I want to offer a transparent word on mental health. August 20, 2018, was no different than any other day up until that point. While still in deep mourning for my husband, David, two years after his death, every day and everything was still a struggle. My younger brother, Hakeem, visited his doctor’s office with a sore throat. On August 23, 2018, he received an official Leukemia diagnosis. He was also told had he not come in when he did, he would have died within 30 days.
I found myself immersed in a 48-hour pity party. I was already extremely angry with God. I took solace only in the belief that He had known of this anger when I was in the womb and yet brought me here anyway. WHY take my husband? Why MY brother? After day two, I put it all away, and concentrated on Hakeem, and what I could do to help him pull through.
When Cancer adjacent, all you can really do is go on to the next steps. You can’t feel what your loved one feels, you just try and do whatever you can to make it better. I didn’t allow myself to think that anything but healing would occur for him, all the while burying my anxieties and grief, all year long. I returned to my prayer life, albeit begrudgingly, but God was hip to that in advance.
On August 22nd, 2019, news of Hakeem’s remission affected me in an unexpected way. “God is great!” I shouted it, cried and celebrated it, but then all of the emotions I’d been burying hit me all at once. I was overwhelmed and suddenly consumed by laying out a plan for my death. I was tired, engulfed and longed for my husband, David, the most. The compulsion was so strong and fast, I couldn’t stop myself from figuring out the exact number of pills it would take to never wake up again. Once I had the number, I thought of my daughter and felt as though I was being ripped in two again, exactly the way I felt while screaming at my husband’s funeral. I tossed the pills, finished crying, and called my therapist and my mother to let them know what had transpired.
My mother listened to her heart and prayed for me. She outlined with me my next steps, to make an emergency appointment with my grief counselor. The next day, my counselor and I developed both an action and a safety plan. The safety plan was a list of local friends and family I could call when I was endangered. For me, it was different because my immediate family was taking care of my brother two hours away, so it required me to be more vulnerable to close friends and extended family. But those who had been there for me the most stepped up and committed to supporting me that day. The action plan was to visit a local psychiatry clinic the next morning, to ask for emergency meds. They had walk-in hours that typically fill up fast. When I overslept the next morning, I panicked, worried that I might have to go the entire weekend without medical intervention. I called my husband’s cousin Rhonda, hysterically. She left work to calm me down… and convinced me to go to the clinic anyway.
Very calmly, I waited to be seen at the clinic just an hour before close after drug testing, I explained to a nurse practitioner everything that had transpired over the last 48 hours, including the plan for medicine I’d made with my grief counselor. Instead of being offered meds, I found myself committed on an involuntary hold before the day was out. That was frightening, (and filthy, but that’s another story). I was locked up for three days, receiving meds at the end of the second day. The psychiatrist I finally saw at the hospital admitted that I shouldn’t have been held, but prescribed me new depression and anxiety meds. He told me to continue to follow up with him and my therapist.
It’s been an extensive three years since my husband passed, and it’s not over yet. I spent 2.5 years isolated, not talking, not processing, and trying to sort out the rational from the irrational in my own head. Living only for my child and then my brother. When I finally exhaled, it was just all too much.
I wrote this essay to encourage those that find themselves on this side of grief to please actually do the work. Checking up on your mental health regularly, consistently, and sooner rather than later….. That could be the difference between life and death. The great news is I feel better emotionally now than I have in years. I am managing some significant side effects, still tweaking dosages and times for optimal results. It’s definitely a process. But I’m still here, and more importantly, I’m glad to be here.
As long as we live on this earth there will be trials. There will be seasons that feel like an onslaught. In those times I believe it’s important to do what’s necessary to take care of yourself. Real self-care, after these times, is work. Long baths and vacations won’t always get you there. The only way out of the grief is to go through.
Black Women Widows Empowered member, Adrienne Leonard Pollard has been widowed from her soulmate, David C. Pollard, since April 18, 2016.