Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Mark's Illness


My dad died unexpectedly last week. Mom wants to share their story. These are her words:


CONTENT WARNING:
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Depression, OCD, mental illness, unexpected death, suicide, related issues

Please, if any of these issues are triggers for you, make the healthy choice to move on to another post. Choose to stay mentally healthy - choose what is best for you.

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On February 12, my husband Mark died unexpectedly. His death was an unintentional overdose; he did not intend to die that day, but it was as a result of his illness. It is important to me that his death not be whispered about or dealt with in a hush-hush manner, so I have written about his illness in a straight-forward manner and my daughter has published it here. It is my hope that we will continue to bring mental illness out of the shadows and into the light.

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***Trigger warning***

I’m going to talk frankly about chronic mental illness, as someone who has intimate knowledge.

My husband had life-long, debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder, exacerbated by depression. I walked his journey with him for 43 years, as he fought to focus on all the many and wonderful positive things in his life, and to not spiral down into the over-focusing that is OCD.

Depression is not being sad. OCD is not counting your steps, or straightening pictures. Chronic depression includes being overwhelmed to the point of inertia, sometimes by the most simple things of daily life. OCD involves over-thinking, which can lead to getting stuck in a loop that repeats over and over. OCD is not a punchline, nor is it a plot generator for a situation comedy or a movie. It has always infuriated me that a show like Monk would be so well-received, with their running jokes about the title character’s tics and rituals. I cannot imagine a comedy based on the cute trials and tribulations of a person with cancer or type-1 diabetes, but it was apparently OK to take a light-hearted approach to chronic mental illness. There is nothing light-hearted about chronic mental illness.

Over the years, Mark used a combination of psychotherapy and medication to manage his symptoms, and there were some times that were very good. But there were some times that were not good. Times when the depression would become the focus and he would start to spiral downward. I could usually spot the beginnings of a spiral, and we’d work through it with the strategies he had learned to use.

The last year was especially difficult, dealing with such disparate things as the current dreadful administration and the decline and death of his father. His spirals were more frequent but recovery was also more swift. A couple of weeks ago, Friday was a very bad day. He considered going to St Vincent’s but after talking it out with me he decided against it, and he accompanied me to the drumline competition on Saturday, helping move the kids on and off the floor and hanging out with me in the directors’ room. We went out into the neighborhood and walked for about a mile and ½ and it was a very nice walk - positive and pleasant. Sunday was a good day, getting a few things done around the house, planning the next week, and evening church. At church, we were the greeters and Mark was the head usher. We collected the offering and then he decided to wait to go put it away, because he was appreciating the songs and what our guest speaker had to say and wanted to participate fully. When we got home, I checked in with him and he said things were much better – again, a fairly quick recovery. Monday morning was a good morning, with Mark getting up right away, taking care of our cats, fixing my oatmeal, and doing his exercise bike shakeout and stretches. He had plans to hike at Tryon, to help my dad on Tuesday, a list of things on which he was making good progress. And then something happened that got him stuck in a loop. He took his medicine – all of it. I could not find a triggering incident – there was no email, no phone call, no text, no note. My best guess is that he started to over-focus on something and took his medicine to make it better, and then got stuck in taking it over and over, questioning whether he had taken enough, until he became disoriented.

Here is what I know for certain – he did not take his medicine for the purpose of dying that day. If so, he would have emptied the medicine cabinet. He would have taken my medicine, and the 500-tab bottle of Tylenol, and the bottle of aspirin all people over 60 are supposed to take, and everything else. He took only his own medicine, which he used to help with his symptoms. I know he did not plan to die that day. Mark was incapable of being duplicitous – he truly WAS having a good morning, not just pretending to have a good morning. Those of us who know him know that he could not have planned and hidden a plan – he was incredibly transparent, and self-control was never something he did well. And he did not undergo a sudden personality change – that’s the stuff bad TV and movies are made of. And yet, he died. From an overdose of the medications that, for years, had helped him manage the awful combination of depression and OCD. Nothing about the day pointed to an intent to die. When Mark had a meltdown, it was messy. Monday was not a messy day, in any way. And when he had intrusive thoughts, he could not keep them to himself. There would have been a call, or a text, or something. He did not plan to die that day. And yet, he died.

Mark fought depression his entire life. Childhood school records show indications that OCD came along early as well. He fought long and hard and well. The OCD made it so that he could not ignore the symptoms of depression. The depression made it difficult to manage the over-thinking of OCD. Together, the two diseases were a formidable opponent, and he fought long and hard and well. He trusted deeply in the love of God and the grace of Jesus and he believed God’s people have a moral imperative to work diligently to help right wrongs, here and far away. And his life reflected that belief. When he was not in a downward spiral, he was helping others. Those who know him, know this as the biggest defining factor of his life. Not the OCD, and not the depression. Helping others. Helping. Others.

It is imperative that the rest of us need to continue to shed light on mental illness, so that those who are affected are not afraid to get help (we would NEVER suggest someone needing dialysis should just “try harder”). To not make fun of those who are affected, but to be there to support (we would NEVER make fun of someone fighting cancer). To never let any aspect of mental illness become a punchline (we would NEVER create a comedy around the trials of someone with chronic pain). To help people understand that mental illness does not mean violence. To help people understand that mental illness does not mean weakness. To not look at evil and instead call it mental illness. 

Resources to help:
Crisis Text Line
National Alliance on Mental Illness - Crisis Services

13 comments:

  1. I am so very for your family's loss. Thank you Kati for sharing Mark's story. It is important to know that is okay to have those issues. Many of us do and keep it silent. If just a small part of his story helps just one person, that will be a blessing.

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  2. THANK YOU. Thank you, for this honest, transparent, raw and personal account of Mark and his experience of mental illness. I appreciate your perspective as his partner who loved him, endured with him, hoped with him, and did life with him.
    I love and live with someone who has a significant mental health diagnosis, and I resonate with your assertion that this is never like a tidy punchline or simple solution or anything easy to understand.
    I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing this and helping to forward the acceptance of brain health and mental illness diagnoses, but more importantly for speaking boldly against stigma. I stand with you and hope for change with you.
    I am so very sorry Mark is gone from this life; my father recently passed from multiple “acceptable” illnesses (ALS & Cancer), and I see no difference in the depth of grief, the shock, the loss, the incomprehensibility of it all.
    My heart and prayers are with you, and I know all too well there are no perfect words of comfort.
    Your honesty will help many. ��

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  3. I am so sorry for ur loss and i am very thankful to know u and mark

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  4. I am so sorry for your loss i am very thankful to know u and mark i am so very sorry

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  5. I love all three of you remarkable women. I just wanted to tell you that my dad still mentions Mark from time to time, and the fact that Mark would invite my dad to ride along in the truck to band competitions and was so genuinely kind to him has always stuck with him. Thank you, Mrs. McKee, for being so transparent and brave. Thank you for sticking up for not only Mark, but all of us who struggle. Mr. McKee is going to leave a great void in this world, but more importantly, he has left an even bigger memory and example of true and genuine kindness and love, and what it is to be a warm and honest person. Me and my dad love you guys.

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  6. Your strength is an inspiration. I too have suffered from depression and OCD my entire life. I was diagnosed as Bipolar in 2011. It’s an ongoing struggle that I will always have, I wish more people would understand the torment some people have to face each day. My heart goes out to you all and I will always have a special place in my heart for Mark. He’s at peace now, God bless him.
    Shannon Merrifield

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  7. Thank you for sharing, you are an inspiration. I too have had a life long battle with depression and OCD. I was “finally” officially diagnosed as bipolar in 2011 after years of doctors and trying all types of medications. People don’t always realize the torment a person with a form of mental illness faces daily. Thank you for being open. My heart is with all of you. Mark is at peace now, God bless him. Prayers & love, Shannon Merrifield

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  8. It is always brave to open up one's life so those who love you can share the suffering. I know how loving your colleagues are, and I know how much comfort you gave me in the past two years.
    Thanks for highlighting the attitude towards certain mental issues. I had not looked at it that way before, and I appreciate your perspective.
    Anything I can do, let me know.

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  9. Thank you for sharing your family’s story bravely and with transparency. Mental illness is a struggle for me. I manage it best I can. And then when my son went through his struggle last year, I was grateful for what I had also learned at a NAMI conference hosted by my church earlier that year. It equipped me to better support him. Faith helped me endure when I was scared.
    Awareness makes us better. We need each other in life. Someone to walk alongside us. There is no shame in struggling with mental illness. No. Shame.
    I admire your walk with him as wife, advocate, and a woman of faith. Well done my friend. May God’s love for you and your family be a constant companion through this season and forever. May your story of grace and love strengthen multitudes of others who walk in a similar path. This is real love!

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  10. Thank you for sharing and I too am deeply sorry for you loss. Mark was a good man who I know loved our Lord deeply. He was great to do things at church and help out when ever he could. He was blessed to have such a loving and understand family who helped him though the tough time and enjoyed the great times with Mark. My love and prayers are with all of you.

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  11. Your honesty and vulnerability are so courageous Katie, you are not alone. Depression and OCD are so painful to live with. We are lifting you in love and prayers in the Nihill and Scroggin families!

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  12. Thank you for this Kati. I am so very sorry for your family's loss. Your story has touched my heart and made me more aware of my words and actions. Thank you for sharing these insights. Testimonies are the way to reach people and I appreciate that you were willing to share this with us. Albert and I remember Mark as a kind and helpful man.

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  13. Thank you for having the courage to share your family’s intimate story. This is a reminder that we don’t always know the struggles others are going through. Mark was a wonderful person and will be remembered fondly.

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