For years, my friends have referred to me as “Crazy Kacie”. This is more because of my jovial, out-spoken personality than my mental state. I laughed about the irony of this as I was being admitted to inpatient-secured psychiatric facility for what my doctor called “some much needed respite.”
A little over a year ago, my life started to unravel. I didn’t know how bad things would get and in the moment I did not realize how bad they were. A combination of factors caused me to slip into a severe depressive episode the likes of which I have never experienced before. I was also fighting severe anxiety that hampered my ability to interact with my children. Eating dinner with my family was a sure way to bring on an anxiety attack.
How do you explain to your children that you are so mentally unwell that you cannot be around them?
My younger daughter, Caroline, who has severe nonverbal autism, did not deal with my illness well. It seemed our disorders were feeding off of each other. She was going through a particularly rough patch. Her behaviors were escalating and she was becoming very aggressive toward me. This of course, would feed my depression and anxiety and make it more difficult for me to spend time with her. Caroline has always been a momma’s girl, so my inability to spend time with her just caused further escalation of her already escalated behaviors. We were dealing with elopement, unsafe climbing, biting, pinching, head banging and a myriad of other challenging and frustrating behaviors.
As my depressive state deepened, I become unable to work. My inability to work made me feel like a failure and exacerbated my depression and anxiety. Ultimately, my symptoms got so severe that my doctor thought the only way to tell if my medications were working was to remove me from my stressful home-life. She kindly suggested some much needed respite. It was a few minutes later in the conversation that she mentioned that the best way to provide that respite would be in a secure psychiatric facility. Ultimately, I agreed because I could no longer look my older daughter, Vivian, in the eyes. I was filled with such guilt and having a difficult time explaining to her what was wrong with Mommy.
Well, it turns out, I am not one for respite. On the first day of my admission, I read two books and colored several pictures. I also met with the psychiatrist who was concerned about treating a pregnant woman under significant stress. He was also very taken aback by my level of candor and understanding of my psychological state. When I referenced the University of Wisconsin-Madison study – that found that moms who have a child with autism often times suffer from levels of post-traumatic stress at levels similar to soldiers who have been extended combat – he asked what was the goal of my visit to this facility. I replied, “I want to start living my life, again.”
On my second day, Alice entered my life. Alice was elderly woman who was in a delusional state brought on by medications. We became fast friends. We sat and watched television together, I would reassure when she was having a delusion and I made sure that she didn’t try to walk because she would forget that she was still recovering from hip surgery. Essentially, I became a caregiver of sorts for Alice.
It was also on my second day that we had a fire drill. Now, since I was depressed and anxious and not delusional this fire drill made me realize it was time to blow this pop stand. Let me explain what happens when there is a fire drill in a secure facility. First no one actually leaves the building. Second, there are loud alarms and bright lights flashing as all the anxious, depressed and otherwise mentally ill people are gathered into one room – the nexus of the blaring alarms – where we are told to wait until the all clear is received. While we are waiting the doors to all the patient doors are closed and towels are placed outside of them. After about 10 minutes the all clear comes and we are told to return to our activities.
Alice was visibly distraught. I explained that everything would be okay and we could continue watching “Law and Order.”
Later that day, I met with my psychiatrist and told him I didn’t think this was the right place for me. He agreed but asked that I stay one more day as he wanted to see how the new meds were working. Plus it would take him several hours to complete all of the discharge paperwork.
During my inpatient “respite” I learned a lot. Mostly, I realized that my life is very stressful and if I allow the stress to rule my life it will. I also learned that I am not a person who can stand idly by. I found responsibility in the one place there is no responsibility to be found. Now that there has been some distance since I was admitted, I realize my need to find responsibility speaks to who I am as a person. I am someone who needs to help others; it is in my DNA. I am a natural caregiver.
My instincts to help Alice were brought on being Caroline’s mom. Being Caroline’s mom is easy but managing the stress that comes with this position is challenging. To manage the stress, I have had to give myself permission to not engage every single time, I see an injustice in Caroline’s world. I pick and choose my battles. Somehow my “respite” helped me to see that being Caroline’s mom is an awesome responsibility but I am rising to the challenge as evidenced by all that Caroline has accomplished. In some ways, it was hard for me to see the wonder that was Caroline and my role in making that happen when the best I could hope for was making it through the day. Now, I have the perspective and wherewithal to recognize life is about so much more than making it through the day. By making the conscious efforts to find joy in every day, recognizing my limitations and acknowledging my accomplishment, I am now able to realize that I have the skills, mental fortitude and strength to be Caroline’s mom