Guest writer Dan Berg shares his journey to recovery and losing and finding hope in the NEPA mental health system
A few people know this, but I suffered what can only be described as a breakdown this Spring.
From early February to early April I suffered all the clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety, ultimately diagnosed as suffering from “adjustment disorder”.
I was unable to sleep (constantly worrying about problems real and imagined), to leave home, to concentrate (in fact, I lost two good consulting opportunities because I was shaking with fear), to talk with friends and family, to find joy in any activities, or to have any hope that the future could be better.
I am lucky that my wife didn’t leave me (she thought about it I am sure) because she suffered immensely due to my insanity – I’d probably not be here if she didn’t make sure I had food and water and eventually helped me to find care.
It does not matter why I suffered this breakdown. But I do feel a need to write about it for two reasons:
First, I want to give others who are suffering some sympathy and hope. I am probably considered a fortunate person with no reason to collapse. Nonetheless, it happens (and pandemic fatigue is only one of the causes behind my crisis).But, the good news is that with therapy and medicine, you can recover.
Despite my support network assuring me that I would get back to normal, I had given up hope. In early April, I would have told you that each day was as bleak as the previous one if not worse. By the end of April, I am feeling optimistic and confident again (or at least I am back to my old sarcastic and cynical self).
So, please, if you are suffering, keep trying, talk and listen to your friends and family, and accept that your current view of the world may not be an honest one.
(As one friend told me, “you have to assume that you are looking at the world through some grey glasses.” She has been proven right.)
Second, and more importantly, I want to urge leaders to devote more attention and
budget to mental health assistance programs, especially in rural America (and, in my case, especially in North East Pennsylvania). My wife and I spent hours and days and weeks searching for help and unfortunately, there are limited choices.
The answers we received:
“Public programs are available only for those on Medicare.”
“We don’t accept your private insurance.”
“We will put you on our waiting list, hopefully we can see you in June.”
“If you are not suicidal or homicidal, we can’t do much for you.”
Literally after a few weeks of visits to psychological units in hospitals and calling an ambulance during a panic attack, we nearly gave up. So many very kind and passionate people working in the field apologized for not being able to help – I can only thank the crisis-line workers who were willing to spend 20-30 minutes talking to me and giving me a break from my hysterical moments.
Finally, my primary care physician prescribed a stronger sleep aid.
Sleep is THE BEST MEDICINE and lack of sleep WILL MAKE YOU SICKER.
So, do not wait too long before addressing insomnia. And, then, I finally got an appointment in the Wayne Memorial Mental Health Center and a meeting with their medicine manager, who added anti-anxiety medication to my low-level anti-depression medicine. The combination seems to have done the trick. I also continued (video) therapy sessions, which I had arranged through BetterHelp.com (I recommend this as a relatively inexpensive source of therapy).
But, and here is the main concern, if I had had to wait another week or two for help, I might not be here on Earth to write this opinion piece. At best, I’d be institutionalized because I was out of control.
We have to do better.
Northeastern Pennsylvanians pride themselves on their low taxes and small government policies. Pike County, where I live, does not even have its own hospital, meaning normal medical emergencies require a long drive. Pike has very limited mental health options. While small budgets may sound logical to the average voter/taxpayer, but the costs (both financial, emotional and human) far outweigh any short-term budgetary benefits.
I never would have thought to write on this issue before my own crisis, but I am writing a call to action for our local, state and federal policy makers and legislators to devote more attention and more funding to mental health care. The current infrastructure is insufficient to serve those in need, outside a pandemic scenario. More mental health support services may save a life and likely save a lot of unnecessary pain.
In conclusion, again, a super big thank you to those who supported me these past few months – you know who you are. It was not easy, but your continued availability (just to listen and repeat the same advice over and over) helped immensely; you performed a Mitzvah. And, to anyone who is not sure if there are answers, keep fighting and keep trying to keep your head up.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see it yet.