Two Losses, Too Soon

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When I think about it, maybe my dad could’ve lived longer had he not smoked. But it’s also not his fault. Brains are often wired a certain way and we all know some are more susceptible to addictive patterns. I don’t need to regurgitate facts or data that have been thrown out time and time again. Since I started working in the library and helping out with magazines, there are many cover stories out there about the opioid crisis and addiction. In addition, we all know that suicidal ideation is another affliction that is hard to process to those who know that feeling day in, day out. It’s hard for me to go into specifics or great details about how addiction and loss have hit me hard within the past couple of days, mainly out of respect to the families that are dealing with grief at this time. And I didn’t know the individuals in a way that I would consider to be close, but there’s still such difficulty processing how this continues to happen - people who are gone too soon, too suddenly. One can argue that the system has failed them, but I can’t say that for sure since I know the complex chemical mysteries of the mind can never be fully understood. Sometimes I do wonder what could’ve been done, even if that will never undo the tragedy that has occurred.

From my own experience, I have gotten migraine headaches since the late 90s. I was given a variety of tests, referred to specialists and have had a number of suggestions as to how to eradicate them. I may have told a number of people of this already: I was once dependent on prescription painkillers. To this day, the only time I will consider taking anything close to an opiate is for major surgery or dental work. How did this happen? Well, I went to see a doctor at the Hammond Clinic who I believe was a “neurologist” back in 2001. When I told him I was getting migraines and after not finding anything with my CT scan, he simply wrote a prescription for an opiate called Darvocet. He gave me 30 pills and told me to come back in the month. Once I ran out, I asked for a refill. I was on that prescription for 90 days, realizing that it was not only eradicating the headaches but also causing euphoria that was new to me. I felt the perfect blend of calm and creative. Somehow it didn’t necessarily numb me into oblivion, but caused me to be more active and overjoyed. (It’s similar to how alcohol affects some people but never did for me). I was never manic but I was never depressed. I was simply at a level of what I felt could be a “new normal.” This was also at a time when I didn’t do the kind of research on a medication that I would do today. Once those three months had ended, I stopped taking them but then experienced the worst kind of withdrawal possible for about five days. I had the shakes, felt nauseous, and the headaches returned sporadically. Normally, I get migraines a few times a year until recently when they started happening again more often. I know better now and hopefully all doctors know not to prescribe painkillers of that caliber for a migraine.

Darvocet is no longer available on the market. It contained something Propoxyphene. Propoxyphene is part of a group of drugs categorized as narcotic pain relievers. The FDA was petitioned to ban Darvocet in 1978 and 2006 based solely on the safety issues surrounding propoxyphene. But the major problem with the drug stemmed from the development of abnormal, even fatal, heart rhythm abnormalities in healthy patients who took the approved dosage. It wasn’t until 2010 that it was finally no longer prescribed in any form. Despite knowing now that many painkillers are better regulated by doctors than they were two decades ago, how did a friend from Loyola end up the victim of an overdose this past week? There’s really no way to know. I’m sure family members and investigators will dig deep into medical files, and an acquaintance of his I spoke with mentioned how he “kept a secret stash” in the garage. Yes, these extra pills could’ve been acquired on the streets or via the Dark Web, but in all likelihood since this person was seeing a doctor regularly, he may have been over-prescribed and his regimen was mishandled. Again, it’s difficult to say.

People using prescription drugs still want to be seen as good people in their families and communities. Despite their addiction, they don't see themselves as a drug user, just someone who is trying to find that “new normal” that I spoke of earlier. When the feeling of normalcy wears off for any number of reasons (stress, unbalanced neurotransmitters, not eating well) it likely sends signals to the brain that says “more normal please.” That feeling of needing more is to reach the level of normal again, the one that brings back that sensation. It could be euphoria, it could be a high, but for many, it’s just to feel balanced in a way that makes sense to them. The wife of my acquaintance didn’t know about my friend’s “secret life” as an addict. Which means he was able to hide his emotions and behavior, which isn’t an easy feat. There’s a level of self-deception involved that consumes others too. Nobody realizes it until it’s too late. There have been other examples of trying to balance a new normal that involved past experiences with co-dependence which is more of a behavior that relies on trying to keep other people happy or feeling so attached, that it’s hard to feel normal while being alone. All of these factors can play into addiction, which can be subtle, as in the case with me and food. (Or even being naive back in 2001 when it came to the Darvocet). Nothing compares to waking up suddenly to find the person next to you unable to wake up due to a horrible mix of substances the night before.

In addition to finding this out, someone else has left this plane of existence due to taking their own life. Again, I can’t go into greater detail there either. Most people who know me are aware that I’ve tried this in the past, when I was a teenager and I don’t need to rehash my experience there again. Suffice to say, I never told anyone until a decade later that I attempted. I even told my parents at the time I had the flu when I woke up the next morning throwing up. I should’ve been more open and honest, and received a lot of help, support and treatment back then. However, I found movies, music, and friends to allow me to bounce back and feel whole again. Not everyone gets that chance, including two people that are no longer with us for reasons that are hard to quantify and elaborate on. I can easily post phone numbers, resources, and any number of support out there for those who struggle. The fact is, we have to be more comfortable sharing difficult feelings or confide in others the patterns that cause us to self-destruct. I’ve certainly done things that have hurt myself or others in the past that I truly wish can be erased. Amends may never be made in certain situations, which is probably a contributing factor in my own daily bouts of melancholy. What really hurts is that some people never get help or reach out or confide in someone before acting impulsively. That impulse has lead to two deaths in a short span of time.

Not everyone has a support system in place, or a therapist / LCSW, or a lot of strong friendships, so it is imperative to check in, communicate, and be compassionate towards those who may be struggling with their secrets and their pain. Condolences and prayers can only do so much. In fact, those words have lost their meaning and cannot begin to describe how sad I am that good people are gone too soon. I want to be hopeful about the future for everyone, but I also know that struggle makes hope look and feel impossible. All I can say is that maybe it’s possible that the people who have left us, are no longer in pain. That struggle is gone and they are no longer at war with their thoughts. I just wish they could’ve held on a little longer or I could’ve done (or said) something. I wish things were different for everyone, including those closest to me. I just hope that the families experiencing this sudden loss these past couple of days can remain resilient and persevere through the horrendous pain. And I also wish this country would wake up and provide even more valuable (and free) resources there for mental health ailments and addiction. Until then, do your best to talk, write, confide, and message those who need that connection. You just never know how much it may help and how badly they need that help. Sometimes knowing that someone cares can be a light shining in a sea of dark thoughts and unwanted, unhealthy patterns. I can’t say things like “condolences” and “RIP” to the families at this time. Those aren’t the right words anymore. I’m not even sure if a hug will help. All I can do is hope that this doesn’t keep happening. I shouldn’t have been prescribed Darvocet, my dad shouldn’t have ever started smoking. Friends shouldn’t have to think that a drug will lead to feeling the kind of feelings they have been searching for. All we can do is hope for stability, less pain, and more connection to ourselves and the world around us.

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