Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sunshine and Rage

The image of those teeth, is emblazoned in my mind, gnashing violently, chomping wildly at a finger, nose, ear, or anything else that might accidentally find it's way near the human buzz saw.  On this night, those teeth were trying to clamp down on me.

"D," my former daughter-in-law, suffers from acute mental illness.  Doctors have never been able to successfully diagnose what challenges she faces, so treating her is difficult if not impossible.  What they do know is she is haunted by a seizure disorder, among other things, that has a tendency to sneak up on her, like a predator in the rain forest, dragging this teenage girl to the ground like tiger wrestling a gazelle to the jungle floor.  The disorder twists her limbs, contort her face, and force the usually giggly girl, to growl and groan uncontrollably, as the electrodes in her brain, blast her body with a chaotic, disconcert jumble of commands, that leave her frame crumpled, her spirit broken, and her family devastated.

Last night's story about David Charles Baker a man who allegedly threatened to burn down a friends house if she didn't secure a private jet for him so he could fly his sick dog to Canada, plunges me back into those unpredictable days with a little girl who at once could be funny, charming, and sweet, at others, out of control, destructive and violent.

During my 8 years in a previous relationship, I learned that mental illness, ravages the person it inhabits, but also lays waste to friends and families as well.  Baker's friends say they were afraid to open the door for a man they believe was barrel rolling towards insanity.

In our story, we focused on the mobile crisis unit, a new resource, recently implemented at the University Neupsychatic Institute.  Three teams roam the valley, responding to calls from friends, family and neighbors who are concerned about loved ones, even strangers, with mental health issues.

Baker's closest associates say he likely would have slammed the door if the crisis unit came knocking, despite what appears to be a man in need.

"D" was in need of help as well, she had an undefined personality disorder that did more than incapacitate her body and mind, it vaporized her ability to effectively co-exist with friends, family, and the outside world. For "D'" her human interactions where composed of one uncomfortable, awkward, sometimes violent social interaction after another.

The disorder also whipped up a frenzy of anger, that like that tiger, would spring on the world, with what appeared to be little or no provocation.  She once stabbed a school mate with a pencil, head butted a teacher, and slapped a bus driver so hard, the punch ruptured the woman's ear drum.

This night was particularly difficult, "D" refuses to go to bed, refuses to take her medication, and at 10 pm has threatened to terrorize neighbors, by knocking on doors and "telling them all our secrets." She also talks about killing the bird.  A Cockatoo, living his caged life in fear, as the girl regularly poked sticks at him, and smashed her hands against the cage when angry.  We had tried everything, reasoning, ignoring her threats, even threatening back, but "D" is an engaged heat seeking missile tonight, and is destined to be launched and destroy everything in its path.

I decide paying attention to my laptop, and not the raging little girl might calm her, perhaps send a message that her threats are futile.

A few minutes later Kitty, the family cat gives up an uncharacteristic, tentative yelp.  As I turn my eyes to the sound of her frantic meow, I see"D" grasping the cat by her back legs as if the animal is a wishbone, Kitty is dangling, helplessly, head to the ground, front paws desperately reaching for the carpet, like a drunk man in an unfamiliar room searching for a light switch.  "D!" I scream, "What are you doing!?"

I snatch the frothing girl by the arm,  she drops the cat, who lands on all fours, and bolts up the stairs and under the bed for cover.  In retrospect I realize was a colossal mistake this is, "D" snaps her thin arm from my grasp, and brushes quickly past me to the kitchen grabbing a knife out of the drawer.  The long blade of the butcher knife drags its smooth metal against the pine drawer cover, it mimics the sound of a sword being removed from it's sheath.

Her siblings are horrified, "D!" put that down," her sister tries to calm her, but "D" holds the blade high, pointing it at her loved ones.

As I move in, I am aware, that behind those rage fixed eyes, this little girl still loves me, I feel that despite the red-hot lava exploding in her mind, she still cares for her family, and would never hurt any of us.

I don't remember how, but I've got a hold of her, as I struggle to take her to the ground.  "D" is tiny, maybe 110 pounds, but her limbs are long and wiry, and while in the grasp of this anger loop, her strength seems like that of a high school wrestler or an MMA fighter. Somehow, with sharp elbows connecting to my jaw and ribs, I fold her body to the ground.  Her arms flail, as I watch the blade, clink and clank to the linoleum next to me, her sister scampers toward the medal and plastic weapon snatching it up and clasping it to her chest, her eyes closed, she belches, "stop it! stop it!" as I swat and bat at "D's" arms, waving wildly like a spewing fire hose, that has escaped the hands of a volunteer fire fighter.

My head is close to hers, I can see her eyes, the usual light brown of her corneas, is replaced thanks to the disorder with black eyes resembling two large blackened pennies.

I lift my knee and place it on her right shoulder, and with my left arm try to pin the other.  She wields her head like a baseball bat, attempting to smash my face with hers.

finally I grapple my left knee onto her bicep, after what seems like an hour long battle, I have her under my control, she bares her teeth, snaps them audibly together, as she tries to sink them into my skin.  Now with both arms nailed to the floor, the fight begins to leave her, her head finally rest on the cool soothing floor, she lays silently and still.

Mental illness, is a mystery to most of us, heck it's indefinably perplexing to neuroscientists, psychiatrist and MD's across the nation, despite a hundred years of serious study.

We are in the darkness about what causes some of these disorders and how to solve them.  I won't rant for the need for understanding, funding, or more health care solutions, because I don't know the answer, just as "D" didn't know why she would giggle with joy one second, and rage in anger the next.

I remember as she lay calmly on the kitchen floor, I watch as the gentle brown returns to her eyes, along with tears that fill, then overflow her lids.  "D" cries gently, apologizing for the outburst.

As I help her up, she hugs me, tells me she loves me, does the same to the rest of her siblings and mother, and picks up the long ignored medications on the kitchen counter, gulps them down, says, "good night," and slowly drags her exhausted body to her bedroom at the top of the stairs.


  1. David Baker, mental illness, seizure disorders, Chris Jones, SWAT standoff, University Neuropsychiatric Institute

  2. My heart aches for those that fight these demons everyday. As I watch a neighbor woman's family cope with her slow death from an eating disorder, I am silently terrified because my own daughter fights the same battle. I wonder how many other individuals there are out there that have to fight or care for one who struggles. I have no answers, and when asked, I simply say, "I hope there are more battles won in the war than lost today."