Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Husband Tried to Take His Own Life

Deep breath.  Can you hear my heart pounding? I sit on a light brown fabric couch.  My face is pale and my cheeks are flushed with emotion.  Something weighs on me. You know I value honesty or if you did not, you know now. I write this blog post with as much honesty as I can because I know that neither I nor my husband are the only ones who have walked this road. I hope that perhaps if someone reads about our story, they will know that they are not alone in their journey. We all know life can be messy. And I'm all about being the messenger of truth, not pretending that things are something they are not.

George and I have come to a point where we feel now it is time to share our story of the last eight plus months. Up until now, it was too hard to open up, though we knew we would eventually as we do not want anyone who has walked through a similar situation to feel alone.  

So, this post is the beginning of this story, which starts with sharing what happened in September 2012.

The Kelly who is composing this post is different from who I was before September 2012. It is not because I am heavier than I have ever been in my life: 50 lbs over my driver’s license weight and 70lbs more than my wedding weight. I am different because what happened in September 2012 and the process of healing that I went through caused me to take a long hard look at myself and realize that I am not who I want to be. I went through a grieving process that included shock, denial, a lot of anger and finally acceptance and freedom. I have been dealing with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, Anxiety disorder and Depression—all  so debilitating that I was physically frozen in a ball for much of the time. I have learned some very hard lessons. Most importantly, I learned that it is an ABSOLUTE necessity to find Joy in every single day, especially when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Let me make this clear: I am not a victim. George is not a victim. We are fighters. We are stronger than we ever thought we could be. We have had to be braver than we ever thought we could be.  And we have had to lean into God harder than we ever have. It is a long journey, but one we are walking together.

The phone rings at eleven o’clock in the morning as it has for years. I say hello and George sings me a verse from a song –one of our many songs we sing. He is a touch tone deaf, but it never fails to make me smile. I envision my husband in his suit and tie huddled in the corner of the lobby of his work building singing to me. I feel pure Love and Joy. Just after George awoke from his September coma and his ventilator tube was out, even though he was quite drugged, quite out of it and cognitively affected, he attempted to continually hoarsely sing to me.  I had to convince him to stop so that he could rest his voice and his body, but it was Joyful as I did not think I would ever hear the sweet sound of his voice again.

We dance too. These last eight months, we have made a concerted effort to dance almost every day, because dancing brings each of us Joy.  Even on days where one or both of us were unwell, George will take my hand and gently sway back and forth to the music in our heads.

The last eight plus months have been pretty hellish to say the least.  Both of our worlds got turned upside down and inside out. Everything I knew to be true in life turned on its head and I felt gutted.  I have been getting to know a George that no one ever knew before –not even himself.  I grieved the marriage we had and who I thought my best friend and husband was and began the journey of embracing a new way of being in our marriage and a man who is incredibly brave with an even more beautiful heart than I knew.  I have been working extremely hard to change things within myself that are not conducive to relationships and also discovering ways to support my husband.

Let’s rewind time a bit to the day that my husband, George, woke up from his coma. I wrote about my experience with George's coma in a blog post: Trauma 22 Years Apart: My Brother & My Husband. George was not quite with it and still quite affected by the medication he had been on to keep the seizures at bay among other things.  He was restless in bed;  he was extremely uncoordinated ; he was not thinking clearly at times; his memory was quite poor; he was still very fragile medically and though off the ventilator, he was very hoarse.

George’s parents were sitting in folding chairs at his side. I was reclined in one of those pink hospital chairs as my chronic illnesses were draining me in addition to everything else. It was lunch time and my parents were out to lunch on their shift, promising to bring back something for me from home. I was on my cell typing a text to my dad saying my body was crashing and I needed to go home and sleep (something I had not done in a few days) and was asking if he could take me home.

But before I could hit "send", George’s almost unintelligible raspy voice called my name. “Kelly.” I put the phone down and looked at him with a smile and asked what he needed. He said,

“I need to tell you something.”

As he had repeatedly asked me questions and kept forgetting what he was told, I expected that he was going to ask something we had already discussed. After navigating that crazy powder pink chair, I stood up, walked slowly to his bed as my legs were unsteady and leaned in to hear what he had to say.

I cannot remember exactly what George said because in the moment I was telling myself to keep strong and keep on a loving supportive countenance.  Through his hoarse voice, George communicated that he had taken many bottles of my medications-- with the intention of taking his life. (He later told me he was surprised that he lived with how many pills he took.) After comforting and consoling George, I had him tell me the exact medications that he took and where he got them from so I knew he was not hallucinating again from the IV medication. I stuffed the absolute and complete shock on a shelf and did one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. George’s parents had not heard him over the noise of the ICU room. I touched his father’s shoulder, leaned in close to his ear and told him a sentence summary of what George had just told me. I could not look at his father's face which was already distraught because I knew I would not be able to continue to hold it together. I walked to the nurses’ station and told them what George had said.  I was present as the nurses asked George what medications he had taken and the amount (none had shown up on blood tests as they hadn't tested for those specific medications).  Many many health professionals have said that George should not have survived or be even functioning in the way he is with the amount of medication he took. His neurologist said on a follow-up visit in April 2013, "Someone up there must like you. You dodged a bullet."

My parents were still at lunch and I stood just outside the glass sliding doors of his ICU room trying to keep strong until the ICU nurse put her hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay. That was the straw, and I couldn’t keep the tears back.  I was in shock.  She handed me a Kleenex box and directed me to the waiting area. I stood in the hallway where I could get cell reception, my face planted into the wall sobbing and called my parents, who were speechless.

After George was stabilized in the ICU, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for five days. He was diagnosed with severe depression.  I have never experienced true “shock” in my life. My parents and a couple of dear friends, especially one who talked to me in the middle of the night, held me together. I thought I would melt into the floor with agony of knowing that my husband had been so severely depressed. When George was still in the coma and the doctors did not know what was happening, I was repeatedly asked if there was a possibility he had attempted suicide. I was emphatic that it was not something George would do and no way could that be what happened. I actually lost my cool when one doctor asked about it--after a few others had. I had told my closest friend that I would die of shock if he had attempted suicide. I did not die, but it was devastating. Being such an intuitive person, I did not even have a clue he was depressed, much less capable of attempting to and almost succeeding in taking his own life.

I still to this day have a difficult time that I missed it. I knew a lot of things and of course I knew how he was treating me was different the last couple years than the beginning of our marriage but I always gave it some excuse.  Even on this blog, I have described George as being even keel and that things roll off of his back like water. Not so. Over the last eight months, I have met someone new to me. There is the core of George that is the same, but he had stuffed his emotions for so long that who he portrayed himself to be was not him. He has an incredibly soft heart. He is quite affected by the world and without the tools to cope, his psyche finally broke.  Our psychiatrist told me that even the most intuitive people or ones who are trained, such as he is, cannot see this type of thing. With having family members with depression, having struggled with it myself, having friends who have had depression, and who have attempted suicide, I saw none of it in George. And I feel I should have. But my psychiatrist told me that until mind-reading is invented, I cannot hold myself accountable.

Though I am not the reason George attempted, I do carry a heavy burden on my heart of guilt because my chronic illnesses over the years took an emotional toll and contributed to his depression.  Though, as I discovered, sometimes we can do everything possible to help and encourage our partner and it is to no avail, people with chronic illness should realize that their suffering is their loved ones’ suffering and we all need support.  

As both George and I take many medications for our chronic conditions, I have them locked in safes--five. I think this is a good idea in general if you have children or other people visiting your house to keep your medications in a safe locked place (especially if you get 90 day supplies like we have had to). I dose out the medication in the house (even to the dogs), but this is mostly because of my PTSD/anxiety issues as George is not a suicide risk at this time.

I imagine some people may ask why I am sharing this publicly before talking with you privately about George’s attempt or maybe you wonder why I am talking about it publicly at all. My response is that you never know how you will respond to a situation until you are in it and frankly it is George’s story to share how he chooses without expectations of anyone. George is fragile in his recovery and I have been navigating PTSD and panic disorder from the experience. We are a couple in survival mode, clinging to each other and to God.  Speaking about this is not easy and we have needed to care for and selfishly put ourselves first.  This is about George (and I guess myself too) and however he wants to navigate it is fine by me. This is George's story and it has been up to him when, how and who he wanted to share this with. It is not my story or anyone's to have shared except George or with his permission. I write this post with George’s encouragement and blessing so that we can bring awareness that stuff like this happens to those who we least expect.  George showed no suicidal behaviors and only in hindsight do we see he had severe depression. Attempting and almost succeeded in taking his life brought those of us who love him in a state of shock and confusion.  Many people who seem even keel may be like George was, stuffing his feelings away because that was the only way he knew how to cope.  If you can identify with this, please check out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are an excellent resource.

When George attempted, I could not find anything online about how to cope when your loved one attempts suicide. It is a very complicated issue with complicated feelings. Among the few people that knew of George’s attempt, I had some people that thought I should suck it up and move forward. But, healing is a process for both George and myself. It is not something to be rushed and it is something that will take time. We have a long road ahead of us, but it is full of hope and full of joy that we choose each day. And we shrug off the expectations anyone places on us to do or to be anything other than ourselves and how we are in the moment.

As an aside:
George’s attempt was not a “cry for help”, it was an intention of a psychologically broken man to end his life because he did not have coping skills. Suicide or an attempt takes a huge toll on the people who love that person. I write this for those who have walked the path we have. It is a horrible path to walk. A big thing that I learned is that it is best NOT to avoid talking about the attempt or the situation around it. The person may initially feel guilt or shame and if you ignore it, they may feel worse about themselves or wonder what you think of them. What they need is love, support, acceptance and the knowledge that you are there to listen if they want/need to talk and understand if they don’t.  Saying “the past is in the past” or ignoring the attempt is not healthy for anyone. The important goal is to grow together through the pain and to a better place. George currently sees an excellent therapist weekly, sees a psychiatrist regularly and is on daily medication. 

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please take a look at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call them at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is a fabulous resource that I have used many times. 

(“Complete” not “Commit” suicide is the appropriate term by the way. “Commit” infers judgment and it is the family, not the individual, who have to carry that label once someone has taken their life.)

Don't know how to respond? Just let us know that you love and/or support us.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thankful Thursday or Not?

**I wrote this on Thursday, but I wanted to include photos and I used all my spoons to write the post. But then on Friday I had no spoons and Saturday I had no spoons and today when I look for the photos I want to share, I cannot find them. So, it is not Thursday. It is Sunday and I've debated whether or not to publish this post because I was really in a bad mood on Thursday. But, it is truthful and makes me smile at the end and so I can't help but share.**

Is it Thursday? I seriously do not know the days anymore. But my iPhone confirms it is Thursday, March 14th, 2013. Why thank you, Siri.

I am in no mood to be thankful. I have been bedbound for a few weeks with what feels like an alternating knife, drill and sometimes a hammer and nail attacking my head. I believe that if outsiders could see the pain in this way, they might just puke just as they might if they really saw a someone hammering a nail in the space between my eyes.

They'd be horrified, just as my husband is when he comes home to finding me curled in a ball, eyes closed, using sign language so I don't have to speak and hear my voice or noise period, holding up a finger (not that one) for George to stop moving. Yeah. I can't stand movement: his, mine, the dogs, or the neighbor's car. I can only imagine that it feels like an electrical current shooting through my body; but I've never experienced that...Thankfully.

But I hadn't eaten in eight hours and George has to get my weak body propped up to eat supper. I have to move (OH WAIT "ZOFRAN!") so that he can give me a shot of burning Toradol in my rump. He has an essential tremor and his hands are shakier since his September coma though the neurologist says it is not a big deal. Guess he isn't having George stick an inch and a half needle in his rump!  But I don't care as I keep envisioning the Toradol as this army of big goobers running through my system to kick out the utensils which are progressing into my skull, to squelch the pain and to hopefully bring my body to a place of tolerance.

Did you want to hear that? I'm guessing not so much. There are some Migraineurs who really take complaining/whining to a new level and I think it is appropriate at times, but I have always believed in finding the joy in the hard times. I find it easier to find the balance in truth. They say that humor and being positive and happy is supposed to help pain. And actually gratitude is supposed to have healing properties. But lately, my pain has turned me into a sullen, dark, angry creature who has holed herself away and I DO NOT want to write this post, but my there must be some essence of "Kelly" inside because she wants to say she is thankful.

Monday, March 11th would have been my Mister Knightley's 10th birthday. George and I sing a lot, not to music, but to our own drummer to be silly or to connect and to have fun. And even if I put happy intonations into something simple as "Twinkle Twinkle", Knightley would only ever react to the "Happy Birthday" song. He LOVED the birthday song. I wish I had his reaction on video. I may somewhere. We'd sing Happy Birthday to him randomly and on other people's birthdays because he would get happy and twirl and we all were uplifted.

I am so thankful for my boy. He was ever watchful. He was ever comforting. He loved to dump out trash cans and rip up tissue paper and then come to me and tell on himself with lowered ears. I'd have to keep from laughing as I'd known exactly what he had done. He would follow me to the end of the earth and was my constant shadow (except when dumping trash cans that is). Zoe and later Giselle would stay put not wanting to disturb their slumber. But there was a deep connection and no matter how much it hurt his poor hips (moderately severe hip dysplasia) to get up and down, I was his mommy and he wanted to be with me.

And he knew me by name: Mommy. He was a smart little bugger: George and I would have to keep changing our nick-names for him: ones we would use when we wanted to tell the other something, such as "look at his cute pose", about Mister K, Rufus, Puppy, Knightster, or Gromit (named after an intelligent dog in stop-animation features). He even knew Zoe's name and knew my husband by "George" or "Daddy". Knightley and I shared a favorite command "Kiss George." He would lick George like crazy. George was not fond of the command which is how Knightley learned I was "Mommy" as the command was turned onto me!    

As he got older, he got to be a stubborn old man, refusing to come in out of the snow and I used his vast vocabulary comprehension against him by yelling out the door "Are you hungry?!" It never failed. Though I had been calling his name and whistling relentlessly, he would ignore me, but once I asked him about food, he heard and would come tearing up the stairs and inside. I talk a lot to my dogs, but neither of the girls have the comprehension he did though Zoe knows more "tricks" and Giselle just learned to "kiss" on command.

Knightley loved to be groomed and nail trimmings were a piece of cake which helped when my scared rescue dogs came into our household. He would fall asleep every time and was a great model for them. I would lay them next to him and he showed them it was okay. Now nail trimmings with the girls are a piece of cake. Thanks Knightley!

The happiest I saw Knightley was at the beach. In May 2011, we took him and Zoe to a secluded beach house where we had to drive six miles on the beach to get there. It was the first week of May and it was as if we were on an island by ourselves with the occasional car driving by. Knightley loved to dig in the sand chasing the bubbles and shells. He would jump after a ball or shell into the surf. He would sit and watch the waves peacefully. Though watching the birds and wild horses were more of an active attraction rather than a watching attraction for him!  He got Zoe over her fear of the ocean and she started to have fun too. He really helped his rescued sisters.

So on what would have been his birthday on Monday, I was thankful. I decided not to be sad. I was happy that I got to be Knightley's mommy. I sang to a gold framed 8x10 photo of him hanging in our bedroom "Happy Birthday" choking back the tears that wanted to creep up. And then I noticed a commotion behind me, on the bed, Zoe and Giselle who had both been deep in sleep had not only roused but were on the bed dancing in circles. They were celebrating too or at least were happy that their mommy was.

We were to take Knightley back to the beach he loved in September 2012, but he died suddenly and unexpectedly in June in a way that was my worst nightmare. So, one morning, before the sun rose in September, George and I walked out to the beach and as soon as the sun started rising, we both scattered some of his ashes on the sand and in the waves.  And it will always be a happy place for me to go and remember him. My faithful boy, I am thankful for you and the impact you made on my life.

*PS* I actually feel a little better. Guess there is something to this gratitude thing!!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Laughing with Mein Schnecken

I have obviously not been posting. I've drafted some blogs, but because my philosophy in writing has been "write what you know"; the nature of what happening in my personal life is muzzling me and so I have been unable to write.  However I will return at some point, hopefully soon.

Among other things, I am suffering form severe depression and as anyone with depression knows, a dark veil covers one's whole world and not a speck of light is able to come in.

But wait, this is not about depression or anything else dreary so do not stop reading!

Tonight I was about to write a status update on Facebook (about celebrating the end of George's busiest part of his busy season at work: aka We Never See Each Other Season) and how I'm thrilled to be spending time with Mein Schnecken.

George is of German decent and each time he calls me on the phone or comes in the door for as long as I can remember, he calls up to me and says "Hello Liebschen!" Liebschen is German for sweetheart; it was one of the first things he said to me when he awoke from his coma in September. I am thankful to be called Liebschen many times a day; I don't think I hear him call me "Kelly" unless he is trying to wake me up.

So I of course I have a German name that I call him. I'm not sure how I chose it, but it the movie The Birdcage did have a part in it. This movie always makes me smile.
And for some reason I was under the impression that "Schnecken" meant honey bun or something similar.  But something inside of me said to check an German/English dictionary before posting about "Mein Schnecken" and I did and found out that "Schnecken" is literally the plural form of "snail!!" I laughed out loud so hard in a way I haven't in months. For years, I have been calling my darling husband "my snail" (or snails if you want to be literal)!

Later, George came home, I shared I what I had discovered and after a good laugh, we Googled "Schnecken." I was relieved that Wikipedia had THIS article at the top of the list saying that in fact Schnecken is a type of sweet bun that was served in the early 1900's by Jewish immigrants and the pastry is in the shape of a snail.

So I will continue to call George, "mein Schnecken," but we will always have a laugh about the snail part.

Man, it felt good to laugh like that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chronic Migraine Warrior Invaluable Lessons

I want to give a shout out and encouragement to my dear friend, Jamie, who authors the blog, Chronic Migraine Warrior, which tag line reads "This blog is a place that I can share my personal journey as a chronic Migraineur, help raise awareness of Migraine, and provide a safe and open space for discussion with others that are experiencing their own battles."

She has put/is putting together a fabulous series called "Lessons." You will find her to-date "Lessons" installments listed below with links to each post. In my opinion, anyone: chronically ill or average healthy person would benefit from her perspective and valuable perspective.

Pick a link below and check Jamie out. Her writing is a hidden gem that you shouldn't miss out on!

Lessons: Learning the Hard Way (Part 1)
Lessons: Learning the Hard Way (Part 2)
Lessons: From Suffering to Empowered
Lessons: Learning From Life With Chronic Pain
Lessons: Perfectionism (Part 1)
Lessons: Perfectionism (Part 2)
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 1)
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 2)
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 3)
Lessons: Grace & Forgiveness (Part 1)
Lessons: Grace & Forgiveness (Part 2)
Lessons: Grace & Forgiveness (Part 3)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear Joe,

On behalf of all the people including myself who wanted to and never got to say "Thank you", 

Thank you. 

For the last twenty two years (Since I was eleven!), I have heard your name float through the life of my family. I know you know that my dad has held you in very high regard as a man but also as a friend.

Thank you for being such a good friend and mentor to my dad and a person that he and many others look up to. Thank you for encouraging my dad to take better care of his health and getting him to Mayo Clinic years ago so that he can be around as long as possible. A daughter always wants her daddy to be taken care of and that you guided and helped him be taken care of for years to come...well, there isn't enough "thank you's" for that.

Though you are too young to be my dad's dad, you are close to being old enough to be my grandfather. And although your physical presence was not in my life, your care that a grandfather would have for his kin was present and felt. What an incredible gift to have given and for our family to have been blessed to receive.

Thank you for getting me to Mayo Clinic last year. Thank you for making sure I was getting the most excellent care. Thank you for going to bat for me and for so many others and for making things happen at Mayo Clinic in wonderful ways through your incredible generosity. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the special care and attention I was given on your behalf. What a special person you are. Thank you for putting me in the hands of people who made such a complicated experience easier. George and I both were so grateful and your name was on our lips each day of the two weeks we were there. I am sad I never told you so.

I am sorry that George and I were unable to visit you this summer at your invitation. I am sorry that a letter never got written because life happened. I would have told you that I am blessed to have been given such a gift and that I am touched by your incredible heart.

I am glad you were at Mayo, a place that you believed in so much and where you helped change and will continue to change many people's lives. There will be an empty place here on earth where your generosity of spirit and love existed. But I take comfort in knowing you are at peace and are not hurting anymore.

My heart aches for your family and those who cared so much for you...including my dad.

You were an incredible man with an enormous heart.

Thank you, Joe, for being you.

With a full and grieving heart,


(Video taken in the Hall of Benefactors on 3/15/12; 
Joe was a Principal Benefactor of Mayo Clinic.)
Please consider making a donation to the Mayo Clinic
 in honor and memory of this incredible man by clicking here.