Today is such an awesome day in MY LIFE It isn’t my birthday, but it’s the anniversary of the day I became alive!
On this day, in 2013, I entered building 3 of River Oaks Hospital Behavioral – Lincoln D Paine MD River Oaks Psychiatric Hospital for my 12th of 13th institutionalization. 20 years of giving in to my mental illnesses because I didn’t have the right tools to live with them. My insurance didnt cover the trauma program, so it continued to pay for 1 week stays in general psych after a suicide threat or attempt. I remember, and will never forget the feeling of complete hopelessness that fueled my burning desire to die. I had zero control over the flashbacks. I had zero control over the weight of the heaviest depression that pinned me to my house. I had zero control over the countless anxiety and panic attacks that came day in and day out… unless I took my medicine and then I either slept or existed in a zombie state of mind. I remember the insomnia… ohhh the insomnia!!! Days and nights awake, feeling completely alert, too alert. The grandiose ideas! I mean, I was a sheer genius! I really was, you have no idea… I was going to cure cancer, and … huh, for the life of me, i now can’t remember any of them, but there really were so many things I was going to do, discover, create, and help the world move forward with. Mania is AMAZING! Insomnia, not so much! They told me I had experienced so much insomnia in my life, that I had actually caused brain damage. My memory was failing. Short term memory. I couldn’t complete a full sentence, a full thought. My brain would lock up and cause this painful feeling thru my body like my mind had a traffic jam. It was soo busy up there all the time! I needed sleep. My body physically hurt because I was so tired, but my mind was just going and going and going. It was in this genius place, but I wasn’t fast enough to record it all, tho I tried.
Dianosis’ included but not limited to:
- PTSD (no i wasn’t in the military)
- Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder)
- Mixed Bi Polar (thats a fun one.. Its when you have all the energy of Manic but all the negativity of depression at the same time! Apparently very dangerous)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (explained my crazy over the top attachments to toxic people)
- Panic Disorder
- I’m sure there were others…
It was while trying to live in the midst of all that is described above that I realized… the one thing I had power over was whether I lived or died. At any moment I could pull the plug, and in that, I would find peace. It was finding that one place of authority, my ability to terminate my life, that I promoted suicidality to my right hand man.
I fantasized about jumping from a bridge in the night.. the moon reflecting from the water… opera in my ears… loaded and drunk.
I fantasized about pulling a gun while surrounded by police because I didn’t have the guts to take my own life.
I took actions towards bringing those fantasies to life. One of my dozen hospitalizations involved a gun. Another one was when they pulled me from the side of the bridge. I got closer with each threat, ironically practicing the same behavioral skill that brought me comfort today.. Prolonged exposure. As I acted out each suicidal fantasy, the fear lessened each time. Each time I added the next piece, exposing myself to it, and becoming less afraid of carrying it out. At the same time, the will to live and show the world how fucked up the mental health system is, kept fighting!
In 2010, After a 12 year career i was put on medical leave. Insurance fought to avoid paying disability. I was evicted, homeless. My car was repossessed. I don’t remember how I bought a 91 Subaru station wagon for $1100 but I did and I lived out of it in a junk yard, close to where my girlfriend and son had moved back into her parents house. She was cheating on me with my best friend.
I had to lose everything! – It was then that my health insurance, Lincoln Financial, finally approved my disability claim.
I hired a lawyer. I had lost everything around me, which was deteriorating my sanity even more. Now the desperation wasn’t just the noise in my head, hauntings in my past, the heavy breathing, sweats, physical and mental brain lock of my panic attacks, or lost time during a dissociative episode… it was real time, fear on top of fear that came with being homeless.. Out there in the open, exposed to all the very possibilities that had me imprisoned in my mind! All the “What if i become homeless?” was now an “I am”. The noises of the world were so loud at night, as I laid in the back of that station wagon counting. Counting was supposed to help me ground myself. I remember lots of counting that didn’t work, at least I didn’t think it helped, but I didn’t realize that each time I did it, I was practicing and it was getting easier and easier to get myself back to a grounded state. I had lost my insurance as I couldn’t afford the COBRA payments. I couldn’t get my meds. I couldn’t see my therapist. I signed up for the state funded Jefferson Parish Human Authority Services, and joined a 6 week waiting list to see a professional, and get my meds. It was about 6 months before I was given a prescription.
He took my case pro bono.. The lawyer. (I know, i spin off in tangents. If you could see all my half started stories on this word doc!) It wasn’t a personal injury case. He wasn’t going to get millions, and I’m not sure that he had much experience in disability cases, but he took my case and went to battle. It took 4 months to win the case. By that time I was stealing from Walmart, returning things for gift cards to put gas in my car at the Murphy USA in front, or get something to eat. (Ironically I was a the store manager of a Murphy in 2005) I remember calling my dad for gas money to get to the lawyer’s office. I had asked for money so much, and lied so much in the past that he said no. I got my gas card and made it to New Orleans to the lawyer’s office to pick up the check. The back pay was about $12,000 of which I had to give him half. I left the office with more money than I had ever had! I called my girlfriend, and we began looking for a new home.
The increase in my living situation helped quiet the noise a little. I seemed to be coasting for a while. I had a monthly check coming in. My son and partner were back. I was seeing a therapist regularly, and taking meds. Life was good for a while. We took her sister, brother in law, and 2 kids into our home… although right now I can’t remember why. The house was so cute with a fireplace, and a gazebo in the back yard full of lights, but it wasn’t big enough for all of us, so I found a 5 bedroom across state lines in Mississippi. It was near the beach! It was big enough, and it was only $750 a month! It needed a lot of work, but it was perfect!
Months later her brother in law was arrested for sexually abusing his 5 year old step son. My girlfriend had walked in on my son being sexually abused which sparked a full investigation in which I would rather not discuss further.
They moved out, and we no longer needed a 5 bedroom. We no longer needed to put up with the leaking ceilings, mold, and holes. Our neighbor was having problems with his landlord also and told us about a new development in Pass Christian. Thus opening the door to the beautiful home that I own today!
Okay, so back to on this day in 2013… during that time period, I had to wait 18 months from the time I was declared legally disabled by the state. (Lincoln Financial insurance policy paid me for up to 2 years, but they hired a lawyer to claim disability thru the state so that they wouldn’t have to pay any longer) 18 months after that trial was when I would receive Medicare! I would finally be able to see a real therapist again. I had a chance of getting better instead of staying in this place of learning to be okay with the cycle of depression that the system had me in. Running to the general psych unit for a tune up when it all spiraled again.. Which at this point was about every 2nd month.
It was my Medicare that paid for me to get into the Trauma Unit of River Oaks. I would spend 6 weeks in there learning and practicing tools that completely transformed my life! It was painful. It was difficult, and some days I just had to be sedated for the day, but it was the best thing I could’ve ever done to learn a new way of life. I have learned how to ground myself from a panic attack without medication. It took a couple of years still using medication to calm down, but occasionally I would talk myself down before I grabbed the pill bottle, and I built memories of times that I was able to talk myself down, and built evidence on top of evidence that I was safe, and I was always okay after the panic attack, and I would be this time too. I knew that the medicine takes about 15 minutes to calm me down, and make me drowsy for the rest of the day, but adrenaline only dumps for 15 minutes, so if I could just talk myself thru that window, it would stop dumping, and I would feel better anyway.. And still have the rest of my day not feeling drugged. The wins increased and the meds slowly disappeared. I learned to allow myself to be awake when I was awake, and sleep when I was tired. I had to quit trying to live to the time on the clock. I’m not the kinda person that eats at certain times of the day, sleeps at certain times of the day. I had to trust my own mind. That was a big one! I learned what all of my compulsive behaviors were, and how the cycles occurred so that I could recognize them before they made my life unmanageable. Self harm, suicidality, addiction, – they were obvious ones, but I learned I had others that coexisted and led to these obvious ones. The trauma unit took me deeper and deeper into the layers of me, and what makes me tick. It taught me how to retrain my channels of thinking. I never realized how distorted my thinking was before River Oaks! I taught myself how to manage my mania, and found all manner of creativity! I can’t tell you how many times I painted all thru the night, or wrote a song, recorded a music video, a poem, repurposed something, wrote another chapter in a book i never finished, researched a way to travel without money etc etc etc
The meds slowed all that down, so I can see why people get stable on meds, and then stop taking them. I hear it described as we think we are better now, and don’t need them. For me that wasn’t the case. I missed being manic. I missed my creativity, and my energy. I missed being able to do whatever I set my mind to do. I can see why they help. I highly recommend taking them while learning the tools to manage mental illness without them. It’s a way to confine the symptoms. A way of letting them out of their cage bit by bit until they’re trained… house broken… managed, but to continue to set the goal of managing mental health with a lifetime of drugs is cheating our society of geniuses. It’s a failure to the patient and the world. We need more tool teaching and less medicating to shut us up and keep us safe. We need the red tape of insurance to quit blocking us from the tools. We need education. We need facilities for specific diagnoses rather than General Psych units. Bi Polar looks very different than PTSD which looks completely different than Schizophrenia. We don’t have General Physical Health facilities.. We break physical illnesses down and have specialists for every nook and cranny of our bodies! Why don’t we have that for Mental Health?
On this day in 2013, after 20 years of living with mental illness, I was introduced to the tools that gave me the life I live today. A life of a person that no one would ever believe looked the way it did 5 years ago.
On this day in 2015 I landed in London England for my first 4 month Europe travel tour. I hadn’t been home (I grew up in England until 1996) in 10 years. I hadn’t met my 6 year old nephew in person. I hadn’t seen my sister in as long. I never thought I would be able to afford to go home, and hoped they would someday visit, somewhat surrendering to the idea I wouldn’t see them again. Since then, I have been to Europe 3 times, each time for less than the last time. I’ve opened my own online store of photography from my travels. I’ve opened several AirBnB locations and manage 10 listings! I’ve written a frugal travel blog, and spent valuable time volunteering. I have more money in the bank now than I have ever had before. I don’t take mental health medication at all now. I have walked with the intention of managing my mental illness while allowing myself to be exactly as God created me, and I have learned my warning signs, my red flags that I need to get back to the basics of self care before I ever spiral out to the danger zones.
It’s surreal to think that it has now been 4 years since I was last institutionalized. I dare say if I were to walk into the lobby of River Oaks right now, I’d be recognized by the staff, and assumed I’m coming in again. I was there so much it was like a second home. It’s been 4 amazing years of walking further and further away from all that that life was, and I am thankful. I am thankful that I am one of the few people that survived.
So many people take their lives. So many people give up, somewhere along that journey. So many people put on that brave face that everything is ok, when it’s not! It’s FAR from okay!!! They say mental health can’t be seen, but it can. It doesn’t look like a broken leg. It’s a behavioral health problem. It shows up in the behaviors of a person. I’ve highlighted several of them in this article.
I personally believe that “mentally ill” is probably a symptom of a person who uses more than the average 10% of our brain. I’m not sure why we are all okay with the theory that we only use 10%? Look at what we have achieved with 10%! Imagine what life would look like if we quit making zombies out of those that use 15 or even 25%…
The first step is getting the tools to the people.
Thank You River Oaks for every time you opened the doors to keep me safe in a world that doesn’t yet understand Mental Health. Thank you to the staff in Building 6 and in Building 3. I might not be here if it weren’t for you, and that would be an awful waste of a beautiful person. Thank you to my family who have never disowned me. They’ve never really understood me, or known how to help me, but they’ve always loved me. Thank you to Jesus who first came knocking at my door on the patio of Building 6 in 2009.. It took me a minute to open, but I’m thankful I did.
He doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Now I can see that everything I went thru was to get me to where I am today. It was to give me the tools to help others. It was to be able to write this testimony of hope for others out there, right now, that are contemplating taking their life. Out there, right now, losing their home. Feeling cracked out from insomnia. Showing up to work with a smile on their face while crumbling inside. Those that will be sitting down to a family Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas Dinner in the next few weeks, playing the roll of someone who is okay, but really isn’t.
This year, please take the time you are with loved ones to interact on a deeper level. Don’t focus so much on the presents and the food. Focus on the people. Do you really know those people? Do they REALLY know you? Or are you all just acting out some Hollywood scene you think this day is supposed to look like? Give LOVE this Holiday season. Spend TIME.
I didn’t realize I was going to write this when I sat down to post about my memories of this day, but I am glad I did. Hopefully someone somewhere will hold on for one more day.
God Bless and Healthy Holidays!