Dear Hunter

Dear Hunter,

Today would have been your 28th birthday. I wish you could be here to celebrate with us. We are eating dirt dessert, releasing balloons with letters to you, wearing our Star Wars shirts, and watching Star Wars movies. You would have loved it. But you aren’t here. That is something that sounds so simple but took so long to comprehend. Death the end, finality, permanence. I thought with every part of me that I had to grieve you forever. That I had to pay a penance in suffering. I held onto this for so long. It damaged me, nearly killed me.

The pain of loosing you was to much to bear. I lost my brother and best friend, my partner in life. It threatened to take my life and I threatened to take my own. I was sure I would never be able to stand up under the pain. I was sure that everyday would be worse than the last, that the pain would intensify. Then, I realized I needed help. I got a team of therapists, doctors, and family to help me with my pain. I began to talk about you, to process the burden that I carried. The days were long and dark, years passed. I was sure it would never be over. Then, light began to creep in. I reluctantly admitted that I enjoyed it. Joy, that was something that I was afraid to feel. It felt like a betrayal. A betrayal of what I am not sure. It wasn’t a betrayal of my love for you, because I still did. It wasn’t a betrayal of my missing you, because I still did. I wasn’t a betrayal of you, because you are in Heaven. It was a betrayal, however. It was a betrayal of myself.

I wasn’t honoring you, I wasn’t pleasing you with my depression, grief, and suicide attempts. I was creating a monster, an uncontrollable mental illness monster, that wanted to take my life. You, you are at peace. You are walking with the Lord. You are happy. You are whole. Maybe I was trying to honor you wrongly. Maybe the best way to honor you, is to hold your memory with joy. To reflect on the great memories we had and pass them onto my kids.

So today, for the first time, I celebrate your birthday with happiness in my heart and a smile on my face. There is no more sadness. There is peace and celebration. There is freedom from illness and walking in restoration. There is a sense of hope and impending joy on the horizon. There is a chance at a new life, free from the pain of grief. I am not leaving you behind, I am taking you with me. A new day has come. I want to walk on today with your memories in my heart and your stories on my lips. I want to tell that world how amazing you were and how proud I still am of you. That is how I will carry you. That is how I will honor you. Not with pain and anguish but with love and joy. I carry you with me today and always. All of my love. Until we meet again.

Your Loving Sister,

The Unit

The Perinatal Unit was unlike anything I had seen yet. The hall had five rooms on it. Four were private rooms with an attached bathroom. The fifth room was one that was shared by two roommates. Two of the girls had already decided to room together, so that I wouldn’t have to share my first day on the unit. It is so nice to know we have some choices. There is a nursing straight through the first set of locked doors. It seats two nurses and is filled with computers. This is where we go with questions and to get our medication. There is a phone and a computer in the hallway. We can actually have internet access when our sessions are occurring. There is, also, a portable computer that can be used in your room.

Here, clothes still can not have any strings. That is to keep us from using them to hang ourselves. We are allowed to use our hairdryer, straightener, curling iron, and makeup but it stays at the nurses station until we need it. If we need to shave, a nurse will come and watch us perform  the task and dispose of the razor after. The meeting room has a dining table, a TV, some chairs, a couch, and a coffee table. This is where we have out sessions and where we can go during free time. At the end of the hallway, there is another set of locking doors.

Our schedule is set. We have scheduled breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu is the complete hospital menu, unlike the restricted menu on the other units. We place our orders in the morning and evening. The meals are delivered to the unit, so leaving doesn’t become an issue. Our therapies include physical therapy/exercise, occupational therapy, counseling, spiritual counseling, yoga (optional). Family can visit for approximately four hours a day, in the evenings. They encourage families to bring the babies, during this time. Mother and baby bonding is so vital as this can be strained due to post partum depression. If we were cleared by our psychiatrist, we would walk off the unit once a day. We would go to Starbucks and then often sit outside and talk. It was so nice to see the sunshine. It was a welcome privilege to be sure.

Standing on a Ledge

April 7, 2016 – Journal Entry 6

Changes to treatment – therapeutic yoga
Lithium – watch for kidney damage, platelet changes, tremors, gait disturbance
Wean off Wellbutrin – thinking it is making my anxiety worse

April 8, 216 – Journal Entry 7

“‘Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to discover his heart. To discover his heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up.’ – Max Lucado

I am grateful for last nights episode and subsequent desire for suicide. It helped the doctors to see what my mood fluctuations look like and to know how to treat me better.”

I sat in my room. My thoughts were racing. My eyes darting around, trying to see anything I could use to harm myself. “No, stop,” I tell myself. It is not use, the thoughts come barreling back again. If I could just stand up on my bed, I could use the edge of the sprinkler to slice my wrists open. “No, don’t think it, don’t do it, you will be locked up. You will be put in a room alone or sent back to crisis. It is not worth it.” I can’t shake the feeling. The urge consumes me. I can taste the sensation. I can feel the release that would come. The anxiety, the panic, the pain, I can’t make it stop. My breast pump tubing. I could tie it around my neck and tie myself to the bed. It will slow circulation to my brain until I pass out, that will be it. “I can’t do this, I have to stop myself. I can’t risk loosing this unit and its privileges. I have to tell someone.”

It is dark, it is nearly midnight. I shuffle my way to the nurses station in tears. “I think I am going to kill myself, if someone can’t help me.” They immediately respond. The calmly walk me into the common room and sit me on the couch. One nurse stays with me, while the other gets me a towel with lavender. They soak the towel and I press it to my forehead. I take deep slow breaths in and out. The essential oils tingle my nose. Then, there is music. Soft, slow, calm music. It plays lightly in the background. I keep taking my breaths. The nurse rubs my back and tells me she will be back in a few minutes. I sit there in the dark, breathing deeply. A calm starts to come over me. My thoughts begin to slow down. I can feel my tense muscles begin to relax. It is working. After about twenty minutes, I decide to lay down. They cover me with a blanket. I decide to stay in the common room until I am just about asleep. Another twenty minutes, and I am there. I tell the nurses I am no longer suicidal and I go back to my room. That is all it takes. A few minutes. Minutes between life and death. That is what I have needed so desperately. Support, no judgement. I think I am going to get better here.

Psychiatric Crisis Unit

April 5, 2016 – Journal Entry 5
“Journaling again, and yes, in pencil. I am looking forward to getting pens back. This night has been pretty rough. I am awake at 3:00 am and I can’t go back to sleep. The Ambien finally knocked me out. I was sitting up in bed crying, thinking of killing myself. So, they gave me 10 mg of Ambien and I slept about five hours. We are hoping and praying to get a bed today. Crisis may be the first floor besides perinatal to have an opening. Judah went back home because he can’t be in this ward with me. He is my little ray of sunshine. Sometimes I feel like the rules are for safety. A nice sharpie would be great. I need to pump. I have to travel to another unit for that. Praying that goes well. I feel like I am living my worst nightmare.
Jeremiah 30:24 – ‘The Lord shall not turn his back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of his mind.’
1 Corinthians 1:7-8 – ‘So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ who WILL sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God us faithful by whom you were called into the fellowship of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Psalm 105: 18-19 ‘His feet were hurt with fetter; his neck was out in a collar of iron, UNTIL what he said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.’
April 6, 2016 – Journal Entry 6
“Pens! Yay! I could not be more excited about that. I spent my first night on the crisis unit and I am waiting for a bed to open up in perinatal. I met with the psychiatrist and about 10 resident student. They give no feedback, so, who knows what they are thinking. Brian visited at 7:30 am this morning. Dad called at 7:30 am, before the phones even turned on. I am glad to have a good support system. I pray that have healing. I pray they get my meds right and I repent of the ungratefulness of my grief. I got a knock on my door from OT. They have an opening in peripartum and are transferring me! Praise be to God!”
From the psychiatric ER, they moved me to the crisis unit. Here, it is cooed. There are men and women everywhere. Some have done this many times before, like my roommate. She was kind and helpful. She helped me understand how the unit worked and to get acclimated. She said she could see my pain, and that she was a healer. She planned to take some oils she had with her and try to heal me that evening. I was scared but afraid to tell her no. What if I upset her? She slept in a bed beside me.

Others are new here, like this sweet college student. She has been really encouraging. It is an eclectic group. There are all sorts of disorders present, including withdrawing drug addicts. They make me really nervous. I am fearful to sleep and fearful to be alone. I worry when I shower and when I use the restroom. What if one of these men come after me? What could I do? The nurses assure me that they round every fifteen minutes. I wonder what could happen in fifteen minutes. It is anxiety provoking, and sadly, they hold that against me.
After breakfast, it was time for doctor rounds. I was called and sent to a room with one MD and approximately ten residents and medical students. They asked me to share why I was there and what had happened. I began sharing my story. Midway through, they cut me off and told me to go. There was no discussion about my medications or treatment plan. Awhile later, I began to feel anxious. I went to the nursing desk and asked for my anxiety medications. I was told that all of my medications had been suspended until further notice. I began to have a panic attack. I went back to my room, and a few minutes later a staff member from the perinatal unit arrived. She told me that it was therapy time and that I was allowed to join them, since my goal was to transfer there eventually.
It was a breath of fresh air to be on that unit. It was all women, the staff was supportive and caring. I could tell they were there to help me rather than babysit me until my medications kicked in. I had hope. When the group therapies were over, I was sent back to the crisis unit. I was devastated. I began to cry to the nurse transporting me, about how my medications were taken away and how anxious I was. She made sure staff knew I was upset and came the check on me. I sat in my bed, coloring. Coloring brought me such peace. It was a welcome escape. I started praying, at that moment, the perinatal nurse returned. Someone had had a miraculous recovery in the last twenty four hours, she was going home. There was a bed for me. I had finally made it to the Perinatal Unit!


Psychiatric ER

Isaiah 35:4 – “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, he will come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Journal Entry 4 – April 4, 2016
“This entry is in pencil because I am in patient. We are not allowed to have pens. It did not go as originally planned. We were to go to the perinatal unit at UNC Chapel Hill. When I got here through the ER, they admitted me. However, I was stripped of all clothing except my underwear and bra. I could only keep my bra because I have no underwire. I get no pens, makeup, no locked bathrooms, no toilet seat, video taped 24 hrs a day, and timed showers. Everyone is trying to be sweet. I am so scared and anxious. Praying they can help me soon, and I can become a mom again.
Psalm 66:10-12 ‘For you, O God, tested us, you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison, and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads, we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.’
I fell like Joseph’s experience in prison could be similar to my time in the psychiatric hospital. Changing qualities and character within myself to make me a better servant and leader. To learn to be more compassionate and outward focused.
Stop asking God why and ask God what? These are training experiences I need to take advantage of. I am not to be pitied. I am to serve.”
The sliding doors opened. I stepped tentatively inside. They were waiting for me. My husband had called earlier to let them know we were on our way. Their eyes were not kind, filled with compassion, they were distant and separated. I wondered if I had made a mistake. I was told this facility was not like the others, here I would be treated with dignity and respect. I could trust these people, they would bring me healing. Then, the doors closed.
They convinced me that I was just giving my intake information. I left my husband, my baby, and my dad in the waiting room. I gave them my information. “Are you wanting to harm yourself?” they asked. “Yes,” I responded. “Do you want to harm your baby or others?” “Absolutely not,” I said. However, I could understand how someone would, if they felt this way. There was no judgment from me. A door opened on the other side of the room. “Can I say goodbye to my baby?” The doors locked, “No.” “Please,” I begged. Not sure what would happen next. There was no apology, just asking me to follow them down the hallway.
I stepped into a 4ftx4ft room. There was a small green chair. “Take off all of your clothes,” she demanded. “Can I please keep my bra? I am nursing and I need the support.” She inspected it, groping me. “It can stay.” What a relief. She handed me a gown. “Where are you taking me?,” I inquired. “To a room like this.” Bright lights, a small chair, white walls. I was beginning to panic. However, I knew I couldn’t break down, couldn’t loose it because they were gathering evidence. Wanting to know how sick I was, how long I needed to say. My rights were gone. I followed her out of the room and down to the psychiatric ER. The rooms were padded, there were cameras everywhere. There was a hard bed, and a small chair for family to sit in. There were no locks, not even on the bathrooms. There wasn’t even a toilet seat. I had to have my husband keep watch so I could use the facilities. I had been in for about 30 minutes, when I felt like I had made a mistake. Surely, how I was feeling before would only get worse, when you add in a dose of terror.
The next few hours were full or worry and fear. Nurses came in to talk to me, one doctor, then another. All asking so many questions, wanting to know how I was feeling and how I ended up there. It was so dark. No windows, low light. It was easy to feel trapped. I tried not to go out into the common area. I was too concerning. Everyone was in gowns, waiting, it felt so exposed. I could also tell some of these people were frequent fliers. The nurse later admitted to this. Many of these individuals come in all of the time, for going off medication. They either can’t afford it or don’t think they need it. I know something, I don’t care what I have to take and for how long. All I want is to feel like myself again, whatever it takes.

I started to get claustraphobic. So, I decided to do some yoga on my bed. There wasn’t room on the floor and it was dirty. I eventually get told to stop because I am too close to the ceiling when I stand up straight. They believe this will lead to me hurting myself, how I am not sure. There is nothing to do. It is overwhelming. My minds races. I don’t know what I would have done, if my dad and Brian hadn’t been there. It is almost night time but my chest starts to feel heavy. I haven’t pumped all day. I ask the nurse what I can do. He scolds me for even considering feeding my baby my breastmilk, although I am on medications that are safe for lactation. I cry, while I wait for him to come back. When he returns, he tosses a towel and a bucket on the floor and tells me to squeeze it out. My husband is horrified. He calls the head of the Perinatal Unit and she gets them to take me to pump. I am told I am getting special treatment, and that I should feel privileged. I am taken to a procedure room that hasn’t been cleaned. The nurse watches while I sit on a chair and pump. There is vomit in the sink and bloody gauze all over the floor. Now I feel like an animal. I feel like I have lost all my rights and self-respect. It was humiliating.
After I was done, I made my way back to my room. I ate dinner that evening and took my medication to help me fall asleep. The next morning, I would be taken to the crisis unit.

My Mommy Used to Sing

This is another break from my story. I couldn’t bring myself to write today. Since I started this journey, I wanted to share my story and hopefully write a book. Today is a sneak peak at my other endeavor. I want to write a children’s book for families struggling with a depressed parent. This is my writing from today.

My Mommy used to sing,

She would sit holding me as we rocked back and forth, hand in hand

We would go on walks together on the beach, in the sand,

We would jump in puddles in the rain and laugh until we cried,

My mommy used to make me cookies with chocolate kisses inside,

The warm dessert melted in my mouth so warm inside of me,

My mommy would tickle my tummy as I laughed and squealed with glee,

We would climb up high together, making forts up in the tree,

I loved our time together, my mommy and me,

Now my mommy doesn’t sing,

She lays in bed and cries,

Her smile is gone, her laugh is to,

She sits in the dark, alone,

I try and make her happy, try to do what is right, I try to please her, to shine my light,

But she can’t smile anymore, she barely says a word, I wish I could make the hurting stop,

I think and pray for her,

I want her to smile again,

To give her my love, bring her back to me,

Then I know just what to do, I sit with her and she with me,

We snuggle close in the dark, I barely say I word,

I tell my mom I love her, and how sad I am she’s hurt,

She looks down at me, she takes my hand and then,

My mommy sings to me, our happy special song, then I see she needed me all along

Suicide and Miracles

Psalm 18:6 – “In my distress I called to the Lord, I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him, into his ears.”

The days and weeks that followed were filled with constant anxiety and a deepening depression. I only ate Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I was not taking care of my children. My countenance became downcast. The clouds rolled in and every thought was taken captive by the enemy. I rarely talked to God, except to ask him why this was happening. I wasn’t rejoicing in my suffering. I wasn’t looking to the Lord to be my rock. I had lost all hope. I hoped in nothing. When stress came, there was only one out. I began fanitsizing about cutting. This physical pain would replace my emotional but it was only ever temporary. My family locked up all of the knives and threw away the razors. I spent most of my time at counseling or psychiatrist appointments. It wasn’t until one overwhelming counseling session that it all came to a head.

Brian and I had argued on the way home. To this day, I do not even remember it. I was supposed to go inside and stay with my mom, when my husband dropped me off. Instead, I waited until he drove away and I ran. I had a suicide plan in mind. I would run two miles to my in-laws and finish the plan there. I ran as fast as I could. Okay, lets ben honest, there was some walking. I thought about the people passing me on the road, they had no idea what I was going to do. If they did, would they even care, would they even try to stop me. I arrived at my in laws and used their spare key to open the door. I went inside, intent to find the knives. I knew they had to be in their closet. All the time I had stayed with them, I never looked for the knives. Today, however, I was moving as if driven by a motor. I was not in control of my own thoughts or actions. I finally found a tiny hiding place behind the clothes. There it was, my box of treasure. I would choose my weapon carefully. I settled on a sharp pairing knife. I took it, my food, a water bottle, my devotional, and my cell phone and packed a bag. I knew where I was headed, I was not sure how long I would stay or when I would come back.

I went outside and began walking across the field to a row of tall trees. I had loved these trees for so long. They were in the middle of a field, and it was so peaceful. I wanted to be alone in the end. I wanted beauty and calm. It took about five minutes to get there. I laid everything out on the ground and debated what to do first. I decided to eat my food, as a last meal. Then, I started talking to God. It is funny how we can be angry and reject God when we are in pain. In the end, however, I cried out to him to help me, to save me. I needed a miracle. That is exactly what I would get. I pulled the knife out of my backpack and prayed. I said, “God, if you do not want me to kill myself today, I can’t see blood. Not a single drop can come out or I wont be able to stop.” I prayed to my brother as well, for him to be with me. I was filled with terrible anxiety. I didn’t want to die, but I felt there was no other choice. This pain had to stop. I had to stop hurting those around me. I thought everyone would be better off without me.

I began cutting, back and forth, back and forth. It was pain but not like I expected. It was a hot searing sort of pain. As I cut, I wept. I could even feel a presence around me. It was the Holy Spirit or an angel, I don’t know. The other presence, I am sure was my brother. He was kneeling, praying, petitioning on my behalf. I cut harder and faster. A mark started forming. It was brown, not red. There was no blood. I examined the knife, put it down and cut harder. Nothing, no blood, not one drop. After five minutes of trying my hardest, I stopped. God was saving me. It was time for me to surrender. I stopped what I was doing. I wept as I turned to the tree behind me. I started carving a cross in the tree, a cross with a heart in the middle. The cross was the only thing that had enough saving power to heal me. I needed to see it, to remember this Ebenezar of what God had done for me. In case you doubted the strength and sharpness of the knife, it was a carving a tree. When I was satisfied, I prayed and thanked God for sparing my life. I buried that knife there. The carving and the knife are there to this day.

Moments later, Brian pulled in the driveway. My mother must have called him because I was not home. I didn’t answer. He, then, began yelling that if I didn’t come he was calling the police. I didn’t want to get the police involved. So, I called him and told him I was only my way back. I gathered my things and trekked back across the field. I told him what happened and showed him my wrist. We knew it was time for greater help. Brian called the postpartum unit at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Neurosciences Hospital. The unit was full, but I could come in and wait on a room. We decided that Brian and I would go to a cabin together and rest, while we waited. Two days into our stay, I knew I wouldn’t last much longer. My mother helped me buy clothes without and strings, and shoes without laces. I packed my things. Brian, my father, Judah, and I headed to North Carolina. I would spend the next two days going through the psychiatric ER and the general population floor. The experience would be traumatizing.

Journal Entry 2 – March 29 2016

“Yesterday was the lowest and one of the best days of my life. I love paradoxes. Yesterday started well by going to counseling. Brian and I had a two hours session. The first was just me and the second was both of us. I could see the light draining from my hubsand’s eyes. I felt that flame of passionate love fading. That, it turns out, is the thing I can’t live without. I always joke with him that his love is too great for me. That if it would calm down a little it would be okay. I learned, yesterday, that is not true.

We got in an argument in the car. Brian was so tired. I wanted to go get the kids with my mom but he wouldn’t budge. I got out of the van and sat on the side of the driveway, when he drove off. I walked to his parents house. I decided, on the way there, I may take pills or cut my wrists. I am not afraid of death. I want to see God, my brother, and be free of this earthly pain. I found the knives but not my pills. They have hid them well, props to them. I packed a small Cutco pairing knife, m+ms, a granola bar, a flashlight, some water, a sweatshirt, pants, my journal, devotional, and phone. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew, however, where I wanted to go.

I went out behind my in-laws to where I want to build our house. I love it there. There is a completely straight row of trees that I nestled into. I sat and I thought and I prayed. I was overcome by sadness. I was worried I was going to loose everything. I wanted to know what it felt like to cut through my flesh. Suicide is a choice. It makes you feel in control. It feels like you have a choice, when all other choices seem to have been taken away.

So, I took the knife and I slowly began cutting. It was a harp and high pitched squeal of pain. I pressed harder and harder, wanting to release the blood and pain. I wanted a scar. A mark to help me never forget this pain. A physical testimony to my internal struggle.I asked God to not let it work, if I wasn’t supposed to die. I could feel a presence with me. Weeping with me. Asking me to stop. I think Hunter was there with a heavenly spirit. Despite my attempts, it wouldn’t cut past the surface. At that moment, I buried that knife beside that tree, promising to never again try to kill myself. First, however, I carved a cross in the tree with a heart in the middle. Something profound happened there. God saved me. I can’t ignore that. It was profound and life changing. Mom mentioned I should tattoo over it. I tend to agree.”

Journal Entry 3 – March 30, 2016

“I listened to a hymn ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord.’ Yesterday was a hard day. It was difficult to process the days before. It was a hard and painful journey. You think that after you walk the path of potential suicide you would feel different. While I know a barrier has been broken, that my life was supernaturally saved, I still think of it in the dead of night. I think of the blade. The marks it has made. I can see it. It is a memory of the pain. As I have said, before, I believe this happened for a reason. I believe I will survive it, but I have my doubts too. I doubt because those dark moments become so dark. My pain becomes so deep so quickly. I feel that I may need to change my medications. One that is more mood stabilizing. I decided that I wanted to do inpatient at UNC Chapel Hill. Everytime, everyone told me to try traveling first. So, Brian and I are going to a cabin for a few days. It is wonderful. If I am not doing better after, I will do inpatient. Otherwise, we are going to Period Key in Alabama.

I just listened to the song ‘Blackbird’ and the song ‘I Need Thee Every Hour.’ My heart is so there. The anthem of right now is ‘It Is Well With My Soul.” Praying for healing and reconnection with my husband here.”

Then Came the Fog

Psalm 127: 3 – “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

I returned home with my husband. We drove my brother’s old car. It was cathartic to do so. It was a long ride, it rained the whole eight hours. There were even seven accidents along the way. The tone fit the mood. Sullen. The next two weeks were filled with extreme grief. I couldn’t process what was happening. At the same time, I was trying to celebrate my other two children’s birthdays and prepare for the birth of my son.

At 39 weeks, I developed a significant headache on the way to get my children from school. I felt lightheaded and my vision felt blurry. I called my husband, as I suspected I was having an episode of high blood pressure. I went to Walgreens and waited for the pharmacist to come and take my blood pressure. He did and it was 140/95. He told me my blood pressure was fine and to go home. I was so angry. I was not a forty five year old man, I was a pregnant mother with typically low blood pressure. My brother had just died from medical incompetence, and here was another medical provider giving dangerously erroneous advice. I told him that a pregnant woman hypotension, a headache, and mildly elevated blood pressure should be asked to call her doctor. He still disagreed but told me I could do whatever I wanted. So, I headed to my Ob/Gyn.

They took my blood pressure and it was still elevated. They realized that this was a significant increase for me, because I usually ran 100/60. They had me rest and take it again. It was coming down but very slowly. Finally, they decided to go ahead and let me have the baby. I was relieved but terrified. The last time my brother went into a hospital, he died. Here I was being admitted, and trusting my life and my baby’s life to the medical professionals. I let everyone on the ward know what I had been through and warned them to double check all medication dosages. They were very careful and reassuring. The Lord was so kind to me that day. The nurse that I had delivered with, when I was pregnant with Samuel, was there to check me in and get me prepped. She had recently lost her father, and was able to give me such sympathy for my grief. Another family friend was coming off shift, she sat with us until I was taken to a room. It was such a comfort, and I knew that this was no coincidence.

They brought me to my room and got me prepped for an epidural. This is where I started to loose it. I believed I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to deliver a baby that didn’t slide right out of me. So, they had decided to give me the epidural before everything started to prevent the pain. Epidurals give me so much anxiety. I am even known to pass out during injections. I begged for something to sedate me somewhat while they did it. The anesthesiologist was adamant that I didn’t need anything. It all finally came to a head. I began crying hysterically and said, “My brother was just killed by medical malpractice in a hospital. I am terrified for you to touch me or inject me. Please give me something.” I must have scared him to death, because he began rushing around and getting medicine to help me. Once I was calm, they did the epidural and I was able to lay down for the night. Pitocin started at midnight. By 6 am, I was 4 centimeters. By 7 am, my waters broke. I knew this baby was ready to make an entrance. They checked me again and I was almost complete. Within ten minutes, we were pushing. I gave one test push and out he came. He was wrapped shoulder to legs in umbilical cord, and they had to try and get him back in partially to get the cord off. He was purple but screaming and healthy. He latched on like a champ. I could not have asked for a better delivery. It was God’s grace.

The next few weeks were great. I came home, we had family and babysitters to help. I continued to grieve but my precious Judah Hunter, we changed his name after my brother died, kept me going. It wasn’t until February that I knew something was wrong. Darkness came in like a fog over a lake. I told my husband I needed medication, and he doubted me at first. When I finally went to my primary care doctor, they put me on zoloft and a sedative for the anxiety attacks. I began having PTSD flashbacks of my brother bleeding, or in the casket, or deteriorating, in the morgue, or that first phone image of him dead. Then, the paranoia began.

I would walk down the street and I was hypervigilant. I could hear every sound. The most memorable one was the numbers on the telephone polls. You may have never noticed, but metal numbers hang on telephone polls. One poll in our neighborhood had loose numbers that would swing back and forth. The sound would literally put me on edge. When I would go for a walk, I would plan how I was going to dodge when the car behind me tried to run me over. In a movie theater with one other person, I began to plan how I would fight back when attacked. None of my thoughts were normal, or rational but I believed they were.

The Ob/Gyn and primary care doctors had all done as much as they knew how. They didn’t have anything in their arsenal to attack real deep post partum depression. They sent me to a counselor and a psychiatrist. I ended up being on klonipin, zoloft, propranolol, and ambien just to name a few. That time was so blurring and overwhelming my memories are jumbled. I moved out of my house, my kids drove me crazy. I loved them but couldn’t handle the stimulation. I moved in with my in laws to make sure I got adequate sleep. I would spend my time watching tv, reading, exercising, going for walks, or painting. I spent so much time sprinting during anxiety attacks, that I eventually couldn’t stand on my toes anymore. The time away wasn’t helping. I could feel myself continue to spiral as the grief overtook me.

Journal Entry 1:
“I am not doing so well these days. I feel so insufficient in all areas. I am not being a good wife, mother, grieving, or worshipping well. I feel lost and alone. I lost my person. It is hard to even write it, accept that it is true. I can’t, I don’t want to. I wrestle with not wanting to accept it, but not wanting to live like this forever. My mind is a constant blur of thought. I don’t even know what I am feeling most of the time. Everyone wants me to get better, to feel better. To be better, I have to accept Hunter’s dead. I can’t. I just want to curl up in my PJs and his sweater and wake up when it feels better, when it hurts less. When I don’t feel like he is gone, slipping away more and more from my reality each day. I just want to see him, to talk to him so bad it can take the air from my lungs. I feel like everyone will move on. Mom and dad will move on because they still have me. Amber and Harper will move on to survive. Then, there I will be 50 years from now, still missing him. Still without a brother. I am afraid of the rest of my life. I don’t want to live without him. This wasn’t how is was supposed to be. I took it for granted, assumed it would always be us. Never once in my life did I think of him dying. I’ve imagined my parents, husband, kids dying, how painful it would be. Never once Hunter. I want to do something to keep him here, to make the pain stop. I am out of ideas and left with debilitating, emotional pain. I have never been able to process emotion and I have to get better but I can’t. I don’t have the energy or capacity. It feels hopeless. I just want him back. just for a few minutes. Just to talk to him about his death. I need him to help me and he is gone.”

Rainbow Colors

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 – “Brothers and Sisters we do not want you to be uniformed about those who sleep in death, so you will not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Since Hunter was a fallen airman, he was transported just as anyone killed in combat. When loading and unloading the plane, we would go down to the tarmac for a ceremony. It involved his family and friends watching as he was transported out of the hurst. The first time they loaded him on the plane, there was no grand flag over the casket or presentation, simply a box that said, “This End Up and Handle With Care.” It felt so inhuman. He was officially cargo, he no longer needed to be up with us, he was already gone. He no longer needed air, warmth, or safety. They loaded him on the plane as an honor guard from base presented the flags. We boarded the plane and flew to the next airport. We had a ceremony to unload him, this time they unboxed the casket. It seemed to honor him better, and I was grateful. This time, the honor guard was a group of tarmac workers. They had served in the military and wanted to present in honor of Hunter. These big burly men were highly respectful and emotional. It was a honor to have them join the ceremony. The USO took Hunter’s body while we had a lay over. Then, it was time to board the plane. This same group of men presented the flags again and the USO had provided a flag to cover the casket. Finally, he looked respected. I was heartbroken to see my brother this way, but honored he was being treated so well.

When we arrived in Washington, we had another large ceremony with honor guard. This time, our whole family was in attendance. I broke down as I rounded the corner and saw them all standing there. It was amazing to have such support, after being in such a small group during our grief in Alabama. I rode to my parents house with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Bruce told me a few things that have stuck with me until this day. He affirmed my grief. He reminded me that even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, he was going to raise him from the dead but he still grieved. As well, death comes for all of us eventually. All of the people in the bible that God healed or their life was spared ultimately would die. It made the loss not feel so difficult, knowing that we all eventually experience loss and pain. As well, my Savior knew the pain of grief. He hurt and it was okay for me to hurt too.

The next day was the viewing. The funeral home had done a lot to fix Hunter’s presentation, and he looked more like himself. Most signs of the autopsy were covered. He looked more like himself. It was a honor to experience the viewing. I did not really get emotional that night, except when my best friend from high school came. She had known Hunter so well, I collapsed in her arms. Besides that, I shook everyone’s hand and smiled when I could. This part was not for me. It was for them. They needed to see, they needed to know what happened. So, they came to support us and we them, as they viewed the remains of their friend, neighbor, and family member.

The following morning, we got to the church early. I wanted one last chance to say goodbye. I was the last one to have time with him alone. I told him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, how terrible he looked after embalming, and how mad I was to spend the rest of my life without him. I placed one of my rings in his hands. Sending him away without a token to keep with him felt lacking. I felt like part of my soul was being ripped out. It was an out of body experience. During the funeral, I changed my mind about speaking. The rest of my family spoke, but I did not think that I had the strength. In the moment, however, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t stand up there for him one last time.

I had not planned a speech and had no idea what to say. Then, it came to me. My brother had a difficult childhood. He had grown up with ADHD, he was sensitive, and he was caring. That made it hard for him to identify with my father and with myself. We are strong, independent, minimally emotional, and driven. I was always brought up to think it was the best way to be. That type of personality made for highly successful people. My brother had taken a different path. He was not afraid to make mistakes, and he did. He partied, drank, smoked, smoked weed, lost jobs, became addicted to video games, and failed out of college three times. In the end, however, he was highly successful and made us so proud. He was a great husband and father, he was highly skilled and successful in his job, he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and he was a great friend. He had reached the peak of his existence. If my dad and I were black and white, my brother was a rainbow. My father spent a lot of time trying to blot out the color from his life, to give him the straight-laced successful life. He believed that is what was best for his child. In the end, Hunter taught us. He taught us that color is beautiful. Color can lead to success and that path can still be good. Life doesn’t only have one destination. It is full of twists and turns and curves, and all of them can lead to the good life. We should have been there for him more, been less judgmental, trusted the Lord to turn him into the man he needed to be. So, from now I, I resolve to add more color to my life. I will add more color to my children’s lives. We ended up learning something from him and we couldn’t have been more proud (for goodness sakes, a general even flew in to speak at his funeral).

We went to the graveside and another honor guard was present. These individuals come for free and dedicate their time. They carried flags, did a twenty one gun salute, played taps, and gave flags to the family members. I stayed with him that day. I sat by his graveside and watched them place him in the ground, clutching his flag to my chest and crying. I refused to move until the very end. I had met Hunter the day he was born and I wanted to be there the day he went into the ground. It took awhile, but I finally felt ready to leave when they sealed the casket. We continued on to the church to have a meal and visit. By the end of the day, we were worn out and empty. We thought we were grieving, processing it all. However, looking back, we were all in shock. We were going through the motions. The grief and trauma would come weeks and months later, as the dust settled and the hole in our hearts threatened to swallow like an abyss.

Tales From the Psychiatric Ward – Article 2

This article reflects on my time in University of North Carolina, Chapel Hills Neurosciences Hospital. It is written about my time on the Post Partum Unit and is in contrast with my time in both the Psychiatric ER and the General Population Unit. There are about 15 beds total, in the country to specifically treat post part depression patients. Though, it is one of the most common illnesses of pregnancy. These sites are studying how to treat this patient population. As this mental illness can be much different from other mental health issues. The model under which these units function, I believe is a reflection of what mental health care should look like in our country. Please support these sites and help them fundraise. Reach out, donate to these centers. Write to your politicians and encourage them to fight for funding for post partum depression and mental health in the U.S. If you would like more information on my time in the psychiatric hospital, continue reading my blog. I will soon be covering the part of my story involving my mental illness and hospitalization.

10 Things That I Wish You New About Quality Psychiatric Treatment:

1. You get your own room.

This 5 bed unit had four individual rooms and one shared room. Often, two women who had been there longer and became friends would offer to be roommates and let the new moms have their own space. We were never forced into a roommate situation, and when we did room together we weren’t afraid of each other. We had gotten to know one another and form bonds.

2. The doors to the bathrooms locked.

We were actually allowed bins with bathroom accessories that we weren’t otherwise allow to have in our presence due to suicide risk. When they told me I could use a hair dryer and a curling iron I started crying. It felt like a level of my dignity had been restored. We were even allowed to put on makeup. In other units you couldn’t use makeup that contained a mirror, as you could break it and use it as a weapon. Here, they wanted us to feel attractive and comfortable in our own skin.
3. There were times of the day where the nurses would take us off the unit.

We were allowed to go off unit with the nursing staff, once our psychiatrists had approved it. The nurses would sometimes take us to the hospital Starbucks to get a coffee and to sit outside. Fresh air and sunshine is so important to a person healing from mental illness. Being trapped inside, out of the sun can make depression worse. As well, we were getting to walk and stretch our legs. Being trapped in a small unit with locked doors can make you go stir crazy. It was such a gift to get a coffee and feel like we still belonged in the real world.

4. The staff were compassionate and wanted to be there.

Even though the staff on this unit worked hard, they built report with us. They would spend time with us, getting to know us. We could ask them anything and there would be no judgement. I never felt like my words were going to be twisted or used against me. Multiple times, I came out of my room and was feeling suicidal. The nurses would get me a lavender eye cover, rub my back, talk to me calmly, put on music, turn out the lights, and sit with me until I felt better. They never made me feel that I was “crazy.” They talked to me as a person and treated me with dignity. The nursing aides would help some of the women with hair, makeup, or do there nails to help them have a more positive outlook. They considered these things to be vital to improving the overall sense of self and healing the patient.

5. The medical team was individualized.

There was only even one psychiatrist and/or her medical resident present. They would come meet with you in your room each morning and do a full assessment. They wanted to know how you were feeling about your treatment so far, how the medications were helping or hurting, how they were going to proceed, and what the rest of your stay looked like at that point. I felt that I was a huge part of my own treatment. Family could come in to meet with the doctors or my doctors would call my family own their own and speak with them about the changes they were making and why. It really helped my spouse to be aware of what was going on and to advocate for me, when needed. If the side effects of the medication became too much, I would simply get the nurse to page the doctor and she would call back shortly.

6. Therapies were both group and individual.

Each day there was group therapy, where a certain topic pertaining to our mental health was discussed. They wanted us to reflect on how we had gotten to the place we were in our mental illness. That life choices, personality, and circumstance sometimes lead to becoming mentally ill. We weren’t victims with no hope. We had things we could do to help ourselves and changes we needed to make, if we ever wanted to be healthy again. There was also individual counseling each day in the rooms. During this time, family members could be invited in to participate in the discussion. That way, family would see things they could do in the future and how to help. It gave my spouse hope that he could do something, that he could be a part of my healing.

7. They had daily classes to help build coping skills.

We worked on art projects frequently, as these are really effective in calming anxiety. The repetitive movements are soothing to the brain. We used little electronic devices that help you learn to bring your heart rate and respiratory rate into alignment and can be used to stop an anxiety attack. During spiritual time, if we wanted, we met with a chaplain and discuss how our illness was effecting out faith. We would walk through a labyrinth in the meditation garden to reach a clam meditative like state and have personal reflection time. We had yoga as an option a few times a week. It was done in the dark with soothing music and lavender. We learned how yoga could help us relieve stress. When we left, I felt like I was given skills that would help me cope at home.

8. There was a daily schedule so most of your time was used efficiently and we wouldn’t become bored.

We ate breakfast and our other meals at the same time everyday. The were usually two morning session therapies and two afternoon. We had occupational therapy, counseling, an exercise class, yoga, spiritual counseling, and four hours or more of family visitation each day. We were, also, encouraged to spend lots of time together. These women and I became friends and allies. We were all in the same boat. Though we were from different walks of life, there was no judgement. Because we all had the same mental illness, we could talk about what medications were working and how they were helping. We could see the changes in each other and encourage one another.

9. Sleep was guarded each night.

They were very strict about sleep. As sleep is vital to mental health and a lack of sleep can signal that something is wrong. No phone calls were allowed, no visitors, and no doctors visits from 9pm-8am. They gave us medication to help us sleep, if needed, and encouraged good sleep hygiene. Getting adequate rest was one of the most healing components of the unit.

10. They let your family and your babies come and visit.

Family time was such a joy. As you got better, they would even give you off unit passes. You were actually allowed to leave the unit with your family for an hour at a time and see what it would be like to start transitioning back to the outside world. Mommas were not completely separated from their babies. Learning to cope with taking care of the baby is so vital to healing. As well, bonding can be difficult during post partum depression. They wanted to promote our bonding with our babies. Finally, they promoted breastfeeding as long as the medication allowed, and they had a psychiatric lactation expert on hand to approve medication changes, ensuring that our medications were safe for baby.

Overall, my experience on the postpartum unit saved me life. I needed help, and because of receiving such quality care, I returned home healthier than when I left. This is not always the case with mental hospitals. Many leave the person feeling more wounded and marginalized than when they entered. We must see change in mental health care in this country. People with mental illness matter. Than are not less than. They are human beings, with rights. Rights to proper and safe medical care. Please be their advocates. Reach out to people in your life with mental health issues and be an encourager. Be a part of their healing.