Featured in the MHF 2017-2018 Annual Report
As a little girl, Christa and Brent’s daughter would have astronomical tantrums beyond what a normal toddler would have.
“I’d never seen a child so violent,” says Christa, whose background is in early childhood development. “Sometimes she would bang her head into the wall in anger.” As her daughter grew up and went to school, she would hide her symptoms, staying very quiet.
At home it was another story: she would explode.
Their daughter ended up in the hospital twice. Once, when she was 12, after becoming so violent that she threatened to harm her parents and siblings. She ended up there again at 16 with suicidal ideations.
Her parents struggled to find any help for her that would interrupt the cycle of her intense moods. She would go through a round of therapy only to be kicked out because she had completed the entire course. Without any further support available, she would again go into crisis, at which point doctors would recommend therapy. It felt futile.
When their daughter finally received a diagnosis at 16 years age that found traits of borderline personality disorder, they were glad to have an answer but “we didn’t even know what that was. We had never heard of it. What’s worse: our psychiatrist didn’t know anything about it.”
On top of that, they couldn’t, and still can’t, afford private health care.
The biggest challenge for Christa and Brent was being unable to understand what was going on. No one could explain to them how to help their daughter. “We’d ask again and again and again,” says Christa.
They learned about her condition through books, and were extremely disappointed to learn there was no appropriate therapy available to them locally.
“It was a kick to the gut to realize we couldn’t get the help our child needed because we couldn’t afford it and it wasn’t available publicly.”
Brent and Christa weren’t able to pick up skills that worked for their family until they found Family Connections, first through an online forum, and then through a much anticipated email that informed them that a program had started being offered nearby.
“It was life-changing. It makes you look hard at yourself, and look at the situation in a new way,” says Christa. For Brent, it offered a way to talk to his daughter. “We never had a close relationship, because I had trouble connecting with her throughout our struggles. There is more communication now,” he says.
“Our lives before and after the workshop were like night and day.”
Being surrounded by people who had been through the same thing as them was a tremendous relief. “It was this moment of confirmation, like: ‘we’re not crazy, we’re not making this up,’” says Brent.
Going in to the first weekend of their intensive, they felt very close to having to ask their daughter to leave their home; she was just too volatile.
The renewed sense of hope after the workshop was tangible. Brent and Christa felt like they had new tools and the burden of feeling helpless was lifted. “The air at home was lighter. We no longer felt like we had to walk on eggshells around her.” Brent was even finding uses for the skills he learned at work.
The greatest change in their family occurred two months after the workshops.
For a year and a half, the family had been trying to prepare her for graduation, hoping to decide what she planned to do next. They managed only volatile conversations that didn’t result in clarity. Two months after the workshop, they sat down as a family and were able to talk about their daughter’s future for the first time. As a result, they created a plan.
This is something that never could have happened without the skills they learned through Family Connections, says Brent. They had tried so many times.
Because of the changes made possible by the program, she is now headed to college.
“We went from not knowing if she’d every be able to leave home and live on her own to a complete 180; she is able to hold a job, she has plans to move out, and she’s getting ready to go to school for Business Administration.”
For a family that had been struggling to find help for their daughter for 15 years, it was beyond anything they could have hoped for. “Family Connections is saving lives. I truly believe that,” says Christa.
The two parents are now facilitators for workshops hosted in Red Deer, hoping to help other families find the relief they did. “When I meet other parents with children much younger than my daughter, that’s the spark for me,” says Christa. “We have been trying to help my daughter since she was 3. If something like this had been available, we would have found it and used it. I want other families to get help sooner.”
She can already see it working. Though the families she meets come from different backgrounds and struggle with different issues, the response is always the same: “This is going to help our loved one.”