The Story of WellBe Founder Adrienne’s Mother’s Suicide

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.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this and for your message. It resonates with me a great deal. I have a similar, fortunately milder, story about my own mother. She struggled with anxiety & depression for years, and was skeptical of medical treatment, but finally went on antidepressants in her 60s. Within weeks, she was having thoughts of self-harm, so on the insistence of a loved one, checked into the ER. They sent her home with instructions to follow up with a shrink in a few weeks. The shrink gave her more meds, she reacted badly, they gave her more meds, she reacted badly – after a number of months of outpatient and inpatient treatment she broke right down and was committed into a secure unit. More meds. Of course all this compounded her very human eccentricities which were now apparently part of the pathology to be nuked with pills. They were suggesting electroconvulsive therapy within 2 months in the psych ward – apparently this is commonly prescribed for severe anxiety, especially for seniors. Fortunately, somehow, she recovered. She is still suffering from side effects of all the drugs, even when no longer taking them. We felt so helpless: like the hospital was doing their best but mismanaging the situation, and all the drugs were making it worse – all this started out with normal-grade depression as far as I’m concerned. We had to trust them. People talk about “getting help” for mental health issues like it’s a solution, and there’s no better option when it becomes a crisis, but what a betrayal to see it in action at its worst. I can’t help but feel the crisis was the medical system’s making and could have been deflected early on in a more holistic way. Is it selfish to add how hard this was on me and my family, and how distracting when I had/have my own life to manage and needs to fulfil?
    We’re all stronger for this, but it was awful, traumatic and frightening. I work hard to prevent such a fate for myself, knowing I can tend towards (mild) anxiety and depression. Absolutely: holistic approaches & root causes first, assistance of counselling, hopefully one doesn’t end up committed but just in case, I’d suggest a clear personal directive instructing minimal interventions (pills/ECT type treatment), which would hopefully be respected in that event. Please don’t share my email. It is therapeutic to share this anonymously, but it is a private matter I don’t wish to share publicly.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. Your thoughts about what happened and how it should have been handled resonate so much with me. It’s exactly how I feel about my mom’s situation. I was grateful to have something (even if it was drugs) when it was a crisis/manic episode but everything that happened in the healthcare system after that was just such a wrong and ultimately much worse approach. I’m so happy to hear that your mom was able to get out of the system but am still sorry you had to go through all of that. It is a lot on the caretakers, it is not selfish to feel that way at all. Sending all my very best, xx Adrienne

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