Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I've mentioned before that I almost didn't get to have Harrison, but there is a lot more to that story than what I've told so far.  It's a very difficult story to tell.  I don't do it much, but I have decided to share the details in the hope that my story will make a difference to someone who is hurting the way that I once hurt.  Here it goes...

At twenty, shortly after marrying my high school sweetheart, I began suffering from cerebral hemorrhaging.   My diagnosis was an Arteriovenous Malformation of the left frontal lobe.  I was in agony.  The pain of recurrent bleeding was literally unbearable.  For  a number of years, I was on pain killers, including oxycontin, percocet, darvocet, morphine, and even fentanyl (commonly used for cancer patients).

When those weren't even enough, I would go to a pain management Dr. that would administer I.V. medications and put me to sleep for a few hours.  Those hours were my only time of relief.

Here's a little insight into my frame of mind during the eight years I suffered;  I wanted to die.  I hoped for it, and wished for it, and even prayed for it.  I regularly considered killing myself, but I didn't want to hurt my family.  Instead, I carried on as best I could.

My life revolved around my pain.  I had to quit working.  I removed myself from my friendships and social life.  I didn't want people to see me the way I was.  I spent much of my time in a dark and quiet room, drugged to capacity, thinking of nothing but the pain.   I didn't try to take my life, but I was done with the one I had.

My odds to survive, without surgery, weren't good.  Every year that my malformation went untreated posed a 2% risk of a fatal stroke.  Since my condition was congenital, that meant that at twenty, I already had a 40% chance of death.  Every time I had a bleed, that percentage went up even more.  You do the math.

 I  saw many, many neurosurgeons, but it took eight years before I found one that was confident about giving me surgery.  Others surgeons hadn't given me much hope that surgery was a good idea.
Possible complications included the obvious: death, comma, paralysis, affected speech, seizures, and memory loss - all the way to the very strange:  changes in personality, lowered inhibitions, aggressiveness, the list went on.

The only thing I was more afraid of than living the rest of my life in that much pain, was that I would have surgery and end up in a vegetative state.  I was terrified all the time.  My chances of something going drastically wrong were really high whether I opted for surgery or not.  I was literally a walking time bomb.

The Drs. put me on meds to keep my blood pressure and heart rate low (lower heart rate equalled less chance of bleeding).  I was giving instructions to limit all exercise and lifting objects.  Like the restrictions they give you after major surgery.  That was my life.

The worst of all this bad news was that a pregnancy would kill me.  No question.   Drs. didn't think I would survive past my second month of gestation, and if I did, they said that the delivery would cause a fatal stroke.

Imagine telling your twenty year old husband that he would never have children.  At least not with you.  I am ashamed to admit that I tried more than once to get my husband to leave me.  I wanted him to start over with someone who could love him properly and give him a family.  I wanted his life to stop revolving around my illness and my incessant needs.  I wanted better for him.

There isn't another man in the world that would have stayed with me.  Not one.  I know that.  Especially when I was urging him to leave.  Derek would not.  It wasn't even up for discussion.  To this day, he gets angry with me when I mention it.  He actually gets angry.  Not only would he not leave, but the idea was so repulsive to him that he wouldn't even discuss it.

I may not know much about life, but I know about unconditional love.  The kind of love it took for a young man to spends his life caring for and providing for his spouse.  The kind it took for a man to sometimes have  to carry, bathe, and feed her.  The kind it took for a man to refuse an out when given one, and to NEVER...EVER hold a grudge.  That is love.

The day came when we finally found an optimistic surgeon and I had the surgery... Technically everything went well.  We thought I was fine, but I wasn't fine.  Not at all.

At first, I didn't pay much attention to the minor things that felt a little different.  I expected to feel bit strange after such an extensive surgery.  What started out as feeling a little strange quickly escalated into a feeling I can't quite describe.

It was as if I were acting.  I knew the people in my life.  I knew who I was.  I even knew what my usual preferences were.  They just didn't belong to me anymore.  Not my family.  Not my likes and dislikes, not the eyes staring back at me in the mirror.  None of them were mine.

The first blackout I remember happened at home.  My mom and husband were with me and I suddenly became paranoid that everyone in my life was out to get me.  I became convinced that I was in danger, that the very husband that had always cared for me was in league with my wonderful mother to hurt me.

After lengthy discussion, they convinced me to stop trying to leave the house and to rest.  The next thing I remember is seizing.  My body shuddering and spasming without my control.  Afterward, I could not speak.  Nothing made sense.

Then I saw him.  Derek was standing in front of me staring into my eyes.  He looked so calm that I knew I must be ok.  He was asking me to say his name.  I could not.  After repeated tries and grasping at sound, I stuttered it out...D E R E K.

The next days are a mishmash of black outs, seizures, violent acts (mine), and hopelessness.  Then the thought of suicide returned.  This time it seemed my only option.  I no longer felt like I would be hurting my loved ones if I took my life.  I felt instead, that it would be selfish not to.

You cannot understand a suicidal person's mind frame.  It is a desperation you must experience for yourself.  I hope that you never do.  I would ask though, that you suspend your judgments.  Suspend the belief that the person could have helped themselves or that they were just being selfish.

I never tried to commit suicide until I viewed it as...a gift.  A gift to all the people that had been burdened by me too long already.  I knew they would be fine without me.  I knew that if I were gone, they could finally have lives again.

And yes, I viewed it as a gift to myself.  I had already fought so hard, and I was tired.  I wasn't willing to have a new identity.  To start building myself from scratch.  I tried to end it all, but once again Derek saved me.  He literally saved my life.  Then he had to give me over to the people that would keep saving it for the next week.

He had to  leave me screaming in a psychiatric hospital. If he had not, I would be dead.  I know he will never be the same after that moment.   I don't think he can fully forgive himself for doing the only thing he could do.  I was violent towards myself and I was violent toward the doctors that were trying to help me.

Despite my best attempts to end my life, my medical team and my family helped me to rebuild it.  I ended up being quite fortunate.  Many of my strange inclinations went away with time.  Bit by bit, everything started to feel natural once again.  I resumed most of my previous habits.  I reconnected emotionally with my loved ones.


I can't say for certain that I am 100% the person I once was.  Would I even know if I'm not?  I can't answer that.  The only thing I know is that I have an amazing life.  I am happier than I ever thought possible.  I have a child with the man that came through the fire with me, and we love him more than anything.

If you are out there facing the unimaginable, just know that no matter how bad your circumstances are, they can change.  They can change when you least expect it.  Don't miss out on the life that you're not even dreaming of yet.  I know it can happen because it happened to me.

Thanks for listening.

If you or a loved one are considering suicide, PLEASE GET HELP.  Do not wait.  I hope that you will share my story and I hope that someone reading it will find hope.


  1. I want to hug your right now.

    1. Can we hug over a bottle of wine...or 3, Tanya?

  2. Tears, tears and more tears. So happy to have you as a part of our family! Hugs all around!

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I feel so lucky to be a part of this family! Love you all!!

  3. Heather I only knew a slice of your story. Thank you for being so transparent. I'm sure your story will reach someone in need and it has given me perspective.

  4. Thank you, Amber. Transparency can be quite ugly, but I think it is very important that people start coming forward and help to alleviate the stigma surrounding mental health.

  5. I only knew that you had a previous brain surgery. I didn't know anything else. This literally brought me to tears and made me realize that even though I already liked you and enjoyed seeing all of your posts on facebook, and on here, I didn't have nearly as much respect for you as I should have. You are an amazing and strong woman, and I admire you more than I can even begin to express for the courage and strength you have. Even just sharing this story takes more courage than most would have, but living it and coming through is another animal altogether. I also appreciate from the standpoint of someone with a long family line of mental illnesses of various varieties.

    1. Thank you, Melissa. That really means a lot to me. It's really important to me that the discussion surrounding mental health become more mainstream. It's so relatable but so taboo. We have to start viewing our mental health in the same way we view our physical health. There should be no shame and no repercussions for getting treatment. I am very sorry to hear that you have personal experience with family members who struggle. I've always said it must be harder to be the supporter than the supported.