A Starbucks Employee

May 12, 2016

 “I am doing horribly. My mood has dipped from anxiety into depression. Brian has become short with me and I can not take it. I don’t want to do this to my family again. I don’t want to go through inpatient again.  The thought literally takes my breath from my lungs. The pain and darkness sneaks up so quickly. I really thought I was going to be healed. Now I feel hopeless. I don’t want to go through this again. I am upset because I was doing well, then we changed my meds. Now, I am worse. I am angry. Why wont God heal me now?”

May 18, 2016 

“I am just sitting here and writing in the Ingles parking lot. I got myself Starbucks. It is so crazy that the Starbucks employee named Hunter is gone. I first noticed him on my first night of Grief Share, when I stopped going to Grief Share, he was no longer an employee. 

I have switched to a new medicine called Latuda. I feel a lot better and more like myself. I started it on Saturday night. My taste has returned. I can taste sweet things again. My body feels more calm again. I don’t feel as anxious. My weight gain is under control again. 

I am able to pray and begin growing in my relationship with God again. I am so glad. I am in a place where I feel God molding me into a better version of myself. I feel more peaceful, emotionally invested, and desiring to focus on others. It is a good place.”

What a difference a week and some new medication can make. It demonstrates the effect of being on the wrong medications. Trust yourself, when your medications aren’t making you feel the way you know you should. There are different drugs and better ones. No one can predict what medication will work for what person and how. Only time and trial and error will help. Make sure you are with a psychiatrist who understands this and is willing to work with you.  Latuda was such a great medication for me. I knew I needed a mood stabilizing medicine after such an improvement when starting Risperdal. Saphris was an absolute disaster. Latuda became my drug of choice. I would remain on it for the duration of my treatment.

Grief Share was such a great experience. The first night was so scary for me. I drove to the church and turned around. I decided I wasn’t ready and went to Starbucks for a coffee. My barista’s name was Hunter. He even looked like a high school version of my brother. I don’t believe in coincidence. So, I took it as a sign that Hunter was with me and drove back to Grief Share. Grief Share is a program that can be found in many churches across the country. The curriculum was written by a couple that lost three of their children.  The now run retreats across the country to help parents that have lost a child. I didn’t fit in well at Grief Share. It was mostly widows with a few parents who lost older children. However, my story gripped these people. A few precious widows drew around me and gave me such great support. It was such a blessing. However, as my mental illness developed I found  that I couldn’t keep going. I wanted to withdraw from social situations. So, I stopped going. The last night I went, Hunter was no longer an employee of Starbucks. He had worked every shift during my time at Grief Share. It felt like my journey with Grief Share was over, at least for a season. So, I said goodbye and moved along on my journey. 

A Misplaced Zero

May 11, 2016

“The past few days have gone well. I feel like I am starting to get back to myself. We went to church on Sunday. It was wonderful. I do feel healing is coming. It will take time. My heart aches over Hunter’s death. I still cant believe he is gone. It feels more tangible now that I am recovering. It makes me want to push back. The void is too great. 

We found out there was a mistake in Hunter’s chart. Hunter was receiving 2 mg of Dilaudid instead of 0.2mg. The doctor didn’t write the “0” first. They, also, pushed it all at once, instead of over 5-10 minutes. His BP was dropping in the hours before he died, but they ignored it. Heartbreaking.

Symptoms: 

10lbs. weight gain since starting Saphris

loss of taste (as it dissolves orally)

memory trouble

constantly thinking of new projects

racing thoughts

increased anxiety

wanting to work out for hours

wanting to buy everything

I am stressed out, anxious, and not doing well. After I got home from the Griffith’s (dropping off the kids), I was not doing well. All day, I had been working on tasks around the house, moving busily from one thing to the next, not wanting to think obsessively about projects, vacations, or financial needs. Right before Brian got home I weighed myself. I had gained almost 10 lbs. in a week and a half. I tipped my mood. I was anxious and wanting to stop eating and go exercise. I don’t want to stay on a medicine that damages my ability to taste and causes weight gain. I decided to use the elliptical for 30 minutes, after an hour and a half of yoga. Then, I went to take care of the baby. I can feel my mood tipping from anxiety to depression. I am fearing going back to UNC. I am afraid I might not get better, though I feel like the Lord revealed to me heal me.”

Changing medications and finding the right combinations is incredibly stressful and anxiety provoking. Each one giving hope of feeling better than on the last but also waiting until it reveals what side effects it will give you. Psychiatric medication prescribing is not a science. It is not as cut and dry as other specialties. There is so much trial and error. As well, the medication is chemically changing your brain. This leads to your entire body reacting. The side effects are sometimes tolerable and other times distressing. Saphris was horrible for me. It was more distressing than tremors and not being able to walk. Uncontrolled weight gain with loss of taste and not enjoying food was terrifying. I couldn’t wait to get off of it. Luckily, my psychiatrist saw how it was affecting me and changed my medication immediately.  To anyone trying to find the right combination of medications. Be patient, document symptoms and side effects so you can really see how things are affecting you. Be honest with your psychiatrist or medical provider about how these medications make you feel. Their job is to help you find the right combination so you can begin healing. I know it can feel so distressing that you actually feel worse than before you started, but the right combination will give you the life you dream of, push through.

Finding out some of the truth about Hunter was both refreshing and crippling. In the months to come, we would find out details that would let us know that the perfect storm of events had taken place to lead to Hunter’s death, However, it was sickening to find out the misplaced zero was all it took to take my brother’s life. As a nurse, they give you tests where all you have to do is write in a zero to remind you how important it is. That someone could be so careless when writing the prescription and reading the results led me to such frustration. As well, his blood pressure was decreasing and they ignored it. It confirmed what we had thought, his death was preventable. If you still have more questions about what happened, you should. It would take months for us to find out all of the details. 

The Canaanite Woman

May 8, 2016

“Today was Mother’s Day! My gift was some friends of ours coming over and giving our back deck a makeover. They put pads on our chairs and bench, added flowers and planters, and an outdoor rug. It is gorgeous! This morning we went to church and dedicated Judah. It was wonderful. Church was on the Cannanite woman. She begged Jesus to just give her the tinniest amount of attention, though she did not deserve it. I have been her. I have begged God for help and desired just the scraps of his healing love. I felt the pull on my heart, as I approached the altar to weep and pray. I felt God say, “That is why the journey had to be so long and so painful. I needed the pain and severity to be so great that event the greatest doubter wouldn’t be able to explain the restoration of your life. It is complete and now begins the healing.” I believe. I believe that now restoration will come.”

It was such a blessing to have friends draw around me and give me something I couldn’t give myself. Having this gift of a nice outdoor space to go and get away was wonderful. So many people, during this season, just abandon us. They didn’t call and check in. They weren’t in the messy days. They simply went back to their own lives, when our lives became messy. It really broke my heart and made me angry with The Church as a whole. Christians were supposed to emulate Christ and get down in the trenches with the broken and hurting. However, we so often want to stay in the comfortable. We don’t want to be inconvenienced by other people’s struggles. We want to stay in our ivory towers where things look easier and prettier. Those, however, weren’t the people that brought healing to my life. They weren’t the people who showed me the love of Christ. The people who saw my pain and responded with authentic love. Those were the hands and feet of Christ that reached into the dark places of my heart and shined light. They were the ones that gave me hope that I wasn’t broken beyond repair. They were the ones who helped bring me out of the pit. To them, I am grateful.

Mother’s Day was, also, a hard day. I felt like such a failure. I was sick and making life harder for my own mother and my children. I felt unbelievable guilt. But I tried to push it aside, to go to church and truly hear the message that day. I could relate to the Canaanite woman. She believed in Jesus’s power. She didn’t come front and center demanding it. She was humble, begging for even the crumbs. She knew that anything Jesus could give would heal her demon possessed daughter. I have been there. In the hopeless state of illness, believing there would never be healing. However, the crumbs gave me hope. I knew it wouldn’t take a lot to heal me, even Jesus crumbs would be enough. I would sit and wait for the crumbs of his light and love to fall down upon me. He gave them to me that day. Hope. I would forget about this day, overtime. As he didn’t tell me he had healed me that day. That day was later. Much later. There would be more struggle to come before being released from my pain. It would be almost two years to the day before the healing came. But that day, I was given hope that this might now last forever. I held onto my crumbs, grateful for every one.

A Hole In My Heart

May 6, 2016

“There is a hole that cant be filled. It resides in my heart and my soul. It is Hunter’s place. All I have left are my memories, pictures, and movies. I can’t fathom that I don’t get to see him again until I die. What a joyous day that will be. Suicide is hard to let go of. The pain is there. There is no escape. I know I am needed here and I want to stay, just without the pain. God has a purpose to all of this. However, I still feel blind. I can not see.”

In the early days after coming home, things were such a roller coaster. I never knew, when I woke up, whether today would be a good day or bad. It was so hard to surrender to the fact Hunter was gone. I fought against it with every bone in my body. I didn’t want to accept it because it made it real, true. I held onto the pain so I wasn’t moving on. I felt that to be a betrayal of my brother. I felt that, if I didn’t get better, I was betraying my family on Earth. I felt that if I let go and moved forward, I was betraying my brother. The not getting to say goodbye was what haunted me most. I never got to say those final words. I never got to know that he was aware he was dying and was okay. I didn’t know what his last moments were like. It haunted me not knowing if he was in pain or scared. I blamed myself for not knowing what was going on with his medical care and not intervening. The words “If I had only known….” haunted me. That and the fact that days before he died I begged him not to have the surgery. I told him that he didn’t really need his tonsils removed. I reminded him of the risks of anesthesia. As usual, he reminded me that I was over reacting and he would be fine. If we had only known.

Suicide was something that was so hard to give up. It was like an addiction, it was something I cringed to for dear life. Ironic, I know. Knowing it was an option kept me going. I knew that if things got too bad, I could make it all stop. It was a source of control. After the hospital, it was used against me. I knew that if I tried again, it was likely I would go back to the psychiatric hospital. I knew if I cut, I would loose my family’s trust and they would continue to view me as broken. So there was this inner turmoil, always at the back of my mind. The back and forth and stress was maddening. My mind was a whir of thought at all moments of the day. I had started to loose track of what was sane and what was not. The days ahead would be long and hard.

May the Fourth Be With You

May 3, 2016

“The morning has been really hard. We changed my medicine last night. I doubled my Saphris (which I had changed to eliminate my symptoms on Risperdal). I dropped my morning Lithium. I was doing well and then started becoming agitated. I, then, became tired and went back to sleep. I am feeling a bit better now. I am journaling, did yoga, and prayed. I am feeling a bit foggy. 

Hunter’s birthday is tomorrow. I am a little nervous about how the day will be. I miss him so much. I want to hug him tomorrow. I hate the firsts we have to go through without him. It reminds me that I will keep aging and he will not. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to get older without a sibling. It takes my breath away to think about it. I want a moment for us on his birthday. To feel our bond and know he is okay. 

Psalm 139:11-12 – “If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Reminds me of how limited my perception is to God. He doesn’t see my circumstances as I do. He sees the whole picture. I may feel I am in such pain and darkness but he sees through it all.

Psalm 135:3-4 – “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant. For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession.”

The Lord chose Jacob. He knew Essau would trade his birthright for food. He knew Jacob would capitalize on his brother’s weakness. He knows what will happen to me. The Lord vindicates us and has compassion on us.

May 5, 2016

“Today has been a good day. Yesterday was harder. It was Hunter’s Birthday. We went to yoga class. I bit off too much with the class I chose. Brian and I kept looking at each others with each new pose. We all wore Star Wars shirts, released white balloons with letters tied to them, and ate dirt dessert. To cap it off we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Changing medications to try and reduce side effects was exhausting. Each one would change how I felt, possibly bringing on new or worse side effects. It was a constant rollercoaster. Each change gave me hope we were about to find the right combination. However, I had no understanding of how long this would take. 

Hunter’s Birthday was May 4. It was so hard to face that day. I couldn’t handle the fact that I was aging and he had stopped. I kept seeing visions of myself looking in the mirror as an old woman and his picture sitting there with his twenty five year old image. Never getting a single day older, never getting wrinkles, never having more children or growing a family. I mourned aging, not for myself but knowing he couldn’t.

I wanted to do things, that day,  that reminded me of him, but had to be careful not to overwhelm myself with grief. Yoga was super helpful, but I decided to increase our intensity level. That is a pitfall of my personality, when something is enjoyable, I have to crank it up a level. Sometimes this gets me in trouble. 

We went to Disney Store to get everyone Star Wars shirts. It was so fitting, as Hunter loved Star Wars. He was born on May the Fourth, so what can you expect. Reaching back for good memories from happier times was a positive experience. It was great to write him a letter and explain how I was feeling. The kids and I tied the letters to the balloons and took them outside to release them. When we let them go, a huge gust of wind came. The balloons we lifted up along the roofline and went down the backside of the house. When we got to the back of the house to see them float away, they were gone. We never found a single one of the balloons. It was as if they really did go directly to him. The Lord was faithful to provide me comfort during these days and to remind me that he saw me right where I was, in the midst of my suffering. I was not there by accident. He had placed in that exact moment at that exact time. 

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When For Better Becomes For Worse

April 30, 2016

“ I am back at home and times are hard. Brian treats me a lot like a child. He questions most things I do. He is always filtering what I say because I could be manic. I had a date planned and had a babysitter. Brian wanted me to cancel, so I did. He wants me in bed early. That fanned the anxiety flame and put me in the process of shutting down. I worry people will treat me like this broken person forever. It is devastating. Sometimes I just want to give up and be the person everyone thinks I am. It is hard to be making progress and to have people treating me this way.”

Dealing with mental illness is hard enough on its own, but dealing with a marriage in the midst of mental illness is extremely trying.  My husband and I were in a really good place before my brother passed away. We were tired but excited to welcome our fourth child. My health, however, immediately began to fail after Hunter died.  It was scared for Brian. He would tell me that I had lost my brother but he had lost his wife. When my mental illness started, I went to a very dark place very quickly. I became incompetent. I couldn’t take care of my children or myself. I needed someone with me at all times, to keep me from hurting myself. I essentially became a fifth child for my husband. He was alone. 

When I first became sick, he didn’t want to see it. It was too painful. He didn’t want to believe I needed help. I persisted, however, in asking for treatment. I knew something was wrong. Once I went into the hospital, I felt like I lost all dignity. I was no longer a wife but felt viewed as a child. The respect we once had was lost. My decisions and things I said were no longer trusted. When I returned home,  he didn’t trust me to watch the kids or be alone. He required that I complete all of my self-care activities or he feared I would fall apart. He kept inventory of what I did and how I did it. Always watching for signs of another spiral. I had to have eight hours of sleep, three meals a day, read my Bible, exercise, color my mandalas, and use my Emwave. 

I no longer felt like a wife, it was so painful. The pinnacle of this was when I scheduled a date night for us and he made me cancel so I could be in bed on time. I felt like a shadow of my former self. It was so trying. It actually made my sickness worse, in some ways. I further diminished my hope and gave me a reason to live. It made me fearful life would never be the same. I longed to be the Nurse Practitioner, wife, mother, and sister I had been. From where I sat, then, it looked like it may never happen again. I said  goodbye to a future self and became completely engrossed in my current circumstances. Only time would begin to heal these broken places.

What I Wish People Knew About Suicide

Suicide is something that scares people. You friend, mother, brother, colleague slips into depression. The next thing you know, they are suicidal. It seems so intimidating, unknown. You feel you don’t have the words to say or you are worried you will say or do the wrong thing. I want to share some insight from my time struggling with suicidal thoughts to help give you some information that may help someone you know.

Don’t abandon your loved one – The worst thing you can do to someone struggling with suicidal thoughts is to abandon them, withdraw. People don’t usually commit suicide when other people are present. Your abandon just makes their shame and pain greater. It reinforces that no one cares and people wouldn’t miss them if they were gone. Go sit with them, watch a movie, just let them talk. 

Don’t try to tell them why they shouldn’t commit suicide – When someone is in that dark and deep a place, telling them not to will go in one ear and out the other. Stay away from things like, “how could you think about doing this to your family, don’t you care about us, suicide is selfish.” These common comments do not register because this person’s brain is no longer thinking rationally. Let them know that you don’t know what they are going through but you see their pain and you are here for them no matter what.

If you suspect someone is suicidal, talk to them directly before you go behind their back – Not everyone who is self harming is suicidal. These are two totally different situations. Some people cut themselves to release pain or to allow themselves to feel something, as the numbness sets in. You can simply ask the person if they are suicidal. If they say no, you can ask them to explain how they are feeling. If they say yes, you can ask if they have a plan. Having a plan makes it much more likely the person will carry out their suicide. At that point, you need to encourage that person to seek a professional counselor and a psychiatrist. A general practitioner is not specialized enough to handle the significant nuances of severe mental illness.

You asking a person whether or not they are suicidal is not going to make someone carry out their plan – If anything, it will give the person an outlet to share their pain and no that someone cares. You need to be ready for whatever they and react without judgement. It can feel painful to hear a loved one wants to leave this life and you behind. However, with the significance of the illness in this moment, you can not make the situation about yourself and your feelings. This individual needs all the love and support you have to give.

Don’t try to fix the problem – Unless you are a trained professional with experience with mental illness and suicide, do not offer solutions. This is an area where people over step and can lead to hurting the person instead of helping. Seek professional counsel and advice. While a pastor may be a good support person, they do not have the medical treatment knowledge to give sound medical advice. 

Don’t tell the person to have more faith or pray harder, this is a measurable observable illness – Just as you wouldn’t tell a diabetic not to take their insulin or a person with vision impairment to take off their glasses while driving, mental illness of this severity needs chemical intervention. The brain neurotransmitter imbalances that lead to suicidal thoughts are measurable and observable on scans of the time. Their brain is not making enough of the chemicals needed to feel hope and joy. They are likely lacking in serotonin and dopamine. They may even need medication for mood stabilizing, if rapid changes in mood are triggering suicidal thoughts. Encourage medical intervention while continuing faith practices the person has always followed. They should not be abandoned but should also not be used to replace proper medical care. This illness is the same as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other illnesses that we take medications for. Just because you can’t see the problem, doesn’t mean it is “all in their head.”

This person is not feeling pain and sadness like you are, you are not stronger than they are – Anyone is capable of feelings of suicide with the right combination of life events and chemical imbalances in the brain. When are trauma or significant life event occurs, the brain reroutes its pathways for preservation. Suicide is an extreme version of fight or flight. In this case, the brain is experiencing so much pain and anxiety it can not process it. Therefore, the brain tells the person to run but to an extreme. Death may feel like the only way to escape the unbearable hurt and their brain is reinforcing this belief. Your loved ones body is literally propelling them towards this option and it may consume their thoughts. 

You do not understand unless you have been there – Even the best psychiatrist has only read about the experience of suicidality and has only observed patients. Unless you are a survivor of a suicide attempt or a thought disorder that led to suicidal ideation, do not share what you think you know. It may lead to more harm than good. Sharing about another persons experience you read about does not help. Telling the person a story about someone that “had it worse” only leads to feelings of greater pain and frustration. It makes the individual feel like you are invalidating their experience.

If encourage you to share this today. You never know who may be experiencing pain and suicidal thoughts. You never know who may have a loved one who is struggling. This person is not selfish. They are sick, as you can be sick. Their illness is real and needs treatment. Do not abandon people suffering with mental illness or stigmatize them, it only makes them worse. Don’t try to fix them. That is not your job. Lay aside your feelings and judgments and try to approach them with love and acceptance. Validate their pain and be there for them in whatever capacity they will allow. If you loved one has attempted or is currently planning a suicide attempt and hasn’t received medical help. Get it for them today, you just may save their life.

Memorial Day

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Memorial Day

What is today?

Is it friends, burgers, beer

Is it an extra day off work

Is it flags, songs, tv specials

Is it clothes, decor, or facebook posts

Is it red, white, and blue

Is it eagles and airplanes

Is it parades and celebration

Should it be taken for granted

No

Today is tireless fighting into the night

Today is bombs and sniper fire

Today is bunkers muddy and cold

Today is fear that today may be your last

Today is loss, grief, pain

 

Today is a father, brother, sister, mom, wife gone too soon

Today is arms filled with a folded flag instead of the one you love

Today is taps and gun salutes

Today is the celebration of the ultimate sacrifice

Today is freedom

Today is a gift, even if its cost is unknown to most

Today is for freedom but it wasn’t free

Today is Memorial Day, a day to be honored and respected

Thank a veteran today. Go to the cemetery with flowers to lay on graves of service men and women. Call your marine, soldier, airman, and shipman. If nothing else, remember the sacrifice of those that were taken to soon. Be grateful for your freedom that wasn’t free. Sleep well tonight knowing all sacrificed, but some sacrificed all.

Goodbye Hospital

Leaving the psychiatric facility was relatively uneventful. After I started Risperdal, I started progressing towards stability more rapidly. In the first forty eight hours, I started to see glimpses of myself again. The side effects from Risperdal were overwhelming initially. The tremors, instability, and muscle weakness were terrifying. I, also, had cogwheeling. This is where your muscles grind and bounce like gears moving, rather than a smooth motion. I knew that these side effects had potential to be permanent. However, I started Benztropine and my symptoms improved within five days. As well, the physical tremors and muscle weakness began to dissipate within a few weeks. Initially, walking down stairs was difficult, but it improved as time passed. As soon as my symptoms were stable, I was able to leave the unit and return home. We stopped locally to make sure we had all of my prescriptions and, then, came home. 

April 27, 2016

“Transition to home has been smooth until now. Today was hard. I was experiencing fatigue, overwhelmed by little kids all talking at once, not feeling hungry. There are so many things to think about and do. The end of school is a very busy time. The yoga has really helped with my ability to relax. I am glad to be doing things with Brian. I became overwhelmed, which normally leads to anxiety but I transitioned to depression. I took a three hour nap and was refreshed. I think that how I was feeling before could have been hypomania. I was wanting to stop thinking about going to Disney world, but I couldn’t. As the depressive symptoms came in, I had no more energy. I didn’t think suicide felt as crazy. I wanted to curl up and sleep.”

Coming home was more difficult than I expected. I had improvement in the hospital, but there were no outside factors to impact my health. Now, I was back in the role of mother and wife. I had daytime babysitters, so that I could focus on my coping skills. It involved me sleeping all night, eating three meals a day, journaling, coloring the mandalas, having a quiet time with the Lord, and exercising. I had to stop exercising so intensely, as this often lead to increasing my mental intensity. I had to try as hard as possible to maintain a clam environment that was low stress. I would often do yoga, do ballet, or go swim laps. 

I found a local yoga studio and my husband and I began to go together. It was such a quiet and peaceful form of yoga. Power yoga and hot yoga were not in the realm of yoga types that helped with my anxiety. So, I devoted myself to a new form of exercise. Swimming was also helpful. Getting in the water and swimming without hearing anything else was so soothing. I would use the time to process my life and pray. It started to become a really sweet time. 

I started noticing myself becoming obsessed with activities or future goals. For me, Disney became a big focus. My family’s trip to Disney World had been one of the happiest weeks of my life. I found myself longing to feel those emotions again. Unfortunately, I became unable to let the idea go. It was neither financially feasible or physically possible at the time.  However, I had laser like focus and would speak of it all of the time. It felt as if the trip was vital to my survival. I couldn’t bear to hear from any detractors and this became a sour of pain and stress for myself and my family.

My marriage would also be affected by my illness. My relationship with my husband would change. It would be hard.