What has been one of the most challenging things that you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing?

“I would say the most challenging thing, the biggest challenge of my life, is when I shattered my shoulder last June. It was life-altering, and I’m still dealing with it today in many, many ways.

How did that happen?

“I was at work, and I was putting a patient into position (I worked for a colorectal doctor), and right before I was positioning her, the doctor said, ‘I’ve got to be out by five,’ and my waiting room was full, and I was running around like a mad person, so I did something like a step off of how I usually do it—I moved the light first, then put the patient down, forgot I moved the light first, tripped over the cord, went flying up, shattered it.

“I fell hard. The poor woman in the room said, ‘I heard that crack. You poor girl.’ She was sending me cards and she was really concerned, but I didn’t go back to work for about eight months, so that was tough.”

What was the process of those eight months like in your recovery?

“Well, the first month, it had happened on June—the day after Father’s Day—so June 16th or 17th—so I fell. I went to the hospital, and they put me in a sling. They had X-rayed everything and they said, ‘Go see your orthopedist.’ When I got to the orthopedist, he X-rayed it again and he said, ‘I think if you just stay in the sling, this is gonna heal better than it would if I had to do anything, so let’s keep you sedentary for a month.’

“I stayed in that stupid thing for a month. When I got re-X-rayed, I still needed surgery. So here I am, I’m on all this medication for a whole month—and they had me pretty high—real high, actually—so I’m on this medication for a month, then I have the surgery and I’m on the medication for another two and a half months.

“So what happened? I got dependent. So I’m like, ‘I just want to be numb now,’ because that’s just how I wanted to be. I want to be numb. The doctor finally said, ‘Okay, you should be feeling better. I’m going to wean you off it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ Well, that was all I could think about. My skin was crawling. It consumed me. I think that was harder than the actual break. If you think about it, I think that part of my life, that deep, dark hole I was in, was probably more difficult than the fall itself.

“Because I work for a colorectal doctor and I’m friends with my primary doctor—and Dr. Klauser is an orthopedist whose son I work for, a guy in the practice, his son—I could get pills from whoever I wanted to, basically. I took advantage of that. I was really in a low place. Very low. It was scary.

“Finally, one day I woke up crying and I said to my husband, ‘Bill, I can’t live like this anymore. I have to tell you something.’ I said, ‘I got addicted to these pain medications. Now everybody’s cut me off and I can’t function.’ I had to tell him, because he’s looking at me like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ He’s a cop.

“That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life: to admit that I needed help. I could have brought this to all kinds of levels: I work for doctors. There’s plenty of money. So I could have brought this to ridiculous levels but I said, ‘I’ve gotta get my head on straight. I can’t do this to my family.’ I have so much love around me that I said, ‘What are you thinking? What are you doing?’ I see addiction a lot in the practice. It’s all around me. I know a lot of people in my age group who have had these problem, and I thought to myself, “How did this happen to me? Me?” And it did. I was freaked out.

“It took a long time. They had to put me on some medications—wean me off, get me back to me. I realized that my exercising, even though I was limited, is my therapy. I need to do this. Every once in a while, I get on a good roll, and then I fall back into a dark place. Get on a good roll, fall back into a dark place. So I’ve always missed the pills; I’ve always still had the craving.

“So about three months ago, I became introverted. I didn’t want to see people, I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t know who I was. And then about three weeks ago, I got to this place where I stayed in bed. I actually had a panic attack at work—it was a Wednesday. I told them I wasn’t feeling good, but it was full-blown; I couldn’t catch my breath, my heart was beating, so I came home and stayed in bed for three days.

“By the fourth day I had to tell my husband what was going on. I was like, ‘I want to hurt myself. There it is. I’m ready to just not be here.’ I didn’t want to be with my family. Why would I want to keep going? And he said, ‘We’re taking you to the doctor. We’re going to get you help.’

“So I saw Dr. Farens, my primary physician, one day, and then my mom came to me that day after I had seen him. She came into my dark room, where my dog was underneath the bed because he’s an animal and he knows I’m not right. This dog is not leaving my side. I mean, he looked so depressed and her face made me say, ‘Oh my God, that’s my mother, my best friend. How could I tell her, ‘Get the hell out of my room. I don’t want to see your face’?’ That’s exactly what I said to my mother. I mean, look at her. How could I say that to her?

“I said, ‘You know what? I am fucked. I need to get into the hospital now.’ Because I was thinking, ‘My husband’s got a gun here, my husband’s got a gun here . . . slitting your wrists is the easiest way. Let’s just . . .’ And then I’m thinking, ‘What about my family? What about when they find me?’ I actually started planning things out. That’s when I said, ‘Bill, look, I need to go to the hospital.’ I checked myself in.

“The first three days were hell. I made it; I got through it. That was only two weeks ago, and here I stand, I think stronger. I know I’m not 100%. I still have cravings. I’m not gonna do it, not gonna go back there, holy shit. And here I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters—one is at Southern, she’s living her dream. Twenty-one years old, she’s the most beautiful person you’ll ever see in your life. And then my sixteen-year-old daughter, my swimmer, she’s an AP student—both of my girls and my husband, I just couldn’t imagine—thank God I got a hold on it, because it could have been really bad. I could’ve lost everything, but they support me 100%, thank God. My mom and Barb and Joe. It’s been a long road, but I feel stronger. Absolutely.”

What was that like for you—getting to a place where you recognized that you needed help and had to ask the people around you for it?

“I just realized that if I feel I can’t ask the people I love for help, how can I ask anybody else? I had to want to help myself first. Once I realized that I needed the help, then it was easier for me to tell other people, ‘I want to be healthy. I want to be the best Veronica I can be.’ Then it was easier for me to say, ‘Listen, I need your help to make me who I was before this, and for me to get back to being the best person I can be, the best mom, the best whatever.’ I’m hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist. When things in my life are going right, I like everything to be perfect, and I let that go. I don’t care about the little shit anymore. I don’t focus on the dust bunnies in the corner of my house; I don’t care how it looks. It is what it is and I just decided that I really gotta start taking care of myself, because if I don’t, nobody’s gonna take care of me. So I’ve got a lot of reasons to be here.”

When you were in your darkest place, what was going through your mind?

“Everything I had to lose, and how I could be such an ungrateful bitch. That’s how I felt: ungrateful bitch. Because then you start talking to people who have it, and then you feel guilty. They have it so much worse than you. You’re sitting here crying the blues when this lady is in this facility because she actually killed somebody driving her car drunk—and you’re here with this person? And thank God my roommate was a wonderful woman who really walked me through it—she was there for thirty days. I was there for seven. She really helped me. She’d say things like, ‘You have to put everything in your life into perspective.’ And I said, ‘You know what? You’re right.’ She was wonderful.”

What did you find most helpful about your experience in the hospital?

“I would say realizing that I matter, and if I’m not here, how it would affect everyone else’s lives. The best thing for me to learn and realize about myself was how selfish I was being—I was being a selfish bitch. I was just thinking about me, and you can’t do that. You can’t say, ‘This is how I feel and this is how I want it to end,’ when you have so many loving people around you. They helped me realize that. They really did. It was actually the best place I could have gone.”

What were some of the new coping skills you had to learn or practice to start digging yourself out of that place?

“To start realizing that when you wake up in the morning, there’s a purpose, so you need to get back to your routine. You need to wake up, you need to take a shower, and you need to do everything everybody does every day, even though you don’t want to. That was the hardest thing—when I first got to Holbrook, I just wanted to stay in bed, and they told me, ‘No, no, no, no, this isn’t how this works. You have to get up, you have to participate in groups, and you have to show that you want to help yourself.’ So that’s what I did: I picked myself up every day.

“By the third day, I had that down; I had my routine down, and I really felt like, ‘Oh my God, what have I been doing with my life? Why haven’t I been living?’ I mean, how awful is that—you’re given this gift of life, and then you decide you don’t want to live it? How dare you.”

Were your kids exposed to your depression leading up to this?

“My kids were exposed, but you know what? They’re very busy, so they didn’t really see—like Jade kept saying, ‘Why are you on the couch, Mommy? Let’s do this; let’s do that.’ I’d be like, ‘No. No.’ And she’s like, ‘But you love that. You love that.’ And I’m like, ‘Jadey, I know; I’m just sad.’ And she’d say, ‘How could you be sad?’ She didn’t understand how I could be sad. She thinks I’m all better, of course—you know, at sixteen, she’s like, ‘Mommy, you’re doing so good. You’re all better.’ And I haven’t even talked to my counseling group since I’ve been out. I was supposed to go there the other day, and I got lost, so I haven’t even talked to somebody professionally since I’ve been out, except for you, which is very helpful. Thank you for letting me get a lot out.”

My pleasure.

“Yeah, yeah, it makes me feel good.”

What was your husband’s role in all of this?

“My rock. Just my rock, saying, ‘Don’t worry, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. This is a disease.’ He said, ‘No matter what you have—it could be a cancer, it could be your tonsils needing to come out—this is a disease.’ Mental illness is probably the scariest place to be, when you’re sick, is in your mind, and he was just amazing. Amazing. I thank God every day.”

Did he recognize that you were sort of slipping?

“Oh yeah. Yeah. He was like, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that, blah, blah, blah,’ and he’s like, ‘Oh my God, you’re no fun,’ because we’re very social people, and the last three months, I didn’t want to do anything, and he was getting pissed. Pissed, like, ‘I’m going.’ He’d go places without me. I don’t blame him. You know? Yeah, he recognized it. He’s pissed at himself for not recognizing it sooner. He’s like, ‘Why didn’t I notice this?’

“And I’d tell him, ‘That’s in the past. Let’s keep moving forward; we’re gonna be great.’ It made us stronger than ever. Even our relationship is better than ever. Every step we’ve been through in life—from the fact that I couldn’t have children, and they said I never would. We went through in vitro fertilization to have my first daughter. We had to do it three times. He had my back, because it was my problem, not his—got through that, had Amber.

“Then, six years later, when I’m back in school for medical assisting, I get pregnant with Jade on my own, and it was like, wow, I had one miracle, now I have my second. So for me, my girls are miracles, and he stood by me through the whole in vitro process, and that’s tough, all the hormones and stuff. This was back when I was twenty-nine, and then—what would another real milestone be?

“After I had my daughter Jade, I had a lot of female problems: many surgeries. I was in a pretty dark place back then, too. I think what happened with Bill is: he went on midnight shift, and he’s a cop. I worked during the day and I was going through a lot of shit, so our sex life wasn’t the greatest at that point. I just couldn’t—I’m doing this, this, and this.

“So I had this slut of a neighbor—oh my God—she slept with everybody, which is disgusting but, anyhow, she used to walk by our house all the time with her dog. Then, all of a sudden, I notice my husband walking a lot with the dog. I’m saying to myself—you kind of think something’s going on, but you’re like, ‘No, he’d never do that to me. We’ve talked about this. I’ve been married to you for fifteen years, blah, blah, blah.’

“So then he’s getting weirder and weirder, and there’s little things, and I’m like, ‘Bill, I know you’ve cheated on me. Just tell me, please.’ And he wouldn’t tell me. For over a month and a half, I’m like, ‘Bill,’ and he’s getting skinny. He’s getting stressed. He’s losing weight at a dramatic speed, and he wasn’t himself. Plus, he’s working midnights. But he finally admitted to me that he did have an affair with the whore on the corner. Very challenging. Very tough. That was one of the other hardest years of my life.”

What did that feel like?

“Take my heart and just shatter it. Shatter. I love him. I’ve loved him since I was sixteen. I love this man. How could he do this to me, after all these years and everything we’ve gone through? You’re going to sleep with the neighborhood whore? Come on. Really? And it had been going on for a while, but he finally broke down and he told me, ‘Yeah, this is what’s been going on,’ and spread it all out on the table. Amber was eight, and Jade was three. It was right after 9/11.

“So I kicked him out, and then I did some real soul-searching. All these years together . . . He made a mistake. We all make mistakes. He’s not a perfect person. He thinks he is. He’s pretty close, but he’s not. He’s flawed. And I forgave him. I forgave him probably too quickly; I should’ve made him stir a little bit longer, but I let him move back in within two months, I think. We were back. We went to some counseling, to our pastor; we talked it all out.

“But for years I would bring it up and throw it in his face. I couldn’t help myself. Especially any time I would drink, I’d be like, ‘Fucking bastard, blah, blah, blah.’ I mean, I would get nasty. And he was like, ‘You know what? If you’re gonna keep throwing this up in my face, I don’t know if I can live like this.’ He goes, ‘You chose to forgive me. We’re getting closer. Let’s move on.’

“He did this for a number of years, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I really forgive him. I was like, ‘You know what? If I don’t forgive him, and really forgive him, who am I hurting? I’m only hurting myself.’ So we moved on. We were stronger than ever after that. And I trust him. I still trust him. I love him; I always will. I knew it the first moment I saw him.”

What did you learn from that experience?

“To be more attentive and not take him for granted, because he doesn’t have to always be there for me, and to show him more affection. I’m not an affectionate person. You know how Joann loves it and she’s hugging everybody and she’s touching you all the time—that’s just not me. I’m more of a ‘keep my space’ person. I don’t like having people touch me. Don’t touch my nails, my feet. Everybody wants to go for mani/pedis, but I say, ‘Yeah, I’m not doing that.’ I’m learning to let them come into my life more and more and more, because if you don’t have people, what do you have? That’s what life is.”

What did you learn from your experience with addiction, depression, becoming suicidal? What came out of that?

“The best thing that came out of that was learning to love myself again. It was hard. I did not like me. But learning to love yourself—you can’t love anybody until you love yourself. You can’t give it away. So my kids weren’t getting the love that I could give, my husband wasn’t getting the love that I could give.

“I had to realize that. I’m a good person—I matter. That’s hard. When you really don’t think you matter, it’s a hard thing to realize: I do matter. I’m here for a purpose, and I want to live my life now for my purpose. I may not know what it is—I’m fifty, my kids are getting older—what am I going to do with the rest of my life? Menopause is tough. I still don’t know what I want to do.

“My job is a stress. I don’t love it there. The people are backstabbers; nobody gets along. It’s a small office. It’s hard work, little money, but I’ll decide if I’m gonna go back there. That’s where I had my panic attack, but I think it’s because that light I tripped over is still there; they didn’t do anything to fix the problem. I have to deal with that around me every single day. I’ll get through it.”

That’s a trigger for you?

“Oh, it’s a trigger for me. Because when I breathe in, everything that’s good, I see my family, everyone who loves me, and when I breathe out, all the darkness is my job—that’s what I see. In with the love, out with those people.”

What brings you joy?

“My family, being around everybody, our vacations—we love to vacation—just spending time with them. And my exercising is important to me. It’s my therapy. Exercise is a very powerful antidepressant. It really is—and so is Lexapro. I like that, too. It’s finally in my system, I think.

“It took a long time, but I’m feeling uplifted, I’m feeling like me again, and I know that life’s got great things in store for me. I’m looking forward to this chapter, let’s put it that way, even though I’m not twenty-nine again—perfect age, right? Twenty-nine. Wasn’t that a perfect age? I loved it. But you know what? It’s okay, because I have people who love me and will help me get through the next fifty years, one year at a time.”

When do you feel the most connected? I’m trying to gain a sense of what your purpose is.

“I feel the most connected when I’m outdoors—just the sun on me, walking in nature. I love nature. Not as much as Barb does, but I do love nature, so I would say being outside and being with people I love make me feel connected.”

Maybe it’s possible that you could work outside with people you love.

“You know what? My brother who does the striping, I said to him the other day, ‘If you ever need an assistant, and you want me to come up and move whatever you have to move as you’re striping, that would be great. I would love to do that with you.’ So maybe I can. Maybe I’ll find something that either is exercise-oriented, even at a gym. I mean, it’s not like I need to make a lot of money; my husband does great. So it’s not money at all. I just have to decide what’s going to make me happy. I’m on a journey, and it’s okay: I’ll get there. I have another whole month to decide what I’m gonna do, and hopefully I’ll find something as rewarding as you’ve found.”

Thank you. I’ve found, in my own experience, that my darkest times, my most challenging experiences, and probably my lowest points are what led me to one of the biggest treasures in my life, and that was being able to take that darkness and those challenges and sort of recycle them into something that could be beneficial to other people, and that’s where I found my purpose. I think, anything that we do, if we can take our life experiences and use them to benefit other people in some way, that’s always the answer.

“Wouldn’t this world be a beautiful place if every person on earth thought about others? It’s simple. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. It’s so simple, and nobody lives it. I always treat people the way I want to be treated. It would make the world so much better. But there’s so—ugh, I don’t know.”

I think you touched upon something important, and that was your inability to love yourself. I think that’s what prevents us from extending that love and kindness to other people, because if we’re not capable of giving that to ourselves, we can’t extend that to other people.

“That’s right. You have to take care of yourself. I was getting to the point where I didn’t want to go to my doctors—I hadn’t had bloodwork done in eight years, because I work for them all day. I still need my Synthroid, I still need this, and they were just filling because I’m in the medical field, so they’re saying, ‘Oh, must be on the up-and-up.’

“I mean, I was taking Synthroid for eight years, and I never had my bloodwork tested until Holbrook. That was one of my problems: my thyroid was all out of whack, my hormone levels were all out of whack, I had a urinary tract infection that I didn’t know about—so that all played on my mind. When I got there, they were like, ‘You’re a disaster.’ I was like, ‘Oh, thanks.’ But they helped me, so that’s what’s important. Life is good. It’s a gift.”

That’s absolutely true. What advice would you offer to yourself, prior to these challenges, or to somebody else who may be facing them?

“I would just say: Ask for help. Don’t do it alone. There are people out there who will help you, people you can confide in, and you can learn to love yourself again. You can, because I did. And if I can, I feel like anybody can. Nobody has to do it alone. Reach out, because if you don’t reach out, you’re not gonna get better. And love. Just love yourself.”

What does that look like, to love yourself, just to give us an idea?

“It’s a spark. I feel like it’s almost fireworks going off in my head right now—just light. Light is what I see. I don’t see the darkness; I see only positive—my future is so positive, and I see brightness. And everyone around me, especially her; she’s my spark.”

What are some ways you can show yourself, or take care of yourself, in a loving way?

“Well, now, it’s like, go to your gynecological appointments, go to your eye doctor appointments, and take care of you. It starts with going to your primary care, having your blood work done, actually getting up out of bed and taking care of yourself, because nobody’s gonna do that for you. I didn’t want to do it for a little while, which is like, really? Where did that come from?

“Go get your mani/pedis; it’s okay to pamper yourself a little a bit too, because most people focus on—women, anyway, mothers—put all their focus on the kids. I have lots of friends who are helicopter moms and dads. I was never like that. Let the kids do their own things. You have to worry about you. You matter. As much as they do, more than they do, because without you, what are they gonna do? So that’s how I feel.”

Do you have a favorite quote that you’d like to share?

“Oh, I do. It’s John 4:16. ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’”

What does that quote mean to you? What does that verse mean to you?

“Just that you’ve gotta have God in you in order to love anyone. You gotta put God first.”

How has it felt to talk about these topics with me today?

“Oh, actually, it felt really good. You’re my first therapist, so thank you. I appreciate that. See, now I don’t need anybody else. I have you.”

Do you think it’s possible that sharing our experiences with each other could potentially help someone else?

“Oh, absolutely. Put everything out there, because everybody’s got something. Definitely.”

Can you tell what someone is going through just by looking at them?

“Yeah, actually, when I was in Holbrook, yeah. I could definitely tell. The sadness, the despair, what’s the answer? You know? Yeah. It’s very . . .”

If someone is exposed to somebody who may be battling addiction, depression, or thoughts of suicide, are there any things that someone outside of that person or a loved one could look for to maybe take some initiative to start that conversation or get them some help?

“If somebody who used to be a very outgoing person starts becoming a recluse, don’t let it go on for too long, because that’s the first sign that something’s wrong. If they’re not talking to people they normally talk to, or if they’re not interested in things they’re normally interested in, they’re not partaking in life at all, you’ve got to get them help. It’s so important.”

What about a situation like with Robin Williams? Here we have a comedian who has made a career out of making people laugh, and no one recognized that he was struggling internally with his own darkness. That’s why I was asking you if you can tell by looking at someone.

“I think he was covering up—all that laughter and happy, happy, happy—that was all a cover-up. He didn’t like himself for some reason, obviously, and he didn’t think—he didn’t reach out to anybody, obviously, and that’s so sad. That’s such a waste. I feel really bad for him, that he felt—that that’s how low he got in his life. I mean, he just . . . yeah, that his family didn’t help, and they didn’t recognize . . . that must be anguish for them now. He just wanted to make everybody else happy. And he did.”

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Veronica's Interview - Hearts of Strangers
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Hamden,CT, USA