MODERN MOTHERHOOD AND MENTAL ILLNESS PART III IS PART OF A BLOG SERIES UNCOVERING THE UPS AND DOWNS OF MY PERSONAL TWO-YEAR JOURNEY BATTLING PND, PTSD AND OCD.
Gimme drugs, drugs, drugs
There’s a lot of controversy out there about psychotropic medication. And understandably so. Big Pharma brands like Prozac have copped a lot criticism due to its black box warnings about worsening symptoms in patients, as well as the increased risk of suicide and self-harm. The whole thing is a mystery to us all, even psychiatrists at the top of their game in this profession. It’s strange to think that this medication could be both the cause and cure of depression and anxiety, but for some it is.
When I decided to re-start antidepressants, I didn’t realise they can make you feel worse before it makes you better. I hadn’t experienced that before when I was a teenager and first prescribed medication, so this came as a complete shock. Having a baby does very strange things to your brain and in this instance, I had a severe reaction to the medication. Anxiety and OCD went to full-blown scale, to the point where I could barely sit still for more than a minute. For the first few days I was shaking so uncontrollably that I called the local private mental hospital and asked to be admitted. They suggested I go to Westmead public instead, which is always a good choice because it’s free and we didn’t really have a spare $10,000 lying around for private care.
I told the psychiatric doctor about these ‘dark thoughts’ but didn’t explain they were toward Elias. Admitting that could be the difference between holding my son and watching him get carted away in a child protection van. After a few hours, they sent me home and recommended that I stop taking the medication and go back to my GP. Over the course of several very painful months, we tried different medications, with those from the SSRI category causing a reaction that would land me back in hospital. They knew my name. I had a file. Hospital visits were starting to become more and more frequent and sadly, this was my new life now.
When hope turns to hopelessness
Time was passing, the months were flying by and I was losing hope. Suicide seemed like a wonderful option – anything to escape the torture and torment of being chronically ill. After admitting to the mental health nurse that I had suicide ideation, they put me on Valium. What. The. Heck. By this point, I had tried multiple anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety medications, desperate for anything that would make me feel better. After a bit of argument (mostly between myself and myself) about whether it was really a good idea to start taking a highly addictive drug, I bit the bullet and went ahead. There was nothing left to do. Therapy was progressing well, but I still felt like I wanted to die every single day. The obsessive thoughts about killing my family and everyone I came in contact with was distressing and depressing. This was it. A desperate measure in a hopeless situation.
I started taking Valium three times a day and felt better instantly. I hadn’t felt this calm for a long time. It felt so good to finally feel normal again. It was nice to do groceries and not have a panic attack. I could sit through an entire 45-minute session of preaching in church without feeling like I had to run out to catch my breath. Things were finally looking up. Until I was admitted to the mental health unit at my local hospital, indefinitely.
Valium is generally avoided by prescribing doctors not only due to its addictive properties, but also because a tolerance builds up requiring you to take more and more to obtain the same calming effect. It is a really, REALLY dangerous drug. They have specialised clinics and programs for those battling Valium addiction, running for a duration from months to years. You don’t get a choice when it comes to chemical addiction. You can’t say to your brain, “No, I’m not going to be addicted.” It doesn’t work that way. If you try to escape from an addictive drug – psychotropic or street – it will literally PUNISH you. Your brain will put up a fight. Your body will also stop functioning properly, as did mine when I dropped to 45kg, the lowest weight I had been since a teenager. My fight landed me in hospital, but this time I didn’t know how long it would be.
In the valley of the shadow of death
I was taken up to the mental health unit that was kept under lock and key. I am not kidding, the doors were locked – nobody could get in, nobody could get out! Not at least without permission from the ward psych, who monitored and reviewed each patient daily. I couldn’t believe I ended up here, I thought these types of institutions were for lunatics. Not me. I was ‘normal’.
Firstly, WTF defines ‘normal’? Like, how do you measure that and who makes the final call about who is and isn’t normal? I will tell you straight-up that crazy is a spectrum and we all sit somewhere on it. Psychiatric labels are absolutely needed to help diagnose, treat and manage mood and personality disorders. But to some degree, we all have a symptom of a disorder because humans are messed up. Even the tidy people who wear suits, speak on platforms, hold degrees or drive fancy cars have some form of disorder, they’re just better at hiding it 😊 (and this is coming from a person that has had all of the above at some point in my life).
Secondly, enter God. Enter the beautiful and wonderful grace of God. He knows our deepest desires but also our darkest fears. Remember in Part II of MMMI where I said I had this fear of going crazy and being locked up in a mental institute? Well, it finally happened. I went bat-shit crazy. I got locked up. I didn’t get a straight-jacket, but my room was depressing AF and another patient kept walking in when I was taking showers. I didn’t even think to take pictures for memoirs because I was too busy wanting to die. But, the nurses and doctors on that ward were just divine. They counselled me, offered so much encouragement and I even got hugs and extra food from some nurses. In my darkest hour they were there, the angels of God, and nothing was too hard or too messy for them. I say this because the experience has left an indelible memory of nothing but goodness. God’s goodness in a pit of miry clay.
I stayed for two weeks and if anything, I would have no hesitation in going back. I’m not planning on going cray-cray again, but I do want more babies so you never know 😊. My biggest fear has turned into my greatest victory. I thought that was cliché Christian stuff the happy-clappers said, but it’s true. It really does happen! I had family and a few close friends come and visit. They brought flowers, prayed with me and one even brought a rock melon! I couldn’t cut it because knives were a big no-no in the ward, so I just stared at it a lot. My beautiful husband took care of Elias holding the fort back at home whilst visiting me twice a day (ladies, this is why you pick a friend for a mate and not a guy who’s gonna bail when things hit rock bottom). He was my #1 support and best friend through it all. I can’t thank him enough.
Let the ruins come to life
Sitting on that hospital bed every day I thought, “This is it. My life is over. My career is done. Things will never be the same again.” Well, that last part is definitely true, things aren’t the same. They are BETTER. About one year on, they are so much better that I am now a ‘voice’ for those who can’t speak up because of the shame and stigma associated with mental illness.
God isn’t the Tooth Fairy, a genie in a bottle or Santa. He didn’t magically wave a mystical wand over me, healing me in an instant. However, He provided the means for a journey towards recovery. Doctors, nurses, counsellers, social workers, pastoral care, connect group, friends, family and internet memes. Through prayer, therapy and tonnes of support, I was committed to the long and painful road towards healing because I knew there was no other way. And really, I am still alive and here today because of Jesus. He never left my side.
He gave me strength when I wanted to quit.
Grace when I wanted to die.
Hope when everything was hopeless.
Courage when I couldn’t see beyond the fog.
Peace when my boat was sinking.
My two-year journey really brought me to my knees. It was painful, messy and confusing but also humbling, and that is a beautiful place to be. Sometimes we see the face of Jesus on the mountaintop. But I saw His face in the valley. And if you are in a valley right now, I promise you, He will meet you there. And He will walk with you as you find your way to the mountaintop again, with your feet firmly planted and a new song in your heart.
“We are assured and know that God, being a partner in their labour, all things work together and are fitting into a plan for good to and for those who love God and are called according to His design and purpose.”
MODERN MOTHERHOOD AND MENTAL ILLNESS IS PART OF A BLOG SERIES UNCOVERING THE UPS AND DOWNS OF MY PERSONAL TWO-YEAR JOURNEY BATTLING PND, PTSD AND OCD.