WALKING FROM THE DARK INTO THE LIGHT

Maria Swanson

WALKING FROM THE DARK INTO THE LIGHT

My name is Maria and I am a 38 year old divorced mother of two and in March, I celebrated 3 years sober. I developed dependence to alcohol and marijuana starting when I was 15 years old. I was raised in an extremely dysfunctional, physically and emotionally abusive home. I became excellent at covering my internal stress and pain by developing many maladaptive behaviors. The first of which was banging my head starting when I was 4 or 5 years old. I usually banged my head against the wall above my bed. I would get on all fours and rock back and forth banging my head on the wall. Often times even today, I have to rock back and forth in the fetal position to be able to fall asleep. By the time I reached 10 years old I had developed an eating disorder, restricting my food intake. I also was drinking different cough medicines that were readily available in the bathroom. Things escalated rapidly by high school and continued to do so until the time I turned 34. My life really began to unravel and the facade of being happy all the time began to crack. Looking back, I could easily have won an Oscar for my performance pretending that nothing was wrong in my world.

The month before my 34th birthday in 2011, I attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on a bottle of Xanax immediately followed up by a half bottle of gin. When I woke up, I found myself in the local hospital and was told I was being transferred to a psychiatric hospital. It was my first inpatient admittance .This was a continuous cycle with 13 stays in 2012. I was diagnosed with every disorder and acronym in the DSM. I’ve tried and was put on about twenty different medications in the attempt to stabilize me.

My last therapist who really got to know me concluded that I had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with Dissociative Episodes. I also display a number of Borderline Personality Disorder traits ingrained in me from my mother. I have basically endured a lifetime of trauma.

This past August I woke up with a terrible and unrelenting migraine. By the time I got out of bed and took my medications I started feeling extremely anxious. I have extensive knowledge of how to ground myself and stay in the moment but after a few hours of trying every technique I knew, the dreaded panic attack began. My attacks had escalated from hyperventilating and chest pain into seizure like convulsions, my mind becoming stuck in horrifying flashbacks that leave my body 100% numb, completely dissociated, paralyzed and unresponsive. Since I could feel this was about to happen, I reached out to my fiancé to tell him he needed to come home and to help me because the dreaded “it” was coming. After texting him, all time and reality stopped. After getting no response from me, my fiancé frantically dialed 911.

Eight police and firemen barged in while I was having my episode. I could see and hear clearly what was going on around me yet I was stuck in a kind of out of body experience. It’s like watching a movie of myself but not being able to participate. I knew what was going on in reality but was stuck in my head and all I thought about were my traumas. I could actually see and hear the flashback scenes playing clearly in my mind. Sometimes, I can actually smell what it smelled like in that moment. I reacted to them like they were the perpetrators of my past and I started crying and hyperventilating all over again. They had to pick me up and carefully place me onto the stretcher and get me into the ambulance. It was in there that I began to come back and started saying my fiancé’s name and inquiring where I was and where I was being taken.

We arrived at the hospital. Once they got me into an examination room, an extremely aggressive male doctor barked at me with total disdain that I was Baker Acted and committed for at least the next 72 hours to a psychiatric hospital. I had to wait to be transferred there. I felt completely confused, upset and scared. I immediately requested a female doctor since this doctor was an aggressive male and I was scared to death just looking at him. He then stood right on the side of my bed and barked again in my face that I was making my situation worse for myself and there were no female doctors, he was all I had. The look in his eyes and the harshness of his voice is so ingrained in my mind. The beginning of my 72 hour nightmare had begun. I was forcefully stripped out of my clothes and threatened repeatedly that if I didn’t comply immediately with their orders I would be restrained to my bed. I was also asked repeatedly what drugs I had taken or what I was on. I kept crying and blubbering that I was two and a half years sober. That statement fell upon deaf ears. They again forcefully stuck me a number of times in both arms claiming they couldn’t find a vein for my IV. As the nurse dug away at my arms, she asked me over and over if I was a heroin IV drug user. I swore to her up and down that I have never in my life stuck a needle in my arm. The look on her face told me she didn’t believe me. Then another nurse came in and started hammering me with more questions and demanded a time line of what had brought me into the hospital. The questions weren’t helping me feel any better and were exasperating the situation.

Finally, they forced a shot of Ativan on me and left me alone in that room for the next 28 hours. I had a guard at my door that wouldn’t make eye contact with me let alone speak to me. I wasn’t allowed out of bed except to use the bathroom under supervision. I tried to get out of bed to stretch because my muscles felt tight and sore and I was angrily told to get back in my bed or security would be called. I felt like a prisoner. I pleaded with anyone who would listen to get a doctor so I could explain my situation and be released. I was told that my request was impossible.

I was transferred to a Baker Act facility and my nightmare continued and actually became worse. Upon admittance I begged to see someone who could hear my story and put an end to this torture. They told me that wasn’t possible. They brought me up to my floor and that was when I saw the saddest part of this situation. Every single patient was stumbling around dazed, confused and looking like zombies. Many of them approached me asking me why I was there. I asked them what medications they were taking and was blown away by the answers I was receiving. I have a lot of knowledge about different types of medications and what they are used for. No wonder these people looked the way they did! In my opinion they were over medicated so the staff wouldn’t have to be bothered. No staff member spoke or even looked at us. No smiles. No words of encouragement- nothing!

On day three my pre-assigned doctor finally approached me and quickly started telling me what I had experienced, but in question form. He adamantly apologized for my ordeal and said the words
I was longing to hear- that I didn’t belong there!! I was quickly discharged into the arms of my fiancé.

The reason I want to share my story is not because it’s unique but because I’ve seen from the inside how mental health in this state is handled. Needless to say, not very well. Only one person, the doctor, knew and understood what PTSD was. I was repeatedly asked if I was in the military or in a war. I responded by saying, yes, the war of my life. Those in the military aren’t the only part of the population affected by PTSD. It’s time to end the stigma in regards to mental health and develop proper and more compassionate ways of treating those affected. I pray my story can make a difference and start the ball of change rolling. My message is this, don’t suffer in silence and become complacent. What if we all started to stand up for our rights and speak out about the lack of knowledge amongst those who are in charge in these types of situations? Our first responders, Police, Fireman, Nurses and Doctors need to be properly trained.

Education is key to understanding and treating those affected with mental health challenges. I choose to refer to myself as a person with mental challenges rather than mental illness or mental disorder because I feel it speaks more positively. I’m a survivor and I’m finally walking out the dark and into the light. I can love myself today.

Maria and her fiancé, Lincoln C. Coleman, former Dallas Cowboy and Super Bowl Champion, are the owners of the Soul Connection Group Inc. which works with current and former NFL players getting them the treatment they need for addiction, TBI’S and brain disease. Their other venture, Coleman’s Coaching, is an individual football training program working with adolescents from 9-21 to strengthen and excel their football skills.