Hitting Rock Bottom

“We all at certain times in our lives find ourselves broken. True strength is found in picking up the pieces.” ~ Author unknown

In November, 2010 I was wide awake in the middle of the night in extreme pain. Without much thought, I did what I had pondered so many times before. I poured a handful of pills into my hand, and swallowed them all at once. I didn’t count them, but I would estimate that I took approximately 20-30 pills. And then I panicked. I grabbed the phone, returned to the guest bedroom, and laid in the dark with the phone on my chest. I was constantly checking my pulse, assuming I would have a rapid heartbeat if I was going to go into cardiac arrest, and I would call 911 (I think), if anything seemed “off”. Nothing happened, and sadly the pain never subsided. I lay awake all night, in pain, and prepared to go about my day working from home the following morning.

My husband knew that I had been having a rough couple of days, so he didn’t question my decision to stay home. And I didn’t tell him right away about my night. The following morning I was corresponding with a friend and admitted to her what I had done the night before. She called 911, and an ambulance, fire truck and two patrol cars arrived at my house. I was groggy, but coherent. They checked my vitals, ran an EKG in the ambulance, and in so many words told me that I was exaggerating about the amount of medication I had “most likely” taken, because everything checked out ok. There was no need to pump my stomach, and I would stay in the ER under observation and would talk with a mental health professional about my “supposed” suicide attempt. It may have been a cry for help, call it what you will. But the response from the medical team that treated me was inexcusable. Migraines are for real, and so are helpless feelings where there is no pain relief in sight.

After that incident, out of sheer desperation, I returned to MHNI for a second hospitalization in January, 2011. I felt I had no other option, and deep down I was in need of that call button and some personalized care. I knew that I would be sedated for a majority of the time, and that was what I was looking for at that point in my life. My treatment was much the same the second time around, and again, I had no real positive outcome. I was a very lost soul at that point.

My Darkest Day

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” ~ Douglas Adams

The days leading up to November 9, 2011were typical days in my life; I woke with a migraine. I had been in a pain cycle for several days with relentless, debilitating pain, and I could do nothing to find relief. I had been there so many times in the past, but the difference this time was that mentally and emotionally I was really broken down and REALLY checked out on life. After battling the pain for so many years, it was finally happening; I was surrendering to the pain and I was letting it win.

In the days leading up to the 9th, I struggled through as I had so many times before, and I dealt with the pain in the only way that I could at that stage in my life. With medication. Lots and lots of medication. Dangerous, lethal and toxic amounts of medication, for several days. I don’t recall the amount I was taking. I was helpless. I was reaching for anything I could get my hands on in my medicine cabinet.

It was a vicious cycle. Take one medication, attempt to sleep off the pain. Wake up, if I was fortunate enough to fall asleep, and take a different medication, perhaps trying a higher dose, and attempt to sleep off the pain again. Wake up again, and try taking a couple of medications together. Anything to break the pain cycle. Anything to just sleep.  ANYTHING to ease the pain. So I just kept taking dose after dose. And with each dose, the outcome was the same, no relief. My state of mind at this time was unhealthy at best, but I don’t recall making a conscious decision to do anything drastic. I don’t recall taking a handful of pills, though it is quite possible that I did. I had surrendered to the pain, and eventually my body had as well. I had overdosed.

I woke up in what I believed to be the ER. I recognized the lay out of the room and the pattern on the curtain that I had stared at SO many times in the past. But I didn’t remember how I got to the hospital. As I slowly started to acclimate to my surroundings, my husband was sitting in the chair next to me, with an expression that will forever be etched in my memory. He was just staring at me with a frightened expression on his face, and I realized that something was different this time.

At that point a nurse came into the room. She sat on the other side of my bed, and started to ask me questions: Did I know where I was? Did I know my name? Did I know the date? I was trying to speak, but I couldn’t put into words what I was processing in my mind. And then I realized I didn’t know the answers to the questions. Something was terribly wrong; this was not a standard visit to the ER. I started to panic, and looked at my husband, who was looking at me so intently, and he started to address the nurse’s questions for me. He told me I was in the ICU. I was brought to the hospital by ambulance when he came home from work the day before and found me unresponsive in the middle of the family room on the floor. I had overdosed on medication. I had been unconscious in the ICU for nearly 24-hours. And I had to tell him and the nurse what I had taken, and how much.

I had no idea, I had no response. I truly didn’t remember. I knew the names of the abortive medications, they were the same meds I had been taking for years: Gabapentin, Zanaflex, Phenergan, Imitrex. But I had no idea how much I had taken. I remember my husband telling me that he had called my parents and my sister. They were aware that I was in the ICU, and they knew why. Panic. He called my manager at work and told him that it was unclear when I would be returning. He called my best friend in Chicago, and she knew why I was there. Panic. No more hiding. I would have to address everyone’s questions and talk about what I had done that landed me in the ICU. PANIC.

And then he started to tell me the details that lead up to my ending up in the ICU. Finding me unresponsive on the living room floor; arriving at the hospital and I was enraged, I was fighting and screaming at the nurses and doctors and they had to restrain me because I was causing such a scene. I broke free of the restraints, so they eventually had to tranquilize me. The EMTs that arrived at our house were convinced I had overdosed on illegal drugs because of the way I was acting, and the blood test at the hospital had somehow revealed methamphetamines in my system. WHAT? Impossible. Did I abuse my prescribed medications? Yes. Was I taking street drugs? NO. My husband was asked some very tough questions, but had assured everyone that this was simply not possible. A follow up blood test revealed that there were no methamphetamines in my system, that somehow the blood test produced a false-positive.

After it was determined that I no longer required 24-hour nurse supervision, I was transferred from the ICU to the cardiac care floor in the main hospital. There was concern about the effects of the medications on my heart so I was being closely monitored. The attending physician that was seeing me was a mental health doctor. It was at this point that I realized that everyone around me was convinced that I had tried to commit suicide. Had I? I answered a series of questions and provided the responses that I knew they wanted to hear, so I could just get home. I had not intentionally tried to harm or kill myself. But had I? I was no longer a threat to myself. But was I? I wanted to live. But did I? At that point, I wasn’t quite sure of those answers. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t thought about dying on many occasions. Lying helpless in a dark room with nothing to distract me from my thoughts. Being unable to sleep because I couldn’t do anything to reduce the pain. Going to the ER for pain relief only to be treated like a drug-seeking psycho. Praying for anything to just make it go away. At that point, I had no quality of life. I lived with debilitating pain and I was so broken down, and I was shutting down. I was tired of it. After 16 years of fighting it, I was surrendering to it. And if that meant dying, I was ok with that…

I remained in the hospital until I could prove that I was not going to harm myself again. I was in the hospital for another day, and was discharged to return home. I was in intense pain with a migraine (of course), and they wouldn’t give me anything but Tylenol, which was pointless, but I accepted it anyway. I wanted to get home so I could relieve the pain. The pain. The PAIN. It controlled me. I had no intentions of returning home only to end up back in the ICU. I convinced the physician that I was ready to go, but deep down I was terrified. I may have convinced the physician that I was not going to do this again, but I hadn’t convinced myself. There was no relief in sight.

My husband didn’t want me to be unsupervised at home, and had asked my parents to come to stay with us for as long as we needed. My sister and nephew arrived shortly after I returned home. The house was full, and I was surrounded. I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide from the world, but instead I was forced to face this, and my family, head on.

I don’t recall truly addressing my overdose for the first couple of days. I returned home on a Friday. By Sunday, it was time to have the discussion that I was dreading. I walked into the family room, and my parents and my husband asked me to sit down. Here it was, the big talk that I had been avoiding. My husband had talked with my parents, sister and consulted with my best friend over the phone. Everyone was on the same page and it was time that I face the music.

I remember my husband asking me what my plan was for returning to work. I hadn’t given it much thought up to that point. Sure, I had been in the hospital and my body had been through hell, but life would go on, right? I would return to my “normal” life and put this situation behind me. I rationalized my plan, and remember stating that I would just work from home for a couple of days until I was feeling “better”. WRONG. Clearly I was in no position to be making decisions for myself.  So the remainder of the conversation was mapped out as they had planned. I would go on short-term disability at work (again), I would go back to my parent’s house in Des Moines, IA and live with them for a couple of weeks so I could be supervised at all times, and I would not be going to Hawaii for Thanksgiving.

And that’s when it hit me and I fell to pieces for the first time since returning home from the hospital. I cried, HARD, and I it started to sink in that I was no longer in control of my life, and hadn’t been for some time. The migraines, the pain, they were in control. In all reality, I had surrendered that control years before, I just didn’t realize it. I was “managing” and “getting by” as best I could, but I was quickly realizing that I had lost the ability to continue on as I had been previously.

I remember finally saying out loud that I had really screwed up. I said it. I admitted it, and the tears continued to fall. But no one was blaming me. No one was angry with me. They were truly concerned and they were there to support me. I felt blessed that day, and as I relive this awful time in my life, I am again reminded of just how blessed I really am.

My husband went to Hawaii with the rest of his family as planned. This was a difficult decision for him, because he didn’t know how I or my family would react to him “leaving me behind”. In reality, had he decided not to go, I would have felt 100 times worse and would have piled more guilt on myself for my health screwing up something, yet again, and affecting those around me. And then, I relaxed a little. I was not going to stand in the way of his vacation, and quite honestly I thought it would be healthy for our marriage for him to have a break from the stress of living with someone with a chronic health problems.

So the plan was in motion. I contacted my manager and told him I would be on short-term disability until after the first of the year. I would take this time during the holidays to recuperate and get my life back on track. I called my Neurologist first thing Monday morning and was seen in their office a couple hours later. She insisted that I see a psychiatrist and psychologist again, something I had given up on awhile back. I agreed, and was scheduled for my appointments after my return from my parents. We packed up the car, and headed for Des Moines. And as we were pulling out of the drive way, the flood gates opened again, and I cried nearly the entire drive home. I was terrified leaving my husband. I had convinced myself at this point that he too had had enough, and that he would leave me. I felt small, helpless and terrified. At age 37, I was going to live with my parents because I was not capable of taking care of myself.

migraine ribbon 2


One response to “Hitting Rock Bottom

  1. Heather says:

    Steph, this is simply wonderful. I am so proud of you, as you should be so proud of you for not falling victim to migraines. It takes one of strong character and perseverance to define who she is instead of letting her circumstances define her. You have opened up your heart to share your journey which will undoubtedly help others who are struggling do the same, and most importantly realize that they are not alone. You have fought a long hard battle, and you never gave up. Fighters never do. You are beautiful, and yes you are indeed blessed!

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