The children who come to Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch are all trauma survivors. When besieged by trauma, some kids push back at the people around them. Others turn inward.
Haysel was one of those kids who turned her pain inward. She was quiet and introspective, and very focused on school and school activities. She was a cheerleader, a gymnast, and a good student. She was beautiful, had good friends, and presented a positive face to the world. On the outside, Haysel looked like she had it all together. Inside, however, Haysel was suffering from severe emotional pain caused by depression and anxiety.
Kids like Haysel don't always get help because they hide their struggles and use quieter and more hidden "survival tools," like bulimia and cutting. Haysel dulled her emotional pain by cutting herself. Fortunately, her mom recognized the extent of her daughter's pain and found help for her at the Ranch.
"I was depressed. I was upset and angry all the time. I just stopped talking and started cutting myself a lot," Haysel said. "My mom and I are like the same person. She was kind of troubled when she was younger too, so she knew what was going on."
"Haysel entered [Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch] looking pretty down and defeated," said her Ranch therapist, Sara Vetter. "She was respectful but didn't share much information. She spoke very little the first few days she was here."
After about a week, Haysel started talking to staff and other residents. Vetter said she quickly adjusted to the routine and became engaged, talkative, and positive to be around. Determination was her biggest strength. She was just as determined to succeed in treatment as she was to succeed in school, gymnastics, and anything else she tried.
Vetter said, "Haysel was very focused on keeping herself busy with positive activities, in spite of fluctuations with her mood and bouts of depression."
In spite of the help Haysel needed, she was able to be a part of the community while she was undergoing treatment at the Ranch. Because she was trustworthy and dependable, her treatment decided it would be appropriate and helpful for her to attend public school and continue her involvement in gymnastics and cheerleading. As long as she was able to keep up with Ranch programming expectations, which she was, Haysel could stay involved at her home school.
While at the Ranch, Haysel learned a lot about herself. Rather than cutting herself to release the painful thoughts and feelings, Haysel learned to face them head-on. "I used the quiet room. It was nice to take some time by myself when things got hard. I learned how to step back and look at what was going on in my mind and body."
Identifying her negative thoughts and feelings gave Haysel the opportunity to challenge them.
"I was at the Ranch about five months," Haysel said. "I didn't completely change, but I found different coping skills. I'm glad I was there. It's nice to see there are places for people who are struggling to get help."
Pursuing Her Dream
The Ranch helped Haysel turn her life around in more ways than one. When Haysel left the Ranch, someone told her about a scholarship for kids who had gone through treatment at the Ranch. The Ranch's scholarship fund is 100% donor supported and available to children who have completed high school, have completed treatment at the Ranch, and are furthering their education.
Haysel wanted to go to cosmetology school. She checked into the scholarship, applied, and completed her degree, thanks to a student scholarship from the Ranch.
"The scholarship is paying for almost my whole schooling, and helped me a ton," Haysel said. "I learned hair, skin, and nails; and I love it. I am now working at a full-service salon and recently got married."
While she steps into the next chapter of her life, Haysel remains focused on the things she needs to do to stay healthy. "I stop by the Ranch to see Sara every now and then. She is very easy to talk to and has been very nice. I'm really grateful for everyone there," she said.
Is Haysel's life perfect now? Of course not, she says. "Everyone has struggles in life, but you have to step back and take a look at the whole picture. It's easy to focus on the one bad thing, but there are always lots of other good things going on too. I am happier than I ever thought I could be."
Great wisdom for a young woman who just turned 20 years old!
What is "Cutting?"
Cutting (or self-harm) is when a person purposely scratches, cuts, or rubs somewhere on their body until they break the skin. It usually starts in the early teenage years and can continue into adulthood.
While difficult to understand, cutting is a way some people cope with the pain of strong emotions. They may not have learned positive ways to cope with their intense feelings. When emotions aren't expressed in a healthy way, they can build up inside until the tension seems unbearable. Cutting is often an attempt to relieve that pressure--or to create physical pain. Sara Vetter, Ranch therapist, said a common misconception of cutting is that it is a suicide attempt or a precursor to an attempt. This is usually not the case.
Therapists at the Ranch work with children to examine the reasons they harm themselves, and to find other, more positive, coping skills that work for them.