Breaking Point: #17

These Breaking Point stories are twin in their theme and have me wondering about the thin line between a “normal” functioning human in society, and what is considered mentally unstable enough for hospitalization.  I think we all have times when we are so broken open that we feel like we can’t do it alone.  We need help.  And I deeply respect people who go out there and get it.  Thank you Michelle and Daniel for sharing your stories.  yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Michelle Roberts

“You’re not allowed to share food!” the attendant barked.

I shrugged at the patient seated across from me then sat quietly without eating. He had offered me his salad when I explained that morning sickness made it impossible for me to eat my gravy covered turkey. It wasn’t the first time a fellow patient showed more kindness than the employees of the mental ward.

Sorry, they don’t like to call it that. According to the sign outside I found myself in a “Behavioral Health Facility” for the first time. That was my biggest hurdle since everyone was treating me like I’d been there half a dozen times. The rules were second nature to many patients so they assumed I must know what was going on. My meal was the first lesson and I should have ordered that morning. Instead, I was three months pregnant, nauseous and eating nothing for lunch.

The horse tranquilizers they prescribed to rein in my mania were making it impossible to sit still. My legs and arms felt fidgety and I still couldn’t sleep through the night. When I left my room one afternoon only to return a few minutes later, a scary blank faced female patient followed me and held my door closed from outside. Maybe she was as tired as I was of my pacing up and down the halls.

So I spent my days listening to the stories of pain and loss from other patients, making promises to contact the husband that didn’t understand and the son withholding forgiveness. Since I didn’t belong here I might as well make myself useful by helping the ones that did. I came across the names and phone numbers recently along with a poem I wrote about the stress and strain that landed me in the hospital.

In the span of six months I was married, lost my grandfather, changed jobs, moved into our first home along with the weight of our first mortgage and tried through it all to process the tragedy of September 11th. My newlywed husband married a capable, intelligent, compassionate woman and was instead visiting someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He brought me a milkshake that I had to spit out into a sink because overmedication made it impossible to swallow. He signed the stack of paperwork as my advocate but must have skipped the pages about side effects.

When I met with my doctor on the third day, I explained that they were giving me too much Thorazine. He nodded and made notes with the same blank face as the scary door holder. I was called over the next morning to take my meds and was strangled by anxiety, unable to ask the nurse if they lowered the dosage. She mistook my reaction for refusal and said, “If you won’t take the pills we’ll have to give you a shot and it will be worse for the baby.” My anxiety turned to panic but I somehow managed to sign “lower” to her. She nodded that the dosage had been reduced and I took the pills.

All I could think about was the phone call with my father years before. He was thanking me for being the easy child that no one ever had to worry about since my brother and sister had both been hospitalized in the past.

“I reserve the right to fall apart one day, Dad!” I proclaimed jokingly.

He laughed, too, but never expected me to cash in my ticket. This was not the role I was meant to play in our family and no one took it well.


Submitted by: Daniel Jacob, who blogs here.

The hardest work out there is changing for the better; it takes a tremendous amount of effort, sacrifice, risk, discipline and much more. However, when you commit to your well being you are able to see and feel many wonderful positive outcomes.  I am so strong, so empowered, and so aware of how to manage my well being these days, and it took an intense moment to show me the way.

In February of 2009 I was working for the second largest school district in the nation as a school social worker.  It was a job that was creating a lot of stress for me, and as a result I was not taking care of myself in a healthy manner.  I am going to direct you here to understand where I was.  My work week was typical, although this week I was taking a red eye to NYC after work on Thursday for a family celebration, set to return to Los Angeles on Sunday, back to work on Monday.  New York represented some defining moments for me. It was the place that I escaped to from my abuse (physical and emotional) when I was a teen. It represented reconciliation with my father who over the years was distant and absent. It represented getting to know a brother and sister who shared the same blood, but not much else.  I wasn’t fearful or nervous about going, I was excited to go. By this time in my life I had done some serious self work and had evolved into a healthy well adjusted man. I was all about creating positive new memories with my family and my wife.

What I didn’t see coming was 6 days of no sleep, a trip to the psych ER for a 5150 (code for a 72 hour hold) assessment, several days of the most extreme anxiety that I had ever experienced (the kind where you can not physically move), and a return back to the hospital for a 6 day stay. Sometimes the unknown has its way of showing itself when it wants to, not when you do.  What happened to me happened because it needed to, and I was ready to deal with it, cope with it, and peel back the layers.  By addressing and understanding a past (that exposed me to much pain and suffering) in a manner that I never knew, it created a new me.

The experience itself was intense, but by breaking open I was able to make some choices and decisions that have truly changed the quality of my life for the better.  I resigned from my job and committed to a new job, getting healthy and well.  I survived on my savings, and when that was used up, I went on unemployment so I could continue on.  You see, you can’t put a date or time on your wellness.  To be well you must commit to every day for the rest of your days.   What you have read is obviously the abbreviated version, and there is much more to be shared.  In fact, my “Breaking Point” greatly influenced my decision to go out on my own (professionally) and that is a good thing.


Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

10 Responses to Breaking Point: #17

  1. Thank you both for so courageously sharing your stories with such openness and vulnerability.

  2. A big THANK YOU to Laura for this forum and opportunity to share with others. I am available and willing to share more or provide insight to questions or concerns that one may feel, but not always able to express. Helping and supporting others change for the better is my mission, so if you Can You Hear Me?

  3. For those of us who have stared into the abyss and retreated from that edge, we see the benefit of “breaking” the set pattern and reweaving our lives for the better. Thank you both for your courage and sharing….

  4. Laura Cassidy

    These breaking point stories are inspirational and paramount to healing and helping those who went through it and perhaps those who are just beginning to.
    It is also really eye opening that humanity in many respects still isn’t ready to face pain and suffering as a whole.

    I think it’s so wonderful that Laura put all this together so that those who need to express it can, and those who need to see and hear it can. Thanks Laura :)

  5. Michelle, your story touched my heart. “This was not the role I was meant to play in our family”…wow. Many of us definitely do feel roles placed on our shoulders. I was the peacekeeper in my family. Many of us often jokingly proclaim to have “lost it”, or “I’m going crazy.” We don’t realize how close we are at any given moment to the edge. Thank you for your words. I hope you know how brave and strong you are.

    • Michelle Roberts

      Thank you, Stephanie. I’m so grateful to Laura for the opportunity to share a story I’ve started but failed to finish so many times over the past ten years. I sent it to a few close friends and then read it out loud to my “talking doctor” last Monday. My friends appreciated the glimpse into my experience and my therapist heard me describe it for the first time in the seven years I’ve worked with her.

      When I said I didn’t know if it would be chosen for the series she said, emphatically, that it would and I’ve hoped with each day’s entry that it would be mine. When I found the email tonight after a weekend away I cried. It’s done so much to validate my feelings about my memories, my willingness to share them and my writing. I know so many others have been helped through Laura’s generosity and encouragement.

      Thank you for your kind words. Michelle

      • I think that’s one of the healing aspects of Laura doing this series is the validation we feel just by seeing our words accepted and acknowledged by others. I’m glad it’s done that for you as I know when I shared my story it gave me a feeling of being supported on others shoulders. I hope you continue writing, Michelle!

  6. Alison

    I firmly believe that sometimes the hardest things to change require something huge to break. I also believe that usually the people who break are the strongest among us, because they are brave enough to allow it to happen. Thank you both for sharing the most vulnerable breaks in your lives. It will help others so much.

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