Singing into my spatula, dancing for and with the kids, while making chocolate buttercream. 17 days after coming home from the hospital. 

Singing into my spatula, dancing for and with the kids, while making chocolate buttercream. 17 days after coming home from the hospital. 

about crazy young mother, Julia Greco
an introduction by her husband, Tim Greco

I have been infatuated with Julia since the day she came into my life over sixteen years ago. I remember feeling chills the moment we met. She, a whirlwind of energy and wisdom, does not suffer fools or allow anyone lower standards than she imposes on herself. She is a remarkable woman of exceptional intelligence and steadfast convictions. She is tall and loud and beautiful, but also imposing and intimidating, and she shows this to everyone she meets.

I wish, of course, that I were introducing you to her under different circumstances. Here, she will tell you how years of chronic pain [from daily migraines that she has suffered since she was 17] chipped away at her resolve and depression began to creep in. But she persisted. She continued to put on the same brave face, day after day as an anxiety grew and festered inside her. She knew the pain was winning; as the migraines intensified, so did the number of days that she couldn't get out of bed. She was a prisoner in her own body and a ghost in her own home, unable to cook, to entertain her friends, to spend every free moment with her beloved children. Faced with the thought of giving in, of letting her standards and her own quality of life suffer, paranoid anxiety took over. Soon, the only logical end, she reasoned, was suicide. And that is where we join Julia's story. 

In this blog, you will see, as I and everyone who knows her see, that she is not a broken woman. When even her conscience told her to give in, she fought back. She asked for help, knowing that getting the help she needed might forever change the way people saw her. She worried that "fighting back" might mean fundamentally changing her life. Would she be able to work again? Drive her children to school again? There were days that the relentless pace of the world was simply too much. Could she find joy in a life that slowed to meet her new pace? In the midst of her breakdown, in her wisdom, she saw that fighting back is a lonely and scary journey, and she began to document her trip through Hell. She made it through, and she lived to fight another day, and she wants to show you how you can, too.


What Happened To Julia
photography, collage and words by Julia R Greco

Photos are my own, unless otherwise credited.

 

On Friday, July 13th, I had a major psychotic episode coupled with suicidal ideation. I presented myself to the hospital that morning for psychiatric treatment. I have been living with Chronic Daily Migraine since 1997 and suffered my first migraine when I was only nine. Living with chronic daily pain has caused me to have episodes of major depression and suicidal ideation since I was a teenager; however, this was my first psychiatric-specific hospitalization. This art gallery is something I worked on when I returned home from my hospitalization, on days home five through eight, while everything was still pretty raw. I made these to help me understand and process what happened to me, and how I ended up in the hospital that particular day. It also helped me express myself when my brain was broken, I found it hard to communicate how I was feeling. The photos in the above collage were all taken within a month of my breakdown.

I woke up on July 13th with a sensation like someone or something was inside of my body, shaking me violently from the inside. My head hurt terribly, and I started to panic. Strangely though, as the panic set in, I heard a very calming voice begin to coo inside my head. "Don't worry," it said. "You don't have to suffer much longer. Today is the day we can plan to end all of this." A few hours later, I was sitting in front of a triage nurse, answering the above question. She asked, "Do you wish you were dead?" with sincere compassion and curiosity. I was terrified all the time and felt as though I had fallen into a hopeless, bottomless abyss of dread and pain. I didn't want to kill myself, but I felt I had no choice. I had been very matter-of-fact until this point.I finally felt safe. I wanted help. I broke down and answered, "Yes." I told no fewer than six healthcare professionals that I planned on purchasing a gun for the purpose of ending my own life that day. None of these people can put my name on a registry to prevent me from purchasing a firearm in the future.

I woke up on July 13th with a sensation like someone or something was inside of my body, shaking me violently from the inside. My head hurt terribly, and I started to panic. Strangely though, as the panic set in, I heard a very calming voice begin to coo inside my head. "Don't worry," it said. "You don't have to suffer much longer. Today is the day we can plan to end all of this." A few hours later, I was sitting in front of a triage nurse, answering the above question. She asked, "Do you wish you were dead?" with sincere compassion and curiosity. I was terrified all the time and felt as though I had fallen into a hopeless, bottomless abyss of dread and pain. I didn't want to kill myself, but I felt I had no choice. I had been very matter-of-fact until this point.I finally felt safe. I wanted help. I broke down and answered, "Yes." I told no fewer than six healthcare professionals that I planned on purchasing a gun for the purpose of ending my own life that day. None of these people can put my name on a registry to prevent me from purchasing a firearm in the future.

I was strip searched and given scrubs. I was on suicide watch and not to be out of sight of a staff member until my transfer to a psychiatric facility. I waited with Tim, my brother, and father for over eight hours for admission to an in-patient facility. It was humiliating to have three of the most important people in my life see me like that. I was roiling inside while I tried to maintain my composure.

I was strip searched and given scrubs. I was on suicide watch and not to be out of sight of a staff member until my transfer to a psychiatric facility. I waited with Tim, my brother, and father for over eight hours for admission to an in-patient facility. It was humiliating to have three of the most important people in my life see me like that. I was roiling inside while I tried to maintain my composure.

The two kaleidoscopes above are as close as I could come to representing the bewildered feeling I had, being wheeled away from Tim on a stretcher, and loaded into an ambulance. I was terribly anxious and the shaking feeling had returned. The paramedic and driver promised to drive so that I could see Tim's car following behind. Right as we took off, the paramedic told me I could relax, I was going where I needed to go. 

The two kaleidoscopes above are as close as I could come to representing the bewildered feeling I had, being wheeled away from Tim on a stretcher, and loaded into an ambulance. I was terribly anxious and the shaking feeling had returned. The paramedic and driver promised to drive so that I could see Tim's car following behind. Right as we took off, the paramedic told me I could relax, I was going where I needed to go. 

I can relax now. I'm going where I need to go. I was very tired, but only a little afraid. I had no idea what was about to happen to me, but I was more afraid of The Voice than the hospital. When they wheeled me into Mercy, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and thought about Elsa and Edward.

I can relax now. I'm going where I need to go. I was very tired, but only a little afraid. I had no idea what was about to happen to me, but I was more afraid of The Voice than the hospital. When they wheeled me into Mercy, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and thought about Elsa and Edward.

I met a doctor and social worker in the hospital who seemed to really hear me and understand what I was going through, for the first time since I boarded this medical rollercoaster over 20 years ago. They helped me understand the severity of my illness and gave me the permission I needed to start taking care of myself. It was a lot to take in, even if it was also freeing. Seeing it formalized on paper, as a legitimate diagnosis, I felt suddenly like I had a "before" life, and an "after" life. This does not necessarily mean my life was now sorted into "before-good" and "after-bad". Perhaps if I gave myself the kind of rest and care that my illness dictates I should, submit a little more to my limitations, the times that I do feel well could be more joyful and fulfilling. 

I met a doctor and social worker in the hospital who seemed to really hear me and understand what I was going through, for the first time since I boarded this medical rollercoaster over 20 years ago. They helped me understand the severity of my illness and gave me the permission I needed to start taking care of myself. It was a lot to take in, even if it was also freeing. Seeing it formalized on paper, as a legitimate diagnosis, I felt suddenly like I had a "before" life, and an "after" life. This does not necessarily mean my life was now sorted into "before-good" and "after-bad". Perhaps if I gave myself the kind of rest and care that my illness dictates I should, submit a little more to my limitations, the times that I do feel well could be more joyful and fulfilling. 

There are a few trade-offs. But these pills keep me tethered to this life. So I take them.

There are a few trade-offs. But these pills keep me tethered to this life. So I take them.

Back home. Day 1. I was so thankful to be alive and feel bundled-up and protected in the love of my family. It wasn't until I got home that I realized this breakdown had been a year in the making. I saw that photo of the four of us before marching in the Fourth of July parade, and it shocked me how normal my family looked, just nine days before my stay in the hospital. But what I also remember from that day, and don't have a photo of, is me sobbing in the bathtub later that night. I had thought about killing myself that afternoon because I was so exhausted from pain. I felt so ashamed to feel that way while I was spending time with my smart, funny, strange, perfect family. I had thought about killing myself every day for almost exactly a year. I had been having multiple panic attacks a day for six months. I had had two cluster headaches in four months, as well as the constant migraine pain and migraine's myriad other symptoms. I had grown so disgusted by food, I was eating only 500 to 1,000 calories a day. A year ago, I could run eight miles on a 90 degree day. Now I barely have the energy to walk the mile and back to the nursery for produce. For a year, my mind and my body had been trying to tell me to slow down. I got home after spending three days without speaking to or seeing my children. I was ready to listen.

Back home. Day 1. I was so thankful to be alive and feel bundled-up and protected in the love of my family. It wasn't until I got home that I realized this breakdown had been a year in the making. I saw that photo of the four of us before marching in the Fourth of July parade, and it shocked me how normal my family looked, just nine days before my stay in the hospital. But what I also remember from that day, and don't have a photo of, is me sobbing in the bathtub later that night. I had thought about killing myself that afternoon because I was so exhausted from pain. I felt so ashamed to feel that way while I was spending time with my smart, funny, strange, perfect family. I had thought about killing myself every day for almost exactly a year. I had been having multiple panic attacks a day for six months. I had had two cluster headaches in four months, as well as the constant migraine pain and migraine's myriad other symptoms. I had grown so disgusted by food, I was eating only 500 to 1,000 calories a day. A year ago, I could run eight miles on a 90 degree day. Now I barely have the energy to walk the mile and back to the nursery for produce. For a year, my mind and my body had been trying to tell me to slow down. I got home after spending three days without speaking to or seeing my children. I was ready to listen.

This is the first image I made when I thought of crazy young mother. I want to embrace self care by finding meaning in it. I want to share a life of joy with my children and family and share with you the things that make me happy to be alive. Perhaps by being more open about chronic pain and mental illness, I can help abolish some of the stigma that prevents others from getting help.

This is the first image I made when I thought of crazy young mother. I want to embrace self care by finding meaning in it. I want to share a life of joy with my children and family and share with you the things that make me happy to be alive. Perhaps by being more open about chronic pain and mental illness, I can help abolish some of the stigma that prevents others from getting help.