After suffering from severe mental illness for over 30 years, which started in 1989 when I was 19 years old, I am now experiencing true happiness and peace. I never thought I would ever feel this way. The following is my story, which I am telling with the hope that it might help others who are dealing with mental illness and/or addiction.
Although I coped with mental illness for 30 years, the last 10 of these years were made so much worse by psychiatric drug and alcohol addiction. I am no longer on any psychiatric medications and no longer cope with alcohol addiction. In the last 12 years, I was hospitalized three times following suicide attempts. Whenever I contemplated suicide, it was because the pain had become overwhelming, I had lost all hope and finally because I believed my husband, children and other loved ones would be far better off if I ceased to exist. I barely survived the first and last suicide attempts. After my last attempt in the winter of 2019, I was hospitalized for 12 days. During the first eight days of this stay I had horrific and continual hallucinations and delusions which occurred during the detoxing process off of seven psychiatric medications which included anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant medications and mood stabilizers. The doctors at the hospital had no choice but to discontinue all my medications because they did not know what medications I took to overdose. They could not administer any medications and had to allow me to detox off all my medications.
Over the past 30 years I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Bipolar 1 Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks and Post-Partum Depression. For these conditions I saw approximately 3 general practitioners, 15 psychiatrists and 5 counsellors (a few of these counselors worked for the Mental Health Team where I saw my last treating psychiatrist). During the past 10 years my psychiatrists continued to add more and more psychiatric drugs at alarmingly high doses to my regimen. This resulted in me becoming a semi-comatosed shell of the person I once was – someone that could not in any way connect to her loved ones, someone that was unable to smile or laugh, someone that could not work or even read three pages because my concentration was so extremely poor. During the last 10 years I existed on this Earth but I was not alive in any way that mattered to myself or my loved ones, especially my young children who really needed their mother to be stable and well. During the first year after the bipolar diagnoses, I gained almost 50 pounds. This was very difficult for me as I already had low self-esteem and a history of eating disorders. During the last three decades, I eventually lost all hope that I would ever be my former self again.
My last suicide attempt and hospitalization actually saved my life because I was able to detox off my psychiatric medications while being closely monitored in a medical facility. After I was discharged from the hospital, I went to weekly counseling appointments for five months with an incredible counselor. This counseling was 30 years overdue and should have been the recommended treatment by my first psychiatrist when I was 19. Instead, I was prescribed anti-depressants for Major Depression when in fact I now realize I was experiencing Reactive Depression at that time. I do believe that psychiatric medications are indicated for some psychiatric conditions; however, I do not feel that I ever benefited from these medications and should have gone to counseling instead. In fact, I became addicted to the anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications which led to my downward spiral and eventual addiction to alcohol. I am hoping my story of mental illness and addiction will prevent a similar fate in others and hopefully offer hope to those suffering that there is a way out of the tremendous pain and loneliness they feel continually and acutely.
I grew up in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I lived with my mom, dad and older sister. My dad was domineering, temperamental and narcissistic. My mom was subservient to him and spent her life trying to meet each and every one of his needs and desires. When I was 12, my sister and I became aware of my parents’ marriage problems and we found it increasingly stressful to be living as a family unit. At this time, my dad emotionally detached himself from my sister and I along with my mom. Eventually, as we suspected for years, it was confirmed that my dad was having an affair. My mom didn’t make my dad move out so it was a year before he left our home. My sister moved out before my dad because it was too stressful living here. My parents were very image conscious so to people that knew us we had the picture perfect family with the perfect lawn and we went skiing and camping when we were kids. This made things harder as I just went along and pretended things were fine even when I developed anorexia and bulimia. After my dad moved out, he became very depressed and I thought he was suicidal so I met with him for coffee several times a week and listened to how he felt about this other woman. I don’t remember him ever asking how I felt about it all. The rest of the time, when I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time comforting and supporting my mother. She was not very interested in how the situation was affecting me either. Understandably, my sister wanted nothing to do with this situation. She did the right thing and took care of herself. I always thought I should be there in every way possible for the people I love so I was always there for mom and dad, which I later realized was to my detriment. They should have talked to their friends or a counselor – not to their daughter. I wanted to move out but did not want to leave my mom all alone so I stayed.
When I was 23 I got married and moved to California. Shortly after I started university and work. The marriage went downhill after the first year and my self-esteem was too low to realize that I deserved to be with someone that was good to me. I stayed with this man for another three years during which time he was emotionally abusive and there were many times I was afraid he would physically hurt me. I moved back to Vancouver when I was 27. My dad had moved back in with my mom the year before. A few months after I moved home, my mom and I found out that my dad was still having an affair but this time I found out I had a baby sister. I was hurt and angry. I lost a lot of weight and had unexplainable bleeding for several weeks. Despite my continuous urging my parents refused to tell my older sister and any other family members. Just before they were finally going to tell my sister, 9 months later, she and her husband announced they were expecting their first child. At that point, I told my parents they would have to wait to tell her until the baby was born as I was afraid the stress might cause her to miscarry. Now I had to wait even longer, keeping the secrets and lies to myself, to finally talk to my sister – the one person in the world who could really understand my pain. Even after my mom found out about the affair and baby she just let dad stay in the family home. My parents eventually started telling family and friends that the baby was conceived during their separation, which was an outright lie.
When I was 33 I got pregnant and I was thrilled as I had wanted a baby for years. When I was five months pregnant, I found out that my baby boy had died and I had to deliver him. The autopsy revealed that he had two holes in his heart. I blamed myself as I was on anti-depressants and stayed on them as my doctor advised me to. The medication didn`t cause his death but for many years I blamed myself. This was the worst thing I had ever gone through and for several months I drank heavily at night but continued to work. I went to back to work nine days after I gave birth but I was extremely fragile, although I tried as hard as I could to be strong. I never went to counseling and after looking back that would have really been helpful. There were a few people that were there for me when I was grieving. However, I was surprised that many people who I thought I could count on were nowhere to be found and these were the people I has gone out of my way to love and support for many years.
When I was 34 I met the love of my life in Mexico and a few months later I quit my job, sold my car and condo, and bought a one-way ticket to England where he lived. It was the best decision I ever made and the only time in my life where I completely followed my heart even though most of the people that knew me didn`t understand or support my decision. We were so in love and had so much fun going out and traveling around Europe. We could talk about anything and I finally was able to start grieving the loss of my baby. I got pregnant six weeks after I got to England and several months later I moved back to Vancouver and got my job back. We started the immigration paperwork and the love of my life and I were living together in Vancouver before our son was born. When he was 10 months old I attempted suicide and almost died. About six months later the three of us moved in with my parents but things were not good. When our son was two years old, I attempted suicide again. We renovated the basement and started living downstairs.
When I was 39 our daughter was born. I experienced post-partum depression and started having delusions and horrific hallucinations when she was a few months old. When she was six months old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar1 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That was the beginning of end for me. We did what my psychiatrists told us to and I ended up on many medications, which were continually being changed and increased until I was totally lost and broken. A couple months before our daughter was born my psychiatrist had increased my anti-depressant beyond the recommended maximum dose because she felt it would ward off post-partum depression. It did not and, after much research years later, I believe this increased dose triggered and caused my Bipolar. As mentioned above, I was completely drugged up and out of it for almost 10 years and for the last 4-5 of those years I was also drinking daily in order to self-medicate because my depression and anxiety were so severe that I needed to numb my pain.
During the 10 years following my bipolar diagnosis, I became increasingly withdrawn, lonely, fearful, depressed and anxious. I felt completely worthless. I experienced tremendous guilt, especially because I was not able to be the mother my children needed me to be. As the years passed, almost everyone gave up on me and even though I was out of it from all the psychiatric medications and eventually the alcohol as well, I felt this deeply which made me feel completely alone and like I was a lost cause that couldn’t be saved. I could see no way out and no way through it. I felt I had no choice but to end my pain and to free my loved ones from my existence. I convinced myself everyone in my life would be much better off without me and that my husband would fall in love with an amazing women who would then become a wonderful mother to my children. That became the deciding factor before my last suicide attempt.
As noted above, after my last suicide attempt in the winter of 2019 I finally detoxed off my seven psychiatric medications, which absolutely has to be done under the care of medical professionals. That experience was Hell but I am grateful to be off all my medications and to feel alive, happy and at peace finally. I no longer have Bipolar (in my case I believe it was chemically induced), depression, anxiety or any addiction problems.
My advice to people with mental illness: When you start to struggle and need help tell someone you trust. Do not just try to persevere and handle things on your own. If you do not have anyone you can confide in, see a counselor. You may have to go to a few before you find a good one. If you cannot afford counseling, then find a support group as there are many out there. See your family doctor to discuss what is going on and to rule out any physical conditions. If this is your first experience with depression and or anxiety, do not immediately accept a prescription for psychiatric medications as you may be experiencing Reactive Depression in which counseling and life changes will be far more effective in resolving your symptoms. This is not a quick fix but it is worth it. If you do not agree with your diagnosis, you should get a second or even third opinion. If you are considering psychiatric medication, make sure to read and research all the potential side effects, which include but are not limited to the following: suicidal thoughts and/or attempts; new or worsening depression; new or worsening anxiety; agitation; panic attacks; aggression or anger; mania; hallucinations; concentration problems; sexual dysfunction; weight gain; seizures; headaches and trouble sleeping. Get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise and lean of the people that love you. Let these people help you as you would want to help them if they were suffering. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs and if you have an addiction problem, get treatment as this will only make any mental illness much worse.
Advice to family and friends of people with mental illness: If someone you love is suffering from depression, anxiety, delusions, hallucinations and/or addiction, be there for them and help them get the right treatment. Go to some of their appointments with them as not everyone suffering through these conditions will be honest with their medical provider regarding the severity of their symptoms and whether there are any addiction issues. Do not give up on them and do not let them give up on themselves. Remind them that their suffering will get better and that they will not always feel this way. Use tough love if necessary.
Advice to general practitioners and psychiatrists that are treating people with mental illness (you may not want to take advice from a patient but you should because although you have a medical degree and clinical experience, you might not have any personal experience with mental illness): Have the patient bring someone they trust to some of their appointments, preferable an adult they live with, so you can get a full picture of what is going on in their lives and to determine if they have a solid support system. Do not assume every patient with mental illness needs medication, especially when it is their first experience with depression or anxiety. Recommend that they start with counseling or support groups, if they cannot afford counseling. Ask whether there are any addiction problems as most patients will not be honest about them because they are embarrassed. I certainly was never honest with my doctors about my alcohol abuse. Encourage the psychiatric community to create a follow up system when someone is discharged from the hospital after a suicide attempt. I attempted suicide three times and no doctor, nurse, counselor or social worker ever followed up with me or my family after I was discharged from the hospital. It is not just the well-being of patient that needs to be considered. Each time I was discharged I had young children at home who could have been neglected and or abused. Thankfully this was not the case in my situation.
After 30 years of mental illness, I eventually lost all hope and I had no reason to believe there was any hope. What I want to say is that I am living proof that no matter how bad the pain is and no matter how many years it lasts, healing, happiness and peace are definitely possible. Never give up as you are worth fighting for. I am so grateful to be alive and one day you will be too if you do not give up or give in to the pain.