Dedicated in memory of the author’s sister, Susan Sarah Baron
It has been a long time since I wrote anything about mental illness. I used to be a big NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) advocate. I even wrote a book titled Surviving Mental Illness, My Story, and became a Peer Specialist/Advocate.
My sister struggled with Paranoid Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders for nine years. When I learned of her death, I gave up on the idea of recovery and stopped publishing and advertising my book, so when self-publishers called me, I told them I am not interested in writing anymore. I no longer wanted to be a member of NAMI or any organization that had to do with mental illness, even Jewish ones. I no longer wanted to be a Peer Specialist because that meant that I have to believe that everyone has a possible chance to achieve recovery. I lost faith in the mental health system. Somehow though, I never lost faith in my Judaism and in G-d. I never knew the reason why I had such strong faith. It was always in me and I always felt it, but I could never describe it until now.
Uncovering The Truth About My Sister
Recently, I learned that my shul and two main rabbis that I have grown to love and my Jewish community that I have grown to love had kept a confidential secret from me regarding the details behind my sister’s death, although I had my suspicions. I went one day to the Rabbi whose shul was in charge of the Chevra Kadisha (group of people who prepare the deceased for burial) of my sister, even though deep down I knew and had suspicions but was not ready to admit to it when she had passed away. The Rabbi finally told me in an email that hearing about other people talking about trying to kill themselves can be triggering; I want you to know and remember in big capital letters, “YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SISTER’S SUICIDE.” I thought I was learning to accept how I knew deep down she died, and I think I was, but it triggered me into having a manic episode, and before it got too bad, I said to my husband Charles, “you better take me to Zucker hospital.”
When I was admitted to the emergency room, the mania exploded. At the hospital and without notifying me, my psychiatrist at Advance Center for Psychotherapy with consult of the hospital staff took me off of my old medication, Prolixin, which had kept me stable since I was 24 years old. Instead, they gave me Abilify and Clonazepam, which helped me sleep and lessened the anxiety. I stayed there about a week and when I came home, I continued with my psychiatrist and met with the director of the clinic who helped me interpret the manic episode I had in the hospital because I wrote it down in a journal. It was then that I realized I had a spiritual connection to Hashem, to my family who are in heaven, to certain spiritual leaders and rabbis in my community, and of course, to Judaism.
Working Through The Medications
I realized the Abilify had given me hypermania, lack of sleep, and migraine headaches. I told this to my doctor and he of all people, who I thought knew me very well, asked which medicine I felt was better for me. I told him of course the Prolixin, but he should have known that after dealing with me for so many years.
One day, I went to my retail pharmacist and she saw that I was not myself, which means the hypermania must have gotten worse. She could not get a hold of my doctor and called Charles. They both called Hatzolah ambulance services and brought me to the emergency room at Zucker hospital for my second trip, but what I did not know was that I was admitted involuntarily. I felt like the doctors and nurse practitioners and staff were ignoring me and not believing what I had to say. They put me back on Abilify 20 mg, the medication which started this whole thing. When my doctor sent them a message, they realized what they did wrong and that they did not properly listen to me.
I was not sleeping day and night and did not feel up to joining groups and was above all crying. Once they got my medication fixed back to my Prolixin, they switched me to voluntary stay, and soon after, I was out of the hospital. However, they wanted me to join Zucker’s PACE Program, which is a short-term partial hospitalization program.
During my stay at the hospital and with the PACE Program, I realized that my sister in heaven wanted me to regain my mental health and to still believe at least that there is hope for me, even though she is gone. Because of my strong spirituality to Hashem, to my parents, and definitely to my sister, I realized that even though she did not want to commit suicide, I believe that it was Hashem’s plan to let her go.
I think and realize today that my sister Susan and Hashem wanted to show me that there is still life and it is up to Hashem. My sister wants me as well as my parents to continue using mental health through wellness but focus it in a different way. I have decided to volunteer more with Jewish organizations, such as working with seniors at the local senior centers. When I am ready, I will rejoin Chazkeinu and may volunteer there in the future by running a group on Zoom about suicide loss for family members. I also want to rejoin NAMI sometime in the near future and participate in a spirituality support group.
This is the longest article I have written in a very long time. Writing does help with mental wellness. This does not mean I will write another book. It does not even mean that I believe in recovery at this point. I do believe in spirituality through strong mental health, which includes wellness, prayer, meditation, self-care, and believing in Hashem, or whatever faith a person observes.
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