berryman Childreth Andrea Berryman Childreth says:


      It’s hard not to take on guilt when you know you’ve passed a mental illness to a child. But just like diabetes, it’s a chemical imbalance you or your daughter can’t control and neither of you should be ashamed. Don’t blame yourself. Be grateful for your decision to get her the help she needed. Take care! Andrea

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