By: Alumni Parent
Where were we prior to PQ?
Our daughter has always been a bright, and charming person who excelled at school and sports, not to mention having a lot of friends. But underneath all of her success was a dark area in her life that reared its ugly head when she was in the 10th grade…social anxiety.
We started to notice that our daughter was complaining of being sick and needing to stay home from school. We didn’t make a big deal about it since she was nearly a straight “A” student. But we started to notice a trend that she was stressing out about what were seemingly trivial details. She also started to stress about how her friends perceived her. While a struggle, she completed 10th grade and went on a summer trip to a program in Europe and seemed to have had a great time.
11th grade year at her school (a highly competitive prep school) started out seemingly just fine. She was into her classes and taking in the grind that we knew to expect. But then the absences started to pile up again. She was becoming withdrawn and refusing to leave her bedroom. If she did make it to school she often complained of being sick, calling my wife or I to complain. Finally, mid-way through the first semester she just couldn’t get herself to leave her room anymore.
I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The thought that my child was having an emotional issue just didn’t compute. I mean, when I was upset about stuff in high school I just hit the gym and worked it out. Why couldn’t she do the same? It just didn’t make any sense to me. So I just remained angry a lot with her, not understanding this was something she couldn’t control. I also closed myself off emotionally towards her in a lot of ways.
My wife had more of an idea about what was going on. There is a bit of family history with struggles in this area on her side so she had a better comprehension about what was going on inside our daughter’s head. She was also the one to bear the brunt of the early struggles with our daughter. She got her into see a therapist. She talked to her for hours about what was going on in her head. And she also took the brunt of the angst and vitriol that was spewed out of the ever morose and despondent daughter.
For the next four years, our daughter was in therapy for what we came to find out was a severe social anxiety disorder. The years had a lot of ups and downs. Successes and more than a few betrayals by people she thought she could trust. She did finish high school, but too late to apply to college. She tried a semester at a gap program in Paris but again couldn’t handle the anxiety. After that, she took a gap trip abroad that had a lot of support for kids with issues and came back like a new woman. Full of piss and vinegar and ready to seemingly get on with her life. So it was off to college and right into another failure. After barely finishing one semester she fled home. Transferring to a school closer to home this time she was ready to try again, failure. To top off the final failure she was in a car accident that totaled a brand new car.
At this point our daughter finally realized that she had hit rock bottom and needed to make a radical change to get help. She had been told about wilderness programs that could help teach her skills to help regulate her behaviors and not succumb to her fears and anxieties.
Coming to PQ
One day in December 2015 our daughter came to my wife and I and asked about applying to a place called Pacific Quest. She had been researching a number of alternatives and this was the program that she thought would be best to help her. After looking into the program and consulting with her therapist we agreed to her going. We spoke with Kellyn about the possibility of her starting as soon as possible and he said he would see what they could do. Less than two weeks later she was on an airplane to Hilo with just her clothes on her back.
PQ was a startling wake-up call for our daughter. She had lived a bit of a spoiled lifestyle never having to do without anything. At PQ she was all of a sudden met with expectations that had never been placed upon her. The idea that she didn’t have instant access to mom and dad were particularly hard for her, but we clearly saw the value in this. The early parent meetings were intense for us. We heard about the struggles of having to conform and do what was expected. Her therapist, who was terrific, brought the idea that she might write a letter asking us to rescue her.
But we had faith in our daughter’s will power to succeed and survive. We told her therapist it was her decision that she needed to go to PQ and because of this she wouldn’t want to run away from the program. We were right. After the initial phases of the program we started getting regular letters from our daughter talking about what was going on. The fact that she had to write rather than speak, made her slow down and process, rather than just to spew out a bunch of words, and was a great idea. We were also getting reports from her therapist about what she was working on and how she was progressing. He was also digging into our history with her to find out what made her and our family tick.
The work on both sides was ongoing for 6 or 7 weeks before the fateful day when we finally got to have our daughter in on a phone call. We didn’t know what to expect. She immediately fell back into an old pattern with my wife and I, she had sprung a trap laid by the therapist. He immediately pounced on it and called her for how she had reacted and spoken to us. Boundaries were crossed and she was out of line!
My wife and I were astounded to hear the reaction. Dead silence from our daughter. She was using one of her new tools to compose herself so that she could speak to us as an adult. They call it her toolbox, skills that they work with the participants to develop to face situations that in the past would derail them. Our daughter was a willing learner.
We spent a number of other sessions working with the therapist, sometimes with our daughter on the call and sometimes not. We were clearly seeing growth on her part so we were happy. Near the end of her stay at PQ a family weekend was planned for those parents who could make the trip to Hawaii. Our daughter was very anxious for us to come out for it. Since she had been making such good progress we decided one of us should go out. I was selected since I had the most leeway in my work to take such a trip. I don’t know what I was expecting when I got there, maybe some sort of super school play or something. I didn’t realize I was being thrown into the therapy fray. Best thing that could have happened to my relationship with my daughter.
During this two-day weekend, parents were given the opportunity to experience some of what our children were going through. I was forced to confront some of my issues surrounding what our family had gone through during the worst parts of our daughter’s suffering. I came to realize that I had walled myself off from her and the rest of the family with the excuse I didn’t want to get angry with her anymore. It was pointed out to me that instead of being a solution it was actually a contributing factor to the bigger problem. It wasn’t fair to my daughter and it sure wasn’t fair to my wife. I was devastated. Once I confronted this part of myself it was about finding forgiveness and figuring out a path to help us all go forward.
Shortly after the parent’s weekend our daughter was ready to move onto the next phase, a transitional program. PQ recommended an educational consultant and between our daughter, the therapist and the consultant, we found a program that we felt would best meet her needs.
Today our daughter is finishing a reintegration program that has continued to build upon and add to the toolbox she started to develop at PQ. Just recently she finished two college psychology classes and commented that it was the first time in nearly 5 years that she had actually finished classes on time. Next semester she will be taking a full load of classes and is actively planning a future as a full time student.
For the first time since this problem started, our daughter feels she has a fighting chance due to the skills she learned from the wonderful guides (some of whom she is still in contact with) and therapist at PQ. She also made some friends amongst the participants and remains in contact with several. The fact that she saw that she was not the only one with issues, and that she had the chance to participate in group therapy really opened her eyes about her perceptions and her harshness towards herself and got her thinking differently. There is now hope where before there was only despair. We recommend this program highly, and are so glad we decided to entrust our daughter into their care.