The Shattering and Rebuilding of My Life

Everyone has a day that defines their life- marriage, the birth of children, and even the death of someone close to them.One of those days for me was September 1, 2015. There was a moment in which I felt everything in my life shatter and at that time, nothing could fix it.If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, you’ll be able to understand how much Jake meant to me.

If not, here’s some older posts:Love Through Bipolar

The Day AfterNobody close to him, including myself, saw his death coming. I’m not sure that Jake saw his death coming. I just know that the aftermath has changed me forever. I barely made it through the visitation and funeral. I just wanted to hear his voice and see his beautiful blue eyes again, even though I knew I couldn’t.

I drank my way through my sadness and anger. The pain was unlike anything I had been through before. Everyone tried their best to support me but yet, I kept drinking. I kept falling into this black hole of grief.

This is from “Hoax” by Taylor Swift. Basically, she didn’t want to look in another set of blue eyes but the man she cares about. There’s no other way to be sad about leaving or losing him than how she feels.I feel that so deeply.

About a month later, I started therapy. I couldn’t sort out anything in my mind and I had become someone I didn’t know or like.Over time, the darkness lifted. I even got sober in January 2017. I still have bad days and I’m on Prozac, but there’s other factors involved in those issues.I was able to decide what to do with my then-crumbling marriage- I wanted to work on things and Matthew didn’t want a divorce.

This has not been easy but we’ve been able to fix our issues.In fact, our 15 year wedding anniversary is on 9/10, nine days after this post is out. There’s not a single book on being married during a global pandemic but everyone is still in one piece.

It was a year before I truly felt like I was living again – I lost my grandfather a few months after Jake’s death. He was one of my favorite people and I was heartbroken.Over time, I worked on my self-worth and self-esteem. I’m well worth the work. I know what triggers me to drink and I try my best to avoid those things. I sorted through my feelings about being an awful mom and right now, what I can do to be a better mom to Lily. I finally feel like I can meet her where she is, now that I know what’s going on.I made two promises to myself five years ago- to finish the work Jake started and to live the life he made me strong enough to live. I’m doing both.

It can be hard, but not keeping those promises would be giving up on myself. I’m an entirely different person than I was before his death and I’m happy with who I am now.I need a few things to stay stable- a great job, my meds and a support system. I have all three and I am so grateful for this. I just wish I didn’t have to live without Jake in my life, but since I have no choice, I’m going to make the best of it.

Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and behavior health technician, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What?

This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like.

I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it.

Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure.

My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Being the Best Mom I Can Be

I’m clearly not a perfect mom. I tried that but it didn’t go well- I lost weight, was constantly stressed out and miserable.

You can read more about this here

Over the years, as many of us do, I’ve grown, learned and changed as a mother (and person). I’ve figured out my strengths and weaknesses as a mom.

Fifteen Years of Learning

When Cameron was born, like most first time moms, I had no idea what I was doing. Did I know the basics of changing and feeding but beyond that? Not a lot.

As he got older and Julian showed up, I learned a lot quickly. I’ve been a fan of a daily routine for years because it makes life smoother for everyone involved. It has helped Julian and to an extent, Lily a lot.

A routine is about the only way you can function as a mom, much less a mom of multiple kids. I think this may be the biggest thing I’ve learned to do and improve on.

What am I great at as a mom?

  • I’ve become a lot more patient. Years ago, I would basically lose it at the smallest thing and my anger/depression got really bad a few years ago. This is not a good mix. Thanks to therapy and (recently) Prozac, I rarely yell at the kids anymore. I save my lone vocal cord for big situations.
  • I’m funny. My humor and sarcasm have gotten us through many situations, like the current coronavirus situation.
  • I’m honest- the kids and I have discussed sex, drugs, grades, etc. with almost no awkwardness. I think this is my area because of my work plus being sober help.
  • Being sober- three years and going. This has been a huge improvement all around but I’m pretty sure the kids are happy to see Mom not drinking.
  • I’m firm but flexible.

What could I do better as a mom?

  • Remembering things- my short term memory is an issue in a lot of areas, but it’s sometimes annoying that I don’t remember something that I told the kids a day or so before. I write everything down in a note app and they know if it’s not written down, it’s not happening.
  • I could probably not nag so much, but that applies to many parents out there. It’s hard, guys.
  • Remember how hard it is to be a teenager. Life is different from when I was their age and I think teens have it harder now.

I think a lot about if I’m a good mom. Most parents do. I’ll probably never stop worrying about my kids- especially Cameron’s SVT issues. For the most part, that’s kept in check. I hear from others that my kids are great so I guess that’s some proof, right?

Y’all stay safe and healthy out there.

Photos courtesy of my personal Facebook page.

The Things I Forget

Parenting is challenging.

Every. Single. Day.

If you have one kid with any kind of medical issue and/or special needs, the challenge gets more intense.

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Inside This Mom’s Mind

I didn’t realize that sometimes, after some years, that we can adjust to our kids’ issues so much that we can almost forget about them.

Sometimes. It depends on the kid.

It’s not that I forgot about Lily’s delays, but maybe I did forget that delays aren’t just during baby/toddlerhood.

Once she aged out of First Steps (early intervention) at three and went to preschool, I thought “okay, we’re good”

The person that completed her exit eval reminded me: “She may be behind in some areas as she gets older, but we don’t know which.”

She had a difficult time learning how to read. Even after she got good at it, she still asked to read to me, Matthew or my mom. These days, she’s reading “Dork Diaries” books, so I’d say she’s on track.

As you’ve read in other posts, she’s had further issues that pulled me to put her in therapy.

You can read those posts Special Needs Round Two

Thoughts on a Second Diagnosis

A Big Breakthrough

As of now, Lily is 4’9″ and weighs about 160 lbs.

Her pediatrician is concerned and as a result, she’s had labs drawn to see what’s up.

Of course, her thyroid is basically nonfunctional. I wonder where that came from? Mine was bad before losing half of it, but Lily’s levels are basically bottoming out.

Don’t worry, she is seeing a pediatric endocrinologist in early November. Her pediatrician is certain she will end up on the same meds that I am on.

We’ve changed her diet (still in progress) and she got referred to a dietician. The very nice dietitian asked if she could discuss Lily with the Occupational Therapy department and…

Here I am, filling out paperwork for an OT eval.

I know she doesn’t need speech therapy. She’s loud and there is no misunderstanding her. In that area, you can definitely tell she’s almost 12. The attitude is real.

In the years since First Steps, I guess we have adjusted the best we can.

Lily hates exercise, new foods, and most things yucky, except slime. She LOVED slime. At 11, she still can’t ride a bike. This doesn’t mean we haven’t tried. Julian even tried to help her ride a bike- he’s been on one since he was four.

While filling out the OT paperwork, I’m reminded that even though she isn’t a baby, she still has issues that are impacting her health. Her daily life.

*sighs*

How do I feel?

Tired. Overwhelmed. You know, the usual. I have many thoughts, some found in The Deeper Thoughts of a Special Needs Mom

Dunk tank

Birthday water fun

Trying My Best

Lily has ADD, minus the hyperactivity part. (Julian took that part and RAN with it.) I try my hardest to remember this when asking her to do things and when she’s in trouble. I forget that she is a bit behind her peers emotionally and socially. Being her isn’t always easy.

But yet, I entirely screw up. I lose patience. I get upset with her. I apologize and try to move forward. Some days are better than others.

Parents aren’t perfect, no matter how hard we try. We have to give ourselves some room.

The things I forget come back at the weirdest times!

The Place I Don’t Like to Be

There is a cemetery in Southern Indiana that holds a grave I never thought I would see.

I know exactly where Jake’s grave is and every time I walk towards it, my heart breaks.

I’m not supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be here.

It took three years before I could come to his grave and not cry until my eyes swelled.

This is not where I want to be, but it’s where he is.

The Day We Didn’t See Coming

Nobody saw the events of September 1, 2015 coming. Even if any of us had consulted a crystal ball, this wouldn’t have been in it. I’ve looked back so often- even though Jake was quiet the last couple days before his death, this wasn’t on my radar.

I thought he had a lot on his mind, maybe a depressive episode.

If it had been, I would have done anything to stop him. All of us would have.

There are no words to fully explain how I got through hearing of Jake’s death. I’ve tried to describe it to those close to me, including my former therapist. Shattered is the only word that can even come close.

The Day After describes how I began the process of crawling forward with my life and how it is possible if you have had this sort of loss.

I didn’t attend anything after the funeral service because I was far too broken. I simply walked out to my car and drove home.

I spent days in bed, crying and drinking. I even spent my tenth wedding anniversary in bed- it was only 9 days after Jake’s death. Matthew let me be.

What?

Stay with me.

He knew that he had essentially broken me. Verbal and emotional abuse is no joke, and it will put you in a place that nobody should ever be in. Matthew is a bright man, but this wasn’t one of his better ideas.

He had changed.

I had changed.

That’s no excuse for what occurred.

He eventually realized that even though I had cheated on him and ran our marriage even further into the ground, Jake put me back together. Anyone who knows me well knows this.

There were days that I couldn’t see a way out of the darkness that I was living in. I ate and drank my way through my feelings. I gained weight and didn’t care.

I still don’t. I currently sit at 170. I don’t weigh myself unless I’m at a doctors appointment.

At one point, I became angry and mean. I’m not like that. I will become that way if pushed and even at this point, I still should have handled things better.

The Breaking Point

I began talking to Jake’s brother’s girlfriend, *Lauren. One discussion went terribly and to this day, we aren’t on speaking terms. I’m okay with this.

I am not, however, okay, with the fact, that it destroyed my friendship with Jordan. We are barely back on speaking terms. This took a lot of time, work on my end, and a bit of help from Sara.

I realized that I needed a bit more help to get past my grief. Raging, crying and eating clearly weren’t working.

I found a wonderful therapist and slowly began to see a bit of light. I worked on processing my grief in healthier ways- this blog is one result. I also worked my way through trust issues (I’m still picky about who I like), issues in my marriage, with my kids and some other personal things.

I highly recommend therapy in any form.

I even got sober while I was in therapy and my therapist was thrilled. When I started, she was almost ready to send me inpatient based on my drinking.

Seeing the Light Ahead

There are days that hurt- Jake’s birthday and today, September 1. I think it always will. This is okay. I refer to it as “The Day the World Went Away”, which is the title of a Nine Inch Nails song. He loved that band.

As four years have gone by, I try to remember what I’ve been able to accomplish. I remember that Jake would be so proud of me, or so I hope.

I’ve become a volunteer for the AFSP Out of the Darkness Community Walks. I’ve also done a couple of the college campus walks at the University of Louisville. In a way, it helps me carry on Jake’s (and my) love of helping others.

I figure if I can live through this, I can help others somehow. I cannot explain what a suicide loss is like. I just know that this is something that nobody should have to live through.

I have been outrageously lucky- support isn’t something that everyone has. Matthew didn’t have to be there, but he was. My best friends and family have been there since day one.

Josh, Jake’s other brother, has been one of the best supports I could ask for. I couldn’t have made it through the first two years without my former therapist. I may have ended up in jail and/or rehab.

I have a really bad mouth and back then, unchecked anger issues. The mouth hasn’t changed at all, but I’ve learned to manage my anger. My kids have noticed.

I may have kept drinking had my doctor not called with the fateful lab results.

Grief is one of the hardest emotions for a person to manage. One day can be great and you don’t think about the loss at all- the next, you’re sobbing over a memory.

” Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you”- “New Year’s Eve”, Taylor Swift

My short term memory is trashed, thanks to a mini-stroke shortly before meeting Jake. My long-term memory is intact, and I am grateful. This helps me hold on to the two years of memories.

Thanks to those memories, I’ve created two hashtags: #ForMySuperman and #SpeakNow

They are seen with many of my mental health/suicide related posts on social media. I’ve often referred to Jake as my Superman. Even though he wasn’t perfect and our situation definitely wasn’t, my life was better with him in it.

He saved me from myself sometimes, but even more, the world I was living in. For two years, he was always there for me. I could be myself again, I was able to breathe. I could be happy and not pushed into a corner.

Those memories have gotten ne through the last four years, the good and bad days. I don’t have any pictures of the two of us together, but Josh and Sara have helped me with a collection of pictures of Jake and even a few of his kids. His daughter looks just like him. Of course, she’s taller than me.

All of the pictures have been carefully saved- they’re all I have.

The last week of August and the first couple of days of September are hard for me. I try to do things for others during this time- it helps. I also try to take care of myself so that I don’t fall into a pile of tears.

Growth, Change and Happiness

Before I met Jake, there was another Jacob in my life, my grandfather. He died in May 2016, and it broke my heart. He was the first man in my life who really believed in me.

I called my Granddad “the sunshine of my life”. He gave great advice and had a great sense of humor.

It took over a year to finally feel like I was living again. This doesn’t mean I was fully healed and living my best life. It means I felt like I wasn’t stuck in a daily grief pattern.

I struggled to move past the anger that eventually came, sadness, and other emotions. I never went through the bargaining stage. I knew Jake wasn’t coming back.

I’m at the best I’ve been so far. I’m past 2 1/2 years sober, and every day still remains a challenge. If someone tells you that sobriety is a breeze, it’s a lie. I don’t sit in meetings or read the Big Book every day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do the work.

Happy? Am I happy? Probably. I’m living the life that Jake made me strong enough to live. As long as I keep that promise to myself, I’ll be okay.

My kids are growing up and I’m attempting to figure out where I want to go next. A few years ago, they were smaller and I had all the plans in the world. I know what it’s like to have that ruined in a minute. I don’t like making long term plans.

I do know that I’m going to be okay no matter where life takes me. I’ve got three people watching out for me- my grandparents and of course, my Superman.

Pics courtesy of pinterest