Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lucky to be Alive

There have been three significant events in my life that can be attributed to my Bipolar Disorder. The first two I have already written about in previous posts. The first of which being my diagnosis and hospitalization at the age of 15. The second of which being my six day voluntary hospitalization at Sheppard Pratt followed by a week long stint in the day hospital (also known as partial hospitalization). The third event I am going to write about today. It was by far the scariest point in my life for both me and my family, and it taught me a lesson that I will keep with me for life.

At the age of 22, in July of 2007, I made a suicide attempt that I am extremely lucky to have survived. Prior to this suicide attempt, I was experiencing a mixed state, which is symptoms of both depression and mania. My husband at the time came home from work that night, probably around seven or eight p.m. Shortly thereafter he and I had an argument of some sort. The argument in combination with the severe symptoms I had been experiencing for some time was enough to push me over the edge. I was already feeling badly enough about life, about myself, and about my ability to have a worthwhile future. My mind was not in a good place. I was not in a state where I possessed the ability to reason and think logically. The pain I had been experiencing had taken over. After the aforementioned argument, I stormed back to the bedroom upset and angry, with my mind already clouded as a result of the breakthrough of symptoms I had been experiencing. Upon walking into the bedroom, I looked over at the master bathroom where I kept my medications, and without any real thought, I quickly made a move that could have ended my life. It was an extremely impulsive move that was made in reaction to how awful the symptoms had been making me feel. As a result of the depression, I felt extremely hopeless about everything in life and about my future. Life was not worth living in my clouded state of mind. The depression and mania had caused me so much unbearable pain. They had completely taken over my ability to see a positive future; I saw no way other way out. When you add the stress of the argument with my ex-husband to everything else, you've got the straw that broke the camel’s back. I took an extremely large overdose of Tegretol, a medication that I had been taking at the time as my mood stabilizer.
Shortly after taking this overdose, I went out to the living room where my ex-husband was. I laid down on the couch without saying a word and fell asleep. My ex-husband tried to wake me up to go to bed when he was ready for bed, still completely unaware I had taken an overdose. Once he woke me up, I stood up and quickly fell down hitting my head on the metal corner of the glass coffee table. I hit the floor, had a seizure and remained unconscious for quite some time. He first called 911, at this point suspecting I had overdosed and communicated this to them. After calling 911, he called my parents who made it to the apartment before the ambulance did. The ambulance took me to the ER at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC). I remember small bits and pieces of this night, but for the most part I did not have a conscious stream of thoughts. What I do remember feels surreal; everything was going on around me and I had no way of actively participating in any of it.
One thing to note from that night is that my ex-husband would not always try to wake me up to go to bed; sometimes if I fell asleep on the couch he would just let me sleep on the couch until I wandered my way into the bedroom at some point. Something about this night, not only had him wake me up, but he was persistent about it as well which is ultimately what saved my life. Had he let me asleep on the couch that night, I probably would not have woken up in the morning.
There were many aftereffects of the overdose I took. I could not walk; my legs were like Jell-O, I had no motor coordination, no hand-eye coordination, my vision was blurred, I was dizzy, I was nauseous, and so on. I also could not speak, which was incredibly frustrating when I was trying to communicate with my family, the doctors, and the nurses and I could not get any words out and had no motor coordination to be able to write down what I was thinking. At some point, I was able to communicate that I had overdosed on Tegretol (I don't quite remember how) but I still could not answer all the questions my family and the medical staff needed answered. I tried to use my hands to communicate but due to my lack of coordination I was not successful doing that either. All my limbs basically just flopped around; I did not have any control over them. I could not make any precise and planned movements.
According to my family, the ER doctor at GBMC was rude and seemed mostly unconcerned with my progress. He looked at me as someone who tried to take their life and did not seem that concerned about saving it. When it comes down to it, no matter what the reason is that a patient’s life is in danger, it is not only the job, but it is the duty of the doctor to do everything in their power to save that patient’s life. It is sad to think that even doctors have a negative view of mental illness. A person is not at fault for a suicide attempt; they need help! Every effort should be made to save that person's life; their life is just as valuable as the life of someone who just had a heart attack or was the victim of a homicide attempt! A life is a life!
Here is the quick version of my recovery, without the tedious play by play details. My Tegretol blood level tested at almost three times the therapeutic dose. I was given charcoal to drink to block absorption of the Tegretol in my system. I was having a great deal of trouble keeping it down initially; fortunately I was eventually able to keep enough down. I spent a few days in the intensive care unit while I was recovering. I was on both seizure watch and suicide watch. They put padding on all of the hard surfaces on the bed to protect me in case I had another seizure. There was a hospital staff member in my room 24 hours a day while I was in ICU. The day worker did leave from time to time, sitting right outside the room, to give me privacy with my family. I was never left alone. I'm not sure how they figured I would harm myself when I could not walk, could not talk, could not move my limbs properly, was hooked to IV's, etc. My ability to speak came back over what felt like an eternity but was only a few days. As I regained my speech, it started off as a very soft whisper and I still had a lot of difficulty getting words out clearly. Over time it improved and eventually returned to normal. The doctors would come in to check up on me daily. One of the things the doctors would do was to test my coordination skills. At one point, the doctor asked me to touch his finger and then touch my nose. I touched his finger with a lot of concentration and effort, using my entire hand instead of just one finger. When I tried to touch my nose, I instead smacked myself in the face because of my lack of hand-eye coordination (go ahead, you can laugh, I still laugh at myself for it). I did not have the ability to stand up and walk for a couple of days. For some reason, they removed my catheter before I was able to walk. A few hours after they removed it, I tried to get up to go to the bathroom with no nurses in the room. Not realizing I couldn't stand or walk, I immediately fell to the ground, IV’s attached and all. Getting me back up was not easy. I recall a nurse helping me walk to the bathroom; to walk just a few feet took an extremely long time and a lot of effort because my legs kept collapsing on me.
Eventually, I could speak normally again, I could walk again, I had all of my hand-eye and motor coordination skills back, all my blood work came back normal, I was no longer considered to be at risk for seizures or suicide, and my Tegretol was no longer at a toxic level, it was back down to a therapeutic level. At this point, they transferred me out of ICU and into a general hospital unit for a day or so. I remember having a tiny little room, but I didn’t care because it was a private room. I was primarily being monitored at this point to ensure I was healthy enough to go home. I met with a hospital Social Worker who discussed my future care plan with me. An appointment was set with my outside Psychiatrist by the hospital staff before I even left the hospital. I declined a psychiatric hospitalization knowing that a medication change from my doctor was all I needed, and I was not in any danger to harm myself again.. After being discharged I returned to work immediately.

I     I scared myself so much, I will never forget the fear I felt as I was in the ER completely helpless, unable to speak, while facing an imminent possibility of death. I’ll never forget how scared and upset my family was. I could not communicate with them at all; I remember the fear and terror in them. I cannot stand to see my family in pain. I’ll never forget my father, sitting in my ICU room saying, with tears coming down his face, something to the effect of “please don’t ever do this again; I can’t live without you.” I think of him saying that quite often.

The lesson I mentioned earlier as having learned from this experience is, life is precious, and once it is gone one cannot get it back. Even if you can’t picture things improving at the time, they will. You will get past what you are going through! Those that love and care about you will never get past losing you permanently. There is help available and there is no shame in seeking help. Taking your own life is not the solution, there are people that need you. I will keep this lesson with me for life.
Suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem. I am so thankful to still be alive; I will honestly be forever grateful to my ex-husband for making the 911 call that saved my life that night (and that's where my gratefulness ends, haha). I am also lucky to have not suffered any long term effects as a result of my overdose.
This is the third of the three major events that have occurred as a result of my illness. While life in general has not always been the easiest as a result of my illness, it also has not been nearly as bad as those three events make it sound. Those were isolated incidents resulting from me decompensating and becoming symptomatic. With a medication change and/or adjustment in dose, things have improved each time. I know there will be more to come as that is the nature of the beast called Bipolar Disorder. 

"Suicide is what the death certificate says when one dies of depression"
-Peter D. Kramer-
“Then I overdosed at 28, at which point I began to accept the bipolar diagnosis.”
 – Carrie Fisher-

Thank you for Reading! Until Next Time…
-Kissing Stigma Goodbye-

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