“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.