Ted’s essays

shell people

A granddaughter moved in with us after failing to thrive in The Big City. We were close to her Mom’s last hope. It was going well, we thought, but were recently smacked upside the head that our great little community and wonderful resources were not enough.

We involved adults were of the same mind, landing like a ton of bricks on this ungrateful truant. The girl’s world was shrinking and tightening incrementally as previous sanctions failed to deliver desired results.

In retrospect: If what you are doing is not working, “do more of it” is not really the greatest plan. But that is where we were headed.

Until a couple of wonderful Darby resources turned a light bulb on in my head. The school’s emotional support group leader has not yet had a chance to develop her diagnosis but hinted she had suspicions. The high school principal and supporting psychologist suggested some options as I chatted with them recently about some unacceptable behavior and what we were going to do about it.

The light bulb went on.

I have been here before.

Oh so sad that none of these resources and understandings were available to us in Sebastopol over two decades ago when my youngest daughter was at this junction. While I blew it as a Dad in that situation, I have a real shot at getting it right as a grandpa… because I now understand.

People, or in these cases, children who are put in impossible situations find a way out. We must. They must. In the case of youngsters their escape routes frequently are to separate the body that is being abused or controlled in uncomfortable ways from the part of their brain that is THEM. They create two selves. The one that others control and another one inside a shell that cannot be reached or breached from the outside.

In my daughter’s case she had dyslexia. Pointing out the symptoms to the experts fell on deaf ears. I was just a stupid parent. The experts KNEW I was incorrect, that my observations were junk. So she did not get appropriate understanding and help when she needed it. She developed a shell to protect herself from the impossible-to-her requirements the adults in her life were heaping upon her.

The real person lived inside a protective shell.
The one we all knew was a disposable exterior.

We put our energies into dealing with the shell. The lonely little girl inside it was protected from our abuses, but she was also unavailable for all of the things little girls need growing up. How incredibly sad.

While I am sad about our failures, I am not feeling guilty (or work at trying not to). I sought “experts” through several avenues and did provide one great year affording a private school where parents were heavily involved and teachers were extremely versatile. However, the adults in her life failed her. She is still a shell person at 35 years old. Our fault. Not hers. But her life. Not ours.

NARSAD, the Mental Health Research Association state that:
“More than 2 million American adults or 1 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder.”

I am not alone. If there are 2 million USofA adults living in two or more levels, there are several times that many who had a shot at fixing it when it was possible, maybe even relatively easy to fix.

The obvious first step is to recognize the symptoms. I will not attempt to detail them here. That would take far too much ink and I am not going to pretend expertise; practice without a license. I will just say,
“Be alert to the possibility that you might be dealing with someone who has taken refuge in a protective shell”.

If you struggle to reach someone, consider that they are unreachable through the force-field they have constructed around their real selves. Look for signs that they do not want to be touched, really touched, inside that shell.

What are they protecting themselves from?
Can you help protect their vulnerable selves?
That can allow the fragile inner-self out.
That, in turn, can rejoin the inner self and outer self.

EXPERTS can only do so much.

Family can do much more.