No cute titles. Mental health is not a joke.
For quite some time now, I have been afraid to publicly admit this: I have been diagnosed with having PTSD. But, I’m not afraid of talking about it for the reasons you think. I live in an area with — and attend a church with — a lot of military families. For the longest time, I have associated PTSD as something you end up with after seeing the horrors of war. It is CERTAINLY that. I do not want to discredit that. But I’m sure there are more like me who can point a finger at something that has become touted as a “wonderful event” — the birth of a child — and say, that’s where it started.
The backstory is not important, and, really, the story itself isn’t important, so I’ll condense it a bit:
Wife has induced labor for twins, first twin takes his merry-ass time coming out in a very ungraceful and rather stressful fashion (for the sake of argument, we will call him Steven.) I’m already an emotional wreck at this point. I’m watching the strong woman I love crumble in pain and exhaustion — and she has another child to deliver.
“Like a pagan, I will pray to the gods and the angels…”
Then I’m kicked out. In a flash of protocol and training, the entire room of doctors, nurses and technicians are running, stripping gloves, and moving things. I am hurried out of the room with our doula.
I hit the hallway and fall apart. The last images of my wife are agonizing — writing in pain. The doula is relaying to me what is happening through the OR window as I’m broken down and sobbing, sitting on a gurney in the hall. A “code blue” is coming across the intercom. Our doula keeps reassuring me as I ask her if that is for my room. I don’t know if she was lying to me, but I assume she wasn’t.
At this point, I realize: I am going home, a single father of one.
Praise God that wasn’t true.
At some point, I am allowed back in to take photos of my other son (we’ll call him Michael.) I hear the nurses talking about his APGAR score improving to an 8…I don’t remember what it was at first, but somewhere around 5 I think — which is just above “shit, we have a real problem here.” As I leave, I get a glimpse of my wife’s body, lying still on the operating table. Lots of blood. I know she’s alright, but I don’t know that she’s alright.
I realize I was supposed to skip over most of this, so consider this the skip…
I end up, back in our hospital room — she gave birth in the OR…thank God — and our doula is physically sick from a migraine. She is able to spend some time with me and the two boys after they are wheeled in, but then leaves.
And I’m all alone.
My wife is still in recovery.
It’s me. Two 30-minute-old boys that I am not equipped to take care of. And the woman two doors down, screaming in agony.
I learned later that they barely made it to the hospital before their child was born. Happy story for them. I’m happy for the father that I meet and congratulate him. She’s Brazilian. I don’t remember why he mentioned that, nor do I know why I remember that.
My wife comes back. She’s groggy, but she is alive, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t imagine what she went through, and how she’s feeling, but I know we’re both, very happy to see each other.
I’m sure I cried.
I cried for almost the entire time we were at the hospital. That should have been my first clue. Nobody offers support for me, a man who is obviously going through something, but the doctor does comment that every time she comes through our room, I’m crying. I try to laugh it off and apologize.
I don’t deserve this title
We are moved up to the NICU because Steven — no, not Michael — needs some extra assistance. With what?! Oh. Jaundice.
I could care less about Jaundice, sure as a condition, it can be indicative of major things, but as a guy who grew up with his mom constantly harassing him about what a pain-in-the-ass he was…
“you were born, but your were jaundice, so we had to stay and deal with the billy-lights, then you had colic…blah blah…lactose intolerant…blah blah…”
I grew up with a complex.
I knew that we were fine, and I was VERY happy to be spending more time with professional nurses who could help my kids.
Then I met him.
A father that, to this day, I wish I had spoken more with. We crossed paths in the hallway while I was getting something menial like juice or ice or something. We met eyes and said “hello.” He asked how we were doing and I reassured him that we were fine. I asked how his family was doing and his response was less sure. We chatted a bit. I don’t remember what I said, but I know it wasn’t as helpful as it could have been.
I wish I was less awkward. I wish I was more social. I wish I could have asked to pray for his family. I wish I could have worded “we are in that room over there, come find me if you want to talk, I want to be here for you.”
Then I remembered. I’m in a NICU. The kids who come here are often up against SERIOUS complications. Not just a little jaundice. I feel bad about that. Now I have another complex: no, we don’t belong here, we aren’t dealing with what YOU are.
Ironically, May is “Mental Health Month.”
Skip forward a few years from the May birthday of my twins. It’s May again and Michael has a febrile seizure. I break. Again. I’m a wreck for several days after this.
Skip forward a year. It’s May of 2016. I have started commuting 1.5–2 hours each way. I have a massive project. I have a new, third child. I break. This time for real.
After a near month-long journey, spending every day in a doctor’s office for a week, and several trips to the ED (I have medical family members who would like to remind you all, it’s the Emergency Department…not Room), I am given citalopram and propranolol. I’m diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder — perhaps that’s part of it, but we learn more later. The citalopram is my anti-anxiety, and the propranolol is to pull my heart-rate back down to normal and try to calm me down until the citalopram takes effect.
Oh, and I’m also given Ativan, but that shit is the devil-spawn. I get that it works for some of you — and thank God for the — but it knocks me out, makes me feel like hell the next day, and is highly addictive. No thanks.
For two weeks in 2016, I have been positive I am dying, I have lost 10 pounds or so, I have woken up sweaty, hardly slept, but I remember one thing: Between 3–5am as the sun starts coming up, you can listen to the transition from bats to birds in the morning as the light slowly goes from blue to orange.
I visit a witch-doctor (homeopathic/kinesiology/chiropractic) who suggests that part of the problem is a temporary allergy to eggs, overworked adrenal glands and a bad structure. He fixes my alignment and reassures me that my body wants the meds that the doctors gave me, he also tells me about the emotional things I need to fix. None of them about Michael.
Time and therapy pass, and I’m finally diagnosed with it: PTSD. For a couple of years, I squish this down. I can’t tell my military friends that I have PTSD. But, here’s the kicker: I do — according to the diagnoses.
By ignoring it, shoving it down and throwing dirt over the top, I’m only making it worse. All of my assumptions of how people would react to me sharing this are my own fabrications and I decide to, slowly, start letting the cat out of the bag. Then I realize that this needs to be talked about on a larger scale.
Talking about my mental illness gives me power over it. It isn’t some master holding me hostage in the deepest, darkest parts of my mind. It’s a nuisance that is striking my heels, and I need to crush its head by taking the power away from it.
I don’t put up with certain things anymore. You can’t openly joke about mental illness in a degrading fashion in front of me. You can’t imply that someone’s struggle with one mental illness is less serious than another. Suicide is real, and saving people considering that is the most important thing you can do in a day.
My diagnosis of PTSD, GAD and Depression are not new. I have battled them for a LONG time. Longer that I would care to admit. Well before my wedding day. Well before I graduated college. This struggle isn’t fun, but this struggle has also met its match in me: I am a man who does not care what people think about me or what I say about this anymore. I’m perfectly happy to tell you that I’m “crazy.” And I’m perfectly happy to tell you that it’s my life mission to make mental illness something that anyone can talk about at any time without feeling judged or alienated.
I’ve had people tell me it’s bold, or brave of me to talk about it like this. That’s stupid. It shouldn’t be.