I opened my eyes very slowly, carefully. I was extremely groggy and confused. And I looked at the end of my bed, and Darlene was there, my beloved Darlene.
“Darlene, is that really you, or are you an angel? Am I really awake or am I dreaming?”
“No, Sweetie,” she said. “It’s really me, I’m really here. It’s really me. You’re not dreaming.”
Looking around, I realized that I was in a hospital room. I was hooked up to IV’s and dressed in a hospital gown. I saw that I was in a hospital bed. There was a whiteboard on the wall with my name, and date of admittance. My attending doctors and nurses were listed as well.I also observed a stranger, a woman who was not dressed in hospital garb, sitting in the corner of my room. And I was needing to be convinced that I wasn’t still hallucinating. Gradually I slowly began remembering what I’d done. I’d taken an overdose of pills. I’d tried to kill myself. And apparently, I’d failed.
The previous Friday was March 7, 2014. Greensboro, NC, was smacked with a terrible ice storm. Everyone knows that if you live in North Carolina, any thought of even a single snowflake falling from the heavens is cause for widespread panic and a run to the grocery store to buy out all the bread and milk. A three-loaf alert, it’s often called. And an impending ice storm is the worst case scenario, because it is sure to knock out electrical power across the region. We in NC are simply not prepared for this. And when we lose power out where we live, in the country, we lose water as well because we have an electric well pump
When the ice storm hit, we lost power on that Friday, March 7. We found the last available hotel room in Greensboro at a 5-star hotel, paying $400 a night.
The five of us, Alan, my husband, our oldest daughter, Alana, 18 years old, our son Heath, age 16, our youngest daughter, Gwyneth, age 12, and myself, all stayed in one room together. Saturday morning, we checked out of the hotel to go home, hoping that the power would be back on. When we got home, the power was indeed on, but the heat was not working. So it was freezing cold inside our house. I was just losing my shit, minute by minute because I hate living out in the country; it’s not my thing but it’s what I signed up for when I married Alan in 1994. I absolutely hate it when the power goes out, I hate living without water; it’s simply barbaric. I was just hating everything.
“This is such bullshit!” I said. “I hate living out here with no electricity or water anytime the power goes out. I’m so sick of having to deal with this every single time. And now, it’s freezing because we have no goddamn heat! This is ridiculous and I hate it here!
“I’m going to Alamance Crossing with Sarah and Caroline,” Alana announced. Alamance Crossing was a shopping center about 15 miles away.
“No, you’re not.” I said. “There’s no way I’m going to let you drive in this ice.” I looked to Alan for support.
He shrugged. Alan was noncommittal. He knew that he was in a no-win situation and he avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when it comes to Alana’s and my disagreements. His passive non-involvement was typical because he didn’t want to side with either one of us. She and I are both so strong-willed and when an argument breaks out between us, Alan generally walks away. In reality, I suspect he didn’t really think it was that big of a deal for Alana to go with her friends because we’d just driven home from the hotel so he knew what the conditions were, but he could see my dismay and didn’t want to break ranks.
So she and I got into a huge fight over her rights as an adult at 18 years old, (even though she was still in high school and living under our care.) We escalated into a screaming match that included her yelling from her room upstairs.
I hate you!” she hollered. “YouI never let me do anything! This house is so boring being stuck here with you!” she screamed. “All my friends have so many more privileges!”
I yelled from the bottom of the steps in return, “ Alana, you’re exaggerating and you know it! We give you plenty of privileges and independence but we are still in charge as long as you are living here and my answer is NO!”
She demanded, “Why? Why can’t I go? Just tell me why?”
Still yelling upstairs to her, I said, “I am not comfortable with you driving in the melting ice given your inexperience with these conditions. I don’t think it’s safe.”
“The roads are fine!” she continued. “All my friends are allowed to go,” she repeated.
“You’re not allowed to go!,” I yelled back to her. “Just stop asking me. The answer is no!”
I was increasingly frustrated because everything I said was met with a comeback, mostly just Alana saying Why, why why, and repeating how much she hates me and can’t wait to leave for college in the fall. This went on and on and I was not handling the situation well because I was angry that she was disobeying me. I was also hurt by her words of hatred towards me and her life in general while living under our roof. I was devolving towards an ugly breaking point; I could feel myself losing my patience and control and becoming angrier and her and also angry with Alan for not stepping in to support me. Eventually she just insisted that she was going to go, whether I said she could or not. And that was not the norm in our household.
Alan’s and my parenting rules are that whatever we say goes. That being said, we’re very flexible, we allow our kids a tremendous amount of independence, and we rarely came across a situation like this where one of our children was being completely, blatantly, disobedient. I just was taken aback. I was losing my cool and losing my temper as we were hurling these fighting words at each other. And finally I just snapped. I said,”Well just go then! Just go down and live with with your damn Aunt Lisa and Uncle Andy! Just fucking go, since your life is so awful here!”
She said, “Okay I will!” This caused me to lose my shit altogether and then I screamed at her, “Oh no, you won’t,”
She screamed back at me, “I’m going!”
I said, “If you go down to their house, then you’re dead to me!” And I stomped off.
I was immediately horrified that I’d said those words. I’d never said those words. I’ve never thought those words about my children and I was just completely out of control.
But sure enough, she left.
By this time it was Saturday afternoon. I just slammed the door to my bedroom and locked it, and just ugly-cried and remained unreasonable, unapproachable and unavailable for the remainder of the day and night.
I was furious with Alan, because he let her go. Not that he would physically stop her. But, I just was losing control. When I get this way, I get in an ugly rage, and I get into a despairing mood, and I can’t cope. I can’t cope at all. I feel like I spent my whole childhood having no power, no control, and my mental illness was rearing its ugly head. I couldn’t figure out how to properly handle situations like this because I’d had no role-modeling or experience of my own. Even though I’d spent years in therapy, and some of that included family therapy with Alan and the kids, I just hadn’t reached that healthy space that I intellectually knew I should be in.
So, Saturday night, she didn’t come home at all because she was going to stay with Lisa and Andy. I don’t know if she went driving to the shopping center or not, but it was confirmed by Alan that she was safe and going to stay with them that night.
I was still in full-on despair on Sunday morning when I woke up. I was still in the foulest of moods, unreasonable, and completely hateful to everyone. I wanted Alana to come home and work with me to do whatever we could to resolve this situation, especially by my apologizing for my awful words I spoke to her regarding her being dead to me.
I called Lisa and I screamed at her to send my daughter home, and she was just a total nasty bitch like she always is. She and I have never seen eye to eye and I consider her a spoiled, ignorant, closed-minded brat. She’s eight years my junior, had lived in this area all her life and she lorded around like the fucking Queen of all things. We had nothing in common from day one of my marriage, and even though we’d made somewhat of an effort to get along in the earlier years, we’d both finally conceded that we were never going to be friends. This happened years earlier, when our mother-in-law died, and we knew we no longer had to operate under any pretense that we were a close family. Alan had never been close to his brother, Andy, who was four years younger than Alan. We lived totally different lifestyles and though they were always civil to one another, they were never friends. Once again I demanded that Alan go down there and get her, get my daughter and bring her home.
I was just absolutely out of my mind with the thought that she was staying with Andy and Lisa. Possibly permanently. The two people that I loathe the most out here in this godforsaken redneck place that we live. I had no power. I had no power.
And I felt like I felt when I was a kid. When I was just abandoned. I felt like Alana was abandoning me, she was leaving me, another person was excising me from their life. I grew up being left, abandoned, kicked out. I grew up being schlepped from parent to parent to grandparent to potentially foster care, one after another. And I just couldn’t bear it.
Lisa wouldn’t send her home; of course she wouldn’t. I was a crazy person and her niece was better off with her. Alana wouldn’t take my calls at all. I called Andy, Lisa’s husband, (Alan’s brother), and he just railed me, calling me every name in the book from psycho, to the fact that I belonged in the loony bin, to I don’t know what the hell is going on with you. “You’re crazy,” he said. “And we’re not sending her back to you. She doesn’t want to live with you.”
The situation had deteriorated exponentially and I was just absolutely out of my mind with grief. This went on all day Sunday. Not a word from Alana. Alan went down there again to bring her home and came back without her.
And I just screamed at him, “What the hell? Bring her home! She is our daughter and this is where she belongs!”
He said, “You told her to leave, Amy, you told her to leave.”
And he couldn’t reason with me, I was completely unreasonable. There was no reasoning. So, it just devolved into a big clusterfuck of a mess.
Eventually, I went back into my room, shut and locked the door and told Alan, “You go sleep upstairs with Heath. Just don’t come near me. Don’t come near me until you bring me my daughter. Bring me my daughter. Bring me my daughter!”
Some hours later, in the dark and loneliness of night, when I realized that she wasn’t coming home for the second night, I was just not coping at all. I just couldn’t get my head around the idea that she may stay away for good. I wasn’t thinking straight and I was overwhelmed. It was late, and I was alone and I was awake.
And so I just decided, I can’t do this. I can’t live, I can’t live without her. I cannot live without my daughter. I cannot, I cannot go through this, I cannot go through this abandonment. This loss, this grief. I cannot deal with this, and I was just not of any kind of sound mind at all. It had just escalated, completely out of control. And it was all on me, and poor Alan, there was nothing he could do to appease me or appease Alana and convince her to come home. There was no dealing with Andy and Lisa. It was just a nightmare, so I just impulsively swallowed as many pills as I could find. I had antidepressants and anti anxiety medications to treat my mental illness, and Alan had some Tramadol from a hip replacement surgery he’d had.
I just put every pill I could find in my mouth, I didn’t even think about Alan, I didn’t think about Heath and Gwyneth. I just knew that I didn’t want to live for one more second if Alana wasn’t coming home. So I went to bed, ready to die. I felt dead already. I felt I’d lost everything.
I woke up around 4am Monday morning. And I realized that I wasn’t dead, and I was pissed. And I was sick. Very sick. So I called Heath on his cell phone upstairs and told him to tell Daddy to come downstairs and Alan came down, and I was really, really sick and really, really out of it and I told him what I had done and he called 911, right away.
I was very sick. I was in the cardiac unit at the hospital, because I was having heart problems. And I remember hallucinating. And if you’ve never hallucinated, if you’ve ever wondered if you’re hallucinating, then you’re not, because if you are, you know it. I had so many hallucinogenic experiences during these two days or three days that I was hospitalized. I guess I woke up Wednesday. And when I woke up there was the Angel. Darlene. This angel, my angel. Darlene was my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we’ve been together for 20 plus years. She was somewhat like my very first child in a way. There she was, and no one except family was even allowed in the room but somehow she just pushed her way in and came and sat there until I woke up. Meanwhile, Alan was visiting every day, but was essentially home taking care of the kids. Alana apparently came back home on Monday, after school.
While I was in the hospital, I had to have a babysitter in my room because I was on suicide watch. In the cardiac unit. And so along with the nurses, doctors, CNA’s, there was a sitter, literally called a Sitter, who was in there with me 24/7. Once I regained consciousness I was just in complete and total despair over what I had done, and what Alana’s status was. I asked Alan, “Did you tell the kids what I did?”
He replied, “Well, Heath and Gwyneth knew because they were there when the ambulance came and I went to the hospital with you so Heath had to stay home alone with Gwyneth. And, you know, he didn’t know whether you were alive or dead until I called and told him. And so he was scared and confused. He didn’t go to school Monday morning and the whole thing was just so horrific and terrifying for the kids.”
I asked him about Alana, “Did you tell her?”
“Yes, I did,” he replied. “And she was shocked. She was shocked that you had done that. And I explained to her that it was nobody’s fault. That Mom is sick. Mom has mental illness. We all know that. And she just went over the edge, and it was not her fault.”
I don’t think I’ll ever know if she accepted that. I suspect not.
It was my fault, but Alan didn’t blame me. It just happened. It’s a picture of what mental illness can do.
Once I was discharged from the main hospital, I was mandated to go to a psychiatric hospital which I tried to refuse but apparently the law said I had to go. In other words, according to the laws in my state, “If someone else has decided that you need to be in the hospital, these are the steps that must be followed:
An affidavit must be filed with the Clerk of Superior Court or Magistrate of District Court. The Clerk or Magistrate may issue an order to a law enforcement officer to take you into custody for examination by a qualified professional. If the qualified professional finds that you are mentally ill and dangerous to yourself or others, you will be taken to the psychiatric hospital.”
I was literally driven in a paddy wagon to Winston Salem, because Greensboro had no beds available. Straight to the loony bin, just as Andy said I should. I stayed there, probably three to four days of which 72 hours is the standard for an involuntary commitment; we don’t have any long term in-patient facilities in our area, only short term. Alan came every day.
I asked him if Alana would come. He said he would ask her.
Alan said to Alana, “Mom really wants you to come to see her at the psychiatric hospital.” His perception of her reaction was that she was quiet, humbled.
He went on reassuredly, “Mom is going to be okay,” and, “We feel like the reason that you should to come is to see that for yourself. Mom and I don’t blame you for what happened at all, and she really is going to be alright.” She agreed to come without any comment,
I remember that when Alan brought Alana to the psychiatric hospital, Heath was at baseball practice and could not stay home with Gwyneth, so Alan had to bring Gwyneth with him, but she was too young to come back into the hospital so she had to wait in the lobby area of the hospital all alone. At 12 years old. I felt absolutely awful and extremely guilty for what I’d put my family through.
Once they arrived, Alana was allowed to come back to see me. Alan had warned her about all the security measures and that they would need to search her and she couldn’t bring her phone or any other gadgets or potentially dangerous items with her. She came back alone and I was very upbeat, very happy to see her, and the only reference I made to what had happened was that I was very glad to see her and I appreciated that she agreed to come. She shrugged, noncommittally, not sure what to say. It was uncomfortable for her. I didn’t know if she harbored any hurt feelings of me having almost abandoning her by trying to kill myself, or if she felt any feelings of guilt that I felt like she was abandoning me by leaving.
My experience at the hospital was very, very good. I’d had previous experiences at the hospital in Greensboro, under voluntary admittance, that were not good, and that’s why I refused to go, but this particular hospital was very good. And I learned for the first time in my life that everyone has a story. Everyone, from the doctor’s wife, to the drug guy on the street, and everyone in between, has a story. We all have a story. And I thought about it and I thought, “Well you know, Alan, my husband, he doesn’t really have a story. He had a self-professed idyllic childhood and he is a happily married man with three great kids. And then I realized that I was his story. I am his story.”
Note: This is a chapter from my upcoming memoir, “Show My Ugly”. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.