Last time I talked to you about why I chose to try ECT, or more specifically, my history of depression. Many people called me brave, and I thank you for your kind words. This made me consider, though, exactly what bravery is. Most people think of brave people as those who take great risks. There are many kinds of risk, but even in cases where a split second decision is required, you will rely on what you know. You will make an assessment. Is the risk I’m taking worth the possible costs?
For instance, you might decide you want to go bungee jumping. What are the risks and what are the benefits? Everyone’s different, but I’d probably look at it like this.
Risk: You could fall to your death and die.
Benefit: Wee, it’s fun!
In this case, I’d decide that no, jumping off a cliff, even with a rope tied around my ankle, is not worth risking my early demise for benefit of an adrenaline rush (I don’t even have to pay for those!). On the other hand, when I made a decision about getting ECT, I looked at the decision this way.
Risk: Very Expensive. Memory loss. Cognitive problems. Pudding brains.
Benefit: I might feel like living, and my life become more worthwhile, for myself and those who love me.
In order to make this decision, I did my research. I can research the crap out of anything, taking hours to find out which shampoo brand is the best, which makes me a great librarian though sometimes an annoying person. So after my psychiatrist asked his students in front of me what was available to those who didn’t respond to drugs, they said, as one example, ECT. When he asked them what it stood for, they hesitated, and I said “Electroconvulsive Therapy.” Give me an A.
You might think my psychiatrist is mean asking his students these questions in front of me, but honestly I think he just loves to mess with them. The best way to learn is to do so in a real setting. I could have refused the students had I wanted to, but it turns out I find their suffering entertaining as well. Anyway, at first I said, “Yeah, nope”. I’d heard plenty about ECT, and Sparky had always told me to watch myself around electricity, so this seemed a no-brainer.
My psychiatrist told me what ECT was like now, and how much it had changed from the days of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. He bemoaned the fact that there is so much stigma, and that this and politics often dictated whether a variety of treatments are available to patients. For instance, ECT was once available near my home town, but it was taken away. The closest hospital that offers ECT now is over a five hour drive from where I live. “In the end,” he said. “They take it away, and the patients suffer.” He said he has seen it work because he’d administered it himself. “I am convinced you could feel better in as little as two weeks.”
What exactly takes place during ECT? I won’t know until I’m there, and even then I’ll be asleep most of the time, but I did find this video that shows the procedure.
A little disconcerting? Slightly. On the other hand, it’s also a far cry from what they did to Jack Nicholson. As you can see, the actual shock lasts seconds, and only one part of the body shakes to show there is a seizure. Oxygen is given, anesthesia, and something to stop the convulsions. But just look at those people helping with the ECT, holding his hand, smiling gently. Vultures!
By this point, as I said before, I’d been through years worth of drugs that eventually failed. Some of them had dangerous side effects, just as dangerous as ECT’s side effects, or worse. If you get right down to it, everything carries a risk of side effects. Childbirth is risky, even if you’re young and healthy. I know, because at 27, I had to wait two weeks for tests to find out if my baby was mentally handicapped. She turned out healthy, but it did shock me into reality. None of us is immune to tragedy.
So I researched, and so did my friends. As I mentioned briefly earlier, I found a little straight forward information, and many, many websites full of warnings and sometimes near hysterical accounts from patients. I realize that this treatment doesn’t work for everyone, but the success rate is listed at near 80 percent. Even if that data is wrong, and it’s only 50 percent, or heck, 5 percent, is this something we should deny desperate people? Chemotherapy kills your body’s cells, both healthy and cancerous, yet it is a common procedure for people with Cancer. Rarely do I hear of someone cautioning a person “You know Chemo is barbaric. Don’t do it!!!” The reason you don’t hear this is because, unfortunately, for now it is one of the few treatments that have been shown to succeed. It takes a terrible toll on the body, and it doesn’t always work. But what else should a person do? Take vitamins? Smoke kale? Tell me, what else should they do?
What else should terribly depressed people do?
That is why I don’t presume to tell others what to do with their own bodies. Screaming that a treatment – whether pills, a medical procedure, or even eating kale (you might choke)- is barbaric, outdated, and cruel could scare people away from the one thing that might help them. I did find one blog written by Natasha Tracy, advocate for mental health. She had a terrible time with ECT. But she fights for it to be available, because she knows that her experience is not what everyone will experience. What helps you could hurt someone else, or vice versa. I encourage you to visit her website; it is full of good information. It is also full of really angry people in the comment section. But she keeps writing.
I am aware that writing about this could open myself up to a lot of these same angry people. But so many have helped me over the years, and I want to help someone else. I want there to be more information about what ECT really is, and how it works. I want people to find an account that is from a real person, but still factual. Even if it’s a bad experience for me, I want to demystify this treatment for Depression. That’s why I decided to write. I weighed the risk (testing out the waters with a friend), and I made a decision. Eventually you have to stop researching, and make a choice, just as I did to try ECT.
I have much more to talk about, but I’m running out of space. I will tell of what the actual process of preparing for ECT entails (hint: you don’t walk right in and get shocked), and how I went about figuring out how I was going to get there in the first place. The decision was one thing. The execution of that decision, quite another.
Remember: Everyone is brave in their own way, just by getting up in the morning.
“What if you get all the way up there and there’s nothing?”
“What if there’s everything?”
– from the movie Tomorrowland
Earlier Merry at Knocked Over By a Feather wrote about a friend who is preparing for ECT treatments. That friend is me. You may have noticed, if you read my blog much, that I haven’t exactly been posting a lot lately. I’m sure the lack of informational posts about Trump, boogers, imaginary ponies, etc., have left you in a lurch. I hope to get back to that at some point, but right now things aren’t going so well. This is nice speak for “There is no need for Hell; I’m here guys!”
The reason I asked Merry to write about it first was because I was afraid of the responses. I’ve researched ECT, (electroconvulsive therapy or “shock therapy”), for nearly two months now, and most of what I find are horrifying stories. Yet ECT is often successful at treating depression, or at least raising you to a point where you can treat your depression. The minority write the scary stuff, and shout down the ones who have positive experiences. I’m not saying people do not have bad experiences, but what one finds positive and another finds positive can be very different. If you are so depressed you can’t function, side effects, even serious ones, can take a back seat to even the possibility of getting well.
I don’t like to talk that much about my illnesses. Alice is supposed to be funny – to a select group of people anyway. (Hi, friends!) Some might say it’s because I use humor as a defense mechanism. Humor at least makes the awful go down a little easier. These illnesses are not something to joke about, though, especially not to the new psychiatrist who is in charge of the ECT program. He seemed to think my joke about the butcher knife was not funny. Killjoy.
I feel like I should offer you my history, because I did not wake up one day feeling sad and decide to go get my brain shocked. It doesn’t work that way. ECT is, in general, a last ditch effort when other treatments have failed. We have come a long way in mental health treatment just within the last few decades. Now, thankfully, we have antidepressants that do work for many people. They might even work for Scientologists, though I fear their problems mostly stem from being jerks.
And that’s another issue. It’s hard enough to juggle a chronic illness like Depression without dealing with other stress. Most people have to work. You’d be amazed at the number of people who have worked for years with the black dog dragging them down. Don’t tell the cute college students, but work kind of sucks at least part of the time, even if you like your job and your coworkers. I have been in my job as a library assistant at a university library for over seven years now. If it were not for the people I work with, especially my direct boss, I would not still be working. Like far too many people, I would be forced onto disability. Depression is the second greatest reason for people taking disability now. Only heart disease has more people.
Yet even with my decent working conditions, I am struggling to keep afloat. I already take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. These help me if all conditions are going well, but stress is always present, and it doesn’t take much for my cup to runneth over. When you are depressed, everything becomes difficult. Bit by bit I’ve watched as I’m able to do less and less. Reading back on old blog entries, I can see my downward trajectory. For a well person, a stress would be your car breaking down. For a depressed person any of the following will do:
- Getting out of bed
- Putting on clothes
- Doing laundry so you have clothes to put on
- After that shower you haven’t taken
- Brushing and flossing your teeth
- Putting on makeup – sorry I made myself laugh there
- Getting your hair cut – I am now Rapunzel
- Taking your children to school in traffic
- Walking into work. And the day has just started.
People who are well have a hard time understanding this. Depressed people don’t understand it either, because often there is a disconnect between what part of your brain knows you should be able to do, and what the other part is willing to let you do. This disease does not exist in a vacuum – it exists in an ever winding circle involving illnesses both mental and physical. IBS, Asthma, auto-immune diseases, chronic pain, and even the heart disease that is winning the disability race all wind round and round. Did the depression cause the illness, or did the illness cause the depression, or both? Where does it start and where does it end?
I’ve always dealt with respiratory illnesses due to being allergic to all of creation. But in 2012, I came down with a serious case of pneumonia. This wasn’t your walking, take a pill, back in a few days kind of pneumonia. By the time doctors put their tiny heads together and figured it out a week after symptoms started – a chest x-ray! What a wild idea! – the pneumonia had spread over my entire right lung. It was a miserable experience. If you want to hear about it with cartoons and jokes, just look up “pneumonia” in the search box. Anyway, I missed over a month of work, and even after I returned it took a couple more months to fully recover. I never recovered my sick or vacation leave at work. From that point on, I was always running behind, making up time for being sick or going to appointments because I could never keep any leave. I almost never have a week with no absence. For the last five years I have wondered when they would fire me. At times, I hoped they would, because I was just so tired.
The depression came next. I’d been fairly well for the last several years on the meds I was on. Yet each major stress would cause a pill combination to fail. It didn’t help that my shrink was a psychotic idiot. I thought I had no other choice because I lived in a small city. He gave me meds, then if they didn’t work, he yanked them and threw others at me. Often there was no way to know what, if any, of my new meds were working and which were not. All these medications have side effects. One, Abilify, made me feel great for about a month before I was taken off of it for a 10 pound weight gain. I would be put on it another time at a lower dose, only to be taken off it once more after a few months because I was climbing the walls. I also developed a tendency to shop online which, along with gambling and other risk taking, is another possible fun side effect.
By the time I finally found another psychiatrist, I had been hospitalized three times. I fully believe that people should go to the hospital if they are suicidal or even just so desperate they can no longer cope. But after the first visit at my hospital, the other two were lousy experiences. I have a couple of these stories on the blog as well. However, the one good thing about the hospital was that you did not have to cope with the outside. They gave you meals. They gave you pills. You went to group. The other people could be kind of scary, yet you still felt a belonging with them. And while you wanted to leave, it was hard to return to the outside.
My new shrink is not perfect, but at least he looks me in the eye and seems to care. I encourage everyone, if possible, to shop for a good shrink. This guy is messing with your brain and body. It’s good to trust him if at all possible. No, most shrinks are not going to have long talks with you. They prescribe medicine because they have big brains filled with knowledge that does not always include common sense. Common sense is for counselors. Don’t be afraid to try talk therapy if you can, because it can be very helpful. Some people are able to get by with it alone. Some use it and medication. But for some, both of these stop helping after a while. I found myself on a cycle of new pills, everything okay, new stress, pills fail, rinse repeat. Finally my doctor suggested ECT.
I know I haven’t discussed much about the actual ECT, but I plan to in the next posts. My history is important though, because all of this weighed into my decision to try this treatment. It is my hope to detail the process of getting ECT (it is NOT easy) and then the actual ECT itself. Since I am told I will lose memory, I figure I should write down what I can when I can. My hope is to help other people who are faced with such a decision with information and not just fear mongering. ECT could fail. I could be worse off than before, but then again, I could be better. My family deserves for me to try this. I deserve to try this. I don’t want to spend a life in misery, and I’m willing to try whatever it takes.
I will officially start ECT on June 5th.
So here goes. Geronimo.
No, really, I mean – what? I have been sick a few days with what we Americans, or maybe just Southerners?, call the CRUD. I have a doctor who said that all upper respiratory infections, tonsillitis, bronchitis, laryngitis, oompalitis, etc are basically the same. So I have one of those. I don’t know. But I have been miserable. You know how miserable? Think of those ASPCA puppies and kittens they show you all the time. The ones that look like Hitler just electrocuted their mother right in front of them. They’re shivering, they’re hungry, they’re wondering why people are just filming them and not doing anything. Which I know I AM wondering. Like sheesh, get the puppy a blanket, and some dog chow you fiends. Sheesh.
It occurs to me the puppies might be actors. If so, well done, puppies.
Anyway, I have been just as miserable as those animals, only not nearly as cute. I was chatting with my friend Merbear on my phone and since I now have a Smart Phone . . . yeah. They got me. But not with the latest, greatest literally exploding phones. No, I have an old Samsung, but it still works. Like it lets me take videos of myself lying down and coughing into the phone so I can show my friend just how bad off I am. And she was like, “Have you tried steam?”
And I’m like . . . steam? I mean I have been having respiratory ailments since my teens and I am like now not a teen and I don’t know how many times I’ve used steam both for myself and my Things (kids for any of you newcomers. More on newcomers later) and I hadn’t thought of it yet. So thanks, Mer, I used steam and it helped a little. I still feel like crapsters, though, and I missed more work than I have time allotted for that, which hadn’t happened in a while and was quite annoying. It’s like my illnesses all hang out and try to figure out who gets to like jump me first. No, no, depression it was your turn LAST week, now let’s give stomach a try. No he had it before. What about me, the bladder – you know the one that – er – leaks. Okay, we’ll let you in, because the cough and that leak thing go together. Yay!
Where was I? Oh, right, sick. You know just when you think you have it all under control, one of those guys pops up. Or better, a new one comes in. Remember how in that emo post I wrote last time I mentioned Lice and other Holiday Tales? Well, yeah, lice came to visit. I hate bugs in general, but bugs that are like, ON YOU? Yeah, that’s beyond awful. So we treated Thing Two and then treated her again and then oh whew and then Thing One got it so we treated her and again and then later . . . they were back. Cause Thing One has very thick, curly hair and my husband and I have very little patience for combing with those awful combs that couldn’t go through a doll’s hair. But I had something up my sleeve. Research. That’s what I do, unless, you know, it’s for a post. So I found this comb, and wow it is like the Allah of Combs judging from what must be real reviews because these reviews were super intense. These people have war stories. So I ordered it.
Guess what Amazon Prime is late on getting to my house? Yup. I WANT MY COMB AMAZON.
So things have not been going that well for me. I was afraid I would never be funny again. This was my greatest fear here, not like dying of CRUD which I kinda thought I might a couple times cause holy crap it’s awful. But yeah, it’s humor, you got to have it. And when I wasn’t able to write, well that was lousy – uh – wrong word. But here I am, writing, and I don’t have a plan to it (did you pick up on that yet?) and it only has one pic in it which I had stored but hey I did it. Cause people have been looking at older posts of mine. So then I check them out. And I laugh because I like my own stuff. But also because it is memories of my life, like with my kids, my work, with me. And the sicks aren’t going to get me. Okay they will, but not like forever there will be days when I’m not sick of some sort! Or have bugs! Possibly! But also if I don’t write then I will not get to expose the really stupid people who have lately been commenting on my old posts. Do you remember booger guy? The one who corrected my grammar on a post about boogers? Well, there’s more of that kind of snot, get ready.
Eventually. Because there are people extremely concerned about my virtual family, a heretical Christmas song post, my knowledge of Sophia the First. Etc. But at any rate, I am trying. So the best thing you could do is not say you are sorry for me because life is life. We all have crap. Heck, our whole country got one big piece of it today, but I didn’t see any of it, or care, cause I was sick. So there are some good things about sick, I guess.
Please like and follow and comment because just one like or follow or comment could save this sad puppy from the horrors of this post.
I haven’t been posting as much lately. I’m not sure if very many people have noticed, but I have, and there is a reason for it. Put out an APB for one sad pony and one squirrel possibly high on meth tainted nuts.
In case you don’t know much about these two (any first time people who somehow stumbled over here can find out more on my About page) these guys represent my depression and anxiety. Guess which one is which? I’ve been having issue with both of these little hairballs, and since I’m allergic to fur, I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to both of them as well. Some say they are just pictures, but believe me, they are a little too real.
These guys didn’t always represent my issues. Originally Sad Pony was just a funny meme I found somewhere that I tossed onto my page. I loved him so much I did this quite often. There is something about a pony that just looks this sad. I realize he probably isn’t really sad, he’s just tired, you know, typical pony burnout. But he sure looks pathetic in that picture. Added to the humor (my sense of humor is a little different, like me!) are the words “Sad Pony is Sad.” I find this dopey redundant sentence totally hilarious. But also fitting. Because even depressed, I can see humor everywhere. Sometimes, with enough distance, I can see how humorous some of my depressive thoughts can seem. Like Eeyore on steroids.
At some point, Sad Pony just became another character on my blog, just as he is a character in my life. I am not depression, and depression isn’t me. In this case, it’s a fat pony that just flops down on top of me and says “Take a break. Take 50.” It’s rather hard to get things done with this thing sitting on you. Forget the black dog. I have a Sad Pony, and ponies are heavy, especially when lethargic. Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never met a real pony – er beside this one who is REAL. Somewhere. I mean I have no idea who shot this picture. But I thank them.
But I’m not always just sad. I also have anxiety. And the best way I’ve figured out to describe anxiety is with a squirrel. Have you ever watched these guys before? Holy crap, it’s like some wire in their brain is being repeatedly shocked so that they have to dart from here to there and back again for no particular reason that I can tell. Maybe it’s because they are toward the bottom of the food chain, and don’t want to get eaten. The only time I’ve seen them remotely calm is on the college campus where I currently work, and that’s because college students are always – purposely or not – feeding the little suckers. They’d grown so unafraid that they will actually sit on your foot. The squirrels, not the students. These squirrels can never leave campus or they will be killed almost immediately.
Squirrel also started out as a picture I threw into posts partly because of the Disney movie “Up” where a dog is given the ability to speak and, not surprisingly, he has little to say and is often distracted. He can be in the middle of a sentence, spot a squirrel, and yell randomly “SQUIRREL!” That’s my anxiety in a nutshell (pun intended bwaha). I can be totally fine and then suddenly feel extreme panic. I am fearful of what most people are not, like say going to work. Sure they might not want to go to work, but their adrenaline doesn’t shoot up because they are going there. This anxiety would be considered normal if I worked in, say, an ER. But I work in a library. Rarely is my life in danger at a library, though we have had snakes, bats, spiders, wasps, and yes, once a squirrel invade. Also when people shoot up campuses, they often go for the library. I learned this is our Active Shooter Training at work. It really helped with my anxiety.
As you can see, these two fellows often interact. Depression makes me see anxiety as even more ridiculous, causing me to feel sad, then spiraling me into anxiety because oh no I’m sad again and how long will this last and then back to depression because come on, you have nothing to be afraid of, Alice. Well, except maybe the possibility of a Trump presidency. Then again, if we do get him, we probably won’t last long as a country because we will be bombed off the earth. Either by other countries or ourselves.
Comforting thoughts, there. Not really, but what is comforting is that I have this blog. And over the years, I’ve had others identify with these two, and even encourage the figments of my imagination. It’s great when other people willingly share in your delusions. And no matter how much that squirrel runs, no matter how much he distracts me, no matter how much he encourages me to scroll through the Internet all day long or do impulsive things, I have a support system. Same with Sad Pony. There is usually someone – like friends Lindy, Jody, my best blog friend Merbear and naturally my Things (among others) – to eventually help distract me from the distraction of that squirrel. There is usually someone who, while maybe unable to lift that pony, will lie down with me until he leaves.
So I’m having a lot of ups and downs. Meds really help with this, especially this last one that injected several of Squirrel’s best friends directly into my bloodstream, leaving me wanting to literally climb the walls and run out of my own skin. You are ready for anything to help you at that point, even a fat pony to sit on those squirrels. But I stopped that med, and I continue to hope for the future. For even the most sarcastic people have hope. I thank this blog, and my blog readers, for helping keep up that hope. I thank them for letting me be Alice.
P.S. As a little aside, I have started another blog about my dolls, titled appropriately Wonderland of Plastic. I only have an introduction and one review up so far (Wonderrrr Womaaaaaaaaaan!), but promise more to come. I discuss the dolls and history and since it’s me, Alice, of course I have snark. I’m not sure I can totally write without it. This is also where I’ll be moving my doll stories with the Things. We have more torture planned for our Disney princess housewives. Because there is life after the fairy tale.
It’s Monday, ya’ll, which means another full week OF DREAD. I like to be prepared, so I started my dreading early – Sunday night – when my anxiety reached top notch and I had to decide how to calm it down. Oh, sure, there are lots of ways, but you have to be able to GET to those ways in order for it to work. For instance:
Music can be calming. But once you reach Maximum Squirrel Overload, you are kind of past that. No kind of music, saying you were calm enough to find a music player, is going to make you feel better. There are a few types of music. Sad music: bad idea cause you are already anxious and probably depressed about being anxious and sad songs won’t help. Happy music: bad idea too because what business do people have being happy when you are freaked out? Then there’s rap music most of which I think is best classified as Angry music because there is much talk of popping caps in posteriors. Popping a cap might help with anxiety, but the jail time afterward would not, so don’t try it. Also, what are your chances of being able to find the gun?
I love when people say to work out your anxiety or depression with exercise. Look, people, I have no idea where any of my sweatpants are, and if I did, they would be dirty. Then I would have to wash them. And dry them. And put them on. That’s way too much work when your mind is going 1,000 miles an hour. You are already getting a mental workout, and trying to add physical to it can be too much. I guess the best way to describe it would be to expect someone to solve 500 quadratic equations, cure Cancer, and write a symphony, then tell them they had to do this all on the treadmill or elliptical. Now yes, if you manage to get to a gym before you reach Squirrel Overload, you have a chance of physically beating that anxiety back, but if it comes on suddenly, it’s just way too late.
Hot, soothing beverage!
This is usually my best bet, except this time I could not make the cocoa because even though I had cocoa packets, I did not have milk. Well, I had milk, two half gallons, but they had both expired. Saying I was able to force myself to pour the milk (which might come up in chunks which milk should never do) down the drain without barfing, I couldn’t because there were already dishes in the sink. So first I would have to put the dishes in the dishwasher. Except the dishwasher is full so then you have to put the dishes up except that they didn’t all come clean, so they have to go back in the sink. No one wants milk curds on top of that. So forget it. Finally I drove to McDonald’s for some, but they “broke” the machine. I would break it too if I worked there, but still. I had to drive yet another place before I finally got my cocoa. Then I remembered I hadn’t taken some of my pills, so I swallowed them with cocoa only to swallow them wrong and get heartburn. Once I had finished taking care of the heartburn, I managed to go to bed. That, my friends, is way too darn much work.
The last thing I feel when under Squirrel Overload is funny although I probably act rather amusing and or terrifying (it’s such a fine line) when under the influence. This morning I was not as sparkified, just dreadish, and telling myself that I just had to go to work for a little while even though I wanted to stay home. So I drove my Things to school and somehow the conversation diverted to dead dogs because – are you really surprised with us? Anyway, we discussed Where the Red Fern Grows which is a classic children’s book because it involves two dead dogs AND a dead child (for more on the dead dog topic see my post on dead dogs in literature. It’s a real romp.) And the Things, who were both forced to read this book, reminded me that the bully in the book was killed and I was like oh when he was mauled to death and they said no, an ax fell on him. Which is such a great image there. And I was like, dang, that author had some sort of personal vendetta against dogs and boys named Billy. And Thing Two said, “Mom, it was just an AXident.” Get it? Well, we did, and we laughed, because we have problems. But not as many as the author of Where the Red Fern Grows.
So the dread is still there, but at least I made it to work. And when I think of that horrible pun about an ax falling on a kid, I smile. I guess when you are on Squirrel Overload, it helps to have a couple of Things handy. I’m willing to rent them out.
For a long time now, I’ve felt like I was struggling to get through a desert. Choking on dust, slogging through sand, extreme heat and cold, walking into cacti (I’d probably do this in a real desert), falling into craters, running scared from those creepy sand worm things you see in the movies. It’s not real. I know it’s not real, it’s not even logical, but it’s there. I’ve made this trip every day for over a year. Three hospital visits, dozens of drugs, tons of time missed from work – I’ve had respites, mirages that seemed so real. But I always return to this damn desert.
I’ve run a long time. Sometimes it’s from the anxiety causing (I’ll say) sand worms. Other times it’s running toward something – the cure. Surely there is some pill, some treatment, something, that is going to cure me and make me all better and normal and functional. I run and run and run. Until I can’t run any longer. I look back, but it’s too far to go back from where I’ve come. If all stays as it is, if I continue to run, continue to fear, continue to tell myself “Once x happens, then y= HAPPY”, I’m not going to get anywhere. Already I’ve collapsed several times from exhaustion, ready to just lay down and give up on the desert sand.
Obviously all this mental desert time has caused problems in my “real” life with my husband, my kids, my work, my health (nutrition is pop-tarts right?), my cluttered, sometimes disgusting house (Let’s play what’s that smell today), my finances, and on and on. And I’ve tried to solve these. Or hoped that a new med or therapy would give me the ability to solve them. ALL OF THEM. As Allie Brosh, author of the blog Hyperbole and a Half and a fellow sufferer, would say “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS”.
It doesn’t work. It’s too much pressure. You will drown. Even in the desert.
So I told my therapist about the desert. And she said something simple. “Build a tent.”
Don’t focus on “cures”. Don’t focus on what’s behind you. Don’t focus on what’s ahead. Just keep hanging in there – exactly where you are right now. Use whatever “coping” mechanisms you can, and I don’t just mean “deep belly breathing” or making gratitude lists (Thank you so bloody much for depression.) No, use YOUR coping mechanisms, anything that makes you able to make it through another hour. Some of mine are getting away somewhere that I can cry alone (especially while trying to tolerate work) hot cocoa (it soothes my nerves), soft socks and this sweater / throw rug my friend gave me. And my Things of course, they are my two favorite things.
So I’ve stopped. I have my tent, and my goodies, and I sit and I peek out occasionally. I am counting down the days (three weeks now) until I can visit a shrink who is not a total jackass. I’ve gotten a small increase on one of my meds from his nurse who is not a jackass. I’ve missed work, gotten time without pay, and gone home and napped. I missed half a day today, and woke up depressed. Sleeping that much is not a good coping skill. Naps are good. Hours and hours, which leads to hours and hours up at night watching Lifetime and infomercials (I can lose 80 pounds without exercise if only I do extreme damage to that heart thingy!), is not good. I need good sleep. Without it, even the tent shakes.
So I just have to focus on day by day. I hope I can stay at work, because being at home is not much better. If anyone has tips for handling depression at work that do not have to do with breathing (trust me, I’ve heard it), please feel free to offer them. I thought a lot about just quitting, but realizing today how bored and sad I get at home (especially whilst playing the “what’s that smell” game), I know I need my job, and for more than just the income. I also need to know what I want. If I sit in the tent instead of constantly racing and racing, my counselor says it will come to me.
What do I want – in work, with my husband, with my kids, with family, with my house, with my life. What do I really want? I don’t know right now because I am too blinded by everything else, all the hurry and worry and sad and sick. If I can just sit in my tent, can I just sit and thinks? What do I want (besides getting well). I hope I can find it. But I can’t rush it. The knowledge of what Alice really wants will only come when I stop looking.
So I have to stop. Take comfort in the tent. Survive. And listen to that voice in my head. Not the mean, depressive one.
The one that belongs to Alice.
I’ve been doing this 21 days of Gratitude thing as a hoot, but I just considered that I got this as a part of therapy. In other words, if you are depressed, being grateful for what you have is supposed to make you feel better. But does it? If you’ve never had clinical mental illness, you probably think it should make everything better. You probably apply logic to situations. But that’s just the thing. Depressed people can SEE logic, they just can’t act on it very well. Here’s one example. A dirty house makes you feel bad, yes? Cleaning it would make you feel better. Therefore (x + cow = red) you should get up and clean your house.
As you can see, Mr. Sad Face wasn’t too impressed with Snow White’s chipper attitude toward cleanliness, though blowing her up with a magic wand did bring a smile to his face. That’s always nice. More on that in a bit.
Gratitude journals are supposed to work the same way. But here’s the thing. There are different stages of Depression. It’s never “cured” but you can have times of mostly remission, as long as you take your meds and / or go to therapy or whatever it is you do to cope. But if you are in the really down stage, someone telling you to be grateful is only going to make it worse. For example:
It goes a little differently with the depressed brain.
So you see the difference? It’s not that the depressed person is trying to be obstinate, that’s just how our brains work. We already KNOW we have good things in our lives, and sometimes that us feel even more down. Just because you have depression doesn’t mean you don’t have gratitude. It means you have a chemical imbalance, and possibly some other sucky events have happened in your life. Your brain sees through a different lens when suffering depression. Like the drug commercial we know so well – this is your brain on depression. This is your brain without it. There’s a difference – it’s even visible on brain scans, so it’s not made up stuff to let depressed people lie on their duffs and take no responsibility. No matter how much it seems that way – even to the one who is depressed.
Now gratitude is a good thing, and when you’re out of your darkest days, it’s fine. But please don’t push people to be grateful when that is just one of the many things they wish they can do but can’t. It causes guilt, not happiness. Coming out of depression takes time, and hard work, and the right kind of therapy and meds. It’s not a quick fix. But there is one thing that is – even if the fix only lasts a few minutes. Humor. Humor helps. I’ve been in the hospital, and I’ve seen it work with other “mentals”. It is possible to laugh in the midst of suffering. And that’s part of why I blog. I love humor, and I hope my somewhat bizarre form of it helps people, whether they are sick or not. Remember that rainbows don’t appear during the worst of the thunderstorm. They come after. But during you can always use an umbrella. Until that blows away and you just hide under a taller person. Or – I lost track of my metaphors. Anyway, this is Alice signing out, hoping your brain has a good day.
P.S. I hope you found humor in how Snow White has kind of a Joker grin (not really intended). Why so serious?
So what’s so special about this movie (besides the fact that it the highest grossing animated film of all time beating out Toy Story 3, and he 5th highest film period- and it’s still playing in some theaters)?
It’s because this movie, with very small exception (those blasted trolls) is perfect. As Beauty and the Beast did for me back in the 90s, so Frozen has done for a new generation of children – it’s blasted us out of the park. The stunning animation, the incredible songs (“Let it Go” took Best Song in the Oscars), the characters, and the story – it was amazing. It’s a bit slow in the beginning, but once you hit that big musical Oscar winning number, you’re taken in. Okay, well, I was, as were my daughters, and obviously a whole lot of other people.
And that’s the answer – this was a movie that struck not just children, but adults as well. Whereas little children saw pretty princesses, older kids and adults saw their lives. You can’t help but identify with the sisters Elsa and Anna – both individually and in their relationship to each other.
A brief synopsis – though this post is anything but brief – bear with me. Elsa has those magical ice powers, but she hurts her sister while playing with her powers, so the parents get a troll to heal her and then completely disregard everything he warns them about. They decide the best way to help the girl is to lock her up in her room and try to get her to suck up her feelings (tied to her enormous creative power) so she doesn’t freeze the place. Oh, and little sister Anna has her memory wiped, so has no idea why her sister has shut her completely out.
Now take away the fantasy part of it, and see if that doesn’t sound familiar in any way. I see Frozen in many ways as a metaphor for mental illness. Elsa’s parents tell her to suck up her feelings. They keep her isolated from others, for fear of her endangering them, and, I suspect, fear of embarrassment. And little sister is left outside the door, repeatedly knocking, begging, pleading for Elsa to let her in. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” is a song that can get very irritating, but it’s important. Especially the last line, where you see both sisters, isolated from one another, slink down in despair on either side of the door.
“Do you want to build a snowman? It doesn’t have to be a snowman.”
After the deaths of the rather controlling parents, Elsa is forced to come out to lead her people. Anna is thrilled to have her back, but she annoys the heck out of Elsa until finally she can no longer keep her feelings inside. She unleashes them on the entire kingdom, starting an eternal winter. Cursed as a witch, she is chased away from the castle, but once she’s away, she realizes suddenly that now she is free. Free to be who she is. And her song “Let it Go” resonates with me like no other song does, no matter how many times it is played.
So I’ll give you the song, along with my commentary.
“Let it Go”
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the queen.
People with mental illness are isolated. From friends, from coworkers, from family, even from others with their illness.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!
What happens on the outside (her enormous outburst) reflects what she has been keeping inside – a swirling storm of emotion. You can try to keep it in, but it won’t stay in forever. It didn’t for me. And heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Oh wow, this is a big one for me. Be the good girl, Alice, always be the good girl. Growing up with a brother who had enormous outbursts due to his manic depression, I felt I had to be the good one for my parents to make up for it. I tried to do whatever I was told, and when I deviated, well, I heard about it. In school I figured out early that to cry, or show emotion, could invite ridicule. My smile was made fun of – so I tried not to smile around these people. I didn’t even look up. For a long time.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!
They tell you never to mention mental illness – especially if you ever want a job or to be taken seriously. But, eventually, people will find out. Even if you think you’re hiding it so well, you aren’t. People with any kind of sensitivity will see through the mask. I know my kids did. And when I finally admitted to it, and told others what was going on – there was a definite lift I felt. No one thus far has ridiculed me. If anything, they’ve in some way understood. So if you have a total meltdown at a dinner party, don’t worry too much.
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!
I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!
A typical first reaction to spilling the beans about your illness – okay, this is me. Deal with it. I don’t care what you say. I’m running away, don’t follow.
It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!
Distance does change the scope of the problem. Staying at a mental hospital showed me I was far from the only one that was sick, and I was by far not the sickest. One of my biggest fears was going to a place like that. Well I did it, twice, so what can’t I do? What fear can’t I conquer?
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!
Often, when you shut up your feelings, you shut up your creativity, your potential. What could you do if you weren’t hiding in your bedroom? You’re an adult now. There aren’t any real rules (except the obvious ones like paying your taxes and going to work so you get paid). Other than that, if you want to buy dolls or ponies, buy them. If you want to make a go at Broadway, try it. No more rules.
Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry!
Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on!
The song is picking up now – it’s gone from sad, to more hopeful, to angrily determined. Just TRY and stop me now.
My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past!
Here is the point in the song where the animation just leaves you breathless. Elsa raises her arms and builds a castle. That’s right. She builds an entire freaking castle out of ice. All that, ALL THAT CREATIVITY, locked away inside for so long. How sad is that? But how many of us do that? And for how long?
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!
You don’t have to be perfect anymore, Alice. No one is. You’re okay just as you are. Your Things, after all, told you so all along.
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!
So she’s out in the open now (well sort of, she’s still not back home), but at least she’s able to be herself in this place she’s built with creativity denied to her for most of her life. Later, when Anna comes to ask for help with the whole eternal winter thing, the song of both sisters is reprised in a beautiful duet. Anna insisting she can help her, Elsa insisting she has no idea what she’s talking about, and ending with Elsa once more lashing out, freezing her sister’s heart. Only true love can rescue Anna now.
And it does. But not from a prince. Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa, and Elsa heals her with her love. Sisterly love. So yes, this is an awesome movie. I’ve told you a lot, but not nearly all of it. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do, especially if you have a sister or are the mother of sisters. You won’t regret it.
So last time, I spoke to you guys about my first few days back at Camp Loopy which is not that fun cause they don’t even give you t-shirts. I think unit t-shirts would be awesome, you know, like in Harry Potter. I could have been in Schizoloren if the magic hat I talk to daily said okay. I’m getting off topic already.
Anyhoo, last I left you they’d just decided to transfer me from the geriatric unit to a new unit (bye bye Huffledafts) because clearly my anxiety was getting better too fast. One thing I’ll give them – the head nurse fought for me to stay. They like to hoard the “good patients”. I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I got to the new unit.
I know a lot about mania. My brother has bipolar depression, which can cause a person to swing from lows to wayyy too highs. Not that he can’t be annoying (he is a brother), but he does take his meds so he’s usually okay. I hadn’t actually witnessed a person in full blown mania who did NOT need meds thanks so much. Then I met Mandy (names changed to protect the looney). Or rather I heard her before I even got there.
Oh. My. God.
Mandy talked. And talked. And talked. I don’t think she ever shut up except for the rare times her entire body gave out and she slept for a few precious minutes while we tiptoed around her and said “She’s kinda cute when she’s sleeping.” But otherwise, she was talking – loudly. Yell-speak I call it. Every single word was shouted. Try to imagine this for a few minutes. Now imagine it for 2 days. Yeah. They don’t usually send you somewhere with the apparent intention to drive you even MORE insane.
She was also very active, like a child who had just downed 5,000 pixie sticks and a few dozen Monster drinks. She danced, she sang, she ran around the room, she swung her head around like a head banger. And if that wasn’t enough, Mandy was religious, so we also got mixed-up Bible thrown at us every few seconds. “Amen,” she said. “No Ah-men. No, A-men. AMEN!!!”
Mandy was a pretty young woman. She reminded me of this ice skater who was so beautiful, graceful, and mercifully silent. But not Mandy. She was as active as a speed skater on speed, if said speed skater yelled Bible verses. Come to think of it, some of those street corner preachers could have picked up some tips from her.
I’m pretty sure I lost more hearing from her in those two days than I did from the infancy of my each of my two children. Occasionally a nurse would yell “Mandy! Shhh!” and she’d sit down, hold up two fingers in a peace sign, and yell “Sorry, sorry! Peace out!”
One might think I could have escaped from her by going to my room and closing the door. But nope, because I roomed with the Grinch. The Grinch was mad. Always. About absolutely nothing. And boy did she let you know. She slept with a glass of water in her hand, and both nights woke up cursing and howling, shocked that there was water in her bed! This usually happened around 1 AM. No sleep for YOU, Alice!
At least I didn’t room with Mandy. God have mercy on that poor woman’s soul. Her roomie seemed incredibly laid back. Maybe they dosed her with a lot of meds. I hope so. Mandy’s completely unidentical cousin was also in the same unit. She looked apologetic a lot. We felt sorry for her. I can only imagine the family reunions.
Now why didn’t they make Mandy take her meds? Cause they can’t. They can’t force you to take anything, nor can they restrain you unless you are an imminent threat to your life or someone else’s. No, for the real stuff you gotta go to a state facility. Our hospital is a holding pen for these people – for up to six months. Yup. Six months with psychotic people who can barely be controlled. She’d already been there a few weeks when I got there. How those nurses, techs, and counselors stayed in their jobs I will never, ever know. I think I’d be shoving pills down Mandy’s throat. After tying her to some railroad tracks.
But I digress. Group meetings were completely useless since she could not stay down for more than a few seconds and was constantly interrupting then saying sorry and interrupting again. Also the Grinch was always griping about all us annoying Whos and how she was HANDICAPPED and couldn’t walk (though she’d walked into the room) and that the staff were total jerks. She couldn’t figure out why no one leaped up to help her.
At one point, the Grinch and Mandy got into a shouting match and I shamefully admit I was waiting for them to duke it out so maybe we could call the police to take them away. Also it would have been entertaining. We had little entertainment since they never let us go outside or get exercise in spite of telling us in Group that this relieved depression. No fresh air for you!
I reached my breaking point about 1 AM the morning of my release day. I was up waiting for them to change Grinch’s sheets and dose her with enough stuff to make her go back to sleep. Mandy was shouting, as usual, and I turned and yelled “MANDY! BE QUIET! I NEED TO SLEEEEEEP!” She blinked at me, shocked. “Oh, I didn’t know I was being loud!”
One of the nurses must have seen the deranged look in my eye so she sat down with me. She asked me the usual questions.
Nurse: Do you feel suicidal?
Nurse: Do you feel homicidal?
I looked right at Mandy.
Nurse: Moving on . . .
She finished her checklist and helpfully talked me down from my tree. Mandy was headed for state lockup – they’d luckily found her a spot. Maybe because the staff threatened to quit in mass? I would have. I still don’t know why they couldn’t have found her a nice padded room of her own somewhere far, far away from the rest of us. But then, her presence did tell me that there is no real escape from life. The crazies are everywhere.
So Mandy left at 4 AM the same day as my departure. Hello, Silence, my old friend. So that gave me about five or six hours of actually enjoying myself a little before being unceremoniously booted out of the ward. But I did make friends. They say in wartime, soldiers become very close. It’s the same in the crazy ward. I met one woman in particular that I still text. We and a few others laughed a lot while we were there as we talked about all the patients and their quirks. One of them pointed out:
“Hey – I just realized we’re the mean girls of the mental unit.”
Why not? You take your perks where you can. This crazy story has a happy ending. I got a pill – a teeny, tiny little pill that has been an absolute miracle. I also experienced a little bit of the old Jewish tale “It could always be worse.” I have true compassion for those with mental illness, even Mandy (when she’s far away from me) and frustration at the lack of decent care for them. I hope one day we can build more and better facilities around the country, because it’s not just a few of us out here. There are more than you know, living day to day, undercover.
It’s time for us all to be able to come out into the light.
“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
SHOW ME HOW BIG YOUR BRAVE IS!!”
– Sara Bareilles
What is brave? Is it the firefighter who rescues the child from the burning building? Is it the soldier who fights in a foreign country? Is it the policeman who takes a risk every time she responds to a call?
But it’s so much more too. Brave is anybody who has overcome adversity, who hasn’t let it turn them to the dark side, who takes one step forward every day despite chronic pain, sick children and relatives, mental anguish, abuse, or even just the stress of everyday life.
Brave is me.
I didn’t used to think this, and sometimes I still scoff at it. I’d never climb a burning building, or volunteer to fight a war, or try to bust a drug ring. When scared, I tend to run in terror, scream and shout. But then, so would many people. But all of us, deep down, have bravery. It’s just not the exciting kind found in the movies. I think Sara Bareilles says it so well in her song “Brave”.
“Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue”
Brave is the kid who goes to public school, who struggles with subjects that are hard, with teachers that are sometimes cold and harder, with fellow students who unleash cruelty at anyone who is different. Who do these things even home life gets tough as well.
Brave is the husband who goes to work everyday even when he hates his job. Who does his work even when his boss does nothing, and does his best. Who fixes his wife’s car, goes to get her prescriptions, and takes care of their children, his job, and everything else when she has to be gone. Who supports her when she cannot support herself.
Brave is the mom who recognizes when she can’t do it by herself anymore. Who risks the stigma of mental illness by admitting it. Who leaves the husband and children and goes into a scary hospital to get medicine and counseling, though it breaks her heart and her wallet to do so. Brave is the mom who writes about it on a public blog.
I am that mom.
“And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?”
When I got home from the hospital, Thing Two and I talked.
Me: I only went away so I could be a better Mom.
Thing Two: You already were.
Maybe so, because my kids sure are amazing. But now I hope to be even better. I have another chance. I’m giving it all I have.
And if I can, so can you.
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”