Misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned

Everyone has a story. Everyone. Even those society dismisses as just another fill-in-the-blank. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters.  They are fathers and mothers. Friends and lovers. They are someone’s joy, and heartbreak. Sometimes they make bad choices, or fall through the cracks. They become just another when we don’t know their stories; this is one of them.

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Christofer DeFino was an off-the-charts brilliant, handsome young man. He was always ready to help out a friend, go above and beyond any expectation. He was one of five children, from a good family, a fairly traditional one. Dad worked a job that provided well for his family. Mom stayed home with the kids. Chris became an unofficial Girl Scout when his mother took on his sister’s Daisy troop, and the archery guy at Clatter Valley Day Camp for many years. He went to college, worked as a chemist in the up-and-coming field of medical marijuana—a field he was passionate about—sang karaoke whenever he got the chance, and hit the gym most every day. Everyone remembers his easy smile, his famous hugs, and that he never passed on by someone in need. Chris loved his girlfriend, his family, his friends, sushi, and chicken wings from TK’s. He had three goals in life, make a difference, get married, have kids.

And then there was the Chris few ever saw.

A freak accident at fifteen left him with a crippled leg, chronic pain, and PTSD. No, it is not just for veterans. In his head, a constant chaos of thoughts and feelings he couldn’t turn off. The cycle of surgeries, pain, anxiety and depression led to using painkillers, and when they became too expensive, heroin. He battled heroin for three years, and won with the help of a good doctor, a few good friends, the love of his family, and some heavy-duty anti-anxiety medication. He stayed clean for three years, got the anxiety under control, and felt like he was finally going to be ok. We all did.

In April, he got the job of his dreams, moved out of his childhood home, and was happier than he’d ever been in his life.  Come June 22, he was gone. Accidental overdose. It was three weeks from the time he realized the depression wasn’t going away to the day he died. Three weeks. It happened that fast.

When someone has cancer, no one says it’s their fault, that if they’d only been stronger, it wouldn’t have happened. If that same cancer patient goes into remission, then the illness returns three years later, no one passes them off as being weak or flawed or otherwise dismissible as “just another cancer patient.” And yet society does this to those suffering from these mental illnesses even doctors admit to being flummoxed by.

There is no saying why some people with cancer get treatment and beat it, while others with the same cancer, getting the same treatment, don’t. Sometimes, a person suffering depression or any other label-of-the-masses mental illness gets treatment, gets well, and manages to live a productive life. Sometimes, they don’t. It’s not their fault. They didn’t ask for it. And yet the stigma is undeniable. They’re told to smile, feel better. What does a handsome, intelligent, well-off, twenty-five year old have to be sad about? The choices they make are desperate ones, because not only does no one understand, no one seems to want to.

I write this today as a battle cry, mixed in with motherly love. Drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior of any kind is a symptom of something more, something bigger, and something no one wants to know about. It’s easier to dismiss them as addicts, their actions as irresponsible decisions made of their own free wills. When someone suffers from this kind of mental chaos, turning off becomes the only way to get some relief. No one chooses heroin for fun. No one gets fall-down drunk on a daily basis because it’s what kids do. No one races their car at a hundred miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic simply because they like the adrenaline rush. Look behind their curtains. See what’s really going on.

We did look behind our son’s curtain. We knew what was going on. And we thought we were addressing it as we had in the past. Chris didn’t make it. Why? We’ll never have real answers, but one thing is certain—the mental health issue is still horribly misunderstood, misrepresented, and sadly maligned.

No one could have fought harder than Chris. His courage and strength in the face of all his pain faltered, and in that faltering, he made a terrible decision. One that cost him, and those who love him, his life. We can eradicate heroin from society, jail every dealer who ever dealt, but until we learn more about anxiety and depression, especially in our young people so obviously at risk, we’re going to keep losing them to their own brand of helping themselves.

Because the dark pit they’re desperately trying not to fall into is that terrifying.

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60 Comments

Filed under Family

60 responses to “Misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned

  1. You’re so right, Terri. It’s so easy for others to make snap judgements, and depression is so vastly misunderstood by society at large. You see it all the time with famous cases, like Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. What could they possibly be depressed about? But pain and sadness can strike anyone, and no one ever really knows what another person endures. It’s the essence of “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” I hope your eloquent post reaches people and helps shed some light and inspiration for others. You certainly inspire me. Much love and hugss to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you, Maura. I’ve had this written for a couple of weeks now, unsure of what to do with it. In the end, this seemed the right place for it. I hope it gets shared a million times. There are many who do understand, or at least try to, and yet there are many more who don’t. ❤

      Like

  2. Terri, what a beautiful tribute to your son and also for being brave enough to talk about an issue nobody wants to discuss. An issue as real as any biological thing a person can have, but this is the one people brush under the rug. Or choose to discuss opening only in the most extreme cases. So many people have to live with this every single day. Thank you for your post. A reminder that it isn’t easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      After all the generalizations that happened in this past month, online, in the papers, on the radio, it hurt not just because it was my son, but because so many people were reading/listening/viewing it and being marginalized along with him.
      I wish I had answers. I never will, but maybe, just maybe, someone else will read this, see someone they love, and be able to help them before it’s too late.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Mark nelson

    I can only imagine what it cost you to write this, and yet I stand in awe of the power you project. This post needs to go viral.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No words, Terri. Just big hugs. This is a lovely and moving post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Laurie Gaboardi

    I am sure that what you have written will help many people. I am so sorry for the loss of your son.

    Like

  6. Jeanne Gimenez

    Terri-Lynne,

    You are so brave- How beautifully written, Thank you for your strength & compassion. If sharing this helps even one family- you will have made a difference. I cannot imagine your hearts pain. As I have shared my journey with you, please let me know what I can do to help raise awareness as well.
    Sending you hugs from one Mother to another.

    Like

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you, Jeanne. The more people who come to understand that depression and anxiety in all their many forms are at the root of so many behaviors, the better we will all be, because we all know someone suffering. Some suffer more than others. Some make bad choices. Most of them are made to feel that they’re not really suffering at all, just weak, or seeking attention.

      Like

  7. Tammy Johnson

    No words just tears and prayers to all!!

    Like

  8. Angela

    So beautifully written Terri. And so very true. Xoxo

    Like

  9. Carol Lovekin

    Eloquent & elegant.
    As ever.
    Love in abundance.
    As ever.
    xXx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m very sorry for your loss. For 35 years I’ve been battling the same things mental illness bipolar depression PTSD and now epilepsy. But every day I get up and I remember the important people in my life even when days are wasted and horrible for myself I have a blessing in the family or couple friends that I have. I’ve been lucky enough to learn to stay away from certain things . That would cause me harm or death. Alcohol was the biggest factor in my life 24 years ago and I got rid of that which got rid of all the other drugs that I would ever do. Alcohol leads to very bad behavior which are making me to try other drugs. The one thing that always been a constant his marijuana as a savior for my brain and the activities that go on inside that nobody sees that I have to deal with day after day every day of my life. I have been a big supporter of the legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana for the help of epilepsy PTSD bipolar hyperactivity. Numerous things it helps with let alone with the stocks and stems and hemp can do. My heart goes out to you and your family please stay strong sometimes we will never understand why our children or friends do what they do. Again my heart and prayers go out to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you, Sean. Keep fighting the good fight, and use the marijuana as you would any other good medication, because that’s what it is. A GOOD medication. A natural one. And one that actually works without all the terrible side effects associated with other drugs. Chris all but stopped using it, which I truly believe was part of the problem. I don’t know why, other than I do know that it happens that way sometimes. People suffering with depression are often resistant to help. And this is one of the other things we need to learn about–why this is so.
      You made it, Sean. For you, your family, for everyone who loves you, I am so happy.

      Like

  11. Sara

    I am so blown away by your strength and eloquence. Even during such a tough time, you are an advocate, not only for Chris, but for all those struggling with mental illness and addiction. I have typed and untyped and retyped so many things in this box, but I think all I’m really trying to say is how sorry I am for your loss and how brave I find your words.

    Like

  12. Lori S

    God bless you and your family and may your son rest in peace until you meet again.

    Like

  13. Erica Keane

    Terri-lynn-
    I had the pleasure of knowing & teaching your son. He was a wonderful young man. Thank you for writing this and helping bring an awareness to this issue. My heart aches for you and your family. You are all in my thoughts and prayers. As someone said above, this needs to become viral & we as a community need to do more. -Erica

    Like

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you so much, Erica. Chris was wonderful. Big heart. I hope he’s getting a kick out of all this attention! Mostly, he’d be happy if it helped even ONE person not make the decision he did.

      Like

  14. I love every word of this post, Terri. It’s so very true and beautiful and I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you for sharing this with us. Wishing you all the love and healing. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lorrie Mastroianni

    Terri, I agree with you wholeheartedly that this is extremely important and needs to be shared. In fact it needs to viral. You have so beautifully and poignantly expressed what so many fail to acknowledge as they sit in their glass houses passing their harsh judgements (especially on social media). I think we would be hard pressed to find any one individual that doesn’t have at least one loved one struggling with depression, anxiety, addictions, PTSD, etc, whether it be our parents, spouses, children, siblings and so on. Yes, everyone does have a story. Everybody deserves compassion and understanding because the cross they bear is their own. I am so incredibly sorry for you loss. God bless you and your family. You now have a beautiful angel watching over you. Fear not for he is not far from you. xo

    Like

  16. Matthew westfall

    Beautiful and heartfelt terri. Trying to find light in darkness, happiness in sadness and peace in anxiousness is probobly the hardest thing to do in my life. Everything else is effected, big or small, wether i realize it or not. Sending love to the whole family. Shooting stars shine the brightest

    Like

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you, Matthew. Keep finding the light. If you have trouble doing that, shoot me a message and I’ll send up a spark.

      Like

  17. Another mom

    May your mama heart find the peace you deserve. It’s so clear that you loved him and understood him. The darkness is an enemy and nothing you did or didn’t do played any role. Heroin takes the darkness away but also took your son, he deserved more help and life and so did you.
    What a beautiful tribute and way of sharing to help others.

    Like

  18. As a mom, I can’t imagine the pain you are going through. My heart aches. Your words were so beautiful and eloquent, and I can just feel the love you have for Chris pouring out of you. What a wonderful tribute to your boy.

    Like

  19. Gina Bernard

    Beautifully articulated. Hugs and love to you and your family ❤️

    Like

  20. Maris Silva

    My heart aches for and ur family ! Such a beautiful reflection on who your son Chris was and wanted so bad to become. May u rest in peace sweet Chris. And ur missed here at the Silvas house as both my sons remember u as a great person and always will remember hanging out at the gym with you ❤️😥😥

    Like

  21. Lise-Marie

    Your words ring in my soul. Mental illness is so misunderstood it makes me want to scream ! I wish i had a way to make people understand. I struggle with depression and PTSD and it can be awful and i judge no one and the way they choose to deal with the pain. I am sending you a hug **HUG** okay maybe two *HUG**

    Like

  22. Kaye

    Teri and Family,
    I have no words 😢! Just prayers and all my love and sympathy to you and your family……. I am thinking of you every day. Love Kaye

    Like

  23. Pat

    Beautifully written tribute highlighting the challenges faced by people with mental illness. After my son suffered a dibilitating head injury from sports, one of the team member’s Dad commented on the courage my son had to return to sports. This Dad got it…it takes courage to face down the daily challenges of living with mental illness, no matter what triggered the illness. I am sure your son was as courageous day after day. I am very sorry for your loss.

    Like

  24. Wow……..Thanks for sharing your story and bravery! Its important to live each day to its fullest…..((HUGS TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY))

    Like

  25. Tracie Nixon

    I would like to offer my sincere condolences, Terri-Lynne, my children John, 25, and Emily, 22, both new your son.
    In 2006, my 35-year-old brother died of a Methadone (maybe other drugs as well) overdose. He had just gotten out of jail 36 hours before, after serving 75 days for his 3rd DUI. He left behind 4 children, 20, 13, 9 and 7. He had struggled with addiction since he was a teenager. My parents took him to counseling, outpatient and in-patient services. The whole family attended counseling with him and loved him through his addiction.
    He was born to a heroin addict and came to live with us at 20 days old; I was 7. His adoption was final when he was in kindergarten, but he was not my adopted brother, he was my brother. He still struggled with abandonment issues even though he knew his biological father and paternal grandparents.
    He got sober several times in his life. He was sober for over 3 years in 1993 when my nephew (the 13 year old) was born and he and his wife were raising her child from a previous relationship (the 20 year old). He was in a terrible accident and refused painkillers because he did not want to relapse. However, he was not able to work for several months and fell back into old relationships and bad habits. They divorced because he was using.
    He met another woman that was his party-partner and they married. He was so heavily into drugs that I made the painful decision to keep him away from my children, even though that meant they did not get to see their young cousins either. They eventually lost their children in a DCF investigation and custody was given to their maternal grandmother.
    Two years before he died, he and his wife moved to Florida with their 2 young children. They used some of his injury settlement to purchase a small home, enrolled the children in school, got jobs and attended a Methadone clinic. I saw him and breathed a prayer of thanks that he was on the right track, again.
    A year later, they lost their jobs and the children were again placed with the maternal grandmother because they were both back on drugs.
    Less than a year later he was dead.
    I spoke with him from prison 2 weeks before he died. He sounded great; it was the best conversation I had with him in years. He was talking about starting new, divorcing his wife because she would not get sober, getting custody of his children; and his future.
    He struggled his whole life and even when it looked on the outside like he everything to be sober for, he could not maintain his sobriety.
    We as a society need to do more to help people so that they do not self-medicate. We need to remove the stigma of mental illness which many times leads to addiction.
    I know my brother did not mean to kill himself, but he did mean to get high, he just used too much after being clean for 75 days.

    Like

  26. Jo

    The pain in your head when you have depression is as real as any other pain, and a constant battle. The desire to check out for a while is completely understandable to anyone who has been there. 10 years is a long time to be in both physical and mental pain. My sincere condolences to you and your family.

    Like

  27. I admire your courage, strength and eloquence. Well said. xoxo

    Like

  28. Hallie Cirino

    First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. My son, John, went to school with Chris and graduated the same year. He, too, suffers from PTSD, and sustained a burn injury which required painkillers. This eventually segued to heroin addiction, as well. We thank God every day that he found a way to sobriety via a wonderful rehab and a 12 step program. He’s coming up on 2 years of sobriety. He told me about Chris a couple of days ago. He has lost over 20 friends from this horrible disease, which doesn’t get recognition as such. I love how you made the comparison to cancer. There are countless parallels between the two. When someone has cancer, all of their loved ones rally around them, and pray for healing. Billions of dollars are donated to the fight. If we could only gather the same kind of support for people who suffer from mental illness and addiction. It is people like you, who are strong enough to publicize your story, who give hope to all the families out there who are affected by this disease. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and God bless ~

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you, Hallie. My hopes and heart will be with your son for his continued success. I am overwhelmed by the response to this post. If it helps even one person, I’ll be over the moon happy.

      Like

  29. Your boy was so handsome, as was mine. No one knew what was going on underneath it all. Just like with Chris. It’s so sad. It’s been almost 4 years for mine and it doesn’t seem to get any better. He had social anxiety and depression too, but didn’t want to take prescription meds. I won’t ever understand everything he went through, I just know that when he left, I lost a huge chunk of ME, and I will never be the same. We shouldn’t have to go through this. I am sharing this post to my son’s memorial FB page. Remembering Reed Dehler. You have all my sympathy and empathy.

    Like

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      I’m sorry for your loss, Kelly. I’m often left wondering how life is ever going to be truly good again, and yet I know it will. It must. I have other sons, daughters, grandchildren. I have a good life and a career I worked hard for. A husband I love. It’s just going to be different now. I’ll never stop missing him. But I know my son. To crumble over him would be the worst kind of betrayal. I have to be the mom he loved. To lose that loses another piece of him. Peace, love. Find it, you’ll find more of him than you thought possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Pingback: Feeling a bit like a fraud | Modesty Is For Suckers

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