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From the President: Emerging Issues

 Hope with Help

By Melissa LaBrie
New Hampshire

My name is Melissa, and I am 47 years old. I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and I am an addict in recovery.

Starting at the age of 12, I was sexually abused for several years by a neighbor. The impact of being violated changed who I was. The trauma led me to isolate, and I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. My circle of friends was very small, and I barely skimmed by in school. My parents knew I needed help, and I started therapy but could never feel a connection with any of the therapists. The battle with my mental illness was winning, and that led to my first suicide attempt.

Over the years I have had countless medications, numerous hospitalizations, and several suicide attempts, including one that left me in a coma for over two weeks. As a young adult, I started to self-medicate.

A few years ago, the love of my life was diagnosed with cancer. His diagnosis knocked the wind out of me. I didn't know what to do. He was home for two months then hospitalized. I was juggling work, the hospital, and home. I felt like I was drowning. Four months after being admitted to the hospital for treatment, he was gone (just six months after his initial diagnosis). I was lost.

I found myself overwhelmed and consumed with grief. A "friend" offered me some "dope," promising it would make me feel better. This was my first experience with heroin. It quickly led to addiction. While using, I felt like I had my life in control for the first time. I felt like I had no mental illness. I didn't see that spending hundreds of dollars a day was a problem. My friends and family questioned changes in my behavior. I explained away my behaviors, attributing them to changes in prescription drugs. I constantly made excuses. I was losing friends and alienating myself from my family.

The first time I overdosed was the day my grandmother died. I had gotten into a car accident and had heroin on me. I panicked and thought the best thing to do was to swallow the heroin. I woke up in the hospital. I started the process of detox. In addition to the humiliation, guilt, and shame I carried now that my addiction was out in the open, the physical symptoms of withdrawal were unbearable. I left recovery against medical advice and started using again. This was a cycle that continued. I convinced myself that I could be a functioning addict. I was wrong.

The last time I overdosed, I woke up after receiving Narcan, an emergency treatment. The EMTs were putting me in an ambulance, and I saw the fear in my son's eyes. I was released from the hospital. I had lost my insurance. I did not have access to my mental health medications. I was struggling with unmanageable bipolar disorder and overwhelming anxiety. I sought to get Vivitrol (a monthly treatment that blocks opioid receptors in the brain) to help support my efforts with sobriety, but without insurance, I could not access that either.

I worked really hard to support my preteen son, who was also struggling with grief and his own social-emotional challenges. After his own self-harming incident, he had to be hospitalized. After two weeks at the state hospital, he was discharged with medication and referrals for therapy, med management, and a wraparound program called FAST Forward. FAST (Families And Systems Together) serves youth with serious emotional disturbances and their families, whose needs aren't met by traditional service streams and programs.  

I followed through with all referrals. With a family history of mental health issues and substance misuse, I wanted to connect my son with the resources he needed to support any mental health challenges he may encounter and to help him avoid the self-medication hell that I was experiencing.

With help, I found a provider that offered mental health therapy, med management, and support with recovery on a sliding scale, flexible fee system. I got on a waitlist for Vivitrol but had to detox to qualify. Again, detox and withdrawals were unbearable. However, with my natural and professional supports, I made it through.

I have been clean and sober. I have learned healthy coping strategies to contend with depression and anxiety and addiction. I consistently get my Vivitrol shot. I see my LADC (Licensed Alcohol Drug Abuse Counselor) regularly. I use acupuncture, yoga, and Zumba as healthy coping strategies. I take my mental health meds each day and regularly see my therapist. I see a parenting coach to help with some of the challenges of parenting an adolescent, and my family participates in FAST Forward. I am working hard to rebuild trust with my loved ones. We are on the road to recovery.