His Sweatshirt

“Bring me his sweatshirt, mom. Please.”

“Of course, sweetie. Of course I will.”

My daughter was limited in the personal items she was allowed to have during her mental health hold. Hoodies – the staple of teen fashion – were okay, but drawstrings had to be removed. Favorite (imitation) Converse shoes? Fine, but no shoestrings allowed. The safety pins my daughter loved to use as fashion statements were absolutely forbidden.  I was forced to look at clothing, and much of life, in a whole new way.

But the thing my daughter wanted most was “his sweatshirt”, and there was no reason to deny her request.

When my husband had died almost two years earlier, I’d invited all three of his adult kids to go through his clothes, to pick out some favorite items they might want to keep for themselves or their own children.

I tried to also give them each special items, perhaps tokens of affection they or their children had given their dad that would now make their way back to the original gift givers. Or maybe an item that they had seen growing up in their childhood home that held special memories for them. It seemed only fitting to do this.

(Admittedly, there were a few things it took me time to be able to part with. Thankfully, my step kids are gracious and patient.)

I had also asked my own three adolescent children what they would like to have of their stepdad’s as special mementos. My older daughter had chosen an old sweatshirt that my husband used to wear often. He was great at coming home from a day of work and changing into comfy clothes, a signal that work was left behind and he was now present and available at home.

But this particular sweatshirt was one he often threw on early on a Saturday morning as he brewed coffee, read the paper, and prepared his favorite bagel for breakfast. It was a treasure on many levels and had become something of a security blanket to my daughter

 red sweatshirt

(Photo Source: Google Images)

In both the best and worst of times she slept nightly with the worn shirt close by. So often she had cried to me after his death about missing him and wanting him back. I understood at a deep level how she felt (and then some), and was not at all surprised that she wanted “his sweatshirt” now that she had been placed on a psychiatric hold for suicidal ideations.

It made perfect sense to me. To a frightened and unstable fifteen-year-old it was portable comfort, raveled and worn, in a place where comfort was difficult to find. I was happy to grant her request.

Visiting hours included Tuesdays, so I was returning less than 24 hours after I’d followed the ambulance across town and had her admitted. I took some approved clothes, the needed sweatshirt, my younger daughter, and an anxious heart, and drove us all through afternoon traffic for our first visit.

To call it uncomfortable would be an understatement. And incomplete. How else might I describe it? It was bewildering, sad, strange, surreal, terrifying, and with a few tendrils of hope that I tried to believe weren’t just taunting me.

There was one room where all visits took place simultaneously. All of the adolescents hospitalized there and all of the visitors who had come to see them were confined to this one very plain not-terribly-large space. Each group had their little gathering of chairs as segregated as possible from the others, with some people having to share their seat with another.

visiting room

(Photo Source: Google Images)

Some groups sat close together, speaking in hushed tones. Some seemed less eager to sit closely, or to even talk with one another. Some were loud and frustrated, others subdued and resigned.

I tried to (or not to?) catch glimpses of the others in the room while simultaneously trying to figure out how our family had ended up here, how my daughter was faring in the psych ward, and just exactly what the next step might be.

Add “disconcerting” to the list of adjectives.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013


12 thoughts on “His Sweatshirt

  1. being on the other side of the visitation time, it is heartbreaking to see your loved ones’ faces with their fear and sadness. the setting for us was in a cafeteria, so it felt like my loved ones were visiting me in prison. it really feels like being incarcerated. i think it’s so sweet you brought her that sweatshirt. i remember my first day i was really homesick and at the same time i wanted to forget about my family because it hurt so much. when she does get out, let me know. i have some advice to share about something i call the “pink cloud” and how a relapse of symptoms is heartbreaking, but needs to be expected. suggest to her that she should write letters to her father while sitting around being bored to death all day. i wrote as much as i could and it was very therapeutic.

    • Hi, Alise. Thanks so much for your reply. I appreciate hearing about your thoughts, perspective, and experience. It can be so different for everyone, yet still have many similarities. Visitation time is hard all the way around, isn’t it? Still, I was grateful for it.

      I want to be clear that I’m sharing our story after the fact. This was a few years ago. I am also sharing with my daughter’s knowledge; I would not want to betray any of my children’s confidence so they all know I am writing about this.

      Having said that, I’d love to hear your input about the pink cloud, relapse, and the writing you did. Like you, I write in hopes of encouraging others and I understand that experience is a valuable teacher.

      Thanks for reading,


      • I have been out of the partial hospitalization program for a little over 2 months. In that time I have had a few manic episodes and just last week had a drug overdose. I hate my medication but even more, I hate the fact that without it I am a harm to myself. Any advice on how to handle relapses? I know for my friends and family it’s a hard thing to watch and I feel guilt for causing the pain.

    • I’m sorry it’s been so rough since you’ve been out. I don’t think this is terribly unusual. Ongoing treatment and work is very important, but also difficult.

      We did not deal with substance use, but self harm can have some of the same issues (such as relapse). Please know that I AM NOT A MEDICAL OR PSYCHIATRIC PROFESSIONAL, so I can only respond based on experience and what I’ve learned from others. *** I would strongly advise you to seek a professional for input. I believe that is of utmost importance. ***

      I wonder what your release plan from the partial hospitalization specified. For many DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is very helpful. I don’t know your diagnosis, but maybe you can talk with your therapist about it. I do believe strongly that meds must be supplemented by therapy that helps us make healthy changes and gives us the support we need. Trying to do this alone is setting ourselves up for failure. (also, sometimes it can take time to find the med that is the best fit, and as you know there can be both good and bad when it comes to meds; they can help us, but also have difficult side effects)

      I know you feel badly about causing pain to those you love. I think that speaks strongly to the compassion you have for them. I would encourage you to have that same level of compassion for yourself, to know that YOU are worth making changes for and make those changes out of love and respect for YOURSELF. Again, a I believe a therapist is an integral part of this process. It may be challenging, but I think it’s possible.

      Do you have a plan in place for when you feel you might harm or overdose? Maybe a friend or family member you know who would lovingly support you? Or someone you could contract with so that you let them know you need help BEFORE you do something you will later regret?

      WRAP Plans can be helpful. http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com/wrap/wellness-recovery.php <<<— Here is a link to help you learn about them. (WRAP = Wellness Action Recovery Plan) It's good to be proactive (to intervene before you do something harmful), and this can help.

      Don't think you must do this alone. In fact, we all need support when we are in crisis. It's how we're wired. Whether you need 2 people or 200 for support may vary from person to person, but I think we all need to know that we have loving helpers around us.

      Don't give up, Alise! It sounds like you are indeed surrounded by people who love you. They can help you learn to love and treat yourself well. You are worth every ounce of work it might take.

      • thank you for taking so much time to help me out. you give a lot of helpful advice. keep inspiring and supporting those of us out there who need it. much love.

    • We all need help sometimes. (Take it from an old mom like me; it’s true!) I hope and pray you remember you are loved and valuable, not because of anything you do or don’t do, but just because you are.

      Take good care. You are quite an inspiration yourself.


  2. I just started following your blog, and after reading the comments of both you and Alise, I thank both of you for being so honest. I’m sure it is hard to watch your loved one go through something that you cannot possibly fix on your own such as a scrape or bump. I’ve been on the other end like Alise, always wondering what effect I had on my loved ones. Thankfully I’m finally on decent medication and have never required hospitalization, but I won’t lie and say that before we got the medication right, I didn’t have those dark moments where I wondered if it was easier to just die, than to deal with something that feels so much bigger than myself, something that no matter how you want to control it you can’t, and you know the way you feel is a result of mental illness, but it doesn’t make it any easier because you still feel it and can’t shake it. Thank God for the love of family and my faith as well as it has pulled me thru. Both of you are in my thoughts 🙂

  3. Thank you. Your words carry much weight. I too have struggled with clinical depression, thankfully after my daughter was already in treatment. It was a darkness beyond what I could have imagined. I didn’t end up in the hospital either, but would have been happy to stay in bed the rest of my days. Or get hit by a bus. I could have gone either way, really.

    I’m so glad you have had good support. As I said before, I believe we are created to be in relationship with each other, and we need that so much when we are in crisis. Sadly, we often tend to pull away just when we should be reaching out. I know I certainly do.

    Thanks so much for reading and following. There is so much we can all learn from one another. It’s so important.

    Take care,


  4. Clothing can be so meaningful for us. That sweatshirt is as beautiful to your daughter as a royal robe, and your acknowledgment of that must have meant much to her as well.

    • I agree; it was symbolic of many things that were and are so important to her. She had it with her much of the time when she was away from home in treatment for a year and a half. I will always be grateful she chose it as a memento from among my husband’s things.

      Thanks for reading, Tim.


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