Anita: Trying to Find Answers

Anita experienced huge challenges in her efforts to find help for Nina. After changing high schools several times, during Nina's junior year, Anita found her in the theater bathroom drooling and crying after a dance team performance. She called a friend, a physician, who told her the episode sounded like a panic attack. Anita identifies this episode as “a sort of a first clue.”

When Nina had stomach problems, a physician diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome and prescribed an SRRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), an antidepressant. Anita was still thinking this was not a mental illness. She believed that Nina, who was drinking alcohol often, used alcohol as self-medication. In her senior year, Nina was found drunk at school. Anita met with the high school deans and counselor and learned that school staff believed Nina was acting out as an adolescent, trying to get away with bad behavior. Anita discovered that Nina had taken liquor from the supply at home and hid her drinking from her parents by taking the key and putting it back in place. One morning the school dean called AnitaNina was intoxicated. When the dean and counselor recommended taking her to the hospital, Anita drove her to the hospital without any resistance. During the hospitalization, Nina received a dual diagnosis: prodromal signs (emerging mental illness) and substance abuse.

At home, Nina continued to drink. She used a neighbor’s key and went into their house while they were away, taking their liquor. On a school-sponsored retreat during her senior year, Nina spent the whole time in the bathroom drinking alcohol she brought to school. In February, school administration told Anita that her daughter could not return to school until she went through treatment. Anita and Luke admitted their daughter to a substance abuse program for a week, which was not covered by insurance. The treatment center staff told them Nina did not have a problem with drugs and that something else was going on.

When Nina’s drinking continued, Anita took her to see her psychiatrist, who recommended hospitalization, since Nina had admitted suicidal ideas. After discharge, school administrators did not want Nina back at school; they explained that two student suicides had occurred in the past year and they did not want to risk another suicide.

At this point, dance was the only thing Nina cared about. The school agreed that she could come to the dance program and complete other requirements for graduation through home correspondence. In response to rules on eligibility for the dance team and changing schools, Anita and Luke hired a lawyer to help negotiate a place for Nina on the varsity dance line. When Anita asked the lawyer what they should do and what he would do if the situation involved his child, the lawyer responded “I wouldn’t have a child like this.”

Although Anita believes Nina did little work to complete high school requirements in her senior year, they did learn she was going to graduate a day before the ceremony. However, the expected graduation ceremony also led to feelings of loss for Anita.

She didn’t want to go. That’s hard as a parent. That’s a milestone for the parent as much as the kid. There was no dinner. There was no party at the school for her. There was nothing. It was just one of those times with mental illness when one dream is pulled away or changed. It’s difficult. There’s loss.

Nina continued to struggle. Medications did not work well for her. She enrolled in college, had a crisis leading to hospitalization during the first semester, and failed most of her classes. Subsequently, she tried a lighter class load but continued to struggle even with the help of student accommodations. She rarely asked for help and gave her parents a “thumbs up” when they asked how she was doing.