I was born into a military family. Father, mother, two sisters. A family closer than most…unusually so. I had what you would call an ideal childhood. No traumatic events occurred, at least none that I was old enough to remember. I grew up very sheltered from the outside world and unfortunately wasn’t aware of it until I was navigating life on my own.My parents were not so lucky in the family department with a history of abuse on both sides. Fortunately, rather than continuing the cycle, my parents chose to erase the negativity and only teach us love and compassion and respect. I never once in my life believed my parents didn’t love me. I was never aware of any hardship, emotional or financial. I was basically raised with the motto, “Respect everyone unless they give you a reason not to.” By sheltering us, when my father retired from the Marine Corps, culture shock hit my sisters and I like a ton of bricks.
When you go through life being color-blind, unaware that differences in race, religion, sexuality etc were ever even thought of, immediately being tossed into a town full of those prejudices is overwhelming. I saw every person as just that…a person. So upon moving to my father’s hometown of Hagerstown, MD, I was smacked in the face with the realization that prejudice existed. This made making friends come easy to me. I accepted anyone who would take me and in doing so, opened myself up to a lot of hurt because most people aren’t so open.
As I grew older, I became more outspoken. I was raised to follow rules so it really was quite surprising to witness people who didn’t have that same outlook. My entire life is lived truthfully and literally. It is very difficult for me to tell anything less than the truth. That sounds nice, right? In theory, it is. However, I soon found that not so many people are okay with hearing exactly how you felt about them.
Because of he history of abuse on my mother’s side and because she was expected to do chores no child should have to do, my mother overcompensated by basically not making us do anything. Unfortunately, her past also meant that talking to her about emotions, other than saying “I love you” on a regular basis, was just not something that happened. Her strength in overcoming past traumas made it hard for her to believe that mental illness existed. While I knew my mother loved me unconditionally, I never felt like I could go to her to talk about bullying or sex. High expectations were placed on my sisters and I when it came to grades, behavior, and how we treated other people. And for that I am grateful. But the lack of openness in our relationship resulted in my getting pregnant at the age of 17, much like her.
I don’t regret getting pregnant so early. In fact, I had planned it. The love my mother showed me made it so that all I ever wanted was to be her. When I found out I was pregnant, I quickly graduated from high school early, obtained a good full-time job, and by the age of 19, had purchased a home.
My mother validated me, especially after becoming a parent. I would speak to her daily for advice on how to parent. Visiting occurred several times a week. She took care of my oldest child for much of her young life, resulting in an incredibly strong bond. I needed my mother’s reassurance that everything I did was correct.
Unfortunately, when your life is so dependent on someone else, losing said person becomes more difficult than most. At the age of 57, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I knew immediately what this meant and although I maintained an outwardly positive persona, inside I was dying. Until the age of 27, I had gone my entire life without having taken any drugs, smoking a cigarette, and only drinking on rare occasion.
My mother’s diagnosis came 4 years after my being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. At this point, my mental illness was it’s most stable. However, I knew that in a very short period of time, she would be gone. It was impossible for me to reconcile that. No amount of preparation could ease the pain I felt when shortly after turning 59, she passed away peacefully at home surrounded by an incredible amount of loved ones who had been impacted by her.
My entire goal immediately upon her diagnosis was to ensure that I would have no regrets and that my children would have every reminder I could possibly muster of the amazing woman and grandmother that she was. I strived to tell her every day how much I loved her, so much so that on one occasion after telling her she was my best friend, she responded with “Cassie, I don’t want to do this right now.” My only reply to that was laughter. I had gone my entire life telling her every day how I felt about her. There really wasn’t much more that I could say, but I felt it was necessary to convey every emotion that I was feeling so that when she inevitably passed, I would feel no regret about the things I didn’t say.
In all of my determination to do this, I also began to experiment with ways to numb myself to the immense pain I was feeling over her impending death. Eventually I settled into a habit of abusing my anxiety medication as well as cold medicine. In my head, it wasn’t the same as your every day drug addict, because these were things I was getting legally. Logically, I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but functioning as a parent and…well a person became near impossible. My every thought turned to what I would do after she was gone in every situation that arose, so much so that I became obsessed with thinking about it.
Throughout her illness, despite the amount of pain and anxiety medication she was taking, if someone was visiting, she made it her mission to be host. She wouldn’t sleep. So when she fell asleep the day before she passed and didn’t wake up, I knew what was happening. In the three days before she died, I had taken 27 of my klonopin and because she had begun taking liquid morphine as a result of her body failing to function, I took 4 of her morphine pills.
It was never my intention to die. I wanted to feel numb to what was occurring in front of me. Eventually I started to fall asleep and due to my audible snoring, I drew the attention the mass of family members that were in attendance. At first I was passed off as simply being exhausted. My family joked and made fun of me for all the noise I was making and my inability to stay conscious. Eventually my sister noticed that I would frequently stop breathing during my slumber. She announced to my family that something was wrong and while I slept, she got into my purse, looked at the fill date of my anxiety medication and counted how many pills I had taken in that short period of time. Immediately, it became evident that I had overdosed and was in serious danger.
At this point, I have no recollection of the events that occurred. Based on accounts given to me by family members, my husband was called to bring me to the emergency room. While we waited, the only thing I remember is my father poking me in the face and quite clearly saying to me, “I’m already losing her, why would you do this to me?” After months of avoiding the topic, I asked if I said goodbye to her before going to the hospital. Luckily, I was informed that I had.
My husband arrived after having taken our children to his parents’ home and immediately took me to the emergency room. He took videos of me going through the pain and sickness of the overdose reversal medication. He thought it would show me what I had been doing to myself. I was soon admitted to the hospital to physically get better from the damage I had done to myself. My husband had left to get some sleep so I was left alone to rest.
Several hours after admission, my husband appeared in the doorway of my room looking dumbstruck and distraught. His only words to me were “I have something to tell you.” I responded, “she’s gone, isn’t she?” And he nodded. I turned over in my bed and quietly asked him to go be with my family. I didn’t cry, in fact, I allowed myself to completely erase it from my mind. After 2 days of physical recovery, I was moved to the psychiatric ward for monitoring of my mental health. Everyone believed that the overdose had been intentional, despite my protests stating the opposite.
Eventually my thoughts turned to the fact that after all I had done to avoid regrets, I had done the worst thing possible by not being present when she ultimately passed away. Not only was my mother my best friend, I was hers. I had let her down. This became my main focus. I couldn’t convince myself that had I been there when she took her last breath, my overdose would have been intentional.
In a sense, I felt relief that my last memory of her was her being alive and coherent. I had been promised that her viewing would be closed casket so I felt like I had dodged the proverbial bullet.
I did everything I could to ensure that I was released before her viewing and funeral, only being allowed to go home hours before her viewing took place. Upon my arrival at the funeral home, with all of my children in tow, I was stopped in the lobby by my father and informed that he had chosen to instead have her casket open. I was given, at the most, 30 seconds to prepare myself and my children to view our beloved matriarch dead. If I’m being entirely honest, this was probably the most traumatizing event that occurred out of the whole ordeal. While my mother was made to look beautiful, her lifeless body was just not her anymore. My oldest daughter, with her special bond, was devastated by what she was witnessing. Her father had accompanied us and I was grateful that he was able to stay with her exclusively, as I was responsible for wrangling my other 3 children who didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation. At her viewing and funeral, people appeared that hadn’t seen my mother in years, including an old neighbor who had seen her obituary in the newspaper and had been so affected by my mother, he felt it necessary to pay his respects. I slowly began to realize that while my entire life she had just been “Mom” to me, every person she had ever met had been impacted in some way upon meeting her.
After all was said and done, I was left to start my new life full of emptiness and feeling lost. No matter how much you feel like you are prepared, there is no way to know how much things change when a vital part of your existence is no longer there. While I was under the false impression that my mother’s absence would simply be a void and our lives would continue with an empty spot where she had been, I was shocked to realize that without her, our family began to fall apart at the seems. Gone were the days of Sunday dinners, holiday traditions, random visits with each other, and probably worst of all the amount of communication between us. She had unknowingly been the facilitator of all that occurred within our immediate family.
In the following months, it became quite clear that any and all attempts to recreate the loving traditions we so enjoyed were futile. Every month that passed brought another month further from the last time I had held her hand. I became obsessed with keeping her memory alive. I felt that if I wasn’t devastated and grieving, I was doing a disservice to her memory. I felt like I would eventually forget her face, her voice, her stinky coffee breath. And perhaps more devastating to me was knowing at the young ages my children were, as they grew, they would very likely forget all of the effort my mother put into being their grandmother. While I had promised my family that I had quit abusing the medications that led to my overdose, I was lying. I couldn’t handle life without her.
A few months after her death, I became pregnant with my fifth child. While the timing seemed inopportune, I soon realized that it was a blessing in disguise. I had been entirely okay with destroying my body, but with a child developing inside of me, I could not possibly continue on my path to self destruction. For the entirety of my pregnancy, I was completely sober. I had even stopped taking the necessary medications for the maintenance of the slew of mental illnesses I possessed. Surprisingly, while dealing with pregnancy hormones, grief, and withdrawal of my necessary medication, I was okay. While I had had my other children, this was a new reason for living. A small child that needed me to raise and love her the way my mother had to me. However, immediately upon giving birth, I began to again abuse any medication I could to lessen the feelings of grief I couldn’t control while sober. Having a child my mother would never meet deepened that grief exponentially. I became a hermit. I would not leave my home unless absolutely necessary. I had no desire to experience any form of life without her. I shut down entirely and shut out any form of support offered to me. This depression continued for over a year before I woke up one day and while taking cold medicine, had induced a manic episode. I immediately felt enlightened by the things I had learned from the events of the past year. I began an attempt to rid myself of the negativity that plagued my life. And while this would normally seem like a positive thing to do, my self-awareness of my mental illness reminded me that the happiness I was experiencing would eventually result in an even deeper come-down and depression.
It’s an odd feeling calling a doctor and explaining that you need to be seen because you are feeling too happy. However that is precisely what I did, and rightfully so. The only time my primary care doctor had ever debated admitting me to the hospital was while I felt on top of the world:
Since then, my life has been a figurative rollercoaster of mood shifts, where in the past, I had mainly stayed depressed. I have since been admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital two more times. Once due to another overdose and once as a preventative measure.
I’m in a place now where those mood shifts are still occurring but I am handling them as they come and attempting everything I can to maintain my stability. This blog is not only meant to be informative and a respite for people experiencing the same things that I have, but it is also an immense catharsis for me to be able to express all of the varied and intense feelings that go through my mind consistently. My insomnia is in full-force presently so I hope to make the best of it and provide quality content that people will hopefully enjoy and appreciate. I hope that this entry wasn’t too long for you visitors to read. If I am anything, I am wordy and feel the need to be as elaborate as possible. Future posts will consist of not only my experiences and attempts to stay stable, but also my opinions on current events and parenting and basically just to share my life in the hopes that I can make even a fraction of an impact on someone’s life as my mother has done.
Please, follow along as I assure you will not be disappointed.