I almost lost my best friend last weekend.
She tried to die by suicide. I received her text that she was in the hospital while I was tutoring.
“Call me ASAP.”
“I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me.”
My response: “I know. Still working with a student.”
She: “Ok please get done soon! I need you.”
I: “What hospital?”
She: “I’m at ******. I had a suicide attempt. The nurses know me and hate me here, so they’re doing small mind tortured. Waking me every five minutes–saying duragatory things. They told my parents I’m hallucinating–I’m not, please come stay with me–I don’t feel safe.”
“Can you stay the night?”
I: “Yes, I can.”
She: “With me, please? ***** (her husband) won’t.”
I: “Yes, of course.”
She: “OMG- get here now!! Room **.”
Meanwhile, I am trying to do my online tutoring job. I can see the look of horror on my face on camera while the texts are displaying on my phone. I tell my student I have to talk to his dad. I inform him that I have to leave immediately due to an emergency. I explain while his son is out of earshot. He gives his sincere emotional support. I give a quick run-down of what his son needs to complete for the assignment, then I start packing. I text my husband to let him know that I have to help my friend, then I tell one of my twins that I’m leaving for the hospital.
My brain is racing at the speed of light. I am trying to cover all the bases: what would she need from home that she did not get since she was directly transported to ER? I text her to ask if she needs anything from home before I leave. She would like headphones. I grab my earbuds, but first I have my son help me find an extra set because I would like my own set. After trying a few sets (why is it that teenagers blow through so many earbuds?), I decide to bring my own to share. She might be too tired to listen to music.
I text her to let her know I’m finally on my way. I arrive and remind myself of several things: put on your own oxygen mask first, stay strong, and be her advocate.
She is in the ICU. She has a central port PICC line as well as two IV lines because the medical staff had a hard time getting an IV started. She’s bruised all over. She overdosed on a plethora of medications at her parents’ house while she was housesitting there, including painkillers and her father’s injectable insulin. Her kidneys shut down and the medical staff had to pump her stomach. The medical team pull her labs every two hours to make sure that her levels are improving. Thankfully, the PICC line is a saving grace.
My friend makes comments about the nursing staff. She says that they make comments about her, saying that she OD’d to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her daddy, but when she confronts the nurses about it, they say that my friend is hallucinating. The hospital has a one on one person for suicide watch. This person has to document every little thing that the patient does while under their care. On Saturday night, the one on one person documented all of the unprofessional conduct. While I was there, she said that the nurses were commenting about her again, as well as me. I went up to the nurse and asked her about it. She denied it and said that my friend was “hallucinating and making things up”. I said, “You may say that, but when you talk about patients, others can hear it and that is breaking patient privacy. Everyone else can hear it, and that is not acceptable. It is not professional. You need to stop it.”
The nurse called her supervisor and she came down to talk with all of us. My friend finally voices how she feels. The nurses, of course, covered their butts and say that my friend had been hallucinating from her OD. I interject and say, “Even though that did happen, it is not professional for you to discount how she feels. Nor is it professional of you to talk about her while other people can hear. She does have recipient rights.” The minute I mentioned the term “recipient rights”, the two immediately changed their tune and started apologizing. My friend apologized as well for things (even though in my opinion, she didn’t have to, but it is part of healing the relationship). I asked if my friend could be moved to step down critical care since her levels were improving, and the nurses agreed. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room with a more caring team. Ironically, the bitchy nurse stays after her shift end to help us move.
We get settled in, and my friend finally has the best sleep she has had. Her levels improve so much, her kidneys are normally functioning, and the medical team clears her. The next day, she gets her PICC line removed. My friend keeps telling me to go home, that she is OK. All of a sudden, we learn that Community Mental Health (CMH) is on their way to start the intake process to find her a facility. Things start accelerating at an astronomical rate, and my friend has no idea how to process this. I stay to help her process things and to be her advocate. Her parents come to the meeting, as well as her husband. I ask the CMH representative if it is OK if I stay during the meeting to be her advocate and he said if it was OK with her it was OK with him.
Here is where I see mental health stigma magnified. Thankfully, the CMH person is neutral, asks all the appropriate questions, and takes my friend’s requests seriously. I was floored when my friend’s stepmom was blaming my friend for what happened. She said, “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”
I couldn’t hold it back anymore. I said, “I’m sorry. With all due respect, when you make comments like that to her, you are blaming her for her illness. We need to help her instead of telling her what she did wrong. She didn’t do this to you.”
The stepmom got angry at me and said, “Well, with all due respect to you, you haven’t been here for the past eleven years.”
I responded, “You’re right. I haven’t. But, you need to understand that constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”
When her parents left, my friend said, “That is the first time that anyone stood up to my stepmom.”
I pack up to go home because my friend’s husband is there. I feel that she is stable enough now. Her husband made the comment, “Well, I would have come earlier, but I had a half talk of gas and no money.”
I looked him and smiled with my sweetest Southern smile and said, “I had only the change in my pocket, a quarter tank of gas, cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night with *****.”
He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?”
I said, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love ******.”
I was hurt for my friend. It is hard enough battling mental health demons, but when you are alone with no emotional support from your family, it is almost insurmountable.
Once I got to my car, I video chatted with one of my friends, and I finally cried. I let it all out. I cried body rocking sobs for my friend, the pain that she is shouldering on her own, the fear of the unknown that she is facing, and the aching of wanting to heal. I sobbed in anger against mental health stigma, the blame people put on those with mental illness, and the broken system that is failing so many. No one should be blamed for his or her mental illness. It would be akin to being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.
I received a text from my friend’s husband. It read: “Thanks for being such a good friend to ******. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such devotion from a friend of hers. I will try to keep you in the loop as much as possible ok” I responded, “Thanks for keeping me in the loop. I appreciate that. We all need to rally around ***** and help her to recovery and wellness.”
This is my prayer. I pray that we work on our recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and remember to put on our oxygen masks first.
It’s been almost three years since you died. I miss you. Until you died, I can honestly say that I did not carry around much regret, but since you passed I have one big regret. I am so sorry that I could not take better care of you in your old age, when your health was failing. None of us realized how bad you had gotten and I thought you had more time left.
See, you came to visit me for two weeks. Shortly after I left my job to stay at home full time with my then one year old daughter, I had hoped that the visit would go well. We even toured a senior care home that was so nice and I knew we all liked it. But having you here for two weeks was hard. And we found out that since you had a felony on your record, you would not be eligible to live in a nice senior care facility, even though it was so long ago. I was barely keeping it together with my own family. I had been dealing with postpartum anxiety (though I didn’t know what that was at the time), we had just switched to one income, and I was an emotional wreck. I didn’t know that would be the last time I would see you.
When you stayed with us, you were scared to do simple things on your own, like changing the toilet paper roll or putting food on your own dinner plate. It also seemed like many of the usual social graces people use escaped you as I had to remind you of things like using a napkin. We thought you had been spending too much time alone. I knew being in new environments was stressful for you. I panicked when you told me you were starting new medication a few days into the trip. I was afraid that there would be a lag-time until the new meds kicked in and that you might have a manic episode. I was scared, and overwhelmed, and grumpy. Although I had always wanted to take of you, I was afraid of exposing my husband and daughter to your psychotic episodes and just could not handle taking care of you in my home.
After your next breakdown, you went to live with my brother in LA. It was hard to tell over the phone, but he said that you didn’t come back to normal after that one. I know you hated living in the city & in a noisy house with no where to walk to. We didn’t understand why your psychiatrist kept taking you off of your medications, without talking with any of us. I am sad that you died so soon, but I am beyond infuriated with the mental health care system and the shit they put you through all those years. That time, your case workers finally talked you into checking into the behavioral health center, but it was set up for short term care. Your psychatrist took you off of all your psych meds, so the hospital didn’t give you any & you were completely out of it. When I tried to talk to you on the phone you put the receiver inside your mouth. It was impossible to have a conversation. They put you in a wheel chair because you kept falling down. They couldn’t send you home & there were no long term care facilities available for you to go to. We finally fought for you to go to a medical rehab place and argued with them long enough to have you (finally) evaluated by a psychiatrist…which took two weeks. They put you back on psych meds and you improved enough for J to take you home.
But you weren’t all the way better and you had a hard time adjusting to J’s house. He managed to get you into a retirement home that didn’t do a comprehensive background check. When you became agitated and confused again, we thought it was related to your mental health, so J took you to a nearby emergency psychiatric hospital. The doctors there didn’t know you. He waited with you all damn day and they couldn’t tell him how long it would be to get you in to see a doctor. They told him the only way to get you seen was to have you brought in by police. So he called the police, explained the situation and a very understanding cop escorted you in the back of a police car to the hospital. It breaks my heart that he had to put handcuffs on you to walk you into the hospital “in custody.” They explained to you that you hadn’t done anything wrong, but didn’t think you really understood. After all of your experiences,I know that was scary for you and I feel horrible that they had to do that to get you into a doctor. Horrible and pissed beyond belief at this fucked up mental health system that would put a 72 year old man with severe mental health issues though that just to get fucking treated by a doctor. Anyway, it seems like we should have been taking you to a medical doctor, because you died within hours of being checked in. Supposedly they gave you a physical exam, then something to help you sleep because you were tired. When the nurse checked on you 15 minutes later, you were gone.
My other regret is that you had to deal with a system that was so incompetent and frustrating to deal with. That your health care added to the hardships that you faced in life & that I wasn’t a better advocate for your care during your life. I love you and I miss you, and I am glad that you are no longer suffering.
I am finally coming to accept that my mother has a variety of mental illnesses.
I’ve known all my life something was wrong.
Mostly I have ignored it, and even joked about it, trying to blow off steam.
Nothing was ever good enough for my mother. If I came home with B’s on my report card, she would want to know why they weren’t A’s, saying that “I could have done better.”
My father only talked to me about how to fix something. He never shared much about his life, other than stuff about his job. He would tell stories for hours that went on about nothing. In lieu of parenting us, my mother just bought stuff for my sister and me.
Mom was also a bulimic. Day after day when I was growing up, I would hear her in the bathroom throwing up after every meal. If we asked about it, she would deny it and change the subject. Dad defended her and said it was “none of our business.”
My grandmother knew they were incapable of parenting so we stayed over at her house as much as possible. My grandmother basically raised me from the time I was 12 years old. I moved in with her and took care of her after her first heart attack.
Sadly, I was an adult from that day on. I cooked, cleaned and ran her house. We had a great relationship.
Then, my grandmother found out I was gay. She told me I was a sinner, an embarrassment, and told me I wasn’t her grandchild anymore unless I was “healed.”
So I moved out on my own for the first time. We didn’t speak for years.
After Granny died, and later, my father, Mom was on her own. For the first time in her life, she had control of the bills.
It took her less than two years to spend all of the money in the saving accounts that both my dad and granny had left. She then mortgaged her home in order to go shopping and go to the bingo halls. She recently moved in with me because she had no choice: it was me or the streets. She couldn’t manage her money and had gambled it away.
Mom has always been controlling, She gets mad if I leave the house without telling her where, when, and why, even calling my friends to find out where I am. She argues with me over everything: the food, and even the type of trash bags I buy.
She claims that “I owe her” and refuses to chip in with the utilities.
If she is driving in the car with my sister or me and she doesn’t like the music or the conversation, she tells us that she’s going to ram the car into a tree.
She is home all day alone while I go to work. When I get home, if she hasn’t already called me ten times, she has had the whole day to get worked up about something – anything. She will unload on me as soon as I walk in the door.
She gets “nervous” about some story on the local news, or something she heard on the police scanner she listens to all day, or something horrible a friend told her about, and has to tell me that it could happen to me so I must be careful.
Almost every night is a war and a screaming fit complete with her shaking her fists and slamming my door. The next day, she says “Good Morning,” like it never happened.
Tonight she screamed at me, told me to go to hell, and stay there and slammed my bedroom door. I can’t stand it anymore, she refuses to go to a doctor. Tonight I told her if she didn’t get help, I would call an ambulance and force her to see a doctor. I have no support, no family to help.
She badmouths me to her friends, and they always act like I’m such a jerk.
Despite how it sounds, I love my mother.
I know there is help for her, but she will not go. She says therapy is stupid, and she just bites her nails when she gets upset.
Is anyone else going through something similar? Does anyone have advice for me?
I don’t remember when reporting of suspected abuse and threat assessments (e.g., suicide risk identifications) became mandatory for educators and counselors. It was before I became a parent, I know that much, and it dawned on me a long time ago that there were probably plenty of reports that resulted from misunderstandings.
About a month ago, while we were in the middle of Princess’ most troubling days, while we struggled to identify and treat her emerging bipolar tendencies, our son, Hoss, ran away from his school and was brought back by the county police. It’s been a long time since he ran away like that, but it brought back memories of the tough times before he was diagnosed with his mood disorder.
One of these elopement incidents was the final thing that sent him to the psychiatric hospital back in the day, and that he’d gone all of last school year without ever feeling the need to escape like that made me feel like we’d made serious progress. Last month’s bolting was not as serious as what we used to see, but he did leave the property.
When the police officer brought him back to the school, they said he’d expressed that he’d wanted to die. As a result, despite the assurances of the school staff with whom Hoss has a history (principal, counselor, psychologist) that he was not actually a danger to himself or others, the police informed us that they would be taking him to the ER for a psychiatric consult. I was told that I would not be allowed to go along until I had spoken with the Mobile Crisis Team.
I spent time with the MCT explaining all of the steps I go through to care for my children and myself (outpatient therapies for the children, family therapy with a social worker with whom all of the family members are comfortable, open lines of communication with the schools, medication monitoring all around) with a response that roughly translated to:
“Okay. That’s exactly what we were going to recommend, so keep on keeping on.”
My husband went to the ER to stay with Hoss, and the evaluation indicated that Hoss’ “I wish someone would just kill me,” was not actually a cry for help, but rather a misstated outburst that is not all that unusual for a nine-year-old boy with ADHD. During the next therapy session, Hoss got an opportunity to talk about how upset he was that he’d been forced to go to the ER when he’d wanted to stay with his sister and I.
While Princess was in the day hospital program a few weeks ago in preparation for the transition back to school (now that we’ve gotten her medication properly titrated), she spoke of her brother’s boundary issues, and how he’s gotten in trouble the weekend before for not keeping his hands to himself.
Part of that boundary crossing included trying to tickle her all over, and missing her stomach by hitting a bit further south. Because we are working with Hoss on respecting personal space as well as just plain leaving his sister alone sometimes, he had to process what he’d done and he had consequences for not acting as he was supposed to.
Princess accepted his apology, since he’d properly identified what he’d done wrong and what he should have done instead. I didn’t hear about the incident until days later, since it happened while I was out of the house and it was no longer on everyone’s mind by the time I got home that evening.
However, the hospital reported the incident to the county, who interviewed all three of my children.
The end result of the interviews (from the point of view of the police and social worker) was that there was no criminal activity or additional cause for concern.
The end result from the point of view of my children was slightly different- Princess feels bad that she got her brother in trouble, Hoss is irritated and slightly grossed out that he “…had to look at pictures of private parts! Even girl ones!” and Little Joe doesn’t understand why he had to answer a whole bunch of questions about body parts and our family and stuff.
I know that mandatory reporting has resulted in abuse being caught before more damage can be done. I know that conducting threat assessments in elementary school may mean that we have fewer young children reacting to their stress by harming or killing themselves.
I understand this, and of course I want those bad things prevented.
I’m just struggling with how this has put me under a microscope when, according to the mental health and educational professionals who know me and my family, I’m one of the good guys
At the age of 3, my father began sexually molesting me.
At the age of 5, the sexual abuse was replaced by physical abuse from my father and my mother.
At the age of 9, both my mother and father went to rehab for alcoholism.
At the age of 10, I finally knew what it was like to have a home after living in over 200 houses, more than 100 cities, fifteen states, and two countries.
At the age of 14, I was raped by a classmate my freshman year of high school.
At the age of 15, I started working two full-time jobs and single-handedly supporting my family because my parents flat-out refused to work.
At the age of 16, my parents decided to start drinking again. I took on a third job to support their alcoholism.
At the age of 18 I graduated high school at nearly the top of my class.
After my first year of college, I was told that I was not allowed to continue even though I had scholarships because “I wasn’t raised to think I was better than anyone else.”
At the age of 21, I was raped again … by the man who had betrayed me seven years before. My parents told me I deserved it, and was lucky that a man had paid that much attention to me since I was worth nothing. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My birth certificate says that I was born on April 2nd, 1987 at 1:25 p.m.
I was born on March 30th, 2009 at roughly 9:45 p.m. when, at nearly 22 years old, I decided I had been through enough.
I am the adult daughter of two alcoholics who have been diagnosed by multiple mental health professionals as suffering from a variety of mental disorders.
My father suffers from Bipolar Disorder and severe Anxiety. My mother is a Paranoid Schizophrenic. Neither one has any sense of reality beyond their immediate perception of the world, and both are Compulsive Liars.
The man who raped me intimidated and frightened me into a silence I would not break for almost ten years. When I ran into him again, he introduced me to his wife and child as if we were old high school friends.
He contacted me after getting my information through old mutual friends and asked if we could meet to reconcile and so that he could apologize for what he had done. He never had any intention of doing so and in my own foolishness, I met with him and he forced me into the back of a car and raped me … again.
My parents told me I had to be lying, and that if I had been raped then I should consider myself lucky because that was more than I deserved from anyone. When I insisted that I was not lying and needed their help, my father smacked me across the face and broke a chair over my back.
I was almost twenty-two years old at the time and the only thing I remember after that was my youngest sister’s face. She was staring in horror and fear trying to figure out what to do.
I was the only one who stood up to the two of them. I defended everyone. I fought everyone’s battles and kept everyone safe. The thoughts in her mind were clear on her face: Who was supposed to protect me? How could they help me?
I had stayed for years thinking that I was protecting them. In that moment, I realized that if I showed them that all you could do was take the abuse and not actually do anything about it … then one day my little sister was going to be in my position … and no one would be around to help her either.
I didn’t have anywhere to go. I had nowhere to stay that night. I called up a friend and grabbed a ride, and crashed on a couch while struggling to find somewhere to live.
I went through months of endless torture and doubt while going through the trail that put my rapist in jail for what will be a very long time. I changed my address, my phone number, and all of my information so that I could cut ties with the life I didn’t deserve and start living a life that was not filled with fear, or doubt, or regret, or abuse.
Today, I am 23 years old.
I have a home of my own for the very first time.
I have sought counseling for the traumas I have been through in my life.
I have struggled with body image, self-esteem, guilt, and an intense lack of trust in people I care about.
I have cut all ties with my family, stopped supporting them financially, and moved on to start a life of my own.
I have found love in a man who is the best thing to ever happen to me. A man who would never raise a hand to me, who loves me in spite of my demons, and who has already supported and seen me at my absolute worst.
I have found peace.
I am not sharing my story to shock, horrify, or scare people. I am not sharing my story seeking sympathy although it is graciously received.
I am sharing my story because somewhere out there is a man, woman, or child who has faced demons that linger in shadows all around them. They may not feel that they are able to overcome them and they are utterly alone.
I am telling you my story to tell you this:
You are not alone. Ever.
No one is ever alone. There were moments when I wanted to give up and give in. Just tune out and wait for the worst to come so that nothing else as bad could happen. I figured there was nothing that could help or save me. I have been there.
I made it out and I am waiting for you with open arms on the other side. There’s plenty of room here.
This week has been a struggle.
In brief: I have a chronic mental health condition, and have struggled for years to find mental and emotional stability. I’m also a woman, and am impacted heavily by hormonal fluctuations that occur on a monthly basis.
Anyone who feels that I am just whining can do me a favour and stop reading right now.
Through medication treatment and self-discipline, I have found a level of stability that has been unparalleled in recent years of my existence. All this good goes out the window, however, for a period of a few agonizing days on a monthly basis.
Is it predictable? Yes.
Does that make it any easier? No.
Recently, I’ve been told that I am not a good “fit” for certain mental health services that I feel should apply to me. First example: I finally had an appointment with the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic outpatient services this past Thursday. I spent months looking forward to this appointment, hoping it would provide some relief.
Here’s what I learned:
Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.
That’s a worn out old adage, but there is much truth behind it. The psychiatrist on staff at the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic felt that, due to the fact that I have depression occurring presently as part and parcel of my chronic mental health woes, I am not a good fit for the clinic’s services.
I do not have “textbook” pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) symptoms. Also, in terms of medications that are usually helpful for PMDD, I am already taking a good selection of those recommended for front-line intervention, including vitamins and minerals such as B6, Calcium, and magnesium. There is potentially some room for dosage adjustment, but in terms of there being a supplementary medication trifecta for PMDD, that is it, and I’m already taking all of them.
I am not currently taking the “recommended” antidepressant of choice for PMDD, but the one I’m on now has done so much good for every other aspect of my life that I am extremely hesitant to swap it out for another medicine that might not work so well. Trintellix has helped me immensely. I don’t cry on a daily basis anymore. I’m more open with everybody: strangers, friends, my husband, you name it. I can actually get to work most days. I feel stable, I feel good… most days. Most days, I am an absolute delight – and I love it!
Obviously, I am hesitant to swap out this medication for one that is more “tried and true” for symptoms of pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. There is absolutely no guarantee that the antidepressants that have been clinically studied for PMDD effectiveness would work as well. In fact, I’ve tried most of them, with little success. So why swap out something that works well, for 20-ish days out of the month, for something that has been scientifically proven to be more effective for PMDD symptoms, but does not work well with my unique chemical composition? It makes no sense.
I’ve talked a lot about medication and I want to address something that I learned the hard way, ages ago:
In mental health, medication isn’t everything, Especially when it comes to more complex conditions. But my efforts to connect with a therapist or mental health counsellor at present have left me feeling even more lost and alone in my journey.
The Women’s Health Concerns Clinic heard my request to connect with a 1:1 therapist or counsellor in the Hamilton community, but did not offer to connect me with any such services. I was offered a referral to a mindfulness group, something I am not sure I will pursue due to the fact that most publicly operated mental health groups take place during the daytime hours, and I need to go to work during the day so I can support myself financially.
Sure, I could take time off work for the group, but doing so may jeopardize my employment and would be difficult to finance at this point, since any hours of work missed for the mindfulness group would constitute unpaid time off.
Desperate, I decided to look into private therapy options, and sourced out a psychotherapist’s website via the Psychology Today web page. This therapist sounds like a great fit, based on her specialties listed on her online profile page. I contacted this psychotherapist and asked about accessing her services. Obviously, private therapists cost money, something of which I am well aware; however, this therapist recommended that I seek to gain a referral to her through my employer’s Employee Assistance Program, which could, potentially, fund up to four sessions with this therapist to see if that would be beneficial for me, and also so I could establish if I enjoy working with her on a 1:1 basis and wish to pursue services further.
I called up the EAP and explained the situation. The response I received was absolutely gut-wrenching: Because I have a chronic mental health condition, they are “unable” (or, unwilling) to provide me with a referral due to the fact that my therapy goals may not align with their mandate of connecting individuals in need with short-term counselling services.
It would be amusing, if it wasn’t so sad, to learn that even designated mental health support services stigmatize against people presenting with more severe mental health conditions.
What an eye-opener that was
In light of the recent high-profile suicides of wildly successful fashion designer Kate Spade and world-renowned celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, I must point out that turning away a person who struggles with mental illness from suitable services because they don’t fit the proclaimed mandate or envisioned purpose of the service is a very, very dangerous practice.
Anyone reaching out for mental health support should at least be connected with suitable services once they make the effort to reach out, even if the initial service with which they’ve made contact might not be the best fit.
It is highly unwise to tell a person struggling with a chronic mental health disorder that they can’t access services because they have the wrong kind of mental illness.