I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother
A friend of mine has written this. It's a heart wrenching story of her daughter's mental illness, and her fight to get her help. The insurance company's are running our health care system, and this girl is a ticking time bomb.
Please say a prayer for this family. They need help, before they, or someone else is tragically hurt, or worse.
"I am Adam Lanza’s mother.
I say this with horror, with grief, with agony. I say this with a fury that goes beyond anything I have ever experienced. I say this because, on so many levels, I understand the path that woman’s life took. Some say Nancy Lanza was in denial about her son’s mental health issues. Others say she was an enabler for him. Still others speculate she simply didn’t care.
As the mother of a 14-year-old daughter with a crippling mental illness, I know all too well what happened with that poor woman. I don’t think Nancy Lanza acted out of apathy, denial, or enabling in response her son’s increasingly bizarre behavior—even though countless people have accused her of all these and worse. I honestly think she was fought at so many turns in trying to gain appropriate mental health care for her son that she eventually gave up and hoped for the best. As we all know, that hope never came to fruition, as her son ended up killing himself and so many innocent children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary.
I live with her time bomb now, listening to it tick, screaming for others to help defuse it before another Newtown or Columbine happens. I race to get it defused before my daughter goes off. She’s done it before, and she will do it again—she is getting worse.
But someone, or should I say something, is keeping my daughter from continuing to get the help she so desperately needs.
Brooke is my only biological daughter. Looking back, there was always something a little off about her. She was always on the go—fearless, headstrong, reckless, impetuous, mischievous, and verbose. Once she started school, her behavior quickly became a detriment to her scholastic progress. It was such minor infractions at first: lying, stealing little objects. But as she got older, drama seemed to surround her at all times. Her behavior became increasingly risky. Concerned, I sent her to her first session with a therapist when she was only 6 years old.
At first, doctors diagnosed Brooke with ADHD. After consistently escalating behavior and poor grades resulting in the school making her repeat 4th grade, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 10. Medications were administered, changed, and changed again, but nothing seemed to help for long. Meanwhile, her attention-seeking behavior steadily got worse. Her social awkwardness turned into social predation. By age 11, she was instigating with her peers, then going to adults and making herself out to be the victim. Her stories to gain attention got progressively wilder: she was misunderstood, she was neglected, she was abused. She stole from both family and peers. She went to her school counselor’s office daily, and I got 1-3 calls PER DAY from her school regarding her grades and behavior. During this time, we sent her to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.
When she got out of the hospital, I put her in counseling. At the time, Brooke was covered under state health insurance, so I found my options further limited as Medicaid funds were slashed—mental health services was one of the most deeply cut subcategories. Despite switching medications yet again, her issues grew. Then, during yet another round of mental health budget cuts, her therapist’s office stopped seeing all Medicaid patients. We shuttled Brooke to another mental health organization where the care was infinitely less personal and woefully unhelpful.
Brooke’s behavior further escalated, as she sought attention in the form of lies she told peers and counselors to help get her out of class. She stole her ADHD meds and brought them to school to give out to people. Thankfully, someone reported her and no other children were harmed. The school expelled her, so she attended an alternative school for two semesters.
Her manipulation became increasingly more sophisticated, and I realized she was manipulating me as well. Her peers, one by one, began to abandon friendships with her as her stealing, lying, and intrigues forced them to want to get far away from her. She got a reputation for being “strange.” Brooke, in turn, told everyone who would listen that she was a victim and that all of those people were all out to get her. Her thievery became more damaging to her victims: over the course of two weeks, she stole one brother’s I-Phone, I-Pad, and graduation ring, and gave them away at school to “buy friends.” When she stole the I-Phone, it was on her brother’s chest as he slept. She slipped it off of his inert body and slid, quick and sly as a fox out of the room with her prize, without waking him. She was failing at school; because of her abysmal grades and behavioral problems, I requested an IEP meeting for her toward the end of the school year. Essentially, I asked them to put her in special education. At the same time, my stepdaughter moved out because she could no longer deal with the tension, stealing, and arguing that my daughter instigated in our home.
Then, in August of 2012, my daughter crossed a new line: she went to a counselor at school and claimed that her older stepbrother raped her and committed oral sexual battery.
My world fell apart. Child Protection became involved; my stepson had to move out because they forbade any contact between him and Brooke while their investigation was in progress. Our home, which was already clouded with the constant uncertainty of what Brooke’s next move might be, exploded in shock and tension. I knew my stepson did not do this—there were simply no signs of such abuse. These factors, combined with her deteriorating and increasingly destructive behavior in everyday life, alarmed me enough to have her admitted for a second stay at a psychiatric facility. On her fourth day at the facility, she admitted to doctors that she lied about the rape to get attention. I still have copies of her police report stating that she had been raped, as well as the letter she wrote to her stepbrother, where she apologized for lying, and admitted that she targeted him because she jealously believed he received more attention than she did.
She was 13 years old.
When the hospital released Brooke, I argued bitterly with my daughter’s attending psychiatrist about getting her placed in long-term treatment. He explained that although he agreed that her issues were severe enough for him to recommend long-term treatment, Medicaid stipulated that she had to have three week-long psychiatric stays before they would consider her eligibility for long-term care.
I was incredulous. In other words, before Brooke could get long-term treatment, she would have to do something destructive enough to get her admitted to psychiatric hospitals on two more occasions. Even though we all knew she was dangerous, we couldn’t do a thing about it.
Brooke’s homecoming was not smooth. I basically begged her biological father to let her move in with him for a while. I was so exhausted and heartbroken at this point, battered so horribly psychologically and emotionally, with my marriage on the rocks from all the tension, that I doubted I could care for my own child any more. Reluctantly he agreed, with the caveat that I not talk to her—he reasoned that because she was so attached to me, he could use promises of contact with me to get her to behave. It failed horribly. Within a matter of weeks, he asked me to take her back. The stealing, lying, manipulation, and destructive behavior almost drove her father and his wife to a divorce, and the other children in his household became downright terrified of her. I sobbed the day I agreed for her to come back into my home. Not knowing what else to do, I squared my shoulders, prepared the rest of the family, and we all installed locks on our bedroom doors so my daughter would not be able to sneak into bedrooms and steal things. Our once nice home became a prison, and I was the reluctant warden, responsible for a child who was sliding further and further out of control no matter what I did. I found myself becoming a huge believer in prayer. No one else listened to me, so I poured my concerns, cares, and sorrows to God in a litany that was at times frightened, stressed, and angry.
Shortly after her return, I got a pay raise at my job, and even though I did not have health insurance, I no longer qualified for Medicaid. With great sorrow and fear, we had to try to wing it without any psychiatric intervention until we could get insurance of our own. During this horrible time, I could only operate reactively—answer each call from her school as it came, okay it for the school counselor to talk to her as needed, and watch her grades slide further. The drama with her peers increased as time went by. She alienated every kid her age in our neighborhood, and she freaked out the neighbors by going into their houses unannounced, and startling them when they stumbled upon her standing in their kitchen or living room. She was still stealing, lying, and manipulating people, and she was getting ever better at it. She attended birthday parties and was caught stealing out of the attendees’ purses. She played me against my husband, against her biological father, against teachers and administration. Any report of misbehavior coming from her meant I had to check with all the people involved to ensure she was telling the truth. Invariably, she was caught in lies and I had to punish her over and over again. It started to feel like she would never get out of punishment. No amount of positive reinforcement or promise of rewards worked with her, nor did any form of discipline. She simply took her licks and continued her negative behavior as though nothing had happened. She stole a photograph of her adult cousin and made a fake profile on a dating website. When we discovered this, a 25-year-old man was trying to meet her through the site. The thought of grown men showing up and expecting to find a woman, instead of a disturbed teen girl, filled me with raw terror. I love my daughter dearly, but I began to fear her.
When we finally got private health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Brooke seemed to improve slightly. The drama never ended, but the severity of her actions lessened from horrifying to relatively innocuous. When summer rolled around, we gave her more freedom. She finally found a friend and I let her go to the friend’s house. For a while, things seemed normal. But then, I found out that at her friend’s house, she was talking to men online. I allowed her to volunteer at a local Halloween “fright trail;” she ended up causing constant drama there and apparently she tried to entice a 37-year-old man to have an affair with her. She stole from yet another casual acquaintance.
As she spiraled out of control once again, her best friend expressed suicidal thoughts and was admitted to a psychiatric facility for a week. For that week, I allowed my daughter to call her friend at the hospital during call times. Things seemed to be going peacefully.
At the end of her friend’s stay in the hospital, I received a call from Brooke’s school counselor. My daughter went to her office and claimed to be suicidal. The counselor said I had to take Brooke to a psychiatric hospital for a “45-minute evaluation.” Thus, I was woefully unprepared when the hospital told me that my daughter was going to be admitted, with or without my consent. My husband, incensed because he (correctly) believed that my daughter was doing this to get attention like her friend, argued loudly, and the attending psychiatrist admitted her without my consent because my husband was not being “peaceful.”
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because Brooke was admitted to the same hospital that her best friend was at, and because the best friend had talked to the doctors about Brooke, they got insight into what was a toxic and symbiotic friendship where the two girls rationalized their irrational behaviors. Three days into the hospital stay, they told me her diagnosis—my daughter isn’t merely ADHD or Asperger’s, she is mentally ill with depression and a conduct disorder. Worse still, although a personality disorder diagnosis cannot be firmly diagnosed until a person is 18 years of age, she already presents textbook symptoms. “Mentally ill” became a new thing for me to digest. I cried. I screamed with anguish. But my priority was to see my daughter get help. She is no less valuable a soul than any other person in society. With the right treatment, she can excel.
But then the fight with our insurance company started. After five days, the hospital recommended my daughter for a long-term care facility for intensive treatment for her severe mental disorder. The insurance company denied that she needed this type of care. The hospital called me and let me know about the denial.
I was livid. How in the world could a doctor recommend treatment, the therapist agree, the parents agree, and yet a corporation had the say-so on whether my child needed help? They aren’t the ones who have to deal with my child when she escalates further without treatment and ends up harming someone innocent. I called the insurance company and argued passionately with the caseworker regarding my daughter’s medical history and her desperate need for treatment. The hospital OK’d her to be sent to a long-term treatment facility. Within 24 hours, we were on our way to Texas with my daughter for a stay that would last for a month, and maybe more.
My daughter settled into her routine at the treatment center, but it became clear she was resisting treatment. As we all struggled to work with her, the insurance company began complaining that after 2 weeks, my daughter did not exhibit the behaviors that got her admitted in the first place. The therapist was frustrated and angry, as the insurance company wanted to deny extra days due to her not improving. Under 24-hour surveillance, most of Brooke’s destructive behaviors, such as stealing, are nearly impossible. Additionally, my daughter also told me on the phone that she would be on her best behavior so she could get out earlier. The facility argued with the insurance company, and they reluctantly OK’d another seven days’ stay.
Yesterday, the insurance company denied our request a 7-day extension of her in-patient care. Their reasoning this time is that she is showing improvement and therefore doesn’t require that level of treatment anymore. The therapist and doctor both argued vehemently that she needed to stay there, as “improvement” doesn’t mean “better,” it means she is starting to make progress. The therapist called me, incensed. “It’s a Catch-22,” she said angrily. “First they want to deny approval because she’s not getting better, and then they want to deny approval because she’s getting better.” Once again, I got on the phone and called the insurance reviewer regarding this denial. My husband and I explained, debated, argued the need for continued treatment. I told the lady point-blank that my daughter was still a danger to others and herself, and that if they sent her home at this time, it’s not a question of if she would begin exhibiting behaviors again—it’s a question of when. They’re placing innocent people at risk by denying my daughter treatment at a facility where she can be watched so she does not harm herself or others.
Despite our impassioned arguments, today the insurance company denied our appeal. I have to pick up Brooke from the hospital tomorrow morning. Even though I know, my family knows, and the hospital knows she’s a ticking time bomb, the insurance company simply doesn’t care. Tomorrow, my mentally ill daughter will come home, still mentally ill and still untreated, to be unleashed back upon an unsuspecting and vulnerable society which will not know my daughter is dangerous until it is too late.
I sit here tonight, on edge and weeping as my family waits in a limbo caused not by necessity, not by medical recommendation, but by the whims of an insurance company whose main consideration isn’t whether a little girl gets the help she need; their concern is in their bottom line, the amounts they present to shareholders. This is evident in their denying coverage, which is part of the coverage we pay for, despite a doctor, therapist, and parents all arguing the desperate need for continued treatment.
I understand the medical quagmire of mental health that Adam Lanza’s mother navigated. My family and I live this nightmare every day. We grieve not only for our daughter’s illness, but also for the uphill battle that is insurance approval for her treatment. It’s easy to get discouraged here. It’s easy to feel as though you are dependent on the whim of some nameless person at a corporation…because you are. It’s easy to want to give up because you are fighting something so much bigger than you are.
It’s easy to put on the blinders and pray for the best. I understand this so well. I am Nancy Lanza, only in a different part of the country and with a different child. Insurance companies are free to and DO deny coverage to people who desperately need care. The thing about mental health care is that it’s not the doctors and therapists who are impeding treatment. It’s not the government. It’s insurance companies who do not listen to doctors and who arbitrarily deny treatment for at-risk children because “it’s too expensive.”
But I will NOT stop fighting for my daughter. I will NOT be silenced. I will NOT give up. I am the only voice my daughter has for treatment, and with my dying breath, I will be screaming for someone, anyone, to reach out and help us help our daughter before it is too late. I will be the lone person to stand here and ask how our health care system has become so degenerate that a corporation, not a parent or a doctor, says whether a mentally ill person needs a service. I will be the person asking the government what lobbies paid them to make sure insurance companies wrested the say-so in mental health care from the parents of ill children. I will be the person who will question legislators on how we can get better mental health care for the ones in our society who truly need it. Let’s do this now. Before she does something horrible. Before she murders innocent children and adults. "