Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Things That May Be Difficult to Discuss

5340545-Tangled-wires-as-connection-and-network-concept-Stock-Photo-tangled-wire(please remember that this is my own personal experience, and I do not have an MD in either neurology or psychiatry.  Do not take my opinion as fact.  Take my opinion as an opinion.)

It’s not often I’m scrolling through my news feed and up pops an article written by someone who receives ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, previously known as “shock therapy” or “shock treatment.”

I appreciate how the author points out that she’s not the “typical ECT patient.”  Just because movies and books may feature some middle-aged patient with long, stringy grey hair in a straight jacket in the corner of an empty room, does not mean this is normal.  Also keep in mind that today is 2018; it is not 1923.  When ECT was first used as treatment, it was also used as a punishment for symptomic behaviors, not an effective form of treatment.  It would physically subdue the patient without curing the underlying problem.  That is not how this treatment is used today.

I am not the stereotypical madwoman talking to herself in the corner.  (Although I do talk to myself.  And my cats.)  I am a just-about-40-year-old college professor who receives ECT as a maintenance form of therapy for the Bipolar Disorder I.

When ECT is used in an appropriate and careful manner by knowledgeable doctors with an appropriate candidate, ECT can be the best form of treatment for that individual.  With any form of treatment, you have to consider how the treatment was administered and whether or not the patient is a viable candidate–and, of course, do not  forget that each patient is unique (emotionally and physically), and may or may not have a positive response.  But–I wouldn’t trust my psychiatrist to diagnose and treat my cardiac illness.  I trust my cardiologist who specializes in electrical conditions of the heart and who has done a fair amount of research concerning my particular, rare, illness.  (In other words–ask questions, do research, and talk to an appropriate doctor whom you trust.)

So let’s address a couple of common myths and urban legends.  One: I am anesthetized while receiving said treatment and, therefore do not feel a thing and my body does not go into convulsions.  The ECT itself is extremely brief–a matter of seconds.  Two: I don’t wake up not knowing who I am or where I am.  I am aware before the short-acting anesthetic, and I am aware after I wake up.  While some confusion is normal when first awakening–that’s from the anesthesia and not the treatment–and it disappears quickly.  Three: While I am not allowed to drive that day, I can go about my daily activities and work with only some minor fatigue.  I can still teach and can still officiate, as long as I have transportation to get there–again, typical of restrictions after any course of anesthesia.  The day following the treatment is when I experience a headache or muscle fatigue, but I rest and take what usually is just a single dose of ibuprofen, and the headache is gone.  Four: There is not just a single one-size-fits-all approach to ECT.  There are different forms of ECT, depending on where the doctor chooses to place the nodes and if he uses one or two nodes and the duration of each session.

Memory can be a tricky mistress, however.  When I was in college (for my first bachelor’s), I had a course of ECT over three weeks.  I don’t remember anything from that time period or anything right before and right after those weeks.  This makes me rather uncomfortable, knowing that there is a period of time when the words in my journal entries from that time are unfamiliar.  So when, fifteen years later, a psychiatrist suggested ECT, I balked.  But that psychiatrist also had been treating me for longer than my first bachelor’s degree took, whereas the doctor from my college days only treated me when I happened to be inpatient.  Being the research freak I am, and since I was inpatient and couldn’t get to a library, I asked him to show me some legitimate articles or papers, and then we had an open, honest discussion about predicted results and side effects–both in terms of the immediate future and long term future.

I chose ECT.  After my cardiac diagnosis, I went through a very severe and lengthy depressive episode, and because of my heart, I cannot take a large number of medications.  I was exhausted and my mind was strung out, and I knew I couldn’t be discharged in the state I was in.

By the time I left that particular psychiatrist to move back to the eastern parts of the country, we had figured out that most of my medication was not helping.  My psychiatrist in MO found me a psychiatrist in NY, and the two of them consulted and discussed my treatment–and allowed me in on the discussion.

Over the previous three years, we’ve taped off old medications that proved to be ineffective, figured out which medications are effective, and I now am receiving ECT once every four weeks.  If I start to slip at all in those weeks, I call my psychiatrist and we talk about whether or not I should have an earlier, extra, treatment or if I am coping quite well and should see how things go.

During this time, I have been a college professor, a NYS Track and Field Official, an NCAA Volleyball Judge, a writer, and a friend and family member.  My memory has some glitches–but that could also be from the depression itself or, well, the fact that I’ll be forty in a week.  It’s not enough of a problem to hamper my lifestyle or consider terminating treatment.

I continue to reevaluate everything as new knowledge is produced in the scientific world of research, and I continue to reevaluate my pattern of symptoms, and discuss these with my treatment team.  Given everything–my past, my present, my physical limitations regarding medications, and my response to ECT–the most effective treatment for me is ECT.

 

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May 28, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, health, heart, progress, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, treatment | 3 Comments

How Much Do We Share?

how-much-is-too-much-coffee-for-health-benefits_0A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour and a half speaking with one of my colleague’s course sections.  It’s a course that speaks openly on death and dying, and I shared my experiences as someone who woke up and lived after attempting suicide.  I’ve spoken to her classes before and I speak to health classes about my recovery from anorexia.  It always brings up one significant question, one that I think about even after my guest speaking:  Did I share  enough or did I share the right amount or  did I share too much?

When owning our stories and sharing them, how much do we tell?  Of course, this is different for each individual, and it depends on the context and the recipient.  When an eight-year-old asks me why I have so many scars, I’m extremely careful about how I word things.  Think, “Sometimes I get very sad for long periods of time, and when I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle all those painful feelings, so I didn’t cope with them in the best way.  Now I have people to talk to and I have a bunch of different things to do when I start feeling bad.”

I am not ashamed of my past, of having attempted suicide, of beginning self-harm so young, of needing multiple hospitalizations for anorexia, of needing ECT as maintenance therapy for the bipolar disorder.  But it did take time to go from hiding everything from everyone to admitting things to myself to honestly answering questions.

But there are things, especially concerning the eating disorder, that I don’t share, that I knowingly withhold from anyone who isn’t one of my doctors.  I don’t want to have someone use my story to “get sicker.”  I read all the eating disorder memoirs and blogs I could, and I watched certain movies over and over.  I didn’t care how the author/subject got better.  All I cared about was how she got sick in the first place.

When I talk to groups of people, I say I was hospitalized.  I don’t say how many times or for how many months.  I may discuss refeeding, talking about the pain of refeeding and how scary it was emotionally.  Depending on the context, I may address tube feeding and explain it.  I don’t tell people what my mealplan was or how much weight I gained at what stage.  I don’t tell people how much I lost.  I don’t discuss the ways I used to purge, just that I did.  I don’t want to be “that girl”–the one someone compares herself to and then thinks, “I’m not as sick as she was, so I must not be all that sick at all.  I’m fine.”

Many sufferers grew up on competition, via sports or clubs or school.  Many of us used the illness as competition.  And many of us walked away thinking, “I’m not doing it right” or “I’m not good enough.”

It’s so easy to walk into Target and compare yourself to everyone else there.  It’s easy to take sneaky, sideways glances at other people and judge them.  It’s easy to judge ourselves and come up short.

I still compare myself to other people; in some ways, we all do.  “I wish I could speak French.”  “I wish I could knit that fast.”  “He’s a really good singer.”  “I really like the way she handles a classroom.”  But these things no longer determine my worth.  Yes, I have a horrible past, but I’ve chosen to keep moving forward.  I may strive to be better is some areas of my life, but my happiness does not depend on these things.

My happiness is here.  Now.

 

 

May 14, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, exercise, feelings, guilt, health, identity, mindfulness, progress, publicity, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, treatment | Leave a comment

I Wish My Doctors Had Listened

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I love facebook quizzes.  I have learned what my name should have been, what state I belong in, what state I am from, my element, my spirit type, and a whole lot of other things I have to believe because it’s on facebook, so it has to be true.  Yesterday, I learned that people call me a “sage” behind my back.  I think that is the polite way of saying that people call me a nerd.  This is not real news to me; I have always been a nerd, and I now claim that label with pride.

Nerds like to think.  I like to over-think.  (Does that make me a Super Nerd?)  Since July, I have been complaining about a cluster of physical symptoms, and every symptom is familiar to me.  “I feel this way when my ferritin levels start to drop,” I repeatedly told my doctors.  The only one not to suggest that it was “just stress” or “just depression” was my psychiatrist, who firmly believed there was something physical going on.  After all, over the past several months, my depression has lifted tremendously, my anxiety has decreased, and we’ve been able to stretch out my ECT treatments and go off of two of my psychiatric medications.  I said, “It doesn’t make sense that these symptoms are caused by depression if my depression is steadily improving.”  My medical doctors told me it was fine and that my ferritin levels were within normal range.

Technically, they were.  But when I dug up my labwork from the previous six years, I discovered that my current ferritin level was 2/3 below my usual norm.  One year ago, my numbers were usually around 80 (low for the average person, but normal for me since I was born iron deficient anemic).  Now they had dropped down to 16.  Off to the hematologist I went, and he was shocked my doctors had not treated this earlier, especially given my history.  “Dr. X actually told you it was probably just stress?” the hematologist asked.

I know my body.  Because of recovery.  I have learned to listen to my body and to respond appropriately.  When I practice yoga, it is no longer with the intention of “getting stronger.”  It is with the intention of listening to what my body has to tell me that day.  So sometimes I hold poses longer, sometimes I push deeper, and sometimes I skip poses completely.  Through my cardiac journey, I can “read” my heart accurately and can often tell you my pulse rate and my blood pressure without using measuring tools.

I can tell you when something is wrong with my body.  My doctors in MO knew to trust me in relaying symptoms.  My current doctors (aside from my psychiatrist) have not learned to trust me yet.  Instead, they (I sought out three separate family physicians because I never felt heard) repeatedly relied on depression and anxiety, even though I told them multiple times that “this is not what depression feels like.”

In seeing my psychiatric diagnosis on my chart, did they assume I was there for attention?  That I was merely pill-seeking?  That I couldn’t be trusted to know my own body?  I may have Bipolar Disorder and a history of Anorexia, but that doesn’t mean my doctors should disregard what I say.

Have you experienced something similar?  Could you please take my survey?  I am not a scientific statistician, and this is not an “academic level survey” that could be used in a peer-reviewed study.  You don’t have to supply your email, and you don’t have to answer every question.  If you would like to contact me, please message me with your email or send me an email at KatchukMFA@gmail.com.

May 3, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The bad, the good, and some confusion

I’m thinking this will be more of an update post rather than a post with some grand enlightenment.  But if you have any enlightenment for me, please share!

I’ve been in NY for three months now.  I am finally a NY resident and own a car that has NYS plates and is legal to drive and everything. I don’t remember any previous move being this difficult, but maybe I’ve blocked those difficulties from my memory. 

Some things have been difficult:  I had to put my older cat to sleep, my grandfather is in the hospital, change is always difficult for me, and I feel like I’ve seen a zillion doctors in trying to get my treatment team set up.  And, I thought it would be most difficult finding a cardiologist familiar with my condition, but there just happens to be a specialist at a nearby hospital.  I’ve had a nasty rash off and on, although we don’t know what it’s from (a higher than normal pollen count of a mystery plant is our best guess right now).  I’ve had labwork several times.  I’ve had a CT scan of my brain.  The results have been positive in that no tumor has taken over my brain and my iron stores are normal (which is nice since I hate getting iron shots). 

Some good things:  the anxiety is not as severe as it was, and I have been handling stressful situations with more grace than I was in the spring.  I love my new psychiatrist and trust him–and some of you know that when I say that about a shrink, it’s pretty significant.  The ECT treatments began at ten day intervals and are now at 17 day intervals.  It was a smart decision to move back to NY and although living with another person in the house has been a big transition, I am grateful for not living alone right now and very thankful for everything my parents have done.  And I got a kitten:  Camena.  Who can’t smile while watching a two-month old kitten?  My dad has even fallen for her. 

But sometimes, I am just so frustrated and tired.  I knew I wouldn’t be better in three months, but I was hoping I’d be better than this.  And finding doctors has been draining.  My psychiatrist was set up for me when I moved here, so everything was set and ready to go and there was no lapse in treatment.  But finding a therapist was riddled with obstacles–and I really had no idea what to do.  When I moved to Missouri in 2008, I contacted the student health center and specified my concerns and they called back with a treatment team all set up.  This summer, I wanted to scream, “What am I doing wrong?  Someone find me a damn therapist!”  And then I found one, and then I had to decide how to tell that therapist I would prefer working with someone else, someone with a different therapeutic approach.  And now I am super nervous about meeting him for the first time this week and really wish I could call my old therapist for support, advice, or answers.

And I’m back in that spot many of you can understand all too well.  I don’t feel like my doctors believe me. I mean, my psychiatrist definitely knows the severity of the depression and anxiety because he’d been talking to my doctors in MO for a good three weeks before I moved to NY.  But my general physician–I don’t know how to make her see that I am scared.  I know the physical effects of depression and anxiety.  Quite well.  What I’m feeling now is not the same as being depressed.  But how do you argue with labs?  I’m starting to question if these symptoms are just in my head.  And maybe I just need to buck up and move on.  Except for the whole “it takes too much energy to get out of bed” thing, that sounds like a grand idea.

My only comfort this summer has been that I’ve recently started working on my writing again, with the intention of sending things out.  I can’t sit and write all day like I used to, but I have made progress on certain essays.  So maybe things are better than how I feel they are. 

So please, enlighten me with your wisdom.  Or ask me questions so I can spend my time obsessing about something else!

September 6, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, family, feelings, guilt, health, heart, progress, recovery, therapy | Leave a comment

Two way street? Three way street? How many different directions can recovery go?

So I’ve been back in NY for almost two months.  I want to make some things extremely clear right from the outset:

  • It was my choice to move back to my hometown.  We had been discussing it and other options for awhile, but for several reasons, I thought that this is where I need to be right now.
  • I am so so very thankful for the progress my parents have made in being willing to discuss this illness and accept it and learn about it and support me.
  • I am extremely grateful that my parents A) wanted to step in and help me and B) were in a position to do just that.  I’m sure they never planned on having their 37-year-old daughter move back home, and it’s been an adjustment for all of us, but it’s gone quite well thus far.

I don’t want people to read this entry and think, “Oh, she’s just unappreciative and doesn’t understand what her parents are trying to do.”  I do appreciate everything they are doing, and I know we are all trying.  I also know that sometimes, I need an outlet.  And maybe my venting will help you if you have loved ones recovering from depression.

 

A) I really really wish that recovery from mental illness was as easy as taking an antibiotic for an ear infection, of which I had much more than several while growing up.  You have an illness, you take some ear drops and take some antibiotics and you gradually feel better.  (Unless you’re the unlucky one who can’t take antibiotics.)  Recovery from depression:  take one medication and see what happens.  Let’s add another medication to see if that boosts the first one.  Hmmm, are those side effects causing insomnia?  Let’s try another medication?  Well, we haven’t see significant progress in six months, so let’s try a different type of medication.  And start all over.  Repeat as necessary.  Then, come to the realization that meds are not working, so we move on to ECT.  We find that that works.  And then we try to taper off of it and I relapse.  And we go back to routine ECT and taper off more slowly and move to maintenance ECT, and realize two weeks is too long in between sessions at this point, and move to every ten days with the hopes of eventually moving to once every three or four weeks.  And then, because we know the meds aren’t working, comes the task of going off them, but we can only start that long ass process once I’m strong and stable, and it will have to be a very very slow process to avoid dangerous side effects.

Needless to say, this is not a one way street.  You don’t decide to get better and work with your treatment team and then *bamm!* you start progressing toward recovery and never look back.  I had a rough day a few days ago, and the world was an ugly place and I didn’t want to get out of bed, let alone interact with any other human.  My father asked, “I thought moving home and eating better and having less stress on your shoulders would be helpful.”  silence  It has been helpful, and I have gotten better.  I have made so much progress since April and May.  But I have bad days.  Inexplicable ones that come out of the blue.  I have moments of panic.  I still keep tissues nearby.  I still retreat to my room a lot just because I can’t handle human contact.  But all this does not mean I’m not recovering.  In fact, the amount of time in between these bad days is growing, which is a positive sign.  Finally. 

And let’s hypothesize that in a year, I really am better and ready to join the world again.  There is absolutely nothing getting in the way between my brain and another relapse.  I cannot prevent it, just as I cannot prevent my heart arrhythmias.  This may all happen again.

B)  Today was “one of those days.”  Nothing really happened today that would have triggered me falling apart.  But I was exhausted, and stressed, and running around different offices to fill out various paperwork and then found out I am missing one crucial piece of paper to register my car in NY.  A piece of paper that currently resides in Missouri and will take an estimated 4-5 weeks to get to me.  So, until then (actually, I have until midnight to roam around the streets causing trouble), I have no car to drive.  And this just was the final straw that brought on the onslaught of tears.  I took klonopin as directed by my treatment team, relaxed, and listened to some music.  Then sat down to dinner and my mom told me, “It could be worse.”  And in my bitter snarky mood, I said, “Yes.  I could have cancer or a brain melanoma.”  Why is it that people with physical illnesses are shown pity and given encouragement and I’ve never had someone say to me, after explaining to them that my heart muscle is progressively dying, “Well it could be worse.”  Mental illnesses are painful–often in a physical way–and are often hopeless and the victims are filled with despair.  And there are days where we can’t imagine anything worse.  I mean, I had a schedule of events planned out and written down in my weekly planning book of how to get to a certain bridge at an ideal time so I could jump off of it because it had high fatality rates.  Please don’t belittle me and say “it could be worse.”  No.  In my personal case, it could not, and I don’t appreciate having my pain compared to someone else’s pain. 

So what I want people to know is that this whole “getting better thing” will have setbacks.  Some will last longer than others.  Rather than point out that I’m not better yet, encourage me by saying that I’m handling this setback in a much better way than before. 

And no, I am not upset at my parents.  I know they didn’t intend to hurt me in any way.  As I said, we are all learning and adjusting. 

 

July 31, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, family, heart, recovery, relationships, suicide, therapy | Leave a comment

308 Day Update

It’s been awhile since I’ve been here.  308 days, if this online date calculator site got it right.  One of my close friends has asked me to return to my blog, and a lot of people have suggested writing in general and writing about what is going on right now.  And, I agreed.  I thought about deleting this blog and starting a new one, being that it started mainly to deal with my recovery from anorexia.  Am I still recovered?  Absolutely.  Am I ashamed of having been sick with numerous relapses?  Absolutely not.  So why try to delete my past?  It’s still going to be there in some form.

 

Right now.  It’s a sunny July afternoon and I am sitting in Barnes and Noble’s cafe.  It’s currently one of my favorite places to be.  It’s been the one constant this spring/summer since I relocated from Columbia, MO back to my hometown in upstate NY.  A rather large college town with tons of coffee shops to a very small town where “coffee shop” seems to be an alien language. 

 

Let’s start with last fall.  I was doing pretty well.  Then I wasn’t.  We have found out that ECT is extremely beneficial for me, and that whenever we try to stop it or cut back too much, I relapse very fast regardless of my medications.  And for some unknown reason (other than Bipolar Disorder is a biological illness, that is), my depression hit a low it has never hit before, and decided to stay there for an extremely long time.  I was IP just after Christmas.  Started the school year, but had to stop teaching in March.  Everything was going downhill extremely fast.  I hardly got out of bed, let alone left my apartment.  I didn’t want to knit, write, walk, do yoga, eat.  I began relying on crackers, pepperoni, and sliced cheese for meals because I didn’t have to cook anything, or even slice anything. 

 

Yes, the suicidal thoughts came back.  I had a plan and a date marked on my calendar.  Now, 99% of me knows that I do NOT want to kill myself.  But then there’s this 1% that takes over when I get to a certain point.  When I was writing out my plans in my calendar, the rational part of my brain took over and the next day I talked to my psychiatrist and was admitted.  This time I stayed for a month.  I did some things differently this time.  I realized I had lost too much weight since cheese and crackers are not that nutritious, so I worked with a nutritionist and began drinking ensure multiple times a day, even when I wasn’t hungry and even when I didn’t really feel like getting out of my bed for meal time.  I told my treatment team everything.  I usually do, but my pride usually ends up getting in the way and I try to avoid crying in front of anyone, let alone curling up in a corner with a blanket wrapped over my head.  And I went to staff as soon as I noticed the smallest urges to self-harm.  All of these things allowed me to talk to staff in a way I really hadn’t before.  I let them in to all my ugly places.  And they didn’t run away, they didn’t scold me, they didn’t make me feel bad or guilty or ashamed.  They sat down next to me and talked and listened. 

 

For someone who has been a strong advocate of “taking care of you” in recovering from  an eating disorder, it finally dawned on me that I hadn’t ever really “taken care of me” when I was depressed.  I’d go to the hospital for a few days, and then immediately upon discharge would return to work or school or whatever my life entailed at the time.  I never gave myself a chance to heal and recover.  My treatment team and I talked, and my parents and my brother and I talked, and everyone talked together, and we have decided that I need to take a few months to not do anything.  Except work on recovery and health.  And that it would be in my best interest not to live alone, isolated in my apartment, talking to cats and eating cheese and crackers.

 

So I am now living with my parents (I’m sure that will be an entry all by itself).  I do not have a job.  I am not volunteering.  At some point, I will look for part time work.  Hopefully, at some point I will go back to teaching.  I do not have a timeline for this.  It will happen when I am ready. 

 

What am I doing?  The first three weeks home was spend finding a new treatment team, and I had doctors’ appointments more days than I didn’t.  I think I have a new treatment team here in NY that I am going to work really well with.  Before I left MO, I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist to continue ECT.  We’re still trying to get the timing in between sessions worked out, but I feel comfortable with this new doctor and it has been easy talking to him.  After six weeks of searching, I found a therapist who was accepting new patients AND took my insurance, and although I’ve only seen her three times, I am pretty sure this is going to work. 

 

I have unpacked my books and found all my knitting supplies.  I am slowly reconnecting with friends in the area, and everyone has been very understanding about my anxiety and fears about that reconnecting.  I am adjusting to living back in my home town, with my parents. 

 

I wish I could erase the previous eight months.  It was a stressful time, not only on me, but also on my friends and family.  I do understand why a lot of people needed to step away, and I still wish I could say the right words and make everything the way it was again, but no matter how hard I have tried, I cannot make past time disappear.  I am extremely thankful for the friends and family who have stood with me through this and supported me and encouraged me and never gave up. 

 

Having severe depression is something that is often misunderstood in our society, and I would like to address some of those issues here.  Maybe I’ll publish in a reliable, scheduled manor, and maybe I’ll drop in randomly.  I’ll shoot for less than 308 days, though.

 

July 26, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, ECT, family, feelings, health, identity, recovery, relationships, self harm, suicide, therapy | 3 Comments

electroconvulsive shock therapy

If only our brains looked this cool So my previous entry contained more information about my current depressive episode and what I am doing to help kick its ass.  I mentioned ECT, and have gotten a lot of questions about it–so I decided to devote an entry to ECT.  Maybe dispel a couple of myths and incorrect assumptions.

ECT=Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy.  That’s right.  Shock Therapy.  The stuff of horror movies and psychological thrillers.  You know–where people are strapped down onto the table and then, while they’re awake, they go into massive convulsions, sometimes getting bruises or breaking bones and waking up all disoriented and lost. In the 1940s and 1950s, ECT was given without any type of muscle relaxer or anesthetic.

But guess what?  This is 2012, not 1940.  A lot has changed in terms of ECT and how it is administered and exactly what it entails.

First off, we still don’t know exactly how ECT works.  Doctors discovered way back in the 16th century that seizures helped people with severe depression.  Then, they used insulin shock therapy and  then camphor and metrazol therapy.  And yes, they did have to strap patients down in order to prevent severe injury from the convulsions.

Now they use electrode placement on the forehead to induce a seizure.  Over the previous forty years, scientists have done a lot of research and have made a lot of progress as to where to place the electrodes and how much voltage to use and for how long.  We are still unclear about the exact mechanism that makes ECT effective.  All we know is that it is effective, most usually for people with long term, severe, treatment resistant depression.

That description is perfect for me.  I was first diagnosed while I was in junior high.  It’s been a rocky road since then as I’ve seen different doctors (some not all that good) and tried different medications (some better off not taken by me).  Right now, I am more than happy with my treatment team–my therapist, my psychiatrists, my medical doctor, and my cardiologist all are in communication with each other and working together.  AND AND AND I am included in the decision process every step of the way.

Was I nervous going into ECT?  Of course.  I was scared shitless.  But I asked a lot of questions, and my doctors answered them.  They walked me through ECT step-by-step.  One important thing to note is that they use a muscle relaxer via an IV/heplock so that you do not have a seizure on the medical table.  They also give you an anesthetic so you sleep through the whole thing.  They put electrodes on your head, make sure they have them positioned correctly, and then you fall asleep and then all of a sudden you’re waking up in Recovery.

Sometimes I have a headache afterward, but rarely does it ever get to the point that ibuprofen won’t take care of it.  I’m tired that afternoon and often take a nap.  I can still read, write, watch television, play online, knit, and all that normal day-to-day stuff I do.

We don’t know why, but ECT works better for me than any other medical treatment.  I may be looking at long term maintenance ECT, which is fine with me.  This does not mean that I stop working with the rest of my treatment team.  It really is best when it is a concerted effort, with everyone in communication with each other, asking questions if need be.  I would not feel as comfortable with the future prospect of ECT if I didn’t have a team whom fields any type of question I have.  This is not the 1940s–the patient has the right to know what exactly is going to happen and when, regardless of the type of treatment being used.   Your voice is a powerful ally.

 

Again, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask them.  If you want to ask via Formspring, my page is:

http://www.formspring.me/AlexisKatchuk

 

January 28, 2012 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, ECT, feelings, health, heart, recovery, therapy | , , , , , | 1 Comment

*All* You Have To Do Is Smile

I’m finally getting around to posting a new blog.  I can thank the snow plows that went by my house at 5:30 for what is now maybe one centimeter of snow.  My area is in a Winter Weather Advisory until 6 pm for what is expected to be a grand accumulation of 1-2 inches.  Having grown up in New York and then lived in Pennsylvania for ten years, this makes me laugh.

But aside from the trivialities of how they handle snow in the middle of Missouri–why haven’t I been posting?  One of the things I value on my blog is honesty, so I will be upfront in saying that this episode of depression (I have Bipolar Disorder) took one drastic nosedive.  My treatment team and I decided a stay in the hospital was necessary in order to be able to quickly do a complete med change and to get me back on track with the ECT sessions.  Then I came home the next week and was overwhelmed with school and the end of the semester craziness.

It’s now January.  The spring semester has started (I’m an adjunct professor at an area college).  And the depression–still there.  Still rearing it’s ugly head in a ferocious way most of the time.  And I’m bringing this up because depression is often part of an eating disorder–and it’s also often part of the recovery process.

Here are some common ways that people have responded to me telling them I’ve felt depressed lately, both when it was related to the eating disorder and now, after I’ve been in recovery for some time:

“But you look happy.”  “But you’re going to school (or work).”  “But you were just at church last week.”  “You need to get out and have some fun.”  “All you need to do is push through this and it will all get better.”  “I thought you were doing well with the eating disorder?”  “Just keep trying.”  “Keep your chin up.”  “I don’t understand; you were doing so well.”  “You should be happy that your doing better with the eating disorder.”  “Well, at least you aren’t in the hospital.” “Haven’t you been praying?” “Everyone gets sad from time to time.”  “Ugh, I know.  Yesterday was a crappy day for me.”

Some of this is our fault (not the best word choice, I know).  Some of this is society’s fault.  Society in general would like to believe that things are fine and when things aren’t fine, it’s time to change to a new topic of conversation altogether.  Some of these responses are because people who have depression quite often try to hide it from other people, for a wide range of reasons.  For me–I grew up in a family that did not discuss emotions or feelings or moods, and I grew up with the idea that I’m not *supposed* to be depressed.  I was an All Star athlete in all my sports, Salutatorian of my graduation class, drum major, a member of an area youth symphony, and a member of my church choir.  And then I went to college, and the depression got worse and the eating disorder became a very serious issue.  And I still didn’t talk about it.  And with the eating disorder, almost all people who have an eating disorder learn to hide it.  Hiding the depression came with the territory.  And I also felt/feel guilty when I talk to my friends about how I’m feeling because I don’t want to burden them, and I don’t want to worry them.

I guess my point, which I seem to be taking the long way towards getting there, is that just because someone smiles does not automatically mean they are *fine*.  People with mental illness very quickly learn to put up the brave front during the day–which may sound like a good thing.  But the consequences of putting up the brave front are extreme exhaustion, frustration, loneliness, tears, sleeplessness or sleeping too much, isolation, and hopelessness.  We learn that a lot of people brush off our comment that we feel depressed, and then learn not to trust anyone at all.

Depression is not “a bad day.”  It is not the result of not praying hard enough.  And seeing someone smile does not mean things are automatically fine.  Depression is a very serious mental illness that can affect all areas of life from home life to school to work to social relationships to physical health.  Depression is not something that you just “get over.”  It doesn’t just “go away.”  Fighting and pushing through it are two useful skills, but they will not cure depression.

People with depression need support and encouragement and a safe place to let their guards down.  They need to be able to mention the word “depression” without people shutting down, running away, or changing the topic.  They need to be encouraged to seek professional help.  They need to know that people care for them, regardless of whether or not they are depressed.

I fully realize that being a friend or family member of someone with depression is taxing and tiring and frustrating, especially in the case of severe depression or long term depression.  I recommend having your own support person and making sure that you take time for yourself to destress and unwind and relax.

I feel blessed and grateful and lucky for the people who have crossed my path and have been supportive since I began struggling with depression.  I know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my wonderful and downright amazing friends.

 

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And if anyone wants to ask me questions–http://www.formspring.me/AlexisKatchuk

 

January 12, 2012 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments