The backstory of my mom’s life is a long one, so I’m going to start with the very scary night when everything came crashing down. It was late at night in New York City in the summer of 2007, I had just graduated from college and came home to New York, to the house I grew up in after graduation. My mom was 58 years old. My mom was supposed to come to the house and meet with my younger brother, who was the only one she would see. We knew something was wrong with her mental health so my two brothers and I had staged an intervention.
Once she realized my older brother and I were there too, she took off and we all had to chase her through the subway from Manhattan to Queens and have her restrained and committed because she wouldn’t stop running away from us and was afraid of us. It was like out of a movie. She had been living in Florida for a few years before the episode (my parents divorced in 2004), and I had been in college in Baltimore, so I hadn’t seen the full progression of her disease, though I knew things were not right.
Entering the Mental Healthcare System
After that night, she then spent three and a half years in the mental healthcare system, in and out of a few different inpatient programs and took her life when she was 61. My mom was put on many different antipsychotic drugs and mood stabilizers and was in several different mental hospitals and saw a few different psychiatrists over those few years. The care was disjointed, confusing, and no one seemed to care if she ever really got better. Though my intuition told me I needed to take control of the situation, I hesitated and trusted that they were the experts and knew what they were doing.
The Impact of the Pharmaceutical Drugs
I watched my otherwise sharp 57-year-old mom turn into a vegetable because of all the drug side effects: drooling, shaking, unable to sleep, slurred speech. For years, we asked about alternative treatments, even experimental ones, or at least a liver detoxification program while she was on the drugs and received an eye roll from her doctors. While the drugs helped her to relieve her mania, her quality of life was not better. She was now disabled and depressed. Finally, she thought, enough is enough.
Her Suicide and How It Inspired WellBe
She took her life a few days before she was supposed to come down from Boston to have Christmas with us in New York in 2010. Though she wouldn’t be there, she still prepared gifts and notes for us. I read her short note to me hundreds of times. At the time I was in the process of applying to business schools, and my applications were due two weeks later. I didn’t think I could finish my applications, but my friends were incredible and helped me put the pieces together and get a few submitted in time.
Once they were submitted, I declared that if I got in anywhere, I would go and use the experience as a way to change career paths and work on fixing the health care system and helping others avoid what I and my mom had been through for the rest of my life. Her life, illness, and death are an inspiration for me every day to WellBe to fight for a system that cares about root causes, to help others truly heal the body (vs. masking symptoms) when chronic health issues arise and to live in a way that helps me avoid ever being in a hospital again.
Have you had a similar experience with mental illness for yourself or a loved one? Please feel free to share it in the comments at the bottom of this page. I know this stuff is deeply personal and traumatic but I believe only in all of us all sharing our truths, will real change and healing ever truly happen.