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Turning points: Women confront mental health issues head-on

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mental health is an often discounted subject, almost as if it’s taboo.

For many, the new year brought resolutions to improve finances and physical health. But perhaps an overlooked focus area is mental stability and controlled emotions.

Even those who are silently screaming for help may not know how to seek it.

Barb Clingan of Roanoke and Jan Scott of Decatur know the feeling.

Both women knew they needed help but didn’t know where to get it, or were too afraid to take that step.

It took a plunge to rock bottom before they received that help. Fortunately, they didn’t have to go far. They received treatment from clinical therapist Jennifer Jarosz and the staff at the behavioral unit at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

The hospital offers a comprehensive behavioral health program – which includes intensive outpatient and inpatient therapy and follow-up visits with the medical director – that can help individuals no matter the severity of their condition.

“It’s an emotional thing, a chemical imbalance you don’t have any control over,” Scott said. “It’s like diabetes – you have to take your medicine and maintain your blood-sugar level to be healthy without it poisoning your body. I think that’s what happens in mental illness. It poisons your body, but you can’t tell. You know something’s wrong, but you don’t know what’s wrong. When I was hallucinating, I didn’t know I was hallucinating because it seemed so real.

“I knew I needed help, but I didn’t have any idea where to go to get it,” she continued. “It’s an illness, but a lot of times, you put yourself there because you give up. You become frustrated, and you give up. You forget that your life is supposed to have some kind of meaning.”

That certainly was the case for Clingan.

FRESH START – Barb Clingan (left) of Roanoke and Jan Scott (right) of Decatur have begun their climb up with the help of clinical therapist Jennifer Jarosz and the rest of the staff at the Behavioral Health Unit of Wise Regional Health System. The program offers intensive outpatient and inpatient services. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

BARB’S BREAKING POINT

When Clingan lost Harry, her husband of 26 years, to brain and lung cancer two years ago, she succumbed to hopelessness and loneliness.

“I didn’t think I could be without him,” she said. “Life wasn’t really worth anything. I mean, I had family that I was leaving behind, and I had left a note for whoever found me asking them to please take care of my animals because my animals mean a lot to me.

“But I didn’t want to be here without him,” she continued. “We got along so fine. I mean, we had our differences – no people can live together without having disagreements. But we felt like we were one. We just had a perfect companionship, and I lost this, and I just didn’t want to go on anymore.”

She attempted to take her own life through an overdose. A neighbor found her after she noticed Clingan’s car in the driveway when she should’ve been making rounds for her part-time pet-sitting business.

Barb was transported to Wise Regional, where she spent 12 days in the behavioral health unit before being discharged on the commitment to receive intensive outpatient therapy.

“Which I was ready for,” she said. “What I did was stupid, and I needed to get myself back on track. I was worried about ending up in the hospital again for some reason. I knew I needed something to keep me on track. Being around people with similar problems would keep me on the right track. I just didn’t think I could go on without my husband; I didn’t want to … but group (therapy) helps you realize that life goes on. You may just have to take a while. But you learn.”

The learning curve is steep, Clingan added.

“You learn so much,” she said. “To think more positive; don’t give up so easy. And I think I have more patience. Seeing Jennifer and the other counselors and how patient they were with everybody. They never lost their cool, and they always had an answer for something. They’re fantastic people.

“You learn to think about the future,” she continued. “When I went to group, I was feeling better about myself, but I wasn’t too keen on having a future. I just wasn’t thinking about it. I was just going day-to-day, and if I was here, fine. I mean, I wasn’t going to try anything, I just didn’t have an interest in too much of life.

“But the help I got from group and family and my animals just gave me something to live for – to see my grandson go to college – things to look forward to.”

POINT THAT JARRED JAN

Scott experienced a similar transformation under the guidance of clinical therapists and fellow group members.

The 55-year-old paralegal’s successful life “was turned upside down” following a car accident in 1996 that put her through five years of brain injury rehab. Lamentably, that rehab never addressed her mental ailments.

“When I was in the brain injury rehab, they concentrated on the physical – this is a table; this is a spoon,” Scott recalled. “They were so concerned with getting you to walk again, talk again, reteach you how to go to the grocery store. Everything was physical, so we concentrated on that, five days a week.

“Here, they deal with the mental, emotional part that’s overlooked in brain injury rehab – your feelings and what you’re experiencing – and they teach you how to deal with it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s depression, psychosis, bi-polar, a death in the family, whaetever it is. They’re good.”

Neglecting her mental stability put Scott’s life into a downward spiral as she struggled with hallucinations, depression and fluctuating emotions.

“I went out naked in Houston one day,” she said. “Don’t do that, because it’ll came back to you with a policeman attached to it. Another time, I thought somebody was trying to steal my tuna out of the cupboard at home. My kids still laugh about that – ‘Mom, no one’s trying to steal your tuna today.’

Her memory was also affected.

“I’d go places, and I’d forget how to get there,” she said. “One day I was going to go home from work, and I ended up in the Port, which is totally opposite from where I live, 60 to 70 miles. … I took my son in to see a doctor because he was sick. The doctor that was there said, ‘I’m not worried about your son. I’m worried about you.’ Because I couldn’t tell him anything – how old he was or anything like that.”

But the tipping point – and her last hallucination – came in 2011 following the loss of a job and increasing financial difficulties.

“I tried to take the cheater’s way out,” she said. “I put all of my meds in a blender and mixed them all up.”

As she was about to “check out,” her sister, who was sick, called. A frustrated, unstable Scott called several doctors’ offices to no avail before deciding to drive up to Urgent Care in Decatur in search of help for her sister.

“I waited in the waiting room for a little while then got in my car and left and went back and tried to drive through Dr. Holland’s office,” she said. “I was hallucinating. I thought there was a guy sitting in there, motioning for me to drive through. It seemed real at the time.”

Her vehicle got caught up on a parking bumper and fortunately didn’t go through the building. But the failed “drive-through” attempt actually propelled Scott in the right direction.

“Dr. Holland started the whole process,” she said. “She sent me to the ER, then they ran all those tests and then they called Jennifer.”

Jarosz said it was a good catch.

“Our medical professionals have a good eye, and they were aware something was wrong,” she said. “They weren’t sure what was going on, but they knew something just wasn’t adding up.”

Jarosz completed a mini-mental status assessment to determine her eligibility, needs and services that might be required.

“We can have the potential patient come to us or we can assess at other locations deemed appropriate (like the hospital),” said Melanie Whittle, intensive outpatient and inpatient services program director. “The patient is then scheduled to see the psychiatrist authorizing care for them based on their needs 3 to 5 times weekly. He also evaluates medication needs.”

Whittle added that references come from the patients, their families, private practices as well as physicians.

As part of the examination, Jarosz visited with Scott who, “through her zillion questions,” as Scott described it, pried information about past issues and pain that may have led to the psychosis.

“I always tell them that I’m the world’s nosiest person. But it’s for their own good, and they realize that,” Jarosz said. “We saw in Jan what we see a lot of the time in that it’s stuff that’s been with these people through their life. It’s stuff that happened as a kid or early on in their life, and they just continue to repeat patterns, which is detrimental to them. For Jan, that contributed to her depression, and when it gets really severe, she starts having psychosis. That’s what was happening when she came to us.”

Jarosz suggested she seek treatment in the behavioral unit.

“I was open to it,” Scott said. “I needed some help; it’s just hard to ask for help. I had had hallucinations for a while, I just didn’t get any help for it. I mean, I saw a psychologist, and one time he told me to go to the hospital.

“I went, but I didn’t check in. It just kind of shifted from there, and we never touched it again,” she said. “But then I snapped.”

POINT OF RETURN

Then the issue became seeking the needed help.

“It was very hard for me to ask for help,” Scott said. “My dad always helped my sisters, but he always said he never worried about me because he knew I’d figure it out and he could always depend on me to succeed. I had never had to ask for help, and I didn’t know how. And it’s hard because you have to admit something’s wrong or that you can’t do it. ”

That situation, Jarosz said, isn’t at all uncommon.

“She didn’t come in saying, ‘I want to harm myself’,” Jarosz said. “She was having some bizarre behaviors. A lot of times people miss what’s going on with somebody because they hide it well or they deny what’s going on. A lot of it is asking questions and getting them to open up.”

Scott interjected: “But the flip side of that – as the mental patient, or whatever you want to call it – you’re not always honest, because you’re embarrassed or you don’t want people to know what your game plan is. I think that has a lot to do with it, too.”

She added that a patient must be open to the help, as Scott and Clingan were, Jarosz pointed out.

“Both of these ladies have shown great courage, and they have done so many positive things in their lives, and they’re continuing to improve and do better every day,” Jarosz said. “They look at working on themselves and coming to treatment as a job. They show up and are attentive and put the time in. They put the work in, and they get the results. You get as much out of it as what you put into it. They both have done remarkable.”

They had similiar motivations.

“I wanted to work on me,” Scott said. “I deserve to be happy and enjoy life. I’m a better person for it. I really am. I can’t stress enough how your priorities change – mine changed 100 percent. I loved my kids, but I didn’t really embrace them until all this happened. You have to commit to it. You have to commit to working on yourself and being stable. You have to have a purpose. I used to say (my purpose was to) be a good paralegal. Now, it’s to be a good witness, encourage somebody else.”

Clingan added: “All this has helped me see that I owe it to myself to go on with the rest of my life because there’s a lot of life left. You never know what’s going to happen, so you might as well live it to the fullest.

“I never thought like that before. Even when Harry and I were still together, there were times when it was kind of hum-drum, did what I had to do because I had to do it. Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I have things planned, trips planned. I have a lot of things I’m looking forward to.”

Next installment – Reaching that point

JAN’S RED FLAGS

  • People-pleaser – I was a severe people-pleaser, at my own expense.
  • Setting boundaries – I knew where boundaries were, and I’d let them cross them.
  • Insomnia – I would go days without sleep.
  • Weight loss – I went from 157 to 119 pounds.
  • Isolation – I wouldn’t even check my mail.
  • Felt extreme sadness, worthlessness and helplessness – I don’t know how to explain how alone you feel. It’s like there’s nobody, you have nobody. It’s like there’s nothing to look forward to, no purpose, you’re just so alone … Stinkin’ thinkin’.

ADVICE FROM BARB

  • Call someone, immediately, and see if they can get with you face-to-face because when you’re talking on the phone, you can always hang up. When the person is facing you, you have to talk. That’s what I was doing. I was calling people, then I was hanging up on them because I didn’t want to talk.
  • And be honest with them. Put your feelings aside, and be honest. Get over any shame because you’ve got to go on.
  • Go to group therapy, and don’t be so shy. At first I was embarrassed to tell someone what I did. But there were other people there that had done the same thing. You’re not alone.
  • Having faith in the man upstairs really helps. I was never a really religious person, but I believe in God, and I believe that He will help you. Having faith during a time like this isn’t easy, but just keep trying. When things get to be too much, I will say, ‘This is enough. How about helping me here?’

HOW YOU CAN HELP SOMEONE IN NEED

  • Validate them.
    It seemed like there was nobody there. – Jan
  • Encourage them to seek help
    You’re at your worst, and you need somebody to be there and put you up on that ladder, whether it’s a primary care physician, therapists. – Barb
  • Really listen
    A lot of times we’re so busy with our own lives, we very rarely are truly attentive to the people around us … A lot of times, we’re really unaware. You think how unaware we are of our own selves, much less of the people around us. – Jennifer

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