Friday, March 23, 2018

A Side Trip to the Loony Bin

I know I've written before that I live with mental illness but I am not sure how much I've shared about my story but today I want to share just a small clip of time in my life. A time when all of my mental illness stars aligned and I landed in the Loony Bin! Yes, I called it the Loony Bin, it's MY story and that is the term I am using for the wonderful psychiatric hospital that almost certainly saved my life. Why call it the Loony Bin? For ME it makes it a less scary place; easier to tell people about. I find it makes other people more comfortable when I tell my story, makes them want to share their story. That said, I will continue with this part of MY story.

Up and Down, Down and Up, I had no idea what was happening day in and day out. Even now I have very few memories, that are clear and correct about how I ended up in the emergency room of my local hospital and later inside a room at a psychiatric hospital. 

It had been a crazy few weeks, months really, I was still deep in a depression and grieving the death of my father (on like year three by this point), I was living the high of winning an election for a local school board seat (crushing a twelve year incumbent), trying to still be an awesome SHM and oh yeah, dealing with a looming audit from my three years as PTO president of my children's elementary school. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that I was doing this all as a person living with  mental illness, my diagnosis, depression, anxiety & bipolar I. That's right, I've admitted all that right here! I have a mental illness (and what it is), I had a break down & I spent time in the hospital for it. Take that! This is who I am. 

Now back to my trip. I arrived at the hospital after midnight, finally transferred from the ER where I has spent about six hours waiting to be processed. Six hours in the ER where I never spent a moment alone. Weird thing about being in the hospital for a psych eval, they watch you like a hawk, they even go to the bathroom with you! They send a slue of doctors and nurses in to ask you questions, the same questions. Some are easier to answer and share then others, for example, people cannot help but look at you when you describe your plan for ending your life. And they almost all ask the same question after you share your plan and that's WHY? Why do you want to end your life? WHY?!?!?! I don't know! If I could tell you that I think I'd not be here! I don't know WHY only how. Other than the questions and being "watched" (which is an awesome feeling when you're paranoid), I really don't remember too much detail. I did finally get to the psychiatric hospital though. 

I was shown to a dark room with a twin bed, a roommate and a bathroom. I was given medication to help me sleep, at this point I ha not slept in days and only a few hours over the last couple of weeks. Sleep, as anyone living with a mental illness knows, can and does absolutely make or break you! With a bed, some medication and the feeling of finally being safe, I slept and slept and slept! Hands down, I had never felt so safe in my entire life as I did that first night in the psych ward. I was finally free to be me! Yes, I get the irony, FREE, locked up in the loony bin :)  But it's true.

I spent five days in an acute care psychiatric hospital where I got my medications on track, my sleep on track, started therapy and made a plan moving forward. My husband came to meet with my case manager to decide when it was safe for me to leave and what we/he needed to do once I was released. It was an experience to say the least, one I never imagined I would have. I knew and accepted I was living with mental illnesses but I was fine, I never really had problems, I functioned just like everyone I knew. And that was all true, until it wasn't. Bipolar is NOT a game. It is not an illness to be brushed aside or ignored. Bipolar can absolutely be managed and most of your life is typical, like you think everyone else's is :-) YOU HAVE TO MANAGE IT! Just as it you had high blood pressure or poor eye sight, bipolar is absolutely the same! It is an illness that cannot be cured but can be managed. 

My stay in the Loony Bin was just about two years ago now and it absolutely saved my life! I am so thankful for my therapist that encouraged me to go to the ER on my own (or he was calling them), my family and friends for trying so hard to understand and help me learn to live with this, my current therapist and psychiatrist who continue to help me manage my mental illness and my husband who has had to jump in with both feet and learn all about bipolar, living with someone with bipolar, supporting someone living with bipolar and still maintain a HUGE job outside the home so we can have food on the table, he isn't perfect but he tries and keeps trying and has for 28 years.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Humpty Dumpty

Before I start, I'd like to say Thank you to those of you that took that time to read my last post and make such nice comments about me. While it was not my intention to gather praise, it was nice to read all your amazingly kind words. Now onto another part of my story.

I've mentioned before how incredibly difficult my time in jail was on both my mind and my body and I've been fighting since I got home to get both back together again. Today, I guess yesterday now, I took the next step in my physical health and had three teeth pulled. Like everything I do, this was complete with chaos and drama from start to finish. It started with the insurance company jerking me around with dentists and ended happily with three teeth removed.

I've always had crummy teeth. They're weak and get cavities and decay easily. A combination of genetics and an autoimmune disease really took a toll on my pearly whites. So when I was in jail for nearly a year with no vitamins and poor nutrition my teeth just crumbled. Three teeth destroyed and unable to be saved; which in the end couldn't be removed soon enough.

One tooth had gotten a root canal and a crown a few years ago but because it was so weak, the crown & tooth fell out while in jail. There was no pain and I was broken all the way down to the gum so I just left it and decided I'd deal with it when I got home.

The second tooth had a root canal and crown a few years earlier and the crown fell off but at $1500, I was too cheap to have another put on. I hadn't had any issues with it so I was in no rush. While in jail, I did get an infection in that tooth and treated it and decided to wait to see my dentist when I got home, it was just a few weeks until I was going home and could see my dentist.

And tooth three was crazy. I felt what I thought was a loose filling that started to come out but was actually decay. Within three weeks the entire side of the tooth had been eaten away by this decay. I again did nothing because I was going home in less than a month and already had a dental appointment for the other two teeth.

But like everything else, the best laid plans never go smoothly. I got home and needed to have a hysterectomy quickly so my teeth would have to wait a little longer which was fine I wasn't having any trouble with them at that moment. It turned out that a moment was all I got before it was a problem. My hysterectomy had to be delayed a week because I got an infection in my tooth and it was bad! I took a round of antibiotics and was cleared for my surgery.

Surgery was over and I was healing nicely, and thanks to my antibiotics my teeth were okay too. So I did what was logical, to me, and pushed the dentist off until after the holidays. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how this goes but I will, as Christmas came so did another tooth infection. Again I took a round of antibiotics and was good as new so I put the dentist on hold and focused on my severe anemia and started a course of iron infusions. I needed 8 infusions which would take me a good couple of weeks, so off I went for iron.

By this point it was February and I had been home five months, had two infections but still wasn't in a rush to get these teeth pulled. That was until the end of February when I got my third and worse infection. This time the antibiotics didn't work in one round and the pain was unbearable! Now, I needed to get them out! And finally today I did! I had all three pulled.

I had them pulled but even that was drama filled. I had decided to be put to sleep for the extraction since there were three, in the past I had only used a local to have a tooth removed. When you get put to sleep, you have to fast for 6 hour, that was no big deal my appointment was at 10am I could manage. Only kidding! My appointment was rescheduled to 130pm and I never changed the time.

Now, this was an issue, I was not waiting until 130pm to eat! So I did the only thing I could, i decided a local was going to have to do so I could eat. Lol. So eat I did and local I got.

Finally at 135pm, I was in the chair having my 15 shots of novicane and clotting stuff and saline put into my cheek and jaw. That, my friends, did not feel good! But shortly I felt nothing. I was ready to go. The first tooth came out easy as could be. Tooth two was slightly more difficult as it was the one that was torn down to the gum, but it came out. Tooth Three, that one didn't want to leave Me! First it broke and only half came out. Then the second half just didn't want to leave! The dentist even told the tooth it was being difficult. Finally, the other side was out and I was done...or was I? As the dentist went to stitch that tooth up, he found a piece of tooth still stuck in the socket! So it took a little more pulling to get that out! Then we were done! Finally all three teeth were gone and my pain was gone, at least for that moment. Lol

So far my recovery isn't too bad, more sore than pain. Not too much bleeding and I'm keeping ice on it and taking meds for the pain. It's a uncomfortable when I lay on my side to sleep but if that is the worst of it, I'm not going to complain.

As my title indicates, I am feeling a bit like Humpty Dumpty these days but instead of falling off the wall I spent nearly a year in jail and fell apart when I got home. I know that the lack on vitamins and poor nutrition in jail contributed to my medical issues I've dealt with. And I'm not the only one, several of the ladies I was with had also had health problems, problems they didn't have before being in jail. Incarceration should not mean that basic medical needs are not met. It's not too much to expect  that food is decent and nutritional so that inmates are getting what they need to stay healthy. Just another area that needs to be reformed in our criminal justice system. As soon as I get healthy, I'm going to make sure people know and understand what is going on in our jails and prisions!

Thanks again for reading and sharing my story. Let's stop this from happening to others.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Climbing Up or Not

At one time in my life a had fairly decent self-esteem, granted I was middle school age and things were looking pretty good for me. I had a ton of friends, weekends were filled with dances or fun at the Rec Center. As a change of pace, we would throw in the movies every so often. These were good times.

The good times continued into HS where I still had a bunch of friends and always something to do. No shortage of boyfriends and little to complain about. Then my family moved and I had to switch high schools and that sucked and was the first real hit my self-esteem took. Switching to the rival school! I went from running with the popular crowd to running with no one. It was pretty lonely.

After a few weeks/months, I made a few friends but nothing like I used to have. And my self esteem never grew back to where it had been. This was the point in my life that my mental illness started to come out. At the time, everyone thought I was just being a brat and was whining and moody; and at the time I suppose that's what I believed too. It's only now as an adult who has had hours of psychology testing and treatment, I see that my bipolar and my anxiety were starting to come out during that time.

As life progressed my self esteem would have regular ups and downs like most teenagers and young adults, until, I got married and started having babies! That boosted my self-esteem to amazingly high levels. I had found things I was good at, very good at. I was a great mom, I took care of anything any everything my monsters needed. Meals, laundry, bathes, entertainment, I did it all for them. And I was doing pretty well on the wife front too. I felt good. I knew who I was and where I was headed!

As the monsters grew up, my confidence grew with them. And whenever they got involved in an activity I signed up to help the cause. Once they got into school I joined the PTO. I knew that I could really help their school. Year after year I volunteered more and I got to know a ton of people in the community. I was doing a good job and feeling good about myself. My self-esteem was so high that I ran for an won a local election.

Then it all came crashing down. It crashed hard and fast. My mental state collapsed, physically I was sick, I landed in a psychiatric hospital and then jail. That took some kind of toll on my self-esteem as I'm sure you can imagine.

With each step of this part of my life happened, my confidence and then my self-esteem got smaller and smaller, until there really was none left. Honestly, I knew I was bad off when I was more scared to leave jail than I was being in.

Six months ago I left jail and I can tell you with every once of my being that it would be difficult to have less self esteem. I've tired to jump back in some but it's really tough. It's tough to talk to people(because I'm sure all they see is a felon). It's terrible. And I can't get over that.
I want find that person I was before jail, before becoming a felon. I want so much to hold my head high and go and serve my family and my community but I'm stuck. I'm paralyzed by fear, rejection, judgement and equality. I want to get back to when I was reliable and  willing to serve. That's how I need to grow my self esteem. But How?

To imagine I would ever care so much what others say and thing about me is bizarre! I never saw myself as a person  that needs to be accepted, but I am. I need to feel worthy of helping and serving others, and my family. I need my self esteem back!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Meds & Jail

I've been dragging my feet about sharing this part of my story but Every time I start to blog this is the story I want to tell, I need to tell. So buckle-up for this wild ride.

At the time of my sentencing I had been taking my medications for nearly six months. Most of my medications were to manage my mental illnesses, including Lithium for bipolar. And while I did not prepare for much else, I did gather my medications to take with me just in case because I knew how important it was to be without my lithium. * A quick note here about bipolar and lithium. Lithium is a medication that has a very small window between effective treatment and overdose. When using the drug for treatment of bipolar you need to have blood tests done to check lithium levels every 6-8 weeks. Also stopping treatment with lithium all at once can trigger an episode of depression or mania* With all this in mind, I was prepared with lithium in hand. I was not allowed to take my medications with me but my husband was informed by my attorney that he could drop my medications off at the jail later that day, which he did.

Throughout processing and while in Crisis for the first 24 hours, I asked about my medications, specifically my lithium. I was told I would need to talk to this person or that person and that I could do that in a minute. That never happened that first night. So on the second day, when I finally spoke to someone in medical, I was told that my medicine was delivered and would start that night. What I wasn't told was that all of my medications would be crushed and that some of my meds were not approved for the jail therefore I could not have them while there. Not even if they were for mental illness. Ugh! Who decides these things! I tried to stay calm and just hoped my lithium would be on that cart.

The next evening when the medicine cart came, staffed by a CNA, some of my medication was on the cart! Yay! And my lithium was one of them but it was crushed. Yes, I know they said it would be but my lithium was extended release and was not supposed to be crushed(when crushed ER meds release too quickly into the body). I tried to explain this to the CNA but was told that I needed to take it, crushed or go back to crisis. They told me it was safe. So I took the ER Lithium, crushed, everyday twice a day, I trusted them and I had my lithium and I was settling in.

Things were moving along and I was going until day 5 when I got up so sick to my stomach. I suspected I was just nervous and not eating well so I tried to sleep as much as possible. Each day it seemed I felt a bit worse and more tired. I started vomiting along with hanging out on the toliet all day. Still I thought little of it more than just not settling in. All the while I continued taking my meds as directed.

One day towards the end of my second week I was really feeling awful and couldn't do anything and my vision was blurry and I was getting sick more often and I knew I needed help. I called my husband to tell him I was feeling worse and that I needed medical attention. He called my doctor from home and reported my symptoms. My doctor asked what medications I was taking, my husband ran down the list and mentioned that everything was crushed.

From that point forward life went into fast forward, my doctor demanded that my lithium levels be tested immediately and that my medication no longer be crushed. She told my husband that she suspected I was suffering from lithium toxicity and that it was very dangerous, my organs could start shutting down. The crushed lithium had to stopped!

Three days passed before my blood was taken to test my lithium level and in that time the jail did not give me any medication. Finally my blood was drawn but I was never given the results, nor were my husband or doctor. My husband was told by one nurse only that my levels were elevated but nothing else. I was told I could request my records once I was released.

After this disaster, my medications were all switched to liquid so it could not be crushed. But this could only be done because my doctor was willing to continue writing and managing my scripts and my husband was willing to pick up and deliver my liquid medications. The jail was not willing to change anything. When nearing the end of my time, the jail decided I could no longer have my meds brought in and that I would have to go back to crushed. Again my husband and my doctor fought and I was able to have my meds uncrushed while I was there.

Once I got home I did request my medical records. It took three requests and four months and $40 to finally get them. When I finally found my test results from that episode, my lithium level was 3x what it should have been and that was after not having a single dose in over 72 hours, I've been told by my doctors that it was much higher before I stopped the lithium and I should have been tested that first day it was stopped.

That was incredibly scary. It set the stage for my entire stay in jail and the fact that I could not trust that the people in the jail that should have been taking care of me could.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Chow Time

Food, if it can be called that, was beyond awful and meal times were as terrible as the food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served daily, breakfast was served between 4am-530am, lunch between 1030am-1230pm & dinner between 330-530pm. There was no rhyme or reason to when trays came and from day to day the times changed.

For breakfast at 4 something everyone was woken up to eat. Breakfast was usually the most identifiable meal of the day, oatmeal, fake sausage(soy or chicken), maybe some applesauce, some days cold pancakes, breakfast potatoes and sometimes a little piece of cake. As I said, breakfast was the best meal and if you could get up at 4am (lights out was 11pm) you could find something there to eat. Most days only about a third of the ladies got up to eat.

By the time lunch rolled around everyone was pretty hungry and wondering if the lunch trays would hold any thing edible. And most days I could not bare to eat it. Lots of really thick nasty bologna or speckled bologna, there was also mushy noodles with meat, remember the "meat" was either soy or chicken protein powder, no actual meat. It really all tasted the same and it wasn't good.

Dinner was often the same dishes they served for lunch on different days. Oh and another staple was beans but they weren't cooked usually and again everything was cold by the time we got it. People loved living with me because I was always happy to share my tray.

What made this food situation worse was that we always heard how good the food was in the jails/prisions around us. Real meat, milk, warm pancakes, fresh fruit all things we never saw.  For me this was one heck of a diet! 70 lbs lost in the 10.5 months I was there. Which seemed not to bother anyone responsible for my health, no one mentioned it until I had lost almost all of the weight. But then, healthcare was as questionable as the food, I'll share that in another post.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Waiting and Waiting and Waiting

On an ideal day at Rappahannock Regional Jail in Bravo One, I spent from 5- 7 hours out of my cell. That time was spent in a day room with the other 25 ladies on my floor or out on  a very small cement slab where just a bit of fresh air could be found.

The day room consisted of a few cafeteria tables, 2 televisions with a few awful plastic chairs, a microwave, 4 showers and most importantly, 8 payphones.

There was alot that needed to get done when one was out of the cell; especially since you could be sure when the next time you'd be out of your cage. Rotations could be skipped for any number of reasons and you never knew before hand that a "lockdown" was going to happen. A lockdown meant no shower, no microwave, no interaction with others and hardest of all, no phone.

You see, the payphone became my only regular connection with my family, with my monsters. Visits were only once a week via video and only one monster could come at a time so I only saw them(if you can call it that)once every 3 weeks. So, daily phone calls were all I had to stay connected to them and to my husband. It was also the only way my husband could know that I was Okay and that was important for him because of all the health issues I was
having. I'm sure you can imagine how difficult this inconsistency was.

Lockdowns usually happened for a rotation(one (1.5hr)). Or maybe one shift but usually we got to the phones at least once a day, to check in, reassure yourself and your family that you were hanging on. But every so often they went on longer.

The worst and longest lockdown I ever went through was 54 hours. For 54 hours there was no shower, no microwave and NO PHONES. For 54 hours straight I sat in a 10 x 6 cement and cinder block cell with no window to see out of and a steel door with the smallest window out to the day room. A 10 x 6 cell with a second person, bunk beds, a toliet and a sink for 54 hours straight. During this lockdown even meals were served through our doors so we really didn't come out.

As you can imagine, this was not a good time. The first day was doable but as the second day started and ended and we were stilled locked down, it got really tough. By day two my mind was all over the place, worry, fear, concern, and that was just about the monsters. I knew my husband was going insane and had probably called the jail by day 2. I wasn't sleeping, not eating and just crying. I tried as many different things as I could think of to pass the time. I read, I exercised, I wrote letters, I cleaned, I read my scriptures but by the time day 2 came to an end I was done, I had nothing left, I was physically sick with worry and tired on top of it. It seemed like this would never end.

On the morning of the 3rd day of lockdown there was finally a break, we finally got out of our cells. Twenty-five women that needed to share 4 showers and 8 phones! There were lots of quick showers and fast phone calls to ensure everyone got a turn. Once I got my turn on the phone I called my husband and upon hearing his voice I started to cry. I cannot remember ever being that happy to hear his voice. I asked about my monsters and him, I'm not sure I really heard any thing he told me because the sound of his voice was like heaven. I didn't want to hang up but I did to give the next person a turn.

What I remember most about this lockdown was how much tougher things can get even when you think you've hit the toughest point it can get tougher. I remember the ache in my chest and the unsettledness stomach because I missed my monsters so much. I also remember that I made it through. I made it through and I am stronger.

Finding the positive, a silver lining in my experience and time at RRJ is not easy but to heal and move on I need a positive. I need to know that my time there did something for me or someone else. So many days the negative trumps the positive and I have nightmares or I'm angry I was there but I'm trying, I'm trying to find positives.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Moving On

Part of being me includes my bipolar, PTSD(new from jail) and anxiety. There is probably more but that's enough to share for now. Bipolar, mental illness in general, can make jail a real challenge. There is not adequate medical care, whether it's because of money or an unwillingness to see the mentally ill in front of them struggling.

About six months before I went to jail I had a psychotic episode and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for about a week. At the time of my episode I was off all of my bipolar meds, because I was feeling fine and didn't need them anymore, as nearly all people diagnosed bipolar will tell you at some point in their lives. By the way, it's not true. You cannot stop bipolar meds without the very high risk of having an episode and usually they get bigger and better every time. Anyway, I thankfully got to the hospital before I hurt myself or anyone else. Once under the care of the right doctors and nurses I got my meds restarted and made a short term plan. My plan was to go to an outpatient program from 9-3, 5 days a week for 4-6 weeks. I was NOT looking forward to this plan at all but in order to come home and get better my team and my husband said I had to do it.

I left the hospital on a Friday and was starting IOP on Monday. I had the whole weekend to settle. Only I didn't, I went to my mother's, took the scissors from her kitchen, hid in her bathroom and cut off all my hair. They found me sitting in the shower with my clothes on and water running with scissors in my hands, my hair cut off, just crying. It was not a good day.

Monday came and I had made it, so had my family, and off I went to IOP. My mother drove me and picked me up so that it wasn't easy for me to leave early. We did this M-F for a month and a half. After being there 6 weeks and being medicated and having therapy, I was ready to move on, or so the team said. I had a psychiatrist for my meds and two therapist that I saw 3 times a week.

Slowly I began to function and feel safe in my life, in my home and in myself. I continued therapy every week, eventually dropping to only one therapist. And I saw my psychiatrist every few weeks. My meds were working! My therapy was working!

During this time of course I was going to court for my case which stressful but again I wasn't going to jail, said everyone!

The week before my sentencing I saw both my psychiatrist and my therapist. Both of them scheduled me to come in the day after sentencing because they were sure I would be free. You all know how that ended. But did you know that I never saw another therapist for 10.5 months? Did you know that I saw a psychiatrist on a video chat twice in 10.5 months? Do you know that I didn't get half the meds I was prescribed for 10.5 months?

In jail, mental illness is not seen as serious or something that needs to be treat. If it's not a physical almeint no one cares. I had three anxiety attacks so bad in there that I had to go to the clinic, you know what they said...Drink Water and Lay Down. Yeah, helpfully to someone mentally ill who is being denied meds.

What I'd like to see is people understanding mental illness. Accepting mental illness in their friends and family and letting your voices be heard so people can be treated fairly and humanely. I don't want people with mental illness stripped and thrown into a cement cell. They should be treat with the same respect and dignity as someone with cancer or a heart condition.

That was not where I intended this to go today but it did. Please take a minute or two to think about the mentally ill people in your life and how you treat them and make sure they are respected and treated fairly always.