depression

Denise Williams -My Twin Sons

About ten years ago, Denise Williams found herself trying to navigate the intersection of mental illness and addiction with her twin sons, Ryan and Matt. 

She wishes she had been better prepared.

+ Read Full Transcript

I have twin sons, Ryan and Matt, and a daughter, Katie. She's two years younger than the boys. And both of the boys, they’re twins, they died of a heroin overdose.

From the beginning, I thought I was a very lucky person. My kids flourished. They did well in school. They were active in all the community things. The boys played sports. My daughter did the cheerleading.

I thought that we were the white picket fence family, that there was nothing wrong.

And when Matt was in high school, just before graduating, I got a letter or a note sent home from his English teacher. She had given them an assignment to write a speech to their classmates what they would wish for them for the future.

And Matt's was totally morbid.

It talked about suicide. It talked about bullying. It talked about the injustices in the world.

He did not want to go on living if, if this is what life was. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was his senior prank -- that someone had put him up to it because of this wasn't Matt. Matt was my happy-go-lucky. He was the people-pleasing child. Out of the three that I had, he was the easiest to get along with, always looked for approval and wanted to please people. And he never had anything bad to say about anyone. And here he's talking about suicide? It wasn't a prank. It was his words. He wrote it. He started feeling like that in middle school.

And it's like, "Well, why didn't you tell me that this is how you felt?"

And he said, “Because I didn't want to be like grandma.”

My mother-in-law lived with us. She suffered from severe mental health issues. And not understanding what mental health was, I thought it was a weakness. And, um, if she would just get up, out of bed, take her medicine, take a shower, eat a good breakfast, she would be good. It was her choice to lay around and feel sorry for herself.

Often there were jokes around the household that,"There's grandma, she's up to her old tricks, you know, just trying to get attention."

Matt flat out said,"I didn't want to be like grandma. So I handled it."

"Well, what did you do to handle it?"

And he goes, "You know, I handled it. Today I'm feeling a lot better."

In my mind I was like, Okay, well, I was right. He got out of bed. He pushed himself forward. And it's just, like I said, mental health is a weak disease that, you know, he overcame it.

I did find out the first time he went into rehab, what he meant by that.

He meant I had a bottle of liquor hidden underneath my bed. And every night I would drink. Every day before I went to school, I would drink, and it would take away my anxiety, my depression, and it was my coping. You could have blown me over with a feather. I, I just -- what, where was I? Why didn't I notice all these signs? I mean, he just -- he hid it so incredibly well.

Nobody ever would have guessed that he was depressed, and suffered from anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder.

He said he didn't want anybody to know because that was his problem. And he didn't want to be made fun of. And he didn't want to be like grandma.

It increased after high school. But after high school he did go to college in the evening. He worked full time. And he had a girlfriend that went to Towson. And he would spend most of his weekends out there with her.

And I thought everything's great.

When Matt was around 20 years old, he just had a big turnaround in his personality. He quit college. He broke up with the girlfriend. No one knew that he was unhappy. And he became this person that he was staying out all night. Coming in totally wasted, disrupting the household, dropping things, walking into walls.

It finally got to the point that, you know, "If you can't live under my roof, doing my rules, you're going to have to go.”

And Matt welcomed that conversation because he already had a place set up.

It was quite a bit of a party house. But I thought, Hey, now he's got to pay rent. He's going to have to grow up.

Well, that didn't happen. The partying increased.

January 17th of 2007, 4:15 in the morning, I get a phone call from University of Maryland Shock Trauma. Matt had been in a serious car accident and we needed to come quickly.

You know, he had some pretty serious injuries to his arm, but he would survive. And the state police were there. And they said they would be charging Matt with driving under the influence.

And when the doctor came out, he said, “The good news is, he's in recovery right now. The bad news is he's got a long road to recovery.” He was in the hospital for a week. He broke, chipped, dislocated, and crushed every bone in his left arm. He broke his right leg. He had lacerations all over his body, a couple broken ribs, a concussion. When I went to go pick him to bring them home, they had just taken them off of the morphine drip and they had started him on opiates.

And he was not doing well. He started vomiting.

The vomiting continued. He was supposed to take the opiates, the Percocets and the Oxy's, every four hours. And every four hours Matt would be vomiting.

I called back up to the hospital,and I was just told, “Matt's got to get used to it. He's got a long road to recovery. He's got to just keep taking the opiates. There is nothing else that we can give him. And eventually he'll get used to it.”

Well, he did. He said it was less than two months after starting the opiates he was waiting for that for 4-hour interim to come so he could take another pill.

He ultimately needed seven operations, four days a week of intense occupational and physical therapy.

They did wean him down from the Oxy's but he was given Percocets, ninety at a time.

I didn't think this was going to be a problem because this wasn't Matt's drug of choice. It was pot, cocaine and alcohol. Pills? He was vomiting, you know. He isn't going to get addicted to it. And he kept the fact that he was looking forward to that every four-hour timeframe to himself.

As he got more mobile, he started buying them on the street in between. But eventually he couldn't afford it. He wasn't working. He, you know, he had a girlfriend that was helping them buy things, and he was coming up with lame excuses to borrow money from us, and we never, ever dreamt it was to buy a pill.

He said by the one-year anniversary of his car accident, he had to switch to heroin because he could not afford to keep up his opiate habit on the street.

That happened when he was 21. It wasn't until he was 25 before we actually got him to commit to a rehab. And you know, it's just like anyone else suffering from the disease of addiction -- things were coming up missing. Electronics. My husband had a welding business so there was a lot of tools that were very valuable. They were always coming up missing.

We didn't call the police on him. We tried to handle this on her own, buy it back from the pawn shop, and threatened Matt, You got to stop it.

We finally got Matt to commit to a rehab right around his 25th birthday, which was 2012. But he was there for two days and I got a phone call from the psychiatrist and the caseworker. They needed a meeting with me.

Matt greeted us at the door, and he’s like, “Happy birthday to me!” because it was actually was there his 25th birthday.

“Happy Birthday to me! It's the first time since I was 14 that I've been sober on my birthday.”

And it's like, “What are you talking about? What about when you were 15, 16, 17?”

He said, “No. I wasn't.”

And then we went to meet with the psychiatrist and the caseworker. She said, “He has so much pain. Matt will never be sober unless he handles the demon beyond the addiction, which is his mental health.” For probably an hour, he just sat there and bled his heart. The things that bothered him -- I mean it went back to early childhood. The counselor would say, “Remember, this has been festering in, in him. It snowballed and got bigger and bigger, and he was never treated for any type of mental health.”

But then there were other things. His father is an alcoholic. And he said, “I don't think my father knew my name until I was old enough to sit on a barstool next to him. He didn't go to my concerts. And if he did, he came in at the last five minutes, and he was drunk. And that hurt.”

I get it. I get it.

They gave me a list of mental health treatments, and she says, “Matt's insurance only pays for 14 days, but I think because of the mental health, I can get an extended time. But you have to have him set up with a psychiatrist before we leave. That is the only way he will remain sober.”

Well, as it turned out, Matt's insurance, they would pay for if I paid out of pocket. We had just paid $1,500 for him to walk in the door, and then after that it was going to be $65 a day, excluding any expenses. And I, I just did the math. How can we afford this? You know, we're middle class. We struggle!

And so I had to bring Matt home, prior to getting a psychiatrist. And I hate to bring money up because his life is way more valuable than that, but these are the walls that people face for healthcare.
In 2014, Matt finally did get clean and he was seeing the psychiatrist and, and everything seemed to be going well.

Ryan thought he -- it's time for him to follow up because he had fallen into the same path from depression, from actually having adult issues, finances and relationship problems.

It was in December. Ryan wanted to wait until after Christmas because he had a young son and he didn't want to be away from home. So just like he promised, two days after Christmas he went and got his own Maryland state insurance, then went to a treatment center. Well, when he got to the treatment center, they said, "We don't take walk-ins.”

So he made an appointment, went back the following week.

They told him, "You don't have that insurance card in your hand," even though he was preapproved, and state --Maryland state insurance does work that way -- that you can be preapproved. And there is a website that any treatment center can go on and see who is preapproved. And we were not aware of this at that time.

They told him no. They told him to come back when he physically had the insurance card in hand.

Ryan died 25 days later. The insurance card came the day of his funeral.

But Matt held everything in. And he told me later he didn't deserve to cry because he was the one that introduced Ryan to the heroin after being turned down from treatment and Ryan needed something stronger than the pills he was getting on the street.

Matt pretended for two years, and right after the anniversary of Ryan's death, because it was in January, Matt started becoming more and more verbal that things weren't right. And he had a full blown-out relapse.

At the hospital, they looked into his past history, and they didn't call this the normal relapse. They said that he's never dealt with the grief. He's never dealt with the guilt. And that he was doing what Matt knows how to do -- self medicate in order to resolve his problems. And it was treated like that. He never went into a drug treatment program even though all the mental health facilities overlapped with that. The drugs was the secondary. The most important thing was the mental health -- getting Matt to cope with Ryan's death, and the grief and the guilt.

It was like everybody was pulling together to help Matt.

In February of this year, he wasn't doing good, and he did not want to go back into inpatient because every time he complained that the demons with Ryan were getting greater, and more vivid, and keeping him awake all night long, all's they did was increase his antidepressants. And he said he could actually exist in a world doing illegal drugs and still function normally. But the antidepressants were so -- at such a high volume, he slurred his words. He was falling over. He was Zombie-like.

And, and he was crying.

And he said, “Mom, I can't exist being a drug addict, and I can't exist being highly medicated. I am unfixable. Once Ryan died, that was it for me. I've always envied where he went because he's at peace. I hate that I'm doing this to you but you have to know it's time to let me go. I have to do what I have to do.”

And I begged him. And he said, “No! If they come here, I'm over 18. You know, if I'm not hurting anyone, all's I have to say is I'm not going into treatment. And I won't. And they have to leave.”

And -- which is true. So I said, "Well, will you go back to the hospital?"

He said, "Sure on Monday," but it wasn't a very convincing ‘sure on Monday.’

The next day he intentionally overdosed.

Matt went into the addiction with mental health issues. With Ryan, he did not have them and I do think Ryan could have recovered.

But I think Matt would have always lived a very troubled life. I saw my mother-in-law. She died with this disease.

It ruled Matt. It was Matt's demon beyond the addiction.

And, you don't want to lose your kids.

I'm 62 years old. I have four grandsons that are beautiful little boys-- and they, they put a smile on my face.

But then come like Christmas morning, it's obvious the ones who are missing.

I'm Denise Williams and this is my story.

Kim Manlove -Surviving the Worst Loss

Photo by Rocky Rothrock, courtesy Kim Manlove

Grief is an individual experience. When the Manloves' son David died from a drug-related event, Kim's feelings of guilt and shame overwhelmed him  -- but it did not divide him from his wife and together they have found acceptance.     

+ Read Full Transcript

You know, we first discovered that he had a problem in late 2000. He was 16 at the time.

It started with marijuana and then eventually alcohol. There were some pills. We didn’t know what they were -- pharmaceuticals of some sort.

We got our son into treatment, and while he was getting help, we were getting some education about the disease of addiction, that it was chronic, that there was also could be a genetic component. And that it could be deadly.

But we of course didn’t think anything about that. We just concentrated on supporting our son in every way that we could.

We began 2001 with a lot of hope. About five months into treatment, he had been doing well and we had been pleased with his progress, and so he came to us on one day and asked if he could go swimming at a friend’s house. We knew the kids he was going to be swimming with, and he’d been doing well, so we decided to kind of lessen the reins a little bit, and said sure.

They swam for a while, and then the girls decided to go in and have lunch. David then and his friend went to a nearby drug store, bought a can of computer duster. David had learned somehow that he could inhale the propellant, which would give him a very brief high, anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds, and it wouldn’t show up on the drug screens. I don’t think he knew is that in some cases computer duster can cause something called Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, a disruption of the electrical activity of the heart, and can also bring on a heart attack.

They were passing the can back and forth, taking turns, going underneath the water. And then at one point, David didn’t come back up. He’d gone into Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome while he was underneath the water. His body’s first reaction, naturally, was to try and take a breath. He opened his mouth and took in all water.

The main cause of death was drowning. The secondary cause of death was Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.

While the EMTs were there, the parents had called my wife. So Marissa drove to the hospital, and by that time, he was already gone.

I was actually a couple of thousand miles away in Phoenix, Arizona. I got the call from her saying that he was – had died. I rushed to the airport. This is before 9/11. I basically told the ticket counter what had happened. And they -- they were great. They didn’t ask for any documen-tation or anything. I mean they could tell that I was distressed, and immediately put me on the first plane directly back to Indianapolis. And so --- but that, that was -- that flight was the worst. Just so much going on in my head.

The addiction gene ran on my side of the family. I had two uncles who had -- were alcoholic on my father’s side, and I was someone who overindulged on a regular basis. I had already pledged to my wife that I would know how to help him and get through this, and I failed at that. Between the grief and the guilt, you know, I began to spiral down myself, drinking more alcohol and then I began also abusing the anti-depressants that I was being prescribed for the grief and the guilt and the depression. To the point where I began shopping doctors for the medications. I had a tragic story. It was pretty easy for me to go to another physician and share the same story and immediately get a script for Xanax.

One day, my wife and my son, my other son, my older son, came home and found me in a blackout. And I can still remember coming out of that blackout seeing, you know, my wife screaming at me and saying, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

I said, “I’m in trouble. I’ve been abusing alcohol and drugs, and I think I need to get help.”

My situation was so serious that I ended up having to come in-patient at that point in time.

Part of the recovery regimen, too, was going to 90 meetings in 90 days, and I ended up doing 180 meetings in 180 days. And I’ve been in recovery now for 15 years and I still do 5 or 6 meetings a week. That’s the medicine that I continue to take for my disease of addiction. And the dollar that I put in the basket at each of those meetings is a lot cheaper than the prescription drugs I take.

I’m an academic by training. Spent 28 years as an administrator and dean at the largest university here in Indianapolis. But a couple of years after I got into recovery, I started kind of a new chapter. I went to the CEO of the treatment center and told her that I’d be interested in getting some profession experience in this field of addiction treatment and recovery.

And so we started a parent support group. There’s no question that the death of a child is the worst loss. What we found was, you know, we didn’t have to do counseling in that group. The counseling took place just by people sharing where they were, what they were struggling with, and then hearing others sharing exactly the same things in a same way, and found comfort there for the first time.

After David died, friends, family, and even people that we hadn’t been acquainted with, came to us and often started off by saying, “Well, what went wrong?” you know. And sometimes it would be a little more pointed, you know: “Were there some things that you didn’t do?”

Our children aren’t supposed to die before us. It’s like a violation of some sort of rule. What went wrong? What could we have done differently? All that kind of mental machination is part of what led to my serious depression, and frankly, trying to find relief from the shame, and the guilt – probably more the guilt. Again, because the addiction gene ran on my side of the family. He caught this from me.

We learn in recovery that acceptance is the release of all hope for a better past. That’s become our mantra. And that then has freed us up emotionally and psychologically, and brought us to the point where we can help others, at least try, to work down that path.

I describe our mutual recoveries as kind of what a strand of DNA looks like. DNA has two trunks. I’m one of the trunks and she’s the other trunk. They’re separate and distinct but there are branches periodically that connect those two trunks. And that’s what recovery has done for us. It’s connected us in some marvelous ways.

But at the same time, if you look under a microscope, DNA kind of spirals around. That’s what life continues to do to us is that it continues to spiral us around. And we continue to have challenges and things happen to us. But there is still that tightness and structure of us together.

The most important thing recovery has done for the two of us is that it has allowed us to -- to move on from the worst loss and celebrate our son’s life in a beautiful way.

My name is Kim Manlove and this is my story.

Jenny Beetz -Human Contact or Heroin? You Can't Have Both

Jenny Beetz loved how heroin made her feel but she appreciates the stability of her life without it.

+ Read Full Transcript

It’s very hard for me to pinpoint when exactly my addiction started, or even what started it. I would imagine I started doing drugs at around the age of 12, really. It just just always seemed to be part of my life. It wasn’t something I even thought about. Which has been an ongoing problem by the way. I’ve always missed that middle part where you maybe reflect and think, Well, should I do some drugs? As soon as that thought hits me, I’m already driving to go buy drugs.

By the age of 16, I had discovered opiates. The heroin. It was, This is my drug. I felt like I found finally my peace. And that is something that it has always given me is a sense of peace. And also a sense of wellbeing. A lot of people, it seems, when they do opiates, before you know it, they’re licking the floor, or their head is about a foot from the concrete. Contrary to that, I feel energy. It puts the skip in my step and I go around the house singing or humming.

Honestly, I have often felt it’s a financial problem more than a drug problem because when I have had plenty of money, gainfully employed and all that, it didn’t interfere in my life in any way. I wasn’t being arrested. I wasn’t crawling around half sick, trying to get my drug. But when it gets to that point, which it seems to for virtually everybody, that is the hell.

It feels like you’re missing a couple of layers of skin. And you’re jumping into rubbing alcohol. It’s hell.

But I took a long break and I thought that it was simply a passing phase. I had gone to college. I got a degree in philosophy. I thought philosophy was all Sartre and Camus, and all of that really great stuff. No! It’s this really boring analytical crap—Hegel, Heidegger -- oh my God, you know, that’s torture! They should use that at Guantanamo.

But I’m not sure what started me again, at all. A lot of my drug use has been because it’s just been right there in my face, most of my life. Every time I’d gone to New York City when I was younger, part of my visit there included good New York dope. So when I moved there, it was like Wow, I live in the land of good New York dope!

And it started out very slowly. I had a boyfriend who was not a drug addict and we started using together. I became a raging junkie and he stopped the first he got a habit. He was no, this is awful, this sucks. And I just kept going with it.

I spent pretty much all of my time in New York City being a heroin addict. In my 30’s, I went to a methadone program. I was very, very, very stubborn. I did heroin every day of my life for a least a year, knowing I’m not even going to get high because methadone has a blocker in it.

Again I was very stubborn. And I still am. I am on a methadone program now. I have a lot of resentment about it, in a way. In general, in life, I have a lot of resentment about my use or not use of heroin.

Why can’t I do my drug?

My friend for example, he – he gets drunk virtually every day, and it’s fine. You know, it’s socially acceptable, really. Well, to a degree. And, I’m not allowed to do my drug. It that pisses me off. It really does.

If I were to win the lottery, all bets are off. I’m, I’m buying land in Afghanistan. I’m going to marry Hamid Karzai, and I’m just going to have acres and acres of poppies. Drug lord, whatever, you know. I’m really looking forward to it, in fact. I mean, this is the sort of thing that comforts me.

But being a drug addict, weird things tend to comfort me, like Oh, I can always just kill myself! That’s a comforting thought to me. There’s always that option if I’m sick of this, I can always just, you know, do my last shot and be comfortable and …

What motivated me to go on a methadone program at all or even to consider quitting is I did lose that well-paying job, which by the way, was answering phones in a whorehouse. But I became homeless. Theoretically the methadone program, it’s there to help a person get off of opiates. Great! Wonderful! You can’t get addicted to methadone in two weeks. They would taper you off and then hopefully you have follow-up care.

Methadone maintenance? To me, it is solidly absurd. I have traded basically an illegal drug and illegal activities for a legal thing called methadone maintenance program.

I can’t get take-homes because I take Seroquel and that’s a whole other horrible – and that’s a -- by the way, a lot of mental illness mixed in with all of this. I am disabled, officially, with major depression. I’ve been hospitalized. And also with post-traumatic stress disorder. Like serious -- like my childhood was outrageous including kidnapping, gang rape. Just horrible things.

The benefits again are I’m not getting arrested two and three times a year. So now I’m on as low dose as I possibly be, and my life has been – it’s stable. I realized wow, I actually feel, both physically and mentally, I feel engaged in the world around me. And it’s pleasant.

And then I realize, and this is a strange way to realize it, somebody just rubbed my back in an affectionate gesture, and I realized I had had zero affection or anything like that, by choice. By choice. And it was again revelatory. It was like this is what I’m missing in my life. -- human contact.

And the less methadone I was on, the more engaged I became. And I got to a point where I was down to 10 mg of methadone, and that was great. My tits came back. I started fucking again which I enjoy a lot. But -- and you can’t have both. It’s human contact, and caring about people, and sex, and boobs and all that -- or it’s heroin addiction. You can’t have both. Heroin ends up being a kind of a boyfriend.

When I rejoined the living, I noticed all these benefits that I had not foreseen. And it’s good in a way. I really miss heroin. I do. And I feel jealousy when I see somebody licking the sidewalk out front – I feel jealous, actually. You know, it’s like, I want what she had!, you know.

I think this is definitely part of my nonuse rather than using, that my writing has exploded with regard to how much. But the quality as well is really good. And then, I started making collages. And I just started with one and now I think I have about one hundred and twenty. And I do them all by hand. And that’s been really great – the art work, you know.

I believe that from the day, the year, whatever age you are when you begin taking drugs, that’s pretty much when you stop maturing -- emotionally at least. And so, in a lot of ways, I’m this, you know, annoying, intellectual artist type. But also I am a, a 12-year old, you know. And if you start doing drugs at a very young age like I did, I mean you’re kind of fucked in a lot of ways, you know, being this 12 year old and negotiating the world supposedly as a 53 year old, you know.

I’m trying… I might cry. Yeah. I don’t know why that makes me cry but --

Because I’m the 12-year old for a second here, you know.

I’m Jenny Beetz and this is my story. Thank you for listening to my story.