When I talk to people about mental health, sometimes I hear things like that would never happen to me or how could someone want to hurt themselves?
I know I’ve said it before, but mental health disorders do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what race, sex, or social class you fall under; it could happen to you. It could happen to your loved ones. You never know what tomorrow could bring and what curve ball life may throw at you. You never know how you will react to life-altering events.
You just never know.
This girl, lets call her Kate, was brought up to our unit following an overdose.
She was on life support for six days after purposefully ingesting her mother’s medication. (I can’t remember specifically what the medication was, but that’s not really the point.)
This was her first suicide attempt and she intended for it to be the only one she would ever have.
Let me back up a little bit and tell you about Kate before her mental illness began.
She was 17 years old at the time of her overdose, but three years prior to this, her life was totally different.
She was a softball superstar.
She had been playing softball since she was young and was on a traveling softball team for many years. She was a catcher, I believe.
Softball was her life.
Around age 15, while at a softball game, she had a seizure.
She had never had one before and there seemed to be no trigger for it. After multiple tests at the ER following the incident, they told her parents that it was probably stress-induced and to follow-up with neurology.
A few months went by and things were back to normal and they all said it was a freak thing that would not happen again.
But it did, three months after the first one.
She was sitting at home with her mom when another seizure seemed to come on out of nowhere. After another ER visit, she ended up being admitted for further testing. This time, the testing confirmed an epilepsy diagnosis.
Her mom said that shortly after the diagnosis was given, it seemed things only got worse. She started having seizures a few times a week, even with the new medication she was on. Even after medication increases, the seizures worsened, and she had a severe seizure during another softball game. After that, it was decided by her neurologist that she be finished for the season until they could get a handle on the seizure activity.
This broke her.
Softball was her life. While an adult might look at this situation and think it’s just softball, to a 15 year old teenager who cannot see past the here and now, this is truly life-changing.
It didn’t take long for her to sink into a deep depression. She was sick all of the time with migraines, having seizures frequently, and had to stop playing the game she loved. She was also told that she would most likely never be able to drive.
Her mom said that when Kate turned 16, she seemed like a totally different person. She said that she refused to watch any softball games. She said Kate would never leave her room unless she had to. She said that she started being homeschooled because Kate refused to go to public school. Her mom said that Kate had two seizures at school and after the second one, she developed severe anxiety and being around any people caused her to have a panic attack.
Her mom said that it became a never-ending cycle of tears and depression and doctors visits. Her mom said that Kate would go days without wanting to get out of bed, without showering or eating. She was on a numerous amount of medication trials for both her seizures and her depression and anxiety with very little success.
Her mom was able to get her into a partial hospitalization program for her depression and states that she thought it had helped slightly.
Partial hospitalization are programs where you are there four or five days out of the week for usually five to eight hours a day. During that time you have multiple therapy sessions, usually in a group setting, as well as meetings with a medication provider. It’s really helpful for those who are not actively suicidal and do not meet the criteria for inpatient admission and for those who don’t quite meet the criteria for a residential stay. While mental illness is something that takes a lot of time to treat and manage, these programs are beneficial for their long-term ability to keep a patient stable enough to stay out of the hospital.
However, the improvement that Kate’s mom originally saw after the partial hospitalization was short-lived.
Her mom said that after about a month, a few weeks before Kate turned 17, things took a turn for the worse.
She started voicing thoughts of suicide to her parents as well as to her friends. She had voiced to her mom that she had made up her mind and that she did not want to live a life like the one she was currently living. She could not drive. She could not play softball. She could not leave the house without having a panic attack or extreme fear of another seizure coming on unexpectedly.
She had simply given up.
Her mom said that she took her to the local emergency room that night due to the suicidal threats, but that she wasn’t admitted and was sent home.
Her mom said that she followed the directions given by the hospital: lock up all sharps and medications; don’t let her be alone.
Kate’s mom slept in her room with her for over a week to keep a close eye on her. She said that shortly after a week, Kate started to smile and seemed to be taking a turn for the better.
Kate asked her mom if she could sleep on her own again and said that she was feeling better.
Her mom agreed and two nights later, Kate took a bottle of medication from her mom’s purse; one that she always had with her that was not locked up.
She took the entire bottle of the medication and went to sleep.
When her mom went to check on her in the morning, Kate was not breathing. Her mom said that she did CPR while she waited for the squad to arrive. She was brought back by the medics and was in the ICU on a ventilator for three days before being able to be weaned off.
She had survived, but barely.
She had been without oxygen for too long before the medics arrived and the brain damage was something she could live with, but it would not be easy.
She struggled with getting her words out when she talked. She was repeating herself over and over again. She had trouble remembering anything about her life before the overdose. She remembered playing softball and enjoying it. She remembered who she was and who her family was. Beyond that, however, there was very little she remembered.
She had just turned 17.
She had everything and everyone in her corner before the epilepsy started. Her future was so bright and still could have been so bright, in spite of the seizures and depression and anxiety.
Would it have been easy? No.
But would it have bene doable? With lots of love and therapy and support, absolutely yes.
Unfortunately, the brain damage following the overdose was permanent. This was going to be her life now.
I’ll never forget her mom telling me, “she seems happier now.” Maybe she was. She was smiling a lot. She didn’t seem to be depressed when talking about her future or her past anymore. She seemed content. Granted, the damage to the brain caused by the overdose is the reason for this.
I’m not sure what her future looks like now. Will she be able to go to college? Have a family? Live a life independently? Maybe. But would she be smiling? I can only hope.
You never know what is going to happen. Your life can literally change in an instant. Please, do not take anything for granted. That softball game you’re enjoying, no matter how many times you strike out or miss the ball. It could be your last game. You never know until it’s too late. So enjoy every little moment of happiest that you have. Allow yourself to indulge in it. Feel it. Let your body and mind fill up with the feeling of joy in that very moment and savor it. This is your one and only life. Do not take a second of happiness for granted.