Skip to main content

Week Four - The Spiral

By Our Fourth Mama

Growing up, my mom was my best friend and confidante. She was the “cool” mom; young, confident, caring and funny. She could do a one-handed cartwheel, and I thought she was invincible. I never imagined just how much things would change.

When I was a teenager, my mom abruptly ended her 22 year marriage after an affair with a female co-worker, who was also married. This event was the first in many decisions she made that changed our lives and our relationship forever. Her behavior slowly began to change, and when I was 20, she kicked me out of the house. Her new girlfriend and I did not see eye to eye, and I ended up sleeping on a friend’s couch for a few months while I finished college. After a family member offered me a new start, I moved 500 miles away. 

In a short amount of time, things began to deteriorate. Working as a nursing supervisor, my mom injured her back on the job. She was prescribed opiates for pain relief. Less than a year later, she lost her job – she would drive to work, but was then unable to get out of the car. She suddenly developed a fear of the dark and of thunderstorms, and would not leave the house. She was seeing a therapist, who was prescribing increasing numbers of medications. Her moods were unstable, and I once drove 500 miles home when she threatened to kill herself unless I came. When I arrived after 9 hours of driving, she wouldn’t even speak to me. Her therapist offered up various diagnoses, from general anxiety disorder to bipolar disorder. Eventually she was put on disability, at 45 years of age. Her girlfriend was also on disability, the result of her own back injury 20 years prior. They began to live a solitary lifestyle, rarely leaving the house.

My mom’s health continued to spiral out of control. Despite having pulmonary hypertension and emphysema, she continued to smoke nearly 3 packs of cigarettes a day. Her various doctors had prescribed a combination of sleep aids, mental health medications, and pain medications – including morphine. She began self-medicating, and was often incoherent. Her girlfriend locked up all of the prescriptions, but my mom would find the key and steal pills. She was hiding the pills all over the house, and would sneak off and take a handful at a time. This addiction and the combination of her unstable moods made this a very dangerous situation. I contacted her doctor’s office and asked for help, but they were unconcerned.

Two weeks later I was on a trip home when my mom began to vomit blood due to a week of pills, heavy smoking and not much else. We literally dragged her to the hospital, where she was admitted right away. After my mom had spent a few days in the hospital, I received a frantic call from my grandmother. She said something was going on with my mom, then a nurse came on the line. She told me to come to the hospital immediately. The one hour drive to the hospital seemed to last forever, and I was terrified. When we arrived, the initial prognosis was grim. My mom was in ICU after suffering a series of seizures, requiring a “code blue” and resuscitation. She was in a coma and was hooked to a ventilator, not breathing on her own. Basically, she had gone into withdrawal – she was still receiving many of her medications while in the hospital, but at much lower levels than what she had been self-medicating with at home.

Amazingly, my mom came out of her coma, began breathing on her own and was sent home after spending 4 days in ICU. She was supposed to participate in an out-patient rehab program, but she never went. This all happened 10 months ago. Since then, there have been some improvements. These days, about 90% of my phone calls with my mom are mostly coherent. But the instability is there, bubbling just under the surface. My mom’s other health conditions are worsening, and honestly I don’t know what is going to happen. I just keep taking it one day at a time, never sure what today will bring. She is only 58 years old, and I worry about her every single day.

I have found it very helpful to read about other people who share a similar experience. For me it has been comforting to know that I am not alone; that someone else understands what I am going through. My sincere hope in sharing this rather lengthy blog entry (!) is that someone else will find some reassurance. An open dialogue regarding mental health is critical – we need to continue to talk about our experiences, and not keep them hidden away.