It’s Super Bowl Sunday and I’m having what’s arguably the most fun at a Super Bowl party in years. The screen is tiny. The walls are bare. The seats are hard plastic with wide bottoms and no real legs. There are three card tables squeezed together to form a long dining table area and all three wobble precariously every time someone puts a drink down, moves their legs, or sneezes.
There is no alcohol allowed. The snacks are popcorn and Doritos mix. A round of commercial bingo started out the evening until we all discovered there are no prizes, so our bingo cards lay forgotten or doodled on.
Two fans of “What About Bob” have started random shouts of “Turkey Tits” and it’s catching like wildfire.
We had been told we couldn’t curse and to say “tootsie roll” instead. Our ages became telling when some of us burst into song with “let me see that tootsie roll” in deep baritone beats. This slowly deteriorates to random outbursts of “tootsie fucking roll”, and this also catches like wildfire.
I am laughing. True belly laughs and tears in my eyes. My face hurts so bad from smiling I think I might require Tylenol before bed.
The game on the tiny TV we glance at occasionally but the details seem boring compared to the life and laughter filling the space.
Nurses and medical techs on their rounds of suicide watch caution us to “keep it down” and “stop cursing” and I feel like a child being caught eating cookies but I can’t keep my hand out of the cookie jar because it’s too much fun.
At some point, I tell a nurse “for a bunch of people that entered here with suicidal ideation, I’d think you’d be ecstatic to see us all in such a state.” She can’t help but smile, but reminds me that there are other patients in the ward who have gone to their rooms because our rambunctious laughter and tourette’s-like outbursts are too much. This only causes an outburst of sporadic turkey tits to be shouted by various people.
Most of us around the precariously balanced table will be leaving tomorrow.
My heart feels full to burst. The joy palpable, the company comfortable, and the game a side note.
The difference between my feelings in that moment and the feelings four days ago is a stark contrast.
This will be my last night on a psych ward. My fourth night in total. The journey that brought me here having started 10 months ago. Or maybe 5 years. Or possibly my life.
The Short Version
This is a very long entry. If you don’t feel like reading it all I understand completely. So the very short version is that I had a bad experience with an APRN who was handling my antidepressant medications for postpartum depression. It set off a series of seven panic attacks in five days. The last being so bad I wasn’t sure if I’d pass out from it. Then in the middle of that attack my daughter started screaming and my son started screaming and my world crashed around me. I made a scary plan that involved me and the kids and we’d be out of this world. Goodbye life.
I went to the ER, who took me to the psych ward, and I spent four days and four nights adjusting my medications and my mental state so I could function again.
I’m coping now.
The Long Version
Since my discovery that I’m autistic I’ve felt pressure lifting relief. I’m not an alien, my brain just works a little different. I’m okay being “Other” now.
I see a wonderful therapist now (the first one I haven’t felt the need to fire after a few sessions, who actually helps me get to the root of things). I’ve come to realize that we all have a “baseline depression” (or baseline happiness if you prefer to think of it that way). I was 10 when I had my first thought of not wanting to be part of this life, to exit this world, that things are too hard to bear. I dismissed the thoughts in an instant, thinking of my parents and one or two friends. How much I’d miss things about this world, including them. Thinking that adults seem to have it figured out and assuming that someday it would all make sense.
My life since then has been a series of ups and downs, and when the downs were bad I did have suicidal thoughts. But they were dismissed like they had always been.
Then my son was born. This perfect tiny human with lungs of a banshee. On average I discovered he cried 9 hours a day. This lasted the first whole year of his life before tapering out.
I felt torn inside, my brain scraped against a cheese grater, my heart in constant state of wanting to burst; swinging between awe and love at this small new human in my life, and deep settled, crushing depression that I couldn’t dismiss.
My doctor put me on Prozac at that point. Instead of the intended effect of making me feel more myself, I felt absolutely nothing instead. No anger, no rage, no depression. But also no joy, no love, no heart bursting moments of pure awe at this new human.
I felt like I could understand the mind of a serial killer in that month of being on Prozac. I tapered off of it and refused any further medication in the fear of having the same reaction.
Instead, I relied on my village. My husband, going through the same exhaustion and brain numbing anxiety from this banshee boy. My mom and dad, coming to aid us every few weeks to help us just get through life.
Sometimes all I needed was a few hours of uninterrupted screaming to sleep.
At the time I worked part-time from home for a company that wasn’t doing so well financially. Between my son, and this job that I had to constantly deal with angry clients I began to have panic attacks.
For those of you who’ve never experienced a panic attack I’ll do my best to describe it.
Mentally, your brain thinks it’s in a state of danger. It goes into overdrive of flight or fight, but there’s nothing to actually fight or run from. So physically your heart begins to race, your brain seems on overdrive, unable to focus on one thing or another, your breathing starts to rush out and feel uncontrolled. But there’s nowhere to run and nothing to fight against except your own body and brain.
Then the middle of your chest begins to tighten, and tighten, and tighten more. It hurts to breath in, like your sternum has been put in a vice. You begin to cry uncontrollably. Your breathing becomes more labored and the pain radiates from your sternum to the edges of your chest. The act of doing anything except focusing on your body becomes impossible.
The first attack I had I thought I was having a heart attack, but by the time I found my phone to call 911 it had subsided. I did call my doctor and they explained what panic attacks were and that I’d just had one. They suggested removing as much stress in my life as possible.
I started meditating and trying different breathing techniques. I tried various essential oils. I tried to keep my brain calm so my body stopped overreacting to “normal” daily stress. Unfortunately, seeing danger when there was none kept happening. I started having daily panic attacks.
Since I couldn’t quit my baby, I quit my job instead.
I still have panic attacks from time to time. They come on suddenly from normal things, like doing laundry, dealing with two screaming children at once, cleaning up a mess I made that was avoidable. But they were sparse. I meditate. I breath. I try to decompress at the end of every day. I revel in a good bath night with a book. I was coping.
I knew having another baby wasn’t going to be easy. Every baby comes with their own hard pieces and there’s not a proven method of how to mother each individual child.
Some babies are harder than others. My son falls in the very hard category. He’s one of the best things that happened to me, but every time my daughter starts her own banshee scream I can no longer remember where I am in time and I lose sight of myself and my surroundings. I have very real PTSD from the year of screaming my son had.
Here’s a random fact about “most” actually autistic people. We have really good memories. Scary good. Good to the point that a memory of something brings back the things we were wearing, the color of the room, the feel of the sun on our backs, what the space smelled like.
For bad memories it’s the equivalent of most people’s memories of 9/11 times 100. Or, if you’re old enough to remember, the Challenger crash, or the Kennedy assassination. Ask anyone about that day and they can tell you exactly where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt in that moment.
Imagine hundreds of these moments from your past that when something similar happens they pile onto one another. You’re there in that moment, but you’re also two years ago in a similar one, and also six years ago in another similar moment, and so on and so forth.
My therapist has mentioned that many of us autistics with PTSD symptoms have such severe PTSD that it’s the equivalent in our physiological makeup as having witnessed a murder.
So my sweet, tiny second human was born. She ended up being a little unicorn baby for us. The baby that we would hear about but had never met. She cried when she was hungry, wet, poopy, bored, or tired. She plays by herself pretty well. She smiles a lot.
Yet, I still spiraled into postpartum depression. My hormones went out of control and I found myself in a rage one moment and weeping uncontrollably the next.
I went on Zoloft this time. The first month seemed better. Then by the third month we’d had to up my dosage three times and I still experienced moments of undismissable suicidal thoughts. I made plans for how I’d do it. I started formulating the letter I’d leave behind.
I felt possessed and angry at my own body and system. I had this beautiful, tiny human who has such a happy demeanor. Logically I felt like I should be the happiest woman in the world. But my brain kept spiraling into thoughts of leaving this all behind. Of what a horrible mother I am. Of what a terrible wife I am. I found myself in the bathroom sobbing for no reason. I had minor panic attacks from time to time.
I reached a conundrum, I’m already on an antidepressant so what do I do from that point? I felt I needed to be on one and going off one permanently seemed unwise. To make matters worse, I began to have side effects of the meds. Headaches, nausea, sleeplessness followed by fatigue, a complete lack of a sex drive. The list goes on.
Someone suggested I try a DNA test to see how I metabolize certain medications. I had nothing to lose at this point so I went to a new APRN and did the test.
Turns out, I metabolize Prozac absolutely terrible. No surprise there.
Zoloft I metabolized better but not great.
So we decided to taper me off one medication and onto another that showed I metabolized it well. The few months of that transition was hard on all of us. The rage returned. The sudden weeping and snapping at loved ones, followed by thoughts of ending it all. In short, I was a wreck. The APRN I worked with had nothing but support and understanding for me. At one point she told me how proud she was that I was staying so strong through all this.
We also put a safety plan in place. Who do I call first when I’m feeling like that, who’s second, last resort is the ER or 911.
I’m giving you a detailed run down of my mental health because without it, what follows next might not make a whole lot of sense.
I started on Prestiq for my new antidepressant. It seemed to work much better for me from the start. No side effects, the rage lifted, my weeping and suicidal thoughts only seemed to happen on my cycle. We gave it two months to see if I needed an increase in dosage. Before my next appointment I was going to run out of medication, though.
What follows is a spiral of events that landed me in the psych ward. I’m still raw and angry about the situation. I’m coping, but most days my brain feels scraped raw, shredded, and I’m not myself just yet.
I sent in a request to the pharmacy for a refill on the prescription on a Tuesday. The new APRN had said to allow up to 24 working hours for those requests to go through. I knew they didn’t work Wednesday’s. I had 10 days left on my meds but wanted to be sure I wouldn’t have to think about running out. After the last few months I didn’t want anything to upset the careful balance I’d achieved.
Thursday came around and still no prescription. I called the pharmacy and they let me know they contacted the provider on Tuesday morning just after they got my request. I decided I’d call them Friday if I still didn’t see the refill, since I knew they didn’t work Wednesdays. They’d had a lot of turn over at the office with a new assistant and a new receptionist, so I knew that things might still be adjusting on their end. At this point I still had seven meds left, so I wasn’t worried.
Friday happened to be a snow day from school. I called the APRN to discover they close on those days. I left a message for them anyway, making an assumption that they at least check those messages.
Monday rolled around and it was Martin Luther King Jr day, so no school again. Still no meds.
Tuesday the schools cancelled again for snow.
I could feel my panic building. That tight feeling in my chest, my racing heart. I stepped away from the kids a few times that day to breath and meditate. I told myself that after everything I’d been through with this very understanding APRN she would surely get me taken care of before I ran out of medication.
Wednesday their offices are closed but I left a message that day. Something to the effect that I had enough medication to get me through that day and the next. I’d sent the request in nine days ago. Please, please make it a priority to get that filled when they returned to the office on Thursday.
I called the pharmacy Thursday morning to see if they’d gotten the confirmation in yet. Nothing from the office. They said they’d send another request over. I also decided to call.
I called their office four or five times throughout the day. No one answered the phones every single time I called. I left three messages.
As the day went on and I knew I had zero medication left my panic increased. No one answered their phones that entire day. I had three panic attacks throughout the day. The last message I left them around 4 pm I explained I’d had three panic attacks that day and was not doing well worrying about my refill. I needed these meds. The thought of suddenly tanking on an antidepressant was terrifying. This became a literal matter of life or death for me. Because I knew once you started taking an antidepressant if you suddenly went off without the proper tapering you could spiral into an even more severe depression than what led you to needing that medication to begin with.
Friday rolled around and I called the pharmacy first. They answer their phones. I thought it was a good start. They let me know that they had just received the prescription and would fill it in the next 10 minutes.
I felt a moment of relief. Then something minor happened around the house and I had yet another panic attack. The dog needed out at the same time my son needed lunch and the baby needed mom to hold her. Normal, everyday stuff, and I ended up in the bathroom with crushing ribs and uncontrolled shaking.
Remember me mentioning the physiological response your body has when a panic attack comes on? My system was in overdrive and every tiny stress set me off into panic. I hadn’t recovered from the five panic attacks in 24 hours.
My appointment with this new APRN was supposed to happen that Monday. Then the unfortunate way of life stepped up and my husband forgot to switch out the baby’s seat from his truck to my van. So I couldn’t go. I couldn’t talk to her about it.
Panic attack. Again.
Tuesday evening led to a meltdown unlike any other I’d had. Screaming, crying, hair pulling. The house blew up in a state of panic around me and I felt shame and anger at letting my children see me in such a state. My husband wanted me to check in somewhere to recover from these panic attacks.
I have an intense fear of being institutionalized. That I would check in somewhere and they would see just how crazy I really was and I’d be there forever. They’d take my children. I had visions in my head about Girl Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Instead, my husband and I made a plan to call my therapist first thing in the morning. She helped explain what would really happen if I checked in somewhere and calmed my fears about that. She suggested I call my APRN and get on an anxiety medication STAT. If they were unhelpful she advised seeing if any other doctor I work with would be willing to help me with that. Then she advised my husband coming home for the day (something he’d already suggested but I insisted on “being strong” about it and told him to go to work). We spent a day where I took a bath and a nap and didn’t have a single panic attack. It was another Wednesday so I left a message asking my APRN to call me ASAP. I explained the panic attack situation as briefly as I could and that I couldn’t wait to discuss this before my next appointment. This needed to happen now.
I then called my OBGYN to explain my current situation but they said they needed the records from this APRN in order to prescribe anything for me since I hadn’t been in for an appointment recently and the last medication they put me on was Zoloft. I understood this logic. It frustrated me, but I understood it.
The next day my husband had an unavoidable appointment for an injection for his ulcerative colitis. He has to go in to a hospital and get hooked up to an IV and sit for several hours. I promised him I’d stay strong and we could deal for four or five hours. But I knew that getting that new medication would be priority to get through life currently.
After 10 am had rolled around and I hadn’t received a call from the office, I called the APRN and managed to reach the receptionist. Relief flooded me. My heart felt lighter. Surely, if I explained my condition in the moment they wouldn’t ignore this.
I explained that I needed something for anxiety right away. That I needed to talk to the APRN before the day was out. The response I received was that she was in back to back appointments all day and I’d get put on a call back list. I mentioned that I was in a crisis. I didn’t need a call back in the hour but before the day finished, because, again, I’m in a crisis. I’d had 7 panic attacks since Thursday and the wear and tear on my system had become astronomical. I explained this was no exaggeration or overactive patient statement, but I had a genuine and real crisis that needed attention today.
The receptionists response was “you’re on a call back list. She’ll get to you when she can.” I said again, “I’m having a crisis. I need to be a priority or I need to find a provider who understands what a crisis means.”
She simply responded, “Okay.” Then hung up on me.
Unsurprisingly, I had another panic attack. One of the worst I’ve had. I couldn’t get my breathing to regulate and I feared I might pass out.
Then the baby woke up screaming.
Trying to function through the bone crushing pain in my chest and the uncontrollable sobbing I got the baby out of the crib to find a diaper full of poop and a raw and blistered bottom. She screamed her banshee scream on the changing table while trying to kick me and fling herself from the table. She stuck her foot, then her hands in the poop. Then she smeared me with feces while trying to pinch me to stop me from wiping her raw bottom.
Then my son, playing with our 30 pound 8 months old goldendoodle in the kitchen started his own banshee scream because “the dog bit me!” (He’s a puppy. He thinks my son is a puppy. They both get carried away sometimes…)
I’m struggling to breath. This is all happening around me. Life. The hard part of being a mom. The world came crashing down around me in a black cloud and through my sobs I could no longer feel any love or joy for the world. The world is ugly. We struggle and struggle through our lives and for what? To eventually die? To say “I lived.” But if this was living I wanted no part of it. And why in the world would I put my own children through the same bone crushing, heart ripping, intense emotions so full your skin will burst open in flames, type of world?
I would move the motorcycles out of the garage. I would put on my son’s favorite playlist. I would pull the van into the garage and we would roll down the windows and say goodbye to it all. Through my tears I went to find a piece of paper to write down “Sorry my love” to my husband.
Baby’s diaper on, dog in his crate, boy perfectly fine with no scratch on him, I had a moment where I paused. What possessed creature had just entered my brain? What was my safety plan? What point had I reached on it?
I told my son to put on his shoes, I explained I needed to see a doctor because just like how Daddy has gut issues that cause him to rush to the bathroom and some days are really bad, and he takes medicine for it, brains can need help like that too.
My son understood better than some adults I know regarding mental health. He has a super Mario toy that looks like Mario is jumping up to hit a cube that spins in the middle. Sometimes it lands on three random objects and sometimes it’s all the same. He grabbed this toy and asked me “Is this how your brain is now?” and the cube had three random items inside it. I asked him to elaborate and he spun the cube until it was three stars. “This is where you want to be? But it’s the other one?”
Yes. Exactly. I was three jumbled items in my brain but I wanted three stars.
I threw some shirts, underwear and pants in a bag, and we got in the van and drove to the ER. I’m fairly certain I still had my daughter’s poop on me from her rage over the diaper.
I called my husband, told him I was going to the ER, and was in no state to make any further plans than that.
I shouldn’t have been driving. I realize that now. 911 should have been the call I made but I had no thought in my head but getting somewhere that would keep me from making an irretrievable mistake.
My father-in-law arrived and took the kids. I can hardly remember saying anything to him. Or hugging the kids goodbye.
Then the ER doctor gave me a shot of lorazepam, and it must have been a big dose, because I suddenly felt calm inside. Tired, calm, and for the first time in five days clear headed.
After a few hours and an ambulance ride later I checked into a psych ward. No closet doors, no shower heads, no art on the walls, hard beds and rough blankets, no clothes allowed with hoods or strings. They took away all my jewelry. I became officially put on “suicide watch” and every 15 minutes the nurses had to account to my whereabouts.
I spent three days doing a puzzle and going to group therapy. I had five more panic attacks. I could hear my baby crying in the night and I’d wake up in a panic. My heart had been ripped out and replaced with something black and goopy. My brain had been scraped across a cheese grater. My chest hurt from the need to cry constantly. Tears would stream for no reason except they were there and it hurt so bad to be inside this body with these emotions. Yet, in this space with these nurses and patients going through similar things, I felt safe from my desire to end it all.
Over those days we adjusted my medications. We upped my antidepressant. We put me on anti anxiety medication. They gave me an antipsychotic for sleep to keep my constant nightmares at bay. So I wouldn’t wake up screaming in my sleep.
Days crawled by and my husband unraveled at home but kept himself together well enough to keep the kids alive and fed and relatively happy. No small feat.
Then eventually I made a friend. And another. I began to talk again. Four nights and I went from a gooey mess of emotions to a scraped raw human who could smile again. Who could laugh and yell “tootsie fucking roll” with the other crazy wonderful humans who understood all too well this short journey I’d just gone on.
Coming home my parents drove from Colorado to help me adjust back to life. My husband took off work after they left. My village from my first round of postpartum depression stepped up and held me together.
I’m feeling pulled apart by my emotions still. The normal pressures of motherhood still set off panic attacks and I find myself running to the bathroom to calm and meditate myself. To be the first to let the dog out so I can watch him romp and have pure happiness by sticking his nose in the snow.
Today marks the first day since my time in the psych ward that I’m home alone, doing the mom thing by myself. The dishes have piled up. I have laundry sprawled and unfolded.
But I found a new APRN and we’re doing minor adjustments through phone calls and messaging on their internet system. She’s available. Thank goddess.
I can feel that sudden burst in my chest of pure love and happiness when my beautiful daughter gives her two toothed grin. Dinner has become mainly take out since the act of that stress seems to set off instant panic attacks. I feel awe at my son’s intelligence and ability to problem solve into getting his way all the time.
My husband and I have been through a lot in our nearly 10 years of marriage and I know we’ll weather this too. In fact, if there’s one thing I know more than ever before it’s that I found a soul mate. Someone who can be falling apart out of concern and stress but we can keep each other together. Band aid one another until we have the emotional space to fix the holes permanently.
Best of all, that possessed person that took over my brain in a moment of pure anxiety and heart crushing depression is gone.
My kids are still mine. The social worker who arrived after the required report on my suicidal and homicidal thoughts immediately closed our case.
My husband is still here, able to help me through my anxiety attacks better than any nurse in the psych ward and making cheesy pun jokes at just the right moment as I’m coming out of it.
I made a new friend out of this mess who understands better than most what mental anguish can do to a person.
The sun rises on another day and it will tomorrow for me too.
Two weeks ago I wasn’t sure of this. Now it’s just a fact.
There’s a borehole punched in my chest but instead of being full of dark goop and toxic green fumes it’s empty. I know it’ll fill up again, though. This time with joy and love. Someday.