Facing An Important Decision

Today, I find myself reflecting on a past decision to leave mental health treatment back in 2008, ultimately the decision that cost me SSDI and Medicare health coverage in January 2013. Granted, it wasn’t exactly a “conscious decision” to leave treatment. A series of events led to a state of overwhelm and dissociation that prevented me from leaving my home — a state of agoraphobia that lasted from mid-2008 up until the time KR and I moved to Cookeville, TN, in May 2010.

I still struggle with this today; but by June 2008, one missed appointment left me in the precarious position of walking away from treatment altogether. I never returned to Centerstone where I received care from 1998 through 2008.

I never even considered the consequences. I just didn’t go back (much like the last time I was employed, a coincidence that only occurred to me today). I was so frustrated with the roller coaster ride that was (and still is) mental health treatment that I simply gave up.

Today’s reflection was triggered by a phone call from my disability advocate. It was over a year ago when we last met to discuss appealing the judge’s unfavorable decision. Honestly, I thought my disability advocate and I had agreed to drop the claim because the entire process was triggering way too much for me. He apparently filed it anyway because I received another denial letter from SSA in regard to that appeal around the end of February. He finally called about that denial letter today.

The only other options would be to either take my case to Federal Court with the help of an attorney, which he basically led me to believe is impossible, or to file a completely new claim.

No.

I’m done.

It’s OVER.

Before we said our goodbyes, he reiterated something I heard him say in the courtroom. He said that I’ve ordered my life within certain boundaries to maintain my mental health; but he feels that I would not be able to consistently maintain employment within those boundaries while at the same time managing my mental health. He knows that as well as I do, as well as KR does, yet convincing a judge of that when my own treatment team doesn’t even believe it… well, that’s another story.

My present situation with regard to treatment at PMHC is no better than Centerstone in 2008. I’ve basically put myself through hell again for the last 4 years… for what?

I’ve made no progress. Far too many of my symptoms have only worsened over these last 4 years rather than improved.

PMHC has me so confused that I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t understand the practices of this facility. I’ve met with the new counselor 4 times. I don’t feel like I’m building a rapport with her. Appointments are brief and feel rushed. This last appointment on Friday barely lasted 20 minutes, and we didn’t talk about anything of substance. My bad. That connection isn’t there. I’ve lost trust and faith in this treatment facility. It’s not like I had much trust and faith in it to begin with.

At the end of that appointment, my counselor told me I needed to meet with a care coordinator.

“Wait, what?”

She explained that care coordinators are there to “check-in” with clients while at the facility. I thought that’s what case management was for! Why is my case manager visiting my house every month if not for this reason? My frustration bordered on rancorous spite.

“Remain calm. Jump through their hoops.”

She ushered me into this nameless man’s office. Neither my counselor nor the care coordinator told me his name — no introduction of any kind.

“Yep, manners are a thing of the past.”

“Lose the sarcasm.”

“Nope.”

I felt stubborn, deciding then and there that I had no desire whatsoever to cooperate and zero patience left for idle chit-chat.

“Short answers. Don’t bother hiding your indignation.”

After he finally finished asking all his questions, I asked if I would be meeting with him regularly in addition to meeting with my case manager. After all, they basically have the same exact job, except my case manager meets with me at home. He said, “Nope, I’m just for check ups,” whatever that means. It feels redundant and unnecessary. It seems like a waste of time and money.

Maybe all of it is.

Throughout 9 different counselors and therapists over more than 22 years, I’ve questioned the process of therapy relentlessly — wondering how is this supposed to work, wondering what exactly am I supposed to be talking about? I need direction from a counselor. I need a little push every now and then. I avoid anything that’s uncomfortable. It’s how I cope with life. Give me homework. Give me art prompts. Give me writing assignments. Give me something, anything, we can actually discuss that moves me forward and helps me face what I’m actually there to work on!

I’m out of patience. I’m frustrated. I’m contemplating walking away from treatment again because I have no desire to continue wasting my time. I know I am ultimately responsible for efficiently making use of my time in the counseling room; but counselors also have the responsibility for directing clients in the most productive use of our time.

Maybe I’m just triggered from today’s conversation with the disability advocate, but I have to decide what is best for me and my mental health. I’m just not sure what that is anymore, and I’m definitely not convinced that the facility where I receive care is even a “good” choice, let alone the best choice.

Post-trip Processing

I’ve been back home from my trip to East Tennessee for 10 days. I spent 8 full days there with my family. It was actually a pretty great trip. I was such an anxious, neurotic mess before I left; but I feel this trip was the best trip back to my hometown I’ve had in years, maybe even since I left my childhood home 22 and a half years ago. My son, daughter-in-law, and I spent some quality time together. We were even able to do a lot of those touristy type things I’ve missed so much over the years. Dollywood has changed a lot since I was last there 17 years ago, so has Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. I’m thrilled with joy and contentment to have had that time with my son and daughter-in-law.

While there, I was also able to help my mom out by giving her house a good spring cleaning, something that really needed to be done. Of course, I had to wait until she was out of the house at dialysis to accomplish most of this because I didn’t want her to feel bad about needing the help. It worked out well. She seemed genuinely appreciative and thankful for my efforts. I’m grateful I was able to help even in a small way by cleaning and running errands for her. The look of joy on my mom’s face when I arrived a day early, to her surprise, was priceless.

I’m also thankful for getting to spend an evening with my sister and her family at their house for a cook-out. I think that was the first time since my dad’s death, 11 years ago, that I’ve been to their house. It was a pretty special evening. We had some good laughs and caught up and the food was pretty great, too. My sister’s sweet tea recipe rocks! The perfect sweetness. Her kids are growing up so fast. I feel bad for not being involved in their lives.

These past 10 days have been an attempt to hold onto that fleeting optimism — an optimism that results from such experiences of connection and feeling loved. I want to hold it tightly, begging my heart, mind, and soul to savor the “good” times while acknowledging life need not always be so frightening and full of despair. I’ve spent this time processing the positive. It’s true, you know. Without suffering and pain, we wouldn’t recognize the good in life.

All those things I hide away, that I consciously or subconsciously avoid and distance from myself, I lock away in a far off, dark, shadowy place in my mind. I liken this place to an attic in an old decrepit house, something of a nightmare. This is a place where negativity, suffering, despair, anger, rage, deep sadness, loneliness, shame, etc. dwell. These are the darkest aspects of human nature — necessary to life, most of the time understandable when given to introspection, but often times very frightening. Yin.

The beautiful side of life includes those things that awe and inspire hope within me — nature, music, art, kindness, joy, love, gentleness, creativity, curiosity — the goodness of humanity. I need to spend more time there than I have these past couple of years. Yang.

“Seek balance between the two,” my higher self reminds me. Balance is key.

Yin and Yang

 


 

In other news, today I received a call from my disability advocate. My disability hearing is scheduled for August. I’m nervous about that. All the “what ifs” are rolling around in my brain, making me all kinds of distracted. For the last 2 and half years, I’ve lived without an income. I’m so thankful for KR’s support through all of this because without him, I don’t know where I would be. I don’t know what to expect from this disability hearing — the reason for my anxiety about it. I feel like my life, my choices, are on trial — not a particularly good feeling.

Also, I have a new case manager. I’ve met with her a couple of times, now. She’s nice, a bit more knowledgeable about her job than my previous case manager, yet I still have no therapist. I’m still not sure therapy would help that much anyway given past experiences, but I am willing to give it another try should the option become available to me. I guess that’s saying a lot considering a few months ago I was completely fed up with it.

 

My Story – Part 11

Continued from My Story – Part 10 (My Relationship with KR)

When I was around 2 years old, my family moved from the subdivision where we were living into an old 2-story farmhouse. This home is the home of my childhood memories, the home where I was raised, the only real “home” I remember. My family lived there up until the autumn after I graduated from high-school. I’m thankful to have experienced the stability and security of having grown up in one place, without the chaos of moving around so much as has been the case throughout my adult years. From the time I got married until present day, I received mail at a total of 27 different addresses. I lived in 4 different states over the years — Tennessee, Hawaii, California, and briefly Kentucky. I lived in 16 different cities over the course of my life, 12 of which were in Tennessee. I have been homeless a total of 5 times, 3 of which were in 1998, with the longest period of time spent homeless at an entire month.

As chaotic as my home-life became as an adult, my employment history was equally chaotic. From the time I began working at the age of 17 until July 2005, I had a variety of jobs. I worked as a cashier at a grocery store, a mail clerk on the campus of the university I was attending, a teacher’s aide, a ride attendant at Dollywood (probably my favorite job out of all of them), a preschool teacher, an American Red Cross Volunteer, a factory worker, a meat-wrapper at a grocery store, an inventory counter, a cashier at Wal-Mart, a Census Bureau enumerator, a framer at an art store, a telemarketer (I absolutely hated this one!), a bar-maid (by far my worst working experience), and finally, a graphic artist. And that’s just to name the most significant ones. Over a 15 year period, I had a total of 26 different periods of employment with 20 different employers. Seven of those different employers were in 1998 alone. The longest I ever worked full-time was 7 months. The longest I worked part-time was 1 year, 4 months.

And there were many periods of unemployment during those 15 years, too. The longest period of unemployment was 3 years and 7 months, during my pregnancy, son’s infancy, and his early childhood. I don’t really count this one as “unemployed,” though, because I felt I had the most important job of raising my son, even if my ex-husband and other family members didn’t see it that way. Call me old-fashioned, but I truly believe that young children need a parent at home during those formative years. I did, however, spend 5 months of that time period volunteering with the American Red Cross. I was able to bring my son along with me due to the nature of my volunteer position which was at a free child care facility designed for military families’ use while at medical appointments. After I finally went back to work after that, the periods of unemployment ranged from 3 to 7 months at a time (never with unemployment benefits), although many of the jobs I acquired were back to back or overlapping in some cases.

When I consider the original reasons for why I struggled so much to keep a job, the only conclusion I come to is that I simply become overwhelmed when trying to juggle too many things at once. Simplicity is paramount to my mental health and well-being. Part-time is better than full-time; but even part-time work left me exhausted and feeling smothered. After the rapes in 1998, I had the added anxiety — subconscious at the time — of associating work with being raped. This was further compounded by the stalker with whom I worked at Wal-Mart, and then finally, all of the sexual assaults I experienced at the beer bar where I worked a few years later.

Early on in 2004, I began the Social Security Disability process. In the state of Tennessee (maybe other states as well), this is a long, drawn out process where you are almost guaranteed to be denied at least the first two times. By the time you get to the hearing stage in front of a judge, I think the SSA is pretty much hoping that you kill yourself to save them the trouble. Several times during that 3 years it took me to finally be approved, I came very close to doing just that. Honestly, I’m surprised I survived it. Between the pressure PI (boyfriend at the time) put me under with his impatience for results from a system that prides itself in hurry-up-and-wait and my own despair in having to ask for help in this way — I only felt a hopelessness that life would never improve, that I didn’t deserve to live, let alone ask for help. It was really no surprise that the relationship with PI ended as a result.

In January 2007, a couple of months after I left PI and had been living with KR in Nashville, my Social Security Disability Income was finally approved. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I could finally breathe. This didn’t solve all of my problems, but I had one less thing to worry about.

Around that time, I began seeing a psychiatrist and therapist again through Tennessee’s Safety Net Program since I still had no medical insurance. I had been medication free for about 14 months, but still experiencing severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. After the psychiatrist asked me all the usual intake questions, he diagnosed me as Bipolar, prescribing Lamictal. He also ordered blood-work to check my thyroid because it hadn’t been checked in so long. About a week later, he called to tell me that my thyroid was over-active, advising me to find a doctor and get a complete physical.

Again, without medical insurance, this proved to be quite difficult; but somehow (honestly, I can’t remember how I managed it), I finally saw a physician. This doctor sent me to an endocrinologist a couple of months later for further testing on my thyroid who began treatment for the thyroid problem. He also scheduled an appointment with a rheumatologist for the first time since high school. When their blood tests came back normal, the rheumatologist refused to do x-rays to determine if I actually had rheumatoid arthritis. Basically, I got the impression that I was wasting the rheumatologist’s time; so I was left to deal with the joint pain I was experiencing on my own.

On top of these other health issues, over a 3 year period, my teeth literally broke, shattered, and decayed at an alarming rate. Most had already broken to the gum line and others were missing all of the enamel by 2007. Many factors contributed to the sudden decline of my dental health; but more than anything, long-term malnutrition probably played the most significant role (starting in/around 1997 through the present time, I only eat one meal per day in order to save on food costs – usually, no snacks). My oral surgeon told me that even antidepressants contribute to dental problems. It’s difficult to explain the impact of dental issues on your self-esteem, confidence, emotional balance, lifestyle, and physical health. The detrimental effects of losing my smile were as devastating as the excruciating pain I constantly felt in my gums, jaw, and mouth, in general. The headaches and migraines that accompanied this were equally awful. Prior to receiving SSDI, I was financially destitute. I couldn’t always get antibiotics to treat the constant infections and abscesses I got. After 3 years of agonizing pain due to my teeth, I was finally able to get all of my teeth extracted with the help of a long-lost friend who showed me a great kindness. The oral surgeon was fantastic. Given the severe anxiety that dental procedures cause me, my oral surgeon put me completely under; so I didn’t feel a thing. I used a portion of the back-pay from SSDI to purchase dentures. I got my temporary set of dentures at the end of April 2007 and the permanent set about 6 months later.

From the time I began taking Lamictal in January 2007, I began having severe mood swings with bouts of anger that frightened me. The anxiety became so bad that I was having problems making it to appointments and leaving my apartment at all. For the first time since December of 2005, the obsessive thoughts of suicide and death increased to an alarming level. These issues could have been the result of the thyroid problem (or treatment of the thyroid problem) or it could have been the result of the Lamictal. Given my reaction to most, if not all, psychiatric medications in the past (and during times that I was not having the problems with my thyroid), I felt that the issues I was experiencing were a direct result of the Lamictal. I was also concerned that my “food issues” were causing a lot of my problems; but most, if not all, the doctors and mental health professionals I saw up to that point, with whom I did express these concerns, said I was a healthy weight. Therefore, the disordered eating habits were completely overlooked. Neither the psychiatrist nor the endocrinologist listened to my concerns even though I voiced these concerns regularly. As I experienced this type of negligence and apathy from medical providers for the majority of my adult life, I became increasingly suspicious of psychiatry, medicine, and medical treatment.

In March 2008, I quit taking the Lamictal due to these significant mood swings and emotional outbursts. I chose to stop taking medication for anxiety and depression because for the entire 13 years I was on them, none of those medications I was ever prescribed actually helped. When I very first started taking Prozac, the original medication I was prescribed back in June 1996, five weeks later I attempted suicide for the first time in my life. Every time the medications were changed or the dosage was raised or another one added, I fell deeper into a state of depression where I could not function at all or I became completely suicidal, ruminating constantly on thoughts of suicide and obsessing over methods to take my life.

I’ve often experienced my thoughts as loud voices, with or without medication. Prior to my adult years from as early as the age of 10 or 11 years old, these “loud thoughts” were mostly benign, more so creative expressions of my imagination; but as I grew older these voices became more sinister, often times screaming at me to kill myself. If (and that’s a BIG “if”) the medication quieted these voices slightly, the effect wouldn’t last long because I developed a compulsive tendency to obsess over certain thoughts, specifically death and suicide. While these thoughts do still occur (stress triggers this response and suicidal behavior in me) and I still feel the hopelessness that accompanies them, they happen no more or no less frequently than while I was medicated. The medications, however, made it easier to act on these thoughts as I had very little impulse control while on them. I also believe that the medication prolonged the periods of depression rather than improving the symptoms. The medication robbed me of life’s greatest treasures, my emotions and my creativity. Without those, life is not worth living, at least, not for me.

To be continued….

My Story – Part 8 (The Relationship with My Son)

Continued from My Story – Part 7 (Chaos Relived)

For the past 8 (close to 9) months, present life has interfered with my ability to accomplish my goal of finishing My Story. Rather than attempting to process past problems, “present-day” struggles have consumed my thoughts and energy. These may or may not be an “echo” of past issues, but they’ve certainly triggered a lot of the same emotions and difficulties remaining present. I’m feeling compelled now to finish what I started here and hopefully move past this “need” to tell my story. 

I left off with the relationship break-up between PI and me after our move to Lebanon, TN, and my subsequent move to Nashville, TN, when KR took me in….

At the end of 2006, I received a letter from the Department of Safety telling me that my driver’s license had been suspended due to failure to pay child support. I rarely drove anyway because I found driving in Nashville to be very stressful; and my car was on its last leg, overheating any time I got stuck in traffic. I ended up selling the car for $40 (yes, I said forty dollars) just to get rid of it and chose to ride the bus instead. (I could, seriously, write an entire post on nothing but my experiences riding the bus in Nashville!) Still, I was stressed a great deal by this letter revoking my driving privileges. In January 2007, I received another letter in the mail, this time from the Social Security Administration. Finally, after 3 very long, stressful years of barely surviving while trying to get on Social Security Disability, I was approved. It was just enough to cover my student loan payments and child support; but at least, it was something. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I could finally breathe.

For quite a while, I had completely lost contact with my ex-husband, CF, and our son. This happened several times over the years from the time I left. On a few occasions, cards, letters, and gifts were returned to me through the mail when they couldn’t reach my son at the given address (I held onto all of these things as proof of my devotion until I lost everything in my storage unit in 2005). Eventually, I gave up on communication through the postal service because I had no idea where my son was. The last time I had been allowed to even speak to him on the phone was in the summer of 2006. Often times, I had no financial means to make long-distance phone calls, which were pretty expensive back then with or without an “unlimited” calling feature. Other times, the number I was given by my ex-husband was “out of service,” probably for the same reason. By February 2007, the stress of not knowing was killing me.

By this point, I had accepted the fact that everyone saw me as an unfit parent. That realization is a humbling experience. The shame I felt (still feel to this day) led me to believe that my son was better off without me being directly involved in his life. However, I had the right, according to the divorce decree, to supervised visitation and updates on my son’s well-being and school progress. Enforcing these provisions of the divorce decree proved to be financially impossible and caused both me and my son an incredible amount of emotional anguish.

I began calling the last number I had for them. At first, I got the all too familiar operator on the other end telling me, “Your call cannot be completed as dialed.” Later, trying the same number again, it went directly to voice mail. I tried sending CF emails to the last known email address I had for him. As always, these went unanswered. It was at this time that I had also asked my mom for information about my son’s whereabouts. At first, Mom kept telling me to let it go and give up. My mind reeled at the notion of a mother telling her daughter to “give up” on anything related to her child. This didn’t sit well with me at all and strained our relationship further. Finally, she told me that my sister had CF’s current address. After a particularly disturbing and bitter email conversation between the two of us, my sister sent me the address.

At the same time that I was trying to get information from my family, the thought occurred to me to search the internet for CF. I tracked down his new wife on MySpace. I contacted her first, before finally finding CF elsewhere online shortly thereafter. It was at this point that CF finally answered one of my emails with an incredibly hateful, derogatory response. His wife and I had exchanged phone numbers; and I called numerous times to try to speak to my son, unsuccessfully. Finally, she called me back one day and told me that my son did not want to speak to me. I was crushed, but I didn’t blame him for this at all. She told me that he might email me at a later date. She also said that CF was very angry with her (and me) for the emails we had exchanged. I realized at that moment that CF was controlling her in the same way as he had me. At that point, for her safety and the safety of my son, I decided to break off contact — again.

April 11, 2007, was my final court appearance over the child support. A couple of years prior, I had obtained an attorney who took my case pro bono.  She never even showed up to this court date! However, because I showed proof that I had finally gotten Social Security Disability and sent in a large payment towards the arrears, the case was finally suspended due to “the obligations of the non-custodial parent being met.” CF finally showed up for the first time in the almost 6 years that I was being dragged through the court system. The district attorney told CF to go to the Social Security office to fill out the necessary paperwork so that my son would receive a portion of my Social Security check because the SSA told me that they had been unsuccessful in attempts to contact him through mail and phone calls. I honestly thought he had taken care of this; yet later in the year around the end of August 2007, I received another certified letter from the district attorney’s office stating that my driver’s license may be revoked again. I went by the Social Security office to see if CF did as the district attorney instructed him to and whether or not my son was getting a check every month. They told me he had not. This was also when I found out that I had to send the child support check out of the $475 SSD check that I received each month because I did not qualify for SSI. I never missed a payment again.

Eventually my son and I finally began exchanging emails; but I was cautious due to concerns that my ex-husband might be messing with my head since I couldn’t be sure who exactly was sending them. This may sound a little paranoid to most people; but given what I had been through with my ex-husband over the years, my caution was warranted. Honestly, I think the earliest emails in 2007 may have been my ex-husband; but by 2009, I was fairly certain that I was actually speaking to my son. In July 2009 I was able to see and speak to my son face-to-face for the first time in years. It was awkward at first; but I think we were both surprised by how much we had in common — from his love of art to his enjoyment of gaming. Even some of his mannerisms reminded me of me.

In February 2010 after CF and his wife divorced, she contacted me again through Facebook, confirming that she had gone through a lot of the same control, anger, and violence issues with CF that I had experienced. He even threatened to have her arrested because she took my son to church one day after they separated. My son was 15 or 16 years old at the time! She and I exchanged several emails, “comparing notes,” so to speak. My quest of writing down my entire life story in the way that I am sharing here on my blog began as a result of these correspondences. After I shared my side of the story with her, she wrote in an email to me:

“The story that I, and I believe [your son] has always heard, is very different from that story. We were told that you left the bar with them and then claimed rape. [CF] got flown back home because of it and then you changed your story. He went home to find out that [your son] had been home alone the entire time. I hate to tell you this but [your son] believes that he remembers being home alone all night. I never thought he could truly remember something like that at a young age, but he is determined that he does remember it. That is part of his anger towards you. I have no doubt that [CF] made up enough detail that over the years [your son] believes these are his genuine memories.”

Let me reiterate here: The vile things those men did to me and made me do to them was NOT consensual. I felt I had no choice but to comply. It was rape.

And secondly, my son was at home, safe, with a sitter that night — the entire night. Needless to say, this conversation with CF’s newest ex-wife intensified my concerns about my son and the amount of control my ex-husband had over him. I emailed my son after this conversation and spoke to him briefly about what CF’s ex-wife told me; but at the time, I didn’t want to overload him with too much information or any of the specifics because he was only 16 years old.

In the years since that time, my son graduated from high school with honors, joined the Navy, and most recently, married. He is now an adult, and we’re able to speak much more freely with one another than we could throughout his childhood. This past summer, my son and I were able to finally have that much-needed long conversation about everything that happened when I left him with his father. I felt that this was a discussion that we needed to have face-to-face. It was a difficult conversation, to say the least, but a necessary one for him to understand my life and the distance I kept for so many years. From my post, Tech Free = Less Stress, where I briefly discussed this conversation:

That was the first time I have spent that type of quality time with my child in many, many years. We had the opportunity to have a long, in-depth discussion about my past and the break-up with his dad, something we never had the chance to discuss prior to his visit. It was discouraging to hear the things CF told my son about me (mostly false), but not surprising. I’m happy that I can speak so openly around my son and his wife. That visit meant the world to me, and provided a small amount of closure that I’ve never felt.

It’s that closure that I so desperately needed. His (and his wife’s) compassion and acceptance were an added bonus, a seed of hope. I am so, so proud of my son and the man he turned out to be. He’s an intelligent, creative, kindhearted man with a bright future ahead of him. My son truly holds my heart and my soul. In a previous post, I said:

In moments of complete despair, thoughts of [my son] kept me alive. One day, I must thank my child for saving my life on so many occasions. Something, I’m certain, he’s completely unaware of.

I’m thankful that we were finally able to have that heart-to-heart conversation because more than anything in the world, all I’ve ever wanted, was to be a part of his life and to show him the love that he deserves. I love my son dearly and look forward to a future with him in my life.

To be continued….

My Story – Part 7 (Chaos Relived)

Continued from My Story – Part 6 (Trying to Survive)

I want to reiterate my trigger warning on this post because I discuss suicidal ideation and weight issues with numbers that could be triggering for some readers. Please, keep yourself safe. 

When my boyfriend, P.I., and I broke up at the end of 2004, he told me I could stay with him until my court date over the child support with my ex-husband. When that court date was postponed until April (court was continuously postponed for a total of 6 years due to the fact that my ex-husband never showed up), I was left in a state of limbo, having no where to else to go and no income to support myself. P.I. allowed me to continue living with him and his parents; but he was constantly picking fights with me, pressuring me to find a job and abandon my disability claim. I looked at my life and chastised myself relentlessly for not getting my act together. I began working part-time as a floater at a preschool. Working with kids made me miss mine even more. I continued looking for a better job until I found a great full-time graphic artist position at a factory in Tullahoma, TN, making $11.50 per hour (the most I ever made in my life). In April, I spent the first two weeks at my job living out of a hotel room, eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and cereal. After I received my first paycheck, I put a deposit down on a 2 bedroom apartment and moved in.

Tullahoma is a small rural community, about two and a half hours away from where I had been living in Clarksville. I was so lonely. I knew no one there. The depression worsened. By the end of May, I ran out of medication. I tried getting help through a local mental health facility, but the services were minimal and unhelpful. My life felt so out of control. I called the crisis call line more times there than I ever had. Prior to moving to Tullahoma, I gained approximately 60 lbs, which in and of itself was a huge stressor for me given my disordered eating habits. This brought my total weight up to 170 lbs by January 2005 – the most I had ever weighed in my life, even while pregnant. I believe the weight gain was a result of an earlier change in medication. My best guess is the Lexapro because after I ran out of medication that extra 60 pounds of weight fell off very quickly. By the end of 2005, I was back down to 105 pounds. By the middle of June, I was a nervous wreck, realizing that even though I was making more money than I ever had, I still couldn’t afford to pay rent, electric, child support, student loans, buy food and groceries, and gas, not to mention my car was also giving me problems. I was in over my head again financially, all while going through horrible withdrawal from medication. I began feeling suicidal again; so I went into the ER for help.

(Hospitalization #7 – suicidal ideation) That night, I was transported to Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute in Chattanooga, TN. This was another state-run facility like Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute; but this one was by far scarier! (I have to interject here that transporting mental health patients by police car, shackled, and handcuffed, as I had been on numerous occasions, is not only inhumane and dehumanizing, but incredibly traumatic.) Riding up to this facility in the back of a police car down a long, long road that looks like it’s in the middle of absolutely no where, my first glimpse sent chills down my spine. It is actually on a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Tennessee RiverIt was lit up in the darkness of night with floodlights that made me think of prisons or the old-style insane asylums of the ’40’s and ’50’s. I had only seen pictures of places like this. I spent 3 very desperate days trying to get out of that hospital. They took me off all of the medications, except one, Effexor.

After this hospitalization, I tried to keep it together – I really did. Work was stressful. I couldn’t keep up with the pace my supervisor wanted me to work. I had missed several days due to the hospitalization and had a few tardies. My supervisor called me into her office to tell me that she was moving me to night-shift. I couldn’t object. I had no say. It was just done. A few days later, I walked out on my job. I just got up and left, in tears. As I sat at my computer that night trying to do my work, thoughts kept running through my mind. I’m not really sure what they were, now; but these thoughts had tears streaming down my face, panic quickly setting in. Humiliated that I was crying at work, embarrassed that I couldn’t make myself stop, worried that someone might see, feeling a despair that I had so often felt, and experiencing a panic like I had never felt before… I just got up and quickly walked out.

The move, the new job, missing work because of the hospitalization, the change in medication, no support system, no friends or family in the area, still dealing with child support issues and not being able to see my son, having transportation issues, not making enough money to cover all my expenses, even mourning the loss of my relationship with P.I. – it ALL became too much to handle. I didn’t even speak to my supervisor. I just left work and never went back.

That was the last time I worked.

I left Tullahoma. At this time, I asked my family for help, the first and only time I ever did so. I wanted to move back to my hometown to be closer to my son; but both my mother and my sister refused my pleas for help. My mother simply said she didn’t have the space. My sister told me I needed to stick it out where I was at and make the best of it. Fearing that I would go to jail if I missed the court appearance over the child support (now in July) and having no where else to go, I put everything I owned in storage and went back to Clarksville, TN. Again, homeless, I slept in my car for a couple of nights. I ended up losing everything I owned as a result of having no way to pay the storage facility.

For 3 days, I stayed at a place called Foundations Respite. Upon release, I was supposed to go to a domestic abuse shelter in Clarksville. It was the only place they could find for me since the homeless shelter was full. I dropped off the few belongings I had with me at that shelter and went to speak with P.I. over an unpaid water bill in my name. He convinced me to go to the ER that night because I expressed to him my suicidal thoughts. My plan was to speed down I-24 and crash into a rock wall. (Hospitalization #8 – suicidal ideation) I was in the hospital for a total of 24 days this time. My medication changed to Cymbalta, Risperdal, Remeron, and Adderall (for the newest diagnosis of ADD). After I was released from the hospital, I was supposed to go to a homeless shelter in Nashville; but P.I. allowed me to move back in with him. This was probably not one of my smartest decisions, but he was the only person who would take me in. There were so many people living in that house already – a total of 5 adults, 2-4 kids at any given time, 4 cats, and the constant traffic of friends and family coming over. It was crowded, to say the least, and totally overwhelming.

By the end of November 2005, I quit taking ALL the medications because I feared I wouldn’t be able to afford them any longer without insurance (I think this was around the time that TN was phasing out TennCare). I realized that I felt horrible and stressed whether or not I was taking them. This was when I first began to seriously question their effectiveness. Of course, that led to yet another hospitalization at Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute in Nashville (Hospitalization #9 – suicidal ideation) because coming off of medication really is brutal. I seriously frightened myself this time as I sat there for what felt like hours (probably, more like minutes) holding P.I.’s gun to my head with my finger on the trigger. When I couldn’t force myself to pull that trigger (the thought of my son saved my life), I called my case manager. Like I’ve said before or meant to say before if I haven’t, ANY changes in my medication led me to suicide attempts or at least stronger than normal suicidal voices in my head. They became much harder to resist while medicated – I had little to no impulse control while medicated. Six out of 10 times, I was able to make myself seek help before I made a lethal decision. I can only say that my will to live was stronger than my will to die in those 6 instances. The 4 suicide attempts were the opposite, my will to die was stronger. Given the fact that I continue to experience suicidal thoughts even now, I honestly can’t say how to prevent them. The only thing I know for certain is that provided I can make myself “wait out” those thoughts and whatever emotions bring me to that point, I have a better chance of not acting on them.

Shortly after hospitalization #9, in January 2006, P.I. and I moved into a trailer that we had all to ourselves for a little while. Things calmed down some, but our relationship was never quite the same after we got back together. We argued a lot. He complained a lot. For the most part, I was vacant, in my mind. I could sit for hours just staring out the window in perfect silence, like I did when I was a little girl. My disability case had been reopened so many times the previous year that, at some point, I was told they had no record of me. I hired an attorney in 2006 to help me, but I had no hope of actually being approved. Shortly after summer 2006, P.I. got a job offer in Lebanon, TN; so we moved again. Not even a couple of months after we moved there, he met someone else and began having an affair with her. As he made plans to move in with this woman, I reached out to the only friend I had at the time, K.R. As I mentioned previously on my blog, even after our relationship ended in March 2002, K.R. and I remained friends and talked occasionally. He was the only friend to come see me while I lived in Tullahoma. He was always an ear to turn to when I struggled. He offered to let me stay with him in Nashville, TN; so I moved in with K.R. into his one bedroom apartment. Shortly after moving in, we decided to give our relationship another try; and we’ve been together ever since, just over 7 years, now.

As I’ve been writing out my story, I realize that it is growing far longer than I intended; but so much has happened in my life that I attribute to my mental health struggles. I don’t even feel like I’m going into as much detail as I could; but for the sake of brevity, as brief as I can get it anyway, I’m trying to establish a timeline here. Bear with me. I’m getting closer to the present day. 

To be continued…

Go To Bed, Already!

So many things are weighing heavy on my mind….

I finally got out of the house today – the first time I’ve been out since January 1st. I had to get groceries. We were out of everything. I stopped by Wal-Mart first to get the non-food items. I went around 11:00 am; yet it was so crowded in there! Maybe, it was a lunch rush or something. Or maybe, it’s because the weather is predicting snow tonight. Who knows? I waited longer in line than it took me to find all the items I went in for. Usually, I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague.

After that, I made the spontaneous decision to go for a walk at my favorite local park because the weather was simply beautiful. I wasn’t expecting it to be so warm today with a forecast of snow. I walked just over a mile and a half. The sunshine felt wonderful. The fresh air and exercise raised my spirits, as it always does. Nature is a powerful healer. During warmer weather in spring, summer, and fall, I try to get out for a walk at least once per week. This doesn’t always happen; but it’s a goal to work towards, nonetheless. In winter it’s a lot harder for me. I get cold so easily, and the cold is physically painful. Even today, the tops of my ears went numb by about the half-way point.

Then, I went to the grocery store and finished my shopping. By the time I got back home, I was exhausted; and I still had to carry all the groceries in and put them away. I haven’t slept yet today. I’ve been up since 9:30 pm last night, so a little over 21 hours, now. My sleeping schedule is completely screwed up at this point. I don’t know why I do this to myself.

After getting the groceries put away, I sat down to relax for a few minutes. Shortly thereafter, our landlord called, saying he found us another stove for the kitchen. Our oven hasn’t worked since Thanksgiving. Only one of the 4 stove eyes worked with some consistency, while the others seemed to have only one setting – high. He said he was on his way over with it. As he’s bringing in this “new” stove, he tells me that the large stove eye doesn’t work. Really?! He said he would switch it out with the old one to see if that solved the problem. After he did this, plugged it in, and turned that eye one, blue sparks shot out of the back of the stove! He told me not to use that stove eye (ya think?). He said he would try to bring a replacement eye over tomorrow to see if he could fix it.

Now, I have all these worries going through my mind of an electrical fire. Great! We don’t even have smoke detectors in here!

After he left, I realized I needed to do a load of laundry because, seriously, I only have two pairs of pants that fit me properly (that I will wear out in public); and both are in the laundry. The jeans I wore today were so uncomfortable that I would rather be tarred and feathered than wear them again. I have an appointment early tomorrow morning with my disability consultant to fill out some paperwork, so I need one of those pairs of pants clean. They’re in the washing machine, now, which is why I am sitting here venting rather than curled up in my bed, under my warm comforter sleeping.

And this paperwork is stressing me out. I’ve been such an emotional basket case lately that I couldn’t concentrate to fill it out; so I had to call the disability consultant to ask for assistance. Thankfully, I have someone to help because I just can’t think straight anymore. My mind is a cluttered mess.

Of course, it really doesn’t help anything that I haven’t even eaten anything since last night, either. I really do need to get my eating back under control because food issues certainly contribute to the lack of concentration, anxiety, and mood swings. I know this. Again, why do I do this to myself? I’m my own worst enemy.

And I really need to get this house cleaned before my appointment with my case manager on Thursday. It’s a mess. Hopefully, I can get that done tomorrow after my appointment because I’m simply too tired to do anything else tonight. I need to go to bed.

Maybe, I should unplug the stove.