Mental illness isn't something I ever thought I would face in my lifetime. Not me . . . I've got it all together!
I grew up always being known in my family as the "worrier." I would worry about everything. I just thought that everyone worried. As I grew up, I began to realize that what I viewed as worry was really anxiety and catastrophizing. There were worrisome thoughts that would enter my head about everything—travel, health, finances, school, family and relationships. It was exhausting.
Fast forward to fall of 2009.
My husband Kevin and I were at a point in our lives where we were pretty sure we were done having kids. One boy, one girl, both healthy . . . perfect. We weren't totally ready to commit to never having another child, so I began to weigh my family planning options. My doctor strongly encouraged me to consider having an IUD put in. I was told it was painless and lasts for up to five years. Sounded perfect.
So I thought.
Just 8 days after having the IUD implanted, I began having some crazy symptoms. At the time I didn’t put together my symptoms with the fact together that the IUD was new to my system. I had headaches, and tingling in my limbs. I dismissed it as stress.
On day 10 my husband, Kevin, got on a plane to Texas for work. I kissed him goodbye, not realizing that the next day would change my life forever.
Day 11 arrived like any other busy day in the Miller household. With Kevin out of town, it was a little more chaotic than usual, but nothing I hadn’t done before. I got the kids ready for their day and headed off to daycare. I woke up feeling a bit on edge, but sometimes that happens . . . right ladies?
As the day progressed, I was feeling less and less like myself. I finished my work day and walked into daycare in a cloud. I felt almost out of body. We walked in the door at home and I went into mommy mode. Got the kids settled in with a snack and start dinner. And then it happened. My son, Max, started to cry about something—nothing serious, typical two-year old stuff. The crying echoed in my head.
I couldn’t cope. I had a full-blown panic attack.
I couldn’t breathe. I felt the walls closing in on me. I couldn’t calm Max or myself down.
I immediately called Kevin (in Texas) begging him to come home. That wasn’t gonna happen. Flights were done for the day.
I somehow managed to get the kids fed, bathed and in bed without them knowing the hell I was going through. From about 9:00 pm until 5:00 am the next day I was in a constant state of panic. Even in my stints of sleep, I would wake up sweating and in a panic. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. And I was terrified.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I reached out to my dear friend to come save me. She high-tailed it over to my house at the crack of dawn to be there when the kids woke up and got them off to daycare. I drove myself to the emergency room and walked in sobbing. The guy at the check-in desk looked at me like I was crazy (little did I know!).
While the nurse was checking me in, she went through her list of questions. Up until this point, on paper, I was a “healthy’ person. But there was one question that turned the light bulb on.
She asked me, “Is there anything different that you’ve taken or done to your body recently?”
“YES! I had an IUD put in 11 days ago.”
She dismissed it immediately and said that would not be causing all of the weird symptoms I was having. She gave me a Xanax pill and sent me on my incoherent way. Yes . . . they let me drive myself home after taking a Xanax! I got home feeling better (anyone would on Xanax), and just wanting to sleep.
When the Xanax wore off, I woke up from my slumber with the same horrible feeling. “What is wrong with me?” I pulled out the laptop and typed in IUD and panic attacks. Hundreds of websites and postings from women all over the world flashed back at me. I read just a few and wept. I immediately called my doctor and demanded she take it out.
She, too, said she had never heard of such symptoms. I didn’t care. . . . I knew the IUD tripped a trigger in my brain chemistry. I went home to find Kevin back and felt some relief from the hell of the last 24 hours.
In doing some research about IUDs (wish I would have done that before having it put in!), I found that symptoms would take some time to subside after having it removed. Okay . . . I can handle that. I’ll be back to myself in a week or so. Wrong again.
I went back to work and began to attempt to get back to what I thought was normal. I couldn’t do it. I got to the point where I was terrified to do anything. I would lie on the floor in my office just to catch my breath. I thought I was going crazy and would have to be ‘institutionalized’ for the rest of my life. I couldn’t live that way, and I didn’t want my kids or husband seeing me in that state. That’s when darker thoughts crept in.
I was able to recognize that I needed help at that point. Kevin took me to one of Milwaukee’s psychiatric hospitals to seek guidance and healing.
I spent the next 8 days in an intensive outpatient program and was in a group setting with others dealing with all that life hands you and the complex layers that mental illness can bring on. I spent the first couple of days wondering how I got to this point in a psych ward with “crazy” people. By day 3, I realized that I was more alike than different from those in group therapy with me. I realized they were most likely looking at me as the “crazy” one.
There was one woman in group with me who I think of and pray for often. She was in therapy for her struggles with bipolar depression. Her depression led her on a difficult path. She came in looking “normal” and not the “type” you would see in a psychiatric hospital. On her first day with us, she told her story. She took two buses to get there each day and went home each night to her four children in their one room at a homeless shelter. I was able to go home to my loving, caring family and warm house each night. My family and closest friends were all there to catch me. I had the support needed to recover. Wow—am I blessed!
When I left on day 8, I left knowing it was going to be an uphill battle. My therapist said it would take up to a year to start feeling “normal” again. WHAT!?! I don’t have a year to give. I had no choice. The psychiatrist that was assigned to me while in treatment was amazing. His background was in anxiety and compulsive disorders. When meeting with him on the first day, we walked through his list of questions. When I mentioned the IUD to him, he said this wasn’t the first time he had a patient come in with these same symptoms.
He also said that people who are prone to anxiety/worry in their everyday life, or have anxiety disorders somewhere in their family, may be more likely to be tipped into panic attacks because of the IUD. What I learned about anxiety is that it is most common in women and even more common in people who feel the need to control everything. BINGO! That was me! I grew up my entire life feeling the need to control everything that was coming my way. The anxiety was something I felt I couldn’t control, which just amplified the symptoms.
I spent the next year working with a therapist a couple times per month to get a handle on my anxiety. I was able to let go and, for the first time, live my life in the present moment. There are still moments that bring up those old feelings, but I am better able to cope because of the skills I learned while in treatment. Since that time, I have found an amazing church family of support and find my relationship with God to be my ultimate strength.
I’ve heard people say that the Holy Spirit whispers to you throughout your life, hoping you pick up on the cues. I, apparently, wasn’t hearing the Holy Spirit, so it decided to hit me over the head by taking me through this journey. For the longest time, I was blaming the IUD as the reason for all of this. I am aware now that I was ready to burst, and this just happened to be the needle.
My own journey through mental illness has opened my eyes. So many people have varying degrees of mental illness, yet they lack the support and resources needed to get proper and lasting treatment.
To help others who face mental illness in their own lives or in the lives of those they love, I volunteer now for Rogers Memorial Hospital Foundation. I hope you’ll consider supporting a charity that makes a difference in the area of mental illness as well.