Last week, I wasn’t doing well at all. I cried out for help. I cried loudly and no one heard me. I was in a mixed state (both manic and depressed at the same time). This happens to me frequently with my bipolar disorder. I managed to get through that first, hellish night, but I became extremely suicidal by the next evening.
I was having nightmares about killing myself. Tragically, I have attempted suicide five times in the midst of the darkest days of my bipolar disorder, and this time I tried to overdose. My husband came in and stopped me from taking the rest of the prescription pills I was planning on finishing. My husband wanted my heart to keep on beating for many more years, he said. At the time, I hated him for it.
I was so done. So exhausted with the idea of living one more day. I just felt the dark cloud consume me as I slept for two days straight. My husband took me to the very familiar psychiatric hospital, but it was a several hour wait just to talk to the nurse. So I convinced him to take me back home. Don’t judge. If you knew how lousy our local hospital was, then you’d understand.
So, I was on suicide watch at home. I was not allowed to be alone, drive or do basically anything until I could see my doctor about some medicine adjustments. It felt like house arrest.
The next day, our 18-year-old son was discharged from his rehab program that was hours away from home. Because of my unstable condition, we asked some family members to bring him home. He had his first onset of psychosis only a few months before and was in and out of six different hospitals before being accepted into this current dual-diagnosis treatment program.
He had only been at the rehab program for about 40 days when they called and said he was ready to be released. While we were glad to be able to have our son back, I admit we were extremely nervous about what things would be like once he got home, especially since we had five other kids at home and I was still suicidal. Yeah, a little scary.
The devastating news is he was only coherent for three days. Yes, you heard me right, three days.
By the first Monday morning, my mother-in-law was getting ready to take our son to a doctor appointment. She ended up calling 9-1-1 instead because he was extremely psychotic and acting dangerously. The police and paramedics got to the scene where he was restrained, tranquilized and taken on a 5150 hold to a local crisis stabilization center, which is a short-term, out-of-home placement to stabilize or prevent a crisis situation until an actual hospital has a bed for them.
We were completely shocked. How could this have happened? This wasn’t the end. It got worse, much worse. For two days, we tried to visit our son at the crisis center, but he was so incoherent. It was devastating to hear and to not be able to see or comfort him. I was still not doing well, but I just kept telling myself I needed to hang on just long enough to be able to see my son and tell him I loved him.
The thing is, I knew how scared he must be. If you’ve never been in a psychiatric unit of a hospital, then be thankful. It can be a pretty scary place sometimes. I wanted to give him a big hug from his mommy and tell him I was fighting a raging battle in my mind as well! Finally, on the third day, we could visit with him.
Oh my word. My heart had never hurt so much in my life.
Yes, we were finally sitting there with our son, but was talking to the voices in his head, barely comprehending who we were.
All the while, I was still fighting not only for my own life, but now for my son’s. I demanded to speak with the doctors and nurses in charge and researched every medication. Finally, after four days at the crisis center, they transferred him to the psychiatric unit of another hospital about an hour away. For almost an entire day, they had not gotten his consent to let us talk to the hospital staff about his condition. He’s 18. So when we would call to check on our son, they couldn’t even confirm he was there, which, of course, means visits are off limits as well until he gives consent. Thanks HIPPA.
The next day, I ended up in the ER for six hours because I was having chest pain, vomiting, weakness and many other symptoms of a heart attack. They ran a ton of tests and EKG only showed only slight abnormalities and no heart attack. Turns out, I’m stressed.
So, all of that was one week of my life. One hellish week I would love to never repeat but opened my eyes to many things.
These are five things I learned during that week.
1. We need a support system.
A support system for me to go to when I am feeling the dark cloud consuming me. A few trusted friends who know me and who I can be honest with. Also, a support system for our family. It was not just my husband, son and I affected by all of this. As I mentioned, we have five other children at home. They need someone to check in on them, bring them meals, talk to them when they are feeling fear about the future and their family members in the hospital.
2. I am capable of way more than I ever thought possible.
I was so ready to give up and could not imagine facing one more day. Then, we experienced the unimaginable: a child with an onset of schizophrenia. My son needed me. Not only because I am his mom, but because I have lived this stuff! I know how scared he was in the hospital because I have experienced it too!
3. Those affected by mental illness are treated extremely poorly at times.
I witnessed nurses and security guards yelling at my son and even laughing at the things he was saying. I watched as other patients were treated like criminals, strapped down and locked in a room. It just broke my heart to see first-hand how completely different my son or I were treated at the psychiatric hospital compared to the ER (for my possible heart attack) in the same week. When we would encounter a nurse or doctor with some compassion, we would be so grateful because it was so out of the norm.
4. Sharing my story openly on social media helped to shed light on the fact that mental illness is very real and it affects people from all walks of life.
I was able to educate some friends and family. Before this, I had encountered many who believed mental illness is caused by a lack of faith or what many people believe is a result of substance abuse. My son had been completely sober for two months. A week and a half before, he was acting like himself, medicated and happy. And bam! He is almost 19 years old with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I have never used drugs or alcohol in my life. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 31 and have attempted to end my life five times. It can affect anyone at any age, from any demographic, race, religion or gender. In fact, one in four people have been diagnosed with some type of mental illness. Most of the people I was sharing this with on social media had never talked about it before.
5. I am not alone.
As I opened up about my story and, later on, about caring for our son after his two-week hospital stay, I slowly started to receive comments and messages from others on social media. And guess what they were saying? Me too. They saw me as a safe person to open up to about either their own mental illness or a loved one whom they wanted to help. They wanted to share their stories too! They told me I was brave for choosing to stay alive and care for myself and my family, as hard as it is. It encouraged me greatly.
We are coming up on our almost one year anniversary of “that week” when both my son and I were in crisis at the exact same time. A lot has happened since then, some amazing and some heartbreaking. If I have learned anything this year, it’s that recovery is lifelong and there will be ups and downs. I am trying my hardest to stay connected and not give up. I am in this for the long haul!
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.