My Life Will Never Be The Same: School Teacher Has Mental Breakdown, Arrested, Fighting To Get Her Life Back

Illustration from The Sosial.

(5-19-20) One of the most common comments I hear when I travel is “You have told my story!” It’s a reference to my book,  CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, which describes my son’s arrest in the midst of a psychotic break after we were turned away from an emergency room where we’d gone to seek help. After I spoke in Western Pennsylvania, Heather Fox talked to me about her struggle and I’ve asked her to share it. 

Dear Pete,

Three years ago, I was a mom who was rapid cycling and having a mixed episode of agitation, anxiety, and depression while taking the wrong medication for my diagnosis. I called my doctor but was dismissed. I still have a recording of our phone conversation where he told me to continue on my medication and simply blew off my concerns.

I was angry, got upset and felt no one could help me. My downhill spiral continued and I ended up fleeing one night. It was too much. I live in rural western Pennsylvania and I found a remote cabin in the woods. I helped myself to a bunch of random items, rearranged furniture, drank from their liquor bar and then attempted suicide by crashing my car.

I was taken to an emergency room where they cleaned me up, got me calmed down and called my husband. The doctors sent me two hours away to a mental health facility.

I am a pre-school teacher with a Master’s Degree who works with troubled kids. I never imagined I would end up in a small cell of a room with a ripped mattress and a ripped sheet. The building was dirty and very scary. I mostly slept in my bed and kept to myself. It was a frightening experience.

Everything during my stay in that hospital now is a blur. I was given a new diagnosis, placed on a new regiment of daily meds and met with a team of doctors, therapists and social workers who tried to help me determine what was happening. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I know if someone went to the hospital for surgery, they would be given a clean bed with clean sheets that did not have holes in them, and the facility would be clean. Otherwise, family and friends would be calling and complaining about those conditions. But that wasn’t the case at this hospital.

After a week, I was discharged and as difficult as it was in the hospital, it was even harder going home after having a psychotic break and having to face everyone. I had to pretend I was ok when in all reality, I was having awful side effects from my anti-depressant. I also had to face my family. I was embarrassed because I had done a lot of damage not only to our family vehicle and those whom I love but also to myself and reputation. I also had damaged the family who felt violated because I had broken into their beloved camp.

For several weeks, I was in denial. It was simply too much so I felt what was happening was not real and everything around me was not real. It was like a dream. A nightmare. I began to totally detach from everyone around me – and even myself. I went off the meds and began cycling through highs and lows. I became preoccupied with daily thoughts about suicide.

Charged With Crimes

My husband got a call from a police officer. I was being charged with felony theft and other offenses. The officer came to our house but let me voluntarily go to the Magistrate Office instead of putting me in jail. I signed an unsecured bond that allowed me to stay home while awaiting trial.

Being arrested and charged caused me to sink lower and lower. I became a robot. I got up each morning and went to work and when I came home, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and lay on my bathroom floor for hours upon hours. Despite the new medications, I began experiencing high and low mood shifts again.

I felt remorse and wanted to repair the damage I had done. I wanted to be held accountable and to pay for any damages. Everything I had stolen had been recovered from my vehicle when I crashed. The police gave everything back to the family who owned it. I’m not saying that excuses my actions. What I did wasn’t right. But the fact that I was sick and asked for help and didn’t receive it was a factor in what had happened.

We live in a rural area and I had to drive an hour to even find a psychiatrist. When placed on new meds that have pretty hefty side effects, you have to wait for three months to go back to the doctor and discuss how you are coping. Lots of bad things can happen during that time. Psychiatrists don’t even know how to diagnose your illness. They make guesses and play around with meds until they determine what will work and what will not. This can take a long time and when someone is struggling, those months can seem like years, days can seem so long.

My husband had hired a good lawyer, but prosecutors always charge you with the most serious crimes they can so they can plea bargain to avoid trials. The District Attorney would not budge on the felony charges. I had nothing on my record prior to this. I’d not broken any laws. I didn’t have a drug problem. Until my break, I was an outstanding community member, active in our school district, a hard worker, and I was proud to be giving back to our community, helping make it better.

I spent time speaking to my attorney, but I didn’t feel as if anyone was listening to me. What I had to say didn’t seem to matter because now I was deemed a crazy person. The case kept getting delayed and the stress of uncertainty got to me. I was so overwhelmed with work, my family, and the court case, I didn’t want to do any of it any more. I was tired of pretending and hiding my feelings.

A Second Attempt

I drove off in our car and again tried to hurt myself. End my life. This was almost a year after my first attempt. Again, I ended up back in a mental health facility where I spent 14 days. Again. I was put back on different meds and declared stable. Again, I cannot say I came out stronger or better, just more ashamed.

Back home, the court case kept getting prolonged. I finally had enough and agreed to accept what the prosecutor was demanding. I had to plead guilty to two felonies.

In December of 2018, I stood between a rapist and a woman, who blew up a trailer with seven dogs inside it, for sentencing. This was by far the hardest day of my life and as I sit here and write this, it is even hard to breathe remembering it. One night, one psychotic break that could have been prevented, ruined my entire life.

The judge sentenced me to five years on probation, 120 hours of community service, and ordered me to continue therapy and mental health care. I came from a very poor family and had grown up in a small trailer that my parents had bought for 500 dollars. I have always thought of myself as someone who rose above a childhood riddled with poverty and traumas, to someone who was going to make a difference in the world. I graduated high school with a 2.4 to go on and graduate from grad school with a 4.0. I paid for college on my own and worked as a Resident Assistant through school to pay for my room and board. I was an overcomer!

I will never be the same. My life will always feel heavy and I will always feel condemned. Because I am a convicted felon, teaching is no longer an option. Prozac, Klonopin, and poor mental health care ruined my life. I have been hiding in my home for the last few years, selling paintings and doing small odd jobs, I feel ashamed and get so much anxiety leaving my home. I take a mood stabilizer and go to therapy to keep myself in check. I take care of my family and still try to do good. I, however, still struggle, still have highs and lows.

I feel the system failed me, both the mental health care system and the court system. I am tired of laying low and, by telling my story, I want to bring about changes in both systems.  No life is more worthy of the possibility of greatness than any other. People with mental illnesses deserve better.

About the author: Heather Louise Fox lives in Western Pennsylvania and is the mother of three biological children and cares for her niece. She is an avid pet lover with three dogs and a spoiled cat, named Turtle, that won’t leave her side.  She has been married to her husband for 19 years. In addition to taking care of her family, she sells paintings and recently began doing chainsaw carvings, selling the first in the spring.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.