The Mighty Logo

My Family Learned the Term 'Dual Diagnosis' the Hard Way

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Dual diagnosis” is a term I learned the hard way. Here is the story about my daughter Dani’s own struggle with “dual diagnosis.“ It is also a story of addiction, hope, strength, recovery, and resilience.

Many people who live with depression often have ties to addiction and vice versa. They look for any way possible to numb the pain of the bad memories, sadness, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health challenges that altered their lives. Whether their drug of choice is alcohol, prescription pain medication, or street drugs, addiction and mental illness often are interlinked and, when treated, are termed as a “dual diagnosis.”

Dani, my oldest daughter, was no exception to this in her late teens and early 20s. It’s hard to be transparent about this, but it is her story — and we vowed to share her entire story if it would help save people’s lives.

Before I begin, let me share some background. In the early morning hours after Dani’s passing by suicide on February 11, 2019, I was asked what we were going to tell people. Understandably, the immediate family wanted to protect us as Dani’s parents and siblings, and protect Dani’s reputation and memory. It was exactly at that moment I said we would tell the truth. “Dani took her life today as a result of years and years of battling depression, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, and general self-worth issues.”

How could such a beautiful, successful woman such as Dani live with so many mental health symptoms and so few knew? Dani wore her mask very well for many years and rarely removed it. In those last minutes of her life, I believe she was just too tired to fight anymore. In that moment for her, a perfect storm came together and Dani was a casualty of her condition and we would suffer the pain and heartbreak of that loss forever.

In 2007, as her grandmother was fighting for her life from ovarian cancer in Ohio, Dani was fighting for hers in Florida. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Dani attempted to end her life. Fortunately, she was not alone. This began another nightmare for us as our family joined forces in hopes that Dani would survive not only that weekend, but beyond.

We had thought after counseling, antidepressant medication, and a happy and successful career as a paralegal in Florida, suicide attempts were behind her. We were wrong. This is a condition that frankly lies to the person struggling, and Dani was no exception.

Dani had called me on Thanksgiving Day, the day before her attempt, wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, told me what a happy life she had, and what a wonderful Mommy I was. “You know that, right?” She had some wine with dinner so I attributed the call to that.

Two days later, as my husband and I arrived from a silent, endless flight from California to Florida (we had been on our own getaway), we walked into an ICU hospital room with an unconscious daughter on the brink of death. We received the news of the drugs and medication that had been in her system from her attempt. What we learned from notes she had left and as she recovered was that Dani would use this to numb her pain and keep her weight under control. She told me her body image at that time was so low that she was willing to try anything. For me, as her mother, why didn’t I realize her cry for hep about her weight months before would lead to this?

That weekend began a relentless journey and nightmare as we looked for adult rehabilitation facilities for her depression and addiction. “Dual diagnosis” is what we were told, a term I learned about the hard way. “Nightmare” is the word I used for several reasons. There would be all the work Dani had to do to heal herself, work to take steps to mend the fractured relationships that came out of that event, and, once again, the horrible nightmare of having to move through the behavioral health maze that surrounded health insurance, treatment facilities, and pre-certification, and realizing there was no help or guidance from any professionals for her or us.

The struggle and fight that ensued within Dani was nothing short of miraculous. She came home in 2008 for her grandmother’s funeral and told me that I needed to “hide all her leftover narcotic pain meds” so she could avoid temptation and continue to fight her battle. Hearing that terrified me but I also could not imagine what her own fear must have been at that point, attending her beloved grandma’s funeral, an absolute “trigger” for anyone with depression, let alone just recently moving out of the halfway house where she had been staying. Yet, Dani was able to endure that time without the use of alcohol or drugs or anything but her own willpower and a sponsor to make it through. We were so proud of her resilience.

After a journey of both inpatient and outpatient care, Dani was able to beat the addiction, recover, and began her new journey of hating the drugs but loving the users. She became a case manager and then an administrator at a large drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Florida and had also worked as intake clinician at a famous eating disorder clinic in California. This was part of the new journey for Dani — helping those struggling with depression, addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, self-worth issues, and suicidal thoughts.

Dani’s incredible strength and determination in that particular battle was the basis for her vow to never use illegal drugs again. She couldn’t fight it alone at that time. She had our prayers, love, and support always, but she also worked hard at it as she attended meetings and surrounded herself with only those who could help with her recovery. Her mantra for those few years, whenever we talked was, “Coffee and a meeting, Mom, that’s my life!”

If you struggle with depression or addiction, there is hope. There is life after addiction and there can be recovery. Don’t travel the road alone. It is said it takes a village to raise a child, but it truly takes a community of love, belief, and support to beat addiction.

33 Forever, Inc., the non profit we started in the immediate aftermath of losing Dani, is here to help however we can, with resources, educational tools, and professionals to guide and direct you as you take baby steps to your recovery on this difficult but worthwhile journey.

This story originally appeared on 33 Forever

Originally published: January 11, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home