Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Family and Mental Illness (Part 4) The Diagnosis Explained/Depression and Seizures Begin

Sheldon's note: This is a continuing series about my family's struggles surrounding my father's mental health issues when I was a teen. If you haven't already read the previous posts in this series, please read (post 1), (post 2) and (post 3)before preceding any farther in reading this post.

My mom didn't want to explain much of what the doctor meant by "dementia" until we got home from the doctor's office. She said that the doctor told her that dementia, in this context, simply meant memory loss. He had moderate brain damage, essentially, and the area of the brain most impacted was the areas of the brain that control short term memory.

The psychiatrists that ran the psychological testing on him, had asked him about his life history and his workplace. They had told the doctor that they really couldn't point to any one certain aspect of his life and say that it was the definite cause of it. He had worked around lead and various toxic industrial chemicals at work, but there was also a traffic accident in his teen years where he had been knocked unconscious, and also like many people of his generation (he's 57 now), he had his extensive experiences with intoxicating substances.

In his case, his favorite combination as a teen was LSD and Seagram's whiskey of all things. He jokes from time to time that he was "the only druggie who listened to country music". He started with the whiskey in his early teens, but the drinking got heavier, and he started on the LSD when he was 17, shortly after the death of his father from a massive heart attack at the rail yard where he worked. I suppose he wanted to forget what was going on around him.

He stopped the use of LSD a little over a year later, and had considerably slowed down on the drinking by the time he met my mother when he was 21. He stopped all together when my sister was born, and shortly after, they both converted to Christian fundamentalism.

Basically, they said because of the combination of all this, the best they could say is that probably all of these factors contributed to it over time, causing a slow buildup, which resulted in what we were now experiencing. We knew what was happening now, and perhaps why, but that didn't help much in many ways.

My father wasn't feeling much better, though his mind was starting to clear slightly, he was started to be become severely depressed. He missed his job, it had become so much of a part of him over those 25 years, his reason to get up in the morning, it was a major part of his life.

He felt like he had nothing to do, and he kept trying to find things to do. We literally could not leave one dish or one cup in the sink without him rushing to wash it. He's still obsessive to this day, I've talked before about his obssesiveness and how he hates it when I joke that the TV character Adrian Monk is his brother.

His feeling of a loss of purpose led him to become very depressed, it was hard to get him out of my mom and dad's bed room (except for when he thought there was something to clean), he just wanted to sleep all day and all night, with the lights out and the curtains drawn. It was harder still to get him to eat, which was scaring my mother, he dropped weight very quickly, and his hair, which used to be dark black with only slight hints of grey, turned solid white within weeks.

She didn't know what to do, and just when we all felt like we were about to break from all the stress, something new, but not completely unexpected came up: seizures. We started noticing that he had slight tremors at times, and then the full blown seizures started, the seizures were severe, lasting up to 20 minutes, and requiring him to be rushed to a local hospital by ambulance several times.

On top of all the medical and mental health issues, there was also the money issues. Since my father couldn't work, my mom had to cash in his 401k to live off of in the meantime, until we could file for Social Security's disability benefits.

The 401k money, and the money that my mom had been saving up for a year before he left his job helped, but the leftover medical bills, and the fact that we were having to pay over $500 each month to continue my dad's insurance through his former job (at least we were still getting it at the discounted negotiated rate that his former employer bought it for due to the federal COBRA law, but that was only allowed for 18 months).

We didn't know what was going to happen when we filed for disability, we had heard horror stories from people who had to file for it, and fight for it, including a neighbor who despite having heart issues, and a heart bypass surgery had to appeal for 3 years, and eventually sue the federal government to get it.

We felt like we were on the Titanic, bailing out water with 5 gallon buckets.....

To be continued in post 5.


  1. This is a hard story to read. I feel for you and your family.

    1. It's been 10 years now, and writing this still brings it all back

  2. I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. No one can completely understand exactly what you and your family went/are going through, of course. But I am experiencing first-hand what it is like to live with a close family member (age 57) with a memory illness (frontotemporal degeneration). It's one of the toughest things that can happen to anyone.

    1. My dad is 57 now. It's hard for people to understand what it's like to have a mental illness, or take care of someone with mental illness unless they have been there. I've been on both sides of this.

  3. I hope writing gives you some healing (I know it helps me process things).

    1. It's starting to help. It's odd that I thought I had fully come to terms with my past, but once I started writing this series, all those old feelings came back.

  4. This was clearly a painful experience for you and your family. The medical bill nightmare clearly wasn't helping with the stress and sorrow you were all experiencing.

    1. They had the money to pay many of the bills, but it was running out fast. There was times that they would flat out say to a doctor when making the appointment, that if they weren't willing to simply take what the insurance gave them, and agree to bill no more than that, then they would go somewhere else.

      Surprisingly, there wasn't any doctors that turned them down. They did that, because after a while, that leftover 20% was destructive to their finances.

  5. Thankyou for sharing such a personal and difficult experience.

    I hope I am not being insensitive, but as a reader, I appreciate the careful writing and the flow and pacing of your has made reading it interesting. I look forward to more.....



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