A Parent’s Perspective:
When recapping the experience of when mental illness enters a family, where do you start?
The adoption process? The sweet baby child 6 months old from a foreign country? The always smiling and laughing little boy? The losses he experienced in high school of his uncle, grandpa and friends (several friends died from drug overdoses) that contributed to a downward spiral? Or the problem child at puberty who grew silent and sullen, easy to anger, non-communicative and slipping into alcohol and drug use?
The story of Adam is one of extreme contrasts, and how his life went from joy to depression…and all the associated behaviors that this brings.
One Family’s Journey to Healing Patient Background – Getting to Know Luke*
*Patient’s name changed for confidentiality
Luke* epitomized what an outstanding 17-year-old would be like. Even so young, he seemed to have it all together. His grades were tops in the state of Connecticut, he was beloved
by friends and family, and he was considered an all-around “good kid” by everyone who encountered him.
Aside from headaches that plagued him for the last year and a half, things seemed as close to perfect as they could be for this 17-year-old, preparing to enter his senior year of high school. However, in early Spring he began complaining about nausea that persisted for several months. Unable to uncover a diagnosis, Luke’s mom, Gretchen, and dad, Robert, took him to specialists outside of New England. During this trip, some of Luke’s behaviors began to seem unusual to Gretchen and Robert. Meanwhile, the specialists suggested that the cause of Luke’s nausea was anxiety; and recommended Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
Luke’s behaviors continued to be bizarre into the summer. The family was on vacation and Luke started a fight with his dad, which resulted in police being called and Luke in handcuffs. Luke was completely out of character.
After conversations with the doctors, Gretchen and Robert decided to have Luke discontinue taking medication he was prescribed for his headaches, in order to eliminate concerns about negative side effects. Mood swings and paranoid behaviors became more consistent and landed Luke in the emergency room two more times and in two different psychiatric facilities. Gretchen and Robert knew they needed someone to help them sort through this. It was clear that they needed an accurate diagnostic picture and a treatment plan with recommendations that would guide them in their next steps. Having some professional connections in the mental health field, they received several recommendations that Lindner Center of HOPE’s Adolescent Diagnostic and Treatment Program, called Williams House, could help.
Even during the admission process, Gretchen and Robert said they could feel a deeper level of support. On July 18, Luke was admitted to Williams House. Dr. Nicole Gibler, psychiatrist, staffed Luke’s case.
Collaboration with the right program
“Luke came to us after what appeared to be a reaction to medications and a manic episode after a physical workup. His parents were seeking a clear diagnosis. Luke’s symptoms were diagnostically complex, but seemed to point to sudden onset, rapid cycling bipolar disorder. His response was so bizarre we had three other psychiatrists consult on the case, including Drs. Paul Keck and Susan McElroy, world renowned bipolar researchers, in order to find a successful medication regimen. A physical therapist from the University of Cincinnati was also engaged, as Luke expressed a need for a physical outlet,” said Dr. Gibler. “Our collaborative nature and the unit’s adaptability enabled us to accommodate Luke’s complex needs. The milieu staff were very in-tune with him.”
According to Gretchen and Robert, “Luke’s case was thought through carefully and lovingly and every effort was made to do what was best for him. We feel it was a great blessing to start at Lindner. We feel like we have had a good working partnership with Lindner and we let the professionals do the work, receiving good communication throughout.”
Time to heal
Luke discharged from Williams House with a medication regimen, and supports in place, including an educational consultant who will continue to provide guidance to Gretchen and Robert as they follow treatment recommendations for Luke.
Gretchen and Robert understand, “This is a marathon. The staff worked with Luke to help him reframe how his senior year of high school might look. He came to understand that it is okay to give himself time to heal. This is foundational as we move ahead.”
How a Young Man Overcame Severe Anxiety to Reconnect With His Family and a
Life He Enjoys
“I’m not just living again, I’m flourishing.”
– J. Greg Bragg
Exactly one year prior to the time this article was written, J. Greg Bragg, now 37 and living in Alabama, set foot into Sibcy House at Lindner Center of HOPE for the first time. Ten years prior to that, he began experiencing panic attacks. At that time, there was a lot going on in his life and he resorted to self-medication with alcohol.
After three years of using alcohol to manage his panic, Greg went into treatment for his addiction in Atlanta, Georgia. But his panic attacks went unaddressed. He has maintained his sobriety since that time. “My world just kept shrinking and shrinking. Eventually, the most I could do was go to work and come home,” Greg said.
By this point, Greg had a wife and two children. His anxiety took control and he could not bring himself to take his wife out for dinner, attend one of his children’s activities or even visit a construction site being managed by his business. He began to research other treatment options and found Lindner Center of HOPE’s Sibcy House Program. His Aunt, a psychologist, thought it would be a good fit for him. Both were particularly impressed with the Center’s relationships with Mayo Clinic and University of Cincinnati. His decision
was made, but the next hurdle was to get to the Center. What could have been a six hour trip from Alabama to Cincinnati, ended up taking three days with panic attacks forcing Greg to stop frequently.
“When I got here (Lindner Center of HOPE), it was a lot different from what I expected – in a good way,” Greg said. “It was really hard to come in the door, but everyone treated me with such respect. I’ve never seen a place with people with hearts that big. Their kindness and gentleness was overwhelming.”
Greg was at Sibcy House at Lindner Center of HOPE for five weeks, participating in the customized OCD/Anxiety track. Though he participated in groups that would benefit him, largely his treatment consisted of exposures. (Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a treatment method available for a variety of anxiety disorders. In essence it is a controlled way for a person to confront their fears.)
First exposures were completed side-by-side with staff, then Greg was given the flexibility to complete exposures on his own.
When Greg would feel his anxiety coming on, he would get sensations in his feet that felt hot and tingly. As an exposure, staff had purchased the feet warmer packets from a local sporting goods store and instructed Greg to wear them all day. The goal was to help desensitize him from that feeling that signified his anxiety.
His family visited Ohio while Greg was on a weekend pass, the visit was an exposure for Greg as he stayed at a nearby indoor waterpark with his wife and children.
Greg’s exposures also included driving. Dialectical Behavior
Therapy skills were critical in preparing him for his drive home after discharge.
Putting in the Work
Now Greg says, “I’m not just living again, I’m flourishing.”
Greg works with an outpatient therapist in Alabama. “It’s a long road,” he said. “You can’t expect just weeks to undo 10 years of panic attacks.”
“You get out of something, what you want to put into it. I was super motivated when I got to Lindner Center of HOPE. You have to be open and trust the professionals,” Greg stated.
After eight years without enjoying an evening out for their anniversary, Greg took his wife out to eat in Atlanta this year.