Services help one woman back on her feet

Editor's note: This is the last in a series of articles examining mental-health issues in Nevada and, specifically, attempts in Carson City to improve the level of treatment for the mentally ill.

As a child, Christine never felt normal.

"When I was young, I was never happy," she said. "I didn't know why. My mom and dad worked hard and did the best they could, but I just never felt OK. Nothing helped to change that."

Years later, after a failed marriage, suffering through domestic abuse, bouts of homelessness and a suicide attempt, Christine discovered she suffered from clinical depression and a panic and anxiety disorder.

She's employed now, happily married and mostly at peace with herself. She smiles and laughs, something she said for most of her life she rarely did. But it's taken almost 50 years for her to reach this point.

Her spiral downward started early. At 11, she started taking drugs. She left home by 14, but when she got pregnant with her first son at 16, she returned home.

By 18 she was married with two more children. But one day her husband walked out on her, leaving $50 and a car. She said she didn't speak for eight weeks but eventually she packed up her kids and the car and went to Sacramento. The family ended up living out of the car and hotels for about three years.

"I couldn't believe it. I'd never worked; he hadn't wanted me to," she said. "I went to Sacramento and worked two jobs, then I started drinking. I went out of control."

Christine had been to doctors for her problems. Early on, none could tell her what was wrong, but some doctors gave her prescription drugs to treat her illnesses, drugs to which she became addicted.

By that time, Christine had become an alcoholic - one who didn't understand the problems that seemed to follow her. For 10 years off and on, Christine had an abusive relationship with a man which made her depression and anxiety worse. Her life propelled toward one moment when, in a drunken fit, she decided to end her life.

"I had had it. My children were gone. They meant everything to me," she said. "I just felt like I deserved everything I got. I was very suicidal and didn't understand why. I was drunk, and I took 90 Limbitrol. I was going to make myself pay for all I did in my life."

Someone called an ambulance and saved her life.

"The paramedic tricked me. His name was Mitch and he said, 'Come on, let's take a walk.' He kept talking to me, talked me into taking ipecac. They got me in the ambulance, and I remember them saying, 'Her pulse is down to 23. We're losing her.'

"I was in a coma for a couple of days. When I woke up, I was angry. I had hoped this time it would be over. All the pain and misery would be over. My children wouldn't suffer any more."

After that, Christine realized she needed to change, if not for herself, for her boys. She started going to Alcoholics Anonymous, started seeing a counselor and learned how to escape domestic violence. Her trip to health included stays in the capital's Life Stress center, training through vocational rehabilitation, counseling through Rural Mental Health Clinics and a host of other community-based programs.

The people in those programs helped Christine realize the demons she had fought throughout her life could be conquered.

"I went to Western Nevada Community College, got a 4.0 and passed my GED," she said. "I didn't believe I could do any of that. I didn't know I had a mental illness, I just always lived that way.

"What brought me out of this was my faith. It brought God back into my life. I prayed and it brought miracles into my life. I have good relationships with my family and my children.

"My therapist says, 'Christine, you are just fine.' No, I'm not completely well. I don't know if that day will ever come. But I know I'm OK. If I can do it, anybody can do it." Christine remarried in 1996 "to a wonderful man who knows what I've been through, accepts me like I am and treats me like gold."

She watches the mental health network that helped her and said lack of funding for programs is "choking mental health."

"They are so overworked," she said. "I have seen my therapist at Rural Mental Health at midnight. They don't get paid overtime to be there."

Christine said there is a horrible stigma that follows the mentally ill. She looks fine, she said, "but if I tell somebody, the look on their face and tone of their voice changes.

"I've been horribly discriminated against. People don't understand," she said. "Growing up we learned what's said in this house stays in this house. Mental illness is the same. People think it should be kept in a little box. It should be brought out.

I hope that people don't believe that their life can't change, that mental illnesses can't get better. Miracles have happened in my life. They keep happening."


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