- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) - The downward spiral for Dianna Wallen began with a nasty fall in an airport.

About four years ago, the Manitowoc woman and her family were rushing to return to Wisconsin from their then St. Augustine, Florida, home for the funeral of a nephew when Dianna fell and hurt her hip and back, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin (https://htrne.ws/2qL9Zhp ) reports.

“I have always had medical issues,” she said. “I had major back surgery when I was 23.”

That fateful spill led to a series of events that found her overdosing on pills and nearly taking her own life, not once, but twice. Dianna shared her story in hopes of helping others who struggle with thoughts of suicide.

After the fall, and against the advice of both her family and medical professionals, Dianna continued traveling to hospitals around the country as part of her job as a clinical laboratory scientist. She visited doctors for her pain, but they told her there was little that could be done. And by the time she slowed down, Dianna said her back was beyond repair.

“I had my kids very young. When they grew older and went their separate ways, I put all my identity into my profession,” she said. “It’s who I was - I didn’t want to give it up. I was in an abusive relationship while I was in college, with him jumping up and down on the bed while I was studying for an exam, so I would fail. I graduated with honors. I was very proud of that and I couldn’t give up my career and be over at 46.”

Eventually, her employers told her she needed to slow down, and even though they modified her duties, the pain was too much.

“They kept saying, ‘You need to stop, you need to stop, you’re killing yourself,’” Dianna said. “I didn’t want to give it up. Now I’m here, and I’ve ruined any chance of working in my field. Pain … pain is a vicious thing to go through. It takes you to a very hard place.”

About two years ago, her doctor told her to stop working, and she was devastated.

Dianna overdosed on pills in her Florida home. Her story could have ended there, if her son hadn’t found her and called an ambulance.

“I woke up on a ventilator,” she said. “If my son would have found me five minutes later, I would have been dead. It’s a miracle I’m still here. But I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Your mind doesn’t go that way. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. It’s like a dark hole. You spin in it, and you can’t see the reality of what you’ll do to other people. You only see how it will be better for everyone if you’re not around - and for you.”

A few days later, however, Dianna persuaded her doctor to allow her to work, and she was out of the hospital and back at her job.

“That is the very, very wrong thing to do,” she said. “I was very, very sorry and remorseful, but I didn’t deal with anything else.”

Because she was not committed, Dianna did not lose her medical license. She is quick to say she never took pain medications while on duty.

“I would never, ever do that,” she said.

Even more driven to make her career work despite the pain, Dianna shut down most other activities.

“I couldn’t function outside of work,” she said. “I worked - that’s it. There was no me. I didn’t even go out of the house for dinner on my days off, because of the pain. The depression came from the pain. I became very isolated.”

She acknowledged she carried many unresolved issues. Her mother died when she was 17, her father didn’t want her, she was emancipated and had to support herself at 17, she was raped, she was in an abusive relationship.

“I never dealt with any of it,” Dianna said. “I was a fighter. I just kept going.”

Once the pain became too severe for her to physically do the job, she stopped. Then, the tsunami of empty time, lack of income, struggles with insurance companies and claims hit.

“It was the perfect storm,” Dianna said. “You can’t keep everything bottled up and not expect it to explode.”

Dianna overdosed for a second time a year ago this month, on her mother’s birthday.

“It was not a great day,” she said. “It was shortly after Mother’s Day, and it was not a great Mother’s Day. I’d been arguing with my kids for weeks. Then, it was, ‘Oh, by the way, you don’t have insurance, either.’ And I had just had a procedure. Everything just spiraled.”

She said she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I hadn’t set out to do that that day,” she said. “I went down to the ocean, I went to the grocery store with plans to make dinner. But it just became too much.”

Again, her son found her.

Dianna moved back to Wisconsin in November and is working to find a new life. She recalls her doctor made changes to her anti-depressants right before her nephew’s death, and her medications have been adjusted.

“Now, I feel better, I feel clearer,” Dianna said. “The role of being a mom is better than any career or job. Being a mom is the most precious gift. My kids keep me going.”

She has a fiance and enjoys time with her kids. But she’s frustrated with a lack of mental health services in Manitowoc.

“If you call and say you need to talk to someone, they say, ‘We can get you in in two months,’” she said. “It takes months to get in to see a counselor. You need it the same day. I got in in six weeks and was told I was lucky. They’re aware of the issue of massive depression and they want to reduce the rate of suicide. Maybe if people had someone to talk to, it would reduce the rate.”

She’s speaking up now in hopes of helping others. And there are things family and friends can do if they suspect someone is thinking of suicide.

“Watch if they become isolated,” Dianna said. “Offer to interject yourself. Don’t let someone isolate themselves. Don’t just offer to go and sit with them, but get them out of the house. Offer to go and pick them up. Isolation is the biggest thing people who are going to kill themselves do.”

Those who are depressed or thinking of suicide should find something positive in their life to focus on, Dianna suggested.

“Focus on your kids, or your dog, whatever it is,” she said. “Focus on that, and then eventually you can branch out.”

Today, Dianna is coping.

“I learned a lot from what my kids had to say,” she said. “My kids keep me grounded. I feel like I’m balanced now. My medication was changed, so my body is balanced. I’m not thinking off the cuff now. I know this, too, shall pass. I’m really trying.”

___

Information from: HTR Media, https://www.htrnews.com


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