Friday, March 8, 2013

As many of my friends and family know, I have struggled off and on with a depression and anxiety disorder for the past several years.  I have always had problems with anxiety, even as a child, but as I've gotten older, it's gotten worse.  I was always a "worry wort" and worried about the stupidest things.  I didn't realize that it was "abnormal" until it started adversely affecting my life here recently.  Every night, I would try to go to sleep as I was exhausted, but my mind would keep racing, and I couldn't "settle down" enough to go to sleep.  I'd be wide awake for hours, then I would finally fall asleep right around the time that Hubs would get up to go to work and the boy had to get up for school--around 5 a.m.  Then, of course, being so tired, I'd sleep all day long, and not get anything done around the house.

I tried all sorts of different medications that my doctor prescribed to help with the anxiety and nothing seemed to work.  Out of sheer desperation, I turned to alcohol to try and get some sleep.  Yes, it did work at first, but like most addictive substances, I found that I needed more and more to "function" each day.  I was careful to make sure that I stayed home when I was drinking and never left the house.  Even in my addled state, I was worried about possibly hurting others if I left the house.  Oddly, I never thought about how I was hurting my own family by staying IN the house and spending my days in bed away from them.

On January 9, 2013, everything came to a head. I had been drinking that night, got confused and thought I hadn't taken my anti-depressant pills that day (I had, in the morning) and so I took them again.  Apparently, the presence of too many anti-depressants in your system drastically heightens the effects of alcohol, making you "drunker" than you would normally be.  I saw one of our cats heading down cellar (presumably to pee where he shouldn't) and so I tried to catch him.  I got very dizzy and the last thing I remember is waking up at the bottom of the stairs.  I was lucky in the fact that I only broke a toe, I could have broken my NECK!

My Hubs and sister found me a few hours later and called the paramedics.  The only thing I remember about that was some guy yelling my name and slapping my face to try and wake me up.  I barely remember the ride to the ER, just the wiggling of the gurney with the movement of the ambulance.  I woke up in the ER when they stuck an IV in my arm to administer fluids to me.  The young doctor they had looking after me was very dismissive and condescending of me when he told me I had a .3 blood alcohol level, but I guess I deserved it.

I was completely sober and extremely contrite a few hours later.  After talking with the psychiatrist, it was agreed that I would be admitted to the Maryland Behavioral Health Unit in Havre de Grace to get some help.  Apparently, when you mix alcohol with your mental health meds, it wins you a trip to the loony bin.  I was terrified, and as it turns out, rightly so.  Budget cuts and lack of funding means that people with depression/anxiety/substance abuse issues get housed with schizophrenics and the full-blown psychotics.  It was the scariest thing I have ever been through in my life.  I didn't fly over the cuckoo's nest--I landed right smack into it.

There were some "normal" people like myself, who had depression/anxiety issues, so I did make a lot of really good, close friends in just the week that I was there.  My roommate was a lovely woman who just had life dump on her over the past few months, so she was feeling really overwhelmed.  Another one of my friends whose spouse flipped out on her and left her face and eyes black and blue, was such a strong person, but I think it was almost a relief for her to be in a safe environment, even though she missed her kids terribly. One of my other friends there was a lot like me--life seemed to have just to become overwhelming and the depression was debilitating.

I kind of became that ombudsman/chief's wife/mother hen to some of the younger patients while I was there. I had no withdrawal symptoms at all from the alcohol, so I was pretty much 100% physically the first morning I was there.  I never drank EVERY day, just would "binge" when things got rough.  The psychiatrist there said I was "alcohol susceptible" but not "alcohol dependent."  So, I didn't have the DT's or seizures like some of the other patients there who were alcohol dependent.  I was clear-headed and looking forward to getting myself back to a normal life.

My heart really went out to some of the younger patients who had no support system or hope for the future.  One of the young men there really reminded me of some of the sailors on my Hub's last ship--he had no hope for the future and the reason that he was there at the BHU was that he had tried to commit suicide.  Another young man was a college student who had a heroin addiction and had (like me) fallen down a set of stairs.  The only difference was that my stairs were carpeted, while his were cement, so his face was all torn up with cuts, scrapes, and scratches.  He had a good family support system, so I think he will do well.  I do still worry about my young friend who tried to commit suicide; I'm afraid that I will open the local paper one day and find his obituary in it...

The following is the letter I wrote to my boy from the BHU.  Looking back on it two months later, I really realize how substance abuse doesn't just affect the addict, it affects the entire family.  I am extremely lucky to have such a compassionate, understanding, and forgiving son.

"Dear son,

I hope you are doing well.  I miss you so much.  I am very sorry that I have ended up here at the psychiatric hospital.  I never meant to scare or embarrass you.  I am doing a LOT better now that the doctors have adjusted my medication and I am not full of alcohol in my system.  For the first time in a long time, I actually feel "normal."  I am looking forward to a life where I am not mixing alcohol with my anti-depressants to try and solve my problems.  It was wrong of me to do that as it really made a problem for our family.

I am sorry that I haven't been the mother that you deserve to have.  You are a good person--smart, talented, and you have a wicked sense of humor; all of this, I took for granted.  I love you so much.  I am sorry for ever embarrassing you in front of your friends.  I wish I could be with you and Dad right now, but I have to concentrate on how to live life without turning to alcohol, that way I can be the mother you need and deserve.

I will probably see you in a month or so.  Until then, I hope you have fun practicing with your band.  I am so proud of you for teaching your friends how to play music--even if you did make Shelby use a cardboard guitar. :)

Hug Brady, Sox, Harvey, and Jasper for me.  I miss a good kitty cat cuddle in my bed.  I would write more, and sorry for my messy handwriting, but here in the loony bin, they only give you a tiny pencil to write with, so it's hard to write and I'm getting a hand cramp.  I guess they don't want us to stab each other with bigger pencils, ha ha.

I love you so much, son, and I miss you every day.  I can't wait to see you again when I'm finally well and back to my old, normal self.

Love, Mom

xoxoxoxox  (you owe me these when I get home :)"

I spent seven days in the BHU.  During my time there, my doctor discovered that I had a severely underactive thyroid which definitely made my depression a lot worse.  I had been wondering why my skin was so dry this winter and why my hair was falling out in clumps; now I know why.  They also found that I was extremely malnourished (due to the alcohol, I guess) and was severely depleted of Vitamins D, B, B12, and Folic Acid.  So, I got put on a pretty hefty vitamin regimen right away, along with a thyroid-correcting medication.  After about three days, I felt completely different than I had over the past few months.  Suddenly, I had energy and I was actually interested in reading again and doing activities with other people.

I was still worried about the alcohol problem though.  I was scared to go home after my week was up; I didn't trust myself NOT to drink.  So, after much discussion with my psychiatrist and my social worker (I was considered a "vulnerable adult" in the state of MD due to where I was, so I was required to have a social worker to look out for my best interests) I made the decision to go to an in-patient rehab center up in northern Pennsylvania for 21-28 days.  At the time, I was really looking forward to it.  My social worker showed me the website of the place and it looked like I would be able to get a lot out of it.  My psychiatrist said that I would be able to learn the coping skills I needed to learn in order to deal with conflict and of dealing with situations when other people tried to take advantage of me (I've pretty much been a doormat and a dumping ground for other people's problems my entire life) and that was what I was hoping would happen while I was in Rehab.

Stay tuned for my next post when I find out what REALLY happens when you go to a "Rehab for Regular People."  It was a real eye-opener for me.  The only things I knew about Rehab, I gleamed from the "Passages of Malibu" commercials on TV that show people swimming, getting acupuncture, and walking by the seaside.  Boy, was I WRONG....


  1. I admire your strength and honesty in sharing your journey to help others. Keep up the hard work and accept the help of your friend's and family! :)

  2. Hello,

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  3. It's good for you (and potentially others) that you are writing this down. More people need to talk about what mental health care looks like in this country...
    Looking forward to reading the rest.

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