Stories of Hope: An Interview with Katrina Milburn
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate Katrina Milburn about her history of mental health challenges and about some of her current advocacy work. Here’s our interview:
DS: How did your mental health concerns develop?
KM: My parents noticed behavioral problems, such as it was hard for me to understand and communicate effectively, and my grades started dropping severely in high school. I thought I was different, and to be honest, a little stupid.
Finally, in my junior year, my mom and some of my teachers got together to talk about my problems and some solutions for them, so they had me thoroughly tested. The results came back that I had SEVERE auditory ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder). On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the greatest deficit, I ranked a 2. When it came to the hyperactivity/visual deficit I ranked a 9.
After numerous different medications, we finally found the right one and from that moment on I went from a B/C/D student to straight A’s! I was also head captain of my volleyball team, and I was working enough to buy my first car. I was able to make extra payments and had it paid off before graduation. I graduated with a 3.4 GPA with the Governor’s Seal and out of my entire senior class I received the Leadership Award. My family was so proud of me! I was determined and happy.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
KM: Right after 9/11, I started having really bad nightmares with very vivid images of my family members dying or getting murdered. Day after day, the nightmares got worse and I started believing them. They quickly started affecting my quality of life. At the time, I was a hairstylist at the nicest salon and spa in the area. I would have clients yet I could not control my anxiety, so I would start crying and have to excuse myself.
One day a co-worker offered me this pill called Methadone which is a very strong opiate, one I did not know much about. She said it would cheer me up. I was willing to try anything at this point. Feeling sad and desperate, I accepted the pill and swallowed it. Within 30 minutes I was a changed person. I was happy, free from stress and worry. I felt like I was on top of the world…I was so happy!
I quickly became dangerously addicted to Methadone, at first spending $20 a day, and before I knew it I was spending over $100 per day! I hid my addiction from EVERYONE except the coworker I bought it from. I relied on this drug every day just to get out of bed. I felt miserable having to live this way, yet I kept increasing my dose to where I was dosing off everywhere including family holidays and in the middle of conversations.
I even dosed while driving on the interstate going 67 miles an hour. I hit a big tractor trailer which put me in the hospital and totaled my car. I ended up losing my boyfriend of 7 years and the love of my life, as well as losing friends and family. I became homeless in the cold month of December with nowhere to go. That’s when I decided to come clean and try to get help.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
KM: I finally told my family and boyfriend and started checking into rehabs. Within a year I had been to 5 different inpatient drug rehabs, and numerous outpatient treatments. Nothing helped and I began to lose hope, thinking I would always have to live this way.
Finally, I found a treatment that was new at that time called Suboxone (buprenorphine) therapy. After a long wait, I started the intensive program with meetings every week. I finally felt “normal” again and didn’t crave drugs anymore due to the blocker Suboxone has in it. After about a year and a half in this program, I was able to retrain my brain, learn how to make better decisions and live a life without my number one life focus and priority on drugs. I slowly came off the Suboxone and I can honestly say I have not craved methadone since, which was just over 10 years ago. I am lucky to be alive!
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
KM: I first want to say that even though I was sober and off drugs I still had depression. I made bad and desperate decisions and continued having thoughts about wanting to end my life on numerous occasions, to the point of tying a rope around my neck. I called my mom crying, telling her what I was thinking about and wanting to do…she HUNG UP on me! No words could ever explain the unbearable feeling I felt at that moment. All I wanted to know was that I was not alone, that someone out there cared.
I am doing great now. I combined my love and passion for dogs and started walking friends’ dogs until I eventually found a rescue dog who I named Jager (which means “the hunter” in German). Walking soon turned into jogging and before long Jager and I went out for our nightly runs, 3-4 miles usually. I also started volunteering at our local humane society, Friends of Animal Care and Control, as well as food banks handing out food to hungry people in the community.
Once New River Valley Community Services, my local mental health center, published my story, it started to spread quickly all over the internet. People were sharing my story all over and others were making positive comments, which was inspiring. I wasn’t expecting so many people to be inspired by my story, as well as many who reached out to me personally needing help or advice.
DS: Tell us about your mental health advocacy work.
KM: For me, I feel like without service to others, my recovery would be a lot harder. Since my video was first published about a year ago, thousands of people have contacted me in need of help and/or advice or resources. I started a 24/7 crisis and contact line for people to call when in need. I’ve shared my story with every Virginia Delegate and State Senator, our US Senators, and our Governor, who by the way wrote me a sealed letter thanking me for my civic duties.
The feeling of saving a person’s life and/or helping them get the right treatment and stay sober/clean is a priceless feeling. I do this all on a voluntary basis and use what little money I have to continue doing it because I’ve been there. I know what it feels like and no one should ever have to feel that way, alone with no one to turn to!
Starting a nonprofit is in the works right now; it’s a slow process but coming along. I had most of my work completed and even received a funding offer, then on June 21, 2015, I had a severe head injury with loss of consciousness, which has forced me to put my passion, this project, on hold temporarily.
Another thing I do to stay positive is advocate. I advocate for individuals and families at the local and state government levels. I am a member of NAMI Virginia, VOCAL, Mental Health America, and many online groups. Last year I spoke to legislators locally and at our state Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. A local sheriff sponsored my trip to Richmond, which meant the world to me to know he believed in me.
I work with these groups all year long, conducting my own research, writing papers to figure out the gap, and how to fix it, planning needed services and programs and getting the funding. I plan on doing the same thing again this year, locally and in Richmond, this time for an entire week. As I spoke to some legislators last year, their eyes filled up as I shared my personal story and why funding is so crucial. They were really listening and after I met with them, several of them went on their own personal media sites and shared my story.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
KM: First and foremost, I want to tell people who are suffering as well as their families: You Are Not Alone!
I have always liked to read inspirational quotes. With my ADHD I find that quotes help sum up what would take a paragraph for me to try and explain. They help put things in perspective, sometimes changing it too.
This quote has always given me strength: “The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.” ― Juliette Lewis
Also I once heard a doctor once say: “I’ve never met a person who said when they grow up they wanted to be an addict.” Such a true statement, so many people think it’s a choice. No, it’s a disease that takes over and controls every aspect of a person’s body and brain.
Another good quote: “Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When “I” is replaced by “We”, illness becomes wellness.” ― Shannon L. Alder
I’ve now made it my life’s work to help others going through the same struggles that I have overcome. There are sick and suffering people out there crying out for help. Someone answering that call may save a human life.
Now a little over 10 years clean, Katrina Milburn has put together over 3,650 of these miracle days. Through her independent New River Lifeline, Katrina holds the hands of those in emotional and mental pain, talks addicts through just one more day of sobriety and is a shoulder to cry on for those who see no more reason to go on living a life of indescribable torment coming from within their own brain. You can reach Katrina via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.
Thanks so much to Katrina for sharing her wonderful story of hope!
Here’s a question: Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!