Tag Archives: Self-harm

Light and Shade

IMG_1036I haven’t written anything for a while – too exhausted and unsure what to say. Jo is still at home but thinking seriously about going back to school tomorrow. It is a friend’s birthday, and she evidently feels that she is missing out on a good deal of social life. She can get quite disturbed at home and is very isolated. A couple of days ago Jo left empty sheet of paracetamol tablets ostentatiously on the kitchen table. I had no idea whether Jo had taken one for a headache, or the whole packet. We assumed that a serious suicide attempt would be more secretive, and she has long had a habit of self-medicating, as well as of threatening to kill herself, so I’m afraid we didn’t take all that much notice. I did mention this incident to the art therapist who came this morning, and he said he would have to report it. I also mentioned it to the woman from the LEA who phoned up to do a social assessment for Jo as part of the EHCP. She too was very concerned – although I assured her that Jo’s CAMHS counsellor was aware of her self-harming and state of mind. CAMHS can’t do much about it if Jo won’t engage with the service – I went on my own to her last appointment, as Jo wouldn’t leave the house. Jo wouldn’t engage with therapy at home either, barricading herself in her room when a lovely young woman came to do some drama with her. Jo has always engaged in risky behaviours, and our attitude since she was small was to ask ‘Is it life-threatening’? If the answer was ‘Probably not’ we would let her get on with whatever it was she was doing as supervising her was such extraordinarily hard work.

We had a good family day out visiting relatives a couple of weeks ago. The children are normally reluctant to join in our annual get-together and there have been occasions in previous years when having got them there they refused to get out of the car. Billy was the worst offender, but Jo would keep him company. This time his girlfriend Jane was invited along, which made all the difference. Billy behaved well in front of Jane, and Jane included Jo, making friends with her. Sunday morning we were discussing the success of the previous day when three CID officers turned up at the house. At first Billy assumeUnknownd that they had come to take Jo back to school, and told her as much. They were in plain clothes and an unmarked car, but unmistakably the police rather than Jehovah’s Witnesses (we had them today and they are always in twos rather than threes). To cut a long story short, Billy is in trouble over an incident that happened about fifteen months ago. The police had traced his address through his mobile phone number, which he had exchanged with someone else involved. They had a search warrant and took away Billy’s laptop and phone. He was shaken, as we all were, but resigned. He also had to tell Jane at least some of what it was about as she was in the house at the time and he could hardly conceal that he was in trouble. Billy’s biggest worry seemed to be the effect on Jane and their relationship. The police also made it clear that if he didn’t present himself at a police station for interview they would issue warrant for his arrest.

I had two days to try to find a suitable criminal solicitor, and last Tuesday evening Tony came from work and I picked him and Billy up, and we made our way to the police station where we met the solicitor. She didn’t think that it would be in the public interest to prosecute, but the investigations will take some time and he has evidently been engaged in risky, and often criminal, behaviour for some time. Although we were all in a state of shock, there was also a sense of relief that things were coming to the surface, especially as Billy is still a minor (under 18) and there is an opportunity to address the underlying issues when the legal process has run its course. Prosecution is a real possibility, especially if the police find more incriminating evidence on Billy’s laptop, which they hadn’t had time to go through at that point. Billy did a good job of explaining himself but it was far from evident to us that he understood what he had done, or why it was wrong. He clearly knew that he was in trouble, but seems to live in a world with different values. So far at least Jane and her family have stood by Billy – he was at their house last weekend. Its hard to know quite what she sees in him, although he can undoubtedly be kind and caring, and they seem very much in love. We will make the most of enjoying the positive influence Jane seems to have on him while it lasts.

On Thursday as well as attending Jo’s CAMHS appointment without her, I bought a cheap laptop for Billy so that he can do his college work, and Nokia pay-as-you-go phone so that we can contact him, and he can stay in touch with his friends and tutor. I also had to go to the Job Centre with his birth certificate, which the DWP needed for some reason. They haven’t paid Billy’s benefits this month or last, which makes it hard to pay his rent, but I haven’t had the time and energy to find out what’s going on as yet. As I walked through the front door I could see that all was not well. Although our house is messy and too full of stuff, most of the stuff seemed to be on the floor, along with smashed remote controls and debris. The first thing I saw entering the drawing room was damage to the plasterwork – and I later found a smashed up chicken coup on the decking. I was pretty annoyed, having spent another day running round after the kids while they smashed the place up. Billy had retreated to his room and Jo had calmed down by then. He knows exactly how to push Jo’s buttons by being incredibly rude to her, and she reacts but damaging things to deflect her aggression away from Billy. After the smashing episode she asked him how he would feel if Jane could see him, which touched a very raw nerve. He was sobbing but looked murderous. Tony remonstrated with Billy, who wanted us to simply blame Jo for the damage (and to call the police). His stated ambition has always been to make her so naughty that we get rid of her. He wasn’t in a mood to listen to Tony, but hopefully got the message that provoking Jo to get a result is just not on. It is a pattern repeated endlessly since they were very small, but no joke with two large teenagers.

Sprouting_nut_by_EaglewolfTony and I had a few sleepless nights feeling that we had reached another crisis, or at least turning point. Having both children at home with two parents is tough, but with one parent impossible. We agreed that Billy could only come home if he or Jo had a friend staying so that there is someone to act as a moderating influence on Billy’s behaviour (although this is not always effective) and both parents are at home. Logistically this might be difficult but we have been here before. It means cancelling other plans and commitments, which is annoying but can’t be helped. On the plus side, Billy did apparently attend a music therapy session that took place in college today. I just hope he finds a way to work through some of his anxieties and feelings in a way that enables some positive changes in his life. One of the images that came up in the art therapy this morning was that of a nut, like a conker, hard and brown but breaking open with the green shoots of new life. That is what I would wish for each of us.

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On trying not to over react

IMG_1082Jo was bored. Billy spent Friday night at a friend’s house, then phoned very early Saturday morning to ask how he should get home as there was snow on the ground. We checked the trains on-line, all running normally. He eventually made it home by early evening, but in the meantime he had invited another friend along as well, a refugee from building work on his house. That meant that Billy had company all weekend and didn’t need Jo. Jo was bored and stressed. I don’t know quite what happened but there was some incident on-line with one of her oldest local friends, who never wants to see her. Maybe with Billy occupied she had tried to find other company and was disappointed that it didn’t work out. It became apparent on Sunday that she had no intention of returning to school. By the time we took Billy to the station on Sunday evening to make his way back to college we found “my blood is on you all” smeared, in blood, all the way up the white wall of the staircase. On Billy’s bedroom door, along with more bloody finger marks, was the word “Die”. Very jolly! Tony and I were both tired and not in the mood for Jo’s drama-queen antics. We focused on getting Billy out of the house, and assured him that we were not ignoring Jo’s behaviour, we just weren’t sure how to deal with it. He suggested she needed an exorcist.

Part of me wanted to ring her CAMHS counsellor first thing Monday morning to say that we simply couldn’t cope with this sort of thing. Part of me just wanted to tell her off and get her to clean it up the mess, as it seemed indulgent and uncalled for. Billy and his friend had ordered a Domino’s Pizza takeaway after supper on Saturday evening, refusing to share any of it with Jo. On Sunday Jo refused to eat saying that she only wanted a Domino’s pizza. I don’t usually buy them as they strike me as overpriced and not particularly healthy, but Sunday afternoon I had made a special journey to get Jo a Domino’s pizza. This she had turned down on the grounds that it was too small. She had evidently boxed herself into a place where she felt she had to act out her frustrations, as happened so often when she was younger.

Fortunately Tony and I were too exhausted to do anything and Jo was hiding under her duvet, refusing to make contact with anyone. We decided that we would ignore her histrionics, calculating that she was not a suicide risk. I could see some blood on her sheet and broken glass on the floor, but nothing to cause too much alarm. We hadn’t the energy to try to get Jo back to school, and phoned to say she wouldn’t be in that evening. Her housemaster was relaxed about it so we did not feel under any great pressure from that direction. A couple of hours later Jo appeared in the kitchen and presented me with a dirty pink flannel, with which she had evidently wiped the blood off the wall (we have tough wipe-clean paint for good reason). I asked her to move the flannel from the kitchen table to the washing machine, which she did. She then found the remains of her breakfast sausages and the Dominos pizza still in the oven and disappeared upstairs with them. She didn’t say much until this evening (Monday) having slept all day. She is clearly stressed, and has cuts all down one arm, having broken something made of glass her friend had given her, in order to make the incisions.

Part of the problem seems to be Jo’s indecision about going ahead transitioning from male to female. She feels female and just wants people to treat her as a girl, but is finding it hard to accept that she needs medical intervention if people are not going to see her, at least partly, as male. We find it easier and easier to think of Jo as a girl as in personality, and the way she talks, thinks and acts she has always been far more female than male. But one can’t escape the facts of puberty. However she dresses and does her hair, Jo is in a male body. Hopefully taking about it, rather than just acting out her frustration and sense of isolation, will help Jo move forward. I’m glad we didn’t react to her message in blood, even if it was because we simply didn’t know what to do and were too tired to engage with it at the time. You could say it was a call for help, certainly a bid for attention, but not one we would wish to encourage. Being fourteen is never easy, and for Jo there is a lot more to work out than just who your best friend is and why she doesn’t like you.IMG_1084

To Tell or Not to Tell

godstimingParents used to agonise over telling their children they were adopted. Thank goodness we have moved on from there in the UK at least. The US tradition of closed adoption records creates a slightly different context, as does the Irish situation as films like Philomena show so movingly. What I’m pondering is how and when to tell the children that I have to go into hospital next Friday. It is mainly a logistical question – Billy will need to make his way home from college on the train, which he can do but prefers not to. Tony will need to fetch Jo then return to the hospital to fetch me, as I won’t be able to drive home or get the train after a general anaesthetic. I was told a few weeks ago that I probably had breast cancer, then that I probably didn’t. I didn’t tell the kids. At the moment I’m well and they don’t need any additional insecurity. We don’t need the fall-out from additional insecurity. The worst-case scenario, from my point of view, is that with or without further treatment I turn out to be terminally ill and die. Not a bad outcome, we are all going to die and I have few regrets about my life. It has been filled with blessings; good things, good people and good places. The problems would be for the rest of the family – Tony is clear that he couldn’t cope on his own; the family would unravel. The children are not old enough to be independent. Tony’s sister and family would try to cover some of the bases but it would be hard to replace my input at this stage in their lives. Thankfully it doesn’t look as if we will have to face that scenario at the moment. There is nothing like a reminder of mortality to make you appreciate life, and the speed at which it passes. Each day is a chance to do something good, to make it count, to build a little piece of heaven on earth for a fleeting moment. I will need to say something to Billy and Jo before they go back to school tomorrow so that they know the score when they come home on Friday.

Dealing with hurt

Billy had a bit of a melt-down last night. He could have been disappointed about the visit non-event with his friends the other day, or maybe was under the influence of something (cannabis?), which made him aggressive. He usually takes it out on Jo, which was the case this time. She was sitting on the stairs that lead up to his attic bedroom trying to engage him with something on YouTube on her iPad. Billy was being obnoxious, starting with off-handed put-downs that evidently turned into really hateful and hurtful language. I tried to get Jo to leave him alone, but she will persist in those situations, giving him the power to hurt her. She came downstairs in tears about the things he’d said to her, afraid, afraid of him, hurt and angry. It is a huge advance that nothing got broken and no one was physically hurt. It is possible that Jo went and cut herself. I can’t tell as after a chat she went off to bed, and 6.30pm the following evening is still there. In the past they would at some stage have attacked one another, anIMG_0572d/or belongings, furniture, doors, windows and so on. That Jo can contain her feelings, talk about them to me and express her hurt with words and tears shows considerable maturity and self-control. We haven’t found a way to stop Billy being so unkind. At some level he doesn’t care. He wants to hurt. Maybe it covers up his own hurt. Attacking Jo for being transgendered is just another tool to hurt her. It isn’t personal, it isn’t about who or what she is or is not, it is about Billy and his inability to feel good about himself without putting down others.

When things don’t work and back to school blues

We had another near melt-down this afternoon. Billy had spent hours trying to sort out his Microsoft account to access money on it given by his birth mother. It wasn’t clear what the problem was but his frustration was clear. He wanted to smash the XBox, sell it, pinch Jo’s… (Tony intercepted that move). Any suggestions or attempts to understand the problem were met with abuse. I recognise the sense of frustration when something doesn’t work. I’ve felt like that and have shared the feeling of just wanting someone to fix it. Who hasn’t? We had conversations about the help-line, but Billy evidently wasn’t in a state to talk civilly to anyone at the other end of a phone. We suggested that he could leave it for now and focus on some holiday work that needs to be handed in next week, but both children have made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of doing any school work what-so-ever over the holidays. I just wish schools would stop giving it. Some kids, ours at least, have never done any work at home and it leads to tears, aggro, threats not to go back to school, fear of getting into trouble, emails from teachers about our responsibilities as parents… So the books and files will go back unopened. Both kids will probably try the ‘I’m not going back to school/college and you can’t make me’ routine. We will try to ignore it but can feel the adrenaline and sense of desperation rising. Everyone becomes increasingly tense. It would be nice to have some family time together but they are all firmly ensconced in their rooms. I feel bad for Edgar who must be pretty bored, and I know he is embarrassed when Billy is rude to me and behaves like an idiot. So as the holidays draw to a close, we go ahead looking for the small moments when we can make a difference and enjoy life and one another. And I guess Edgar is right, we are all pretty mad as a family. While writing this I’m trying to stop the cat hunt the lizard, who is enjoying a play-time in my study. He has found the boxes and wrapping paper left over from Christmas and will no doubt find a good hiding place if I don’t keep an eye on him. He at least is having a good time, and I’m enjoying watching him.

The Gender Clinic

It’s a miracle! We are on our way to the gender clinic, or rather the Gender Identity Development Service, with Jo for one of her three-monthly appointments, to be followed by a mentoring session with a male-to-female transgender volunteer from the wonderful organisation Gendered Intelligence (see the Links page for details). The clinic at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, affectionately known as ‘the Tavi’ is where all transgender children and young people in the south of England and Wales are referred. The miracle is getting Jo out of bed and ready. We usually go by coach or train, or on one occasion her housemaster drove Jo and me from school to north London in order to demonstrate his support for her, which was great, and useful for him as well I think.

Jo has strong avoidance instincts when it comes to appointments, or life in general. She weekly boards at her current school (if only there were state schools like it) as even when we moved to be within commuting distance of the school we still couldn’t get her there. Any transition can be difficult. We have spent years trying to get Jo, now 14, to school, often failing and usually late. When combined with trying to do a full-time job it was unbelievably stressful. Getting her back to school on Sunday nights is still difficult or impossible now and again, but at least it’s only once a week. She has been at her current school since Year 6, and weekly boarding since Year 7, aged eleven. We didn’t think that she would cope, but being quite a social animal there were lots of benefits to boarding. She finds it tiring and stressful at times (and has a long history of self-harming), but seems much happier than she was at her lovely Catholic primary school. Classes of 28 were way too big and however skilled one teacher and a teaching-assistant were, they could not provide her with the tailored education she needed. Added to this, being transgendered, by the time she reached Year 5 (nine or ten) most of Jo’s girl friends had deserted her and she didn’t relate to the boys, so was miserable and isolated. I would drive past and see her standing alone at the edge of the playground which was pretty heart-wrenching. At boarding school you are thrown together, and although she is in a much more male environment than ever before, with boys outnumbering girls about three-to-one, there are compensations in having close company. Jo’s boarding school are also able to get her to do things we’d totally failed at as parents, such as getting her out of bed in the morning, and into it at night, getting her to shower and change clothes, brush her teeth occasionally, do homework, attend dental and doctor’s appointments, or get her hair cut. The relief of sharing the parenting in this way is considerable, if financially challenging (the school do give us a small bursary, it’s always worth asking – see the financial help page as well). As well as changing her name and gender, officially, earlier this year, Jo also changed from having girl-friends to boy-friends – an interesting and complicated situation, especially in a mixed-boarding school. I’ll save for another post.

And now we are speeding up the motorway to London. We have given up on advance booking of trains, coaches and hotels as we end up having to cancel at the last minute. I only texted a dog-walker an hour before we left, having cancelled at the last minute when Jo refused to budge too often to risk doing it again. Luckily the dog-walker is able to come, so the dogs will at least get an afternoon walk and food before we get home this evening. I left them each with a marrow-bone treat which should occupy them for a couple of hours at least. And Jo’s looking great! I think we’ve had several changes of clothes before finally coming downstairs. I saw her in a new, pretty red dress and black boots, before reappearing in flowery skinny jeans with a new top and tight black three quarter-length jacket. She washes her hair then wears a beanie hat (with IMPERFECT written across the forehead) to try to make it dry straight, although I like the natural wave – which due to some Jamaican paternity is unlikely to be beaten into submission. The aim is to produce a Japanese anime look, with which the hair won’t readily cooperate. Its interesting how asexual many anime characters look, I can see why she identifies with this style.

anime