“It’s all in your head!”
“It’s not the end of the world!”
“Just stop thinking like that!”
“You’re not dying!”
These ideas sound painfully familiar to anyone who has suffered from mental illness; most of us have heard them from friends and loved ones, who, while meaning well, have not had this experience for themselves.
Mental illness can, however, take a physical toll on its victims, with symptoms similar to those present when the body is fighting an infection.
Morgan, creator of Mala Asana, tells her story of the moment mental illness took her to the hospital, desperately seeking answers. In this three-part Blog Feature, we will explore the surprising, yet often debilitating physical ramifications that can take place as a result of mental illness, as well as the triggers and warning signs leading up to this state. Here is Morgan to tell us more:
“My father’s passing was a series of moments. Weeks of moments. All leading up to the end… the last moment.
I often felt I had an intuitive connection with my dad. After 30 years of experiencing his alcohol abuse, I had developed some sort of special sense for when something felt ‘off’.
Last December, I was feeling that ‘off’ sense. I texted my dad and received no response. I waited a day, then called numerous times until I finally reached him. He had been lying in his RV — having difficulty breathing, unable to walk — for several days.
Against his wishes, I immediately called him an ambulance. It turned out he had suffered a heart attack, which was followed by another when he arrived at the hospital, at which point he was airlifted to an intensive care unit at another hospital.
This entire time, my sister and I were communicating with doctors, nurses and family members about his progress (or lack thereof), along with whatever was on the table for that day. I spoke to my dad at least once a day over the phone as we were thousands of miles apart.
Due to his alcoholism, my dad didn’t qualify as a candidate for a heart transplant. At that time, only 10% of his heart was functioning properly. I will never forget the last conversation I had with him, where he told me “everything is dead,” and that it was all his fault… and that he loved me. Looking back, I think he knew then that it was his time to go.
That night, I received a phone call that I will never forget. This was the moment I felt the deepest, darkest sadness I had ever felt in my life. The phone rang at 4:30am, and the doctor on the other end explained that my father had gone into severe alcohol withdrawal, known as Delirium Tremens (DTs). He had become aggressive, delirious and had yet another heart attack. The only option in keeping his body alive was to put him into an induced coma immediately.
My sister and I flew in to see him that day, regretting not going sooner. When we arrived, we found him in the coma, with machines pumping his heart and lungs, and he remained in that state for the next 8 days. We never got to see him awake or conscious.
We lived in the ICU, and sat with him all day talking and listening to his favorite music. We held his swollen hands, rubbed his feet to help with circulation, and snuggled our heads on his chest. I can still feel his soft skin on my cheek. We continued to have hope and met with every type of doctor, but eventually things took a turn for the worse.
One by one, my fathers’s organs started failing; his skin turned yellow from jaundice, and then black from infection. We had an incredibly difficult decision to make. The chances of his survival were extremely slim — and even if a miracle occurred, we had to keep his quality of life in mind.
We knew our father, and that was no way he would have wanted to live. He didn’t leave end of life instructions, so we were forced to follow our intuitions. We decided to lower the paralysis and pain medication. And that was the final moment; he passed away while my sister and I were both in the air, flying home to our families.
After his passing, there was a lot to organize. I felt like I was on autopilot for 2 months, cruising through the holidays; numb, but smiling; trying to figure out what the hell just happened. Then, after all the planning was finished and the holidays had passed, something hit me — hard.
I started developing severe, yet random physical symptoms, such as a daily low grade fever, blurred vision, increased heart rate, agoraphobia, weight loss, paranoia, manic energy, and random aches and pains. I worried constantly that something was wrong and felt unsafe.
I was so consumed with anxiety and fear that I would have to speak out loud to myself throughout the day to try to keep calm. I would literally narrate my every move. I am folding laundry, I am driving, I am cooking. They were like my zombie mantras I was repeating in my mind to try to stay in the present moment.
My husband knew he had to take over. He started taking on my daily responsibilities and organizing rides to and from school for our children, as well as going to work late, leaving early, or staying home all together. We asked family members to come over during the day because I was so afraid. I couldn’t focus on anything; it felt like my body totally shut down.
I wasn’t a mom, wife, friend, sister or daughter… I was simultaneously overwhelmed, yet empty. I needed help from any place I could get it, and I am so grateful to the friends and family that helped me and my family during that time.
I couldn’t let myself be consumed by these symptoms any longer. I decided to listen to what my body was telling me. Something was really wrong, and I was determined to figure it out.
We hope you’ll continue to follow Morgan’s story in this three part feature that tells her story of triumph through mental illness. You can support Morgan’s small shop by clicking here to purchase her handmade jewelry.