Life Decision

Photo credit: niftyniall on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

I was 34 or 35 when I made a decision that changed my entire life. I had been depressed for months, and was prescribed all kinds of different medications, none of which worked. Finally, my psychiatrist proposed electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), aka shock treatment.

Before you cringe, know that ECT is administered humanely to candidates deemed fit for the treatment. It’s not done willy-nilly to whichever patient on the unit is “misbehaving.” Medication and anesthesia are given to the patient — it doesn’t happen while you are awake. (If you’d like to know the procedure I went through for outpatient ECT, click here.)

The decision to try ECT was not made lightly. I was warned about the side effects, mainly memory loss. My doctor called the procedure a last resort, and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. So I decided to do it.

It has helped improve my mood whenever I have treatments (they don’t just do it once). However, I don’t think ECT made me feel “not depressed.” Better mood? To be sure. Remission? No. (Lithium did that. For me.)

The memory loss is more than I imagined it would be. I’ve forgotten many things from my past, such as my honeymoon, helping my dad move across the country. Not only can’t I remember what movies I’ve seen or books I’ve read, but when I’m reminded, I don’t even know if I liked them.

The worst is the short-term memory loss. These are things like, if I’m counting something (like crochet stitches) and someone interrupts, I’ll completely forget where I left off counting. I have a stitch counter, but sometimes the project has more than 99 stitches, which is as high as the counter goes.

Or I’ll be in the middle of a conversation, and then I’ll totally forget what I wanted to say. Like I had the thought in my head one second, but the next second, it’s gone — like losing your train of thought. It makes conversing difficult and embarrassing. I’m always fumbling for the right words, or the thoughts I want to convey.

Other times it’s forgetting how to do something. For example, I crochet, and whatever I’m making is composed of individual stitches. If I haven’t crocheted for about 2 months, I’ll have forgotten how to do the basic stitches, and have to watch a tutorial.

Maybe none of this sounds bad, but let me tell you: Do I regret the decision to go through ECT (multiple times throughout the years)? If I’m honest, I don’t know. I was told that my memory would improve with time, but it’s been 2 years since my last treatment, and it hasn’t. I’m learning to live with the memory loss, and it’s hard.

Have you made a decision that changed your life? What was it?

Discharged From the Psych Ward – March 2018

Taken upon arriving home yesterday; photo provided by author

I was discharged yesterday afternoon. Fortunately, my inpatient psychiatrist didn’t feel that we needed to go down the ECT route; I told him that my short-term memory is finally improving since my last ECT treatment (March 2017).

He talked to my outpatient psychiatrist, and they agreed that changing my mood stabilizer, Tegretol (carbamazepine) to lithium will be my treatment plan. Because I’ll need blood tests in the first few weeks while transitioning from one medication to the other, the inpatient psychiatrist suggested that we begin changing the med after I return from a short vacation that my  husband and I are taking next weekend. However, I do have an appointment scheduled with my psychiatrist on Tuesday.

It felt great to be discharged after a pretty short stay (5 days); most patients had longer stays on average. I thought for sure they’d keep me until this Friday or next Monday.

However, as my husband and I walked to the car, I felt scared about going home. What if I go back to my old routine instead of the new one I picked up in the hospital? (I’ll write more about my inpatient experience in later posts.) Fortunately, I was uncompromising this morning with regard to my routine: I followed the new, healthier routine, including showering as soon as I get out of bed.

Although I’m no longer suicidal and feel better, I still have a lot of healing to do. If I can’t keep up with reading your posts, I apologize. Also, I apologize for my husband not responding to the comments you left on his post. He doesn’t know the ins and outs of WordPress/blogging very well lol!

Thank you all so much for your love, support, and encouragement. The WordPress, particularly the mental health community, is truly awesome. <3 <3 <3

via Daily Prompt: Uncompromising

Costume Jewelry Projects

Original design; photo provided by author

So some of you may know that I used to make costume jewelry, as opposed to fine jewelry (read: Tiffany’s), but quit around 2014. It was probably because after some ECT treatments, I forgot how to create a certain type of bracelet and didn’t feel like re-learning. Also, the depression I was going through may have contributed to my completely losing interest.

I started making jewelry shortly after I was diagnosed in ’95, and it was a great outlet for my creativity. I even used to make my own beads with polymer clay, which was popular in the ’90s. I made jewelry on and off, depending on whether I had time or could afford the materials.

Semi-precious stones, different types of beads, and Swarovski crystals were my materials of choice. I also used copper wire, and brass when I got into metalsmithing, where I cut, shaped, and pounded texture into sheets of metal.

Original design; photo provided by author

Today I thought I’d share with you a couple of pieces I designed myself. The first is a necklace made of copper wire, the beads and pendant of which are made from a semi-precious stone (I can’t remember which). The second is a pair of earrings that I also designed, cut from copper sheets on which I used a special hammer to pound textured shapes. I then attached crystals.

Ironically, I rarely wear jewelry except for my wedding band, and maybe a pair of earrings. Sometimes I’ll wear one of the bracelets I made, if I remember that they exist. Same with my rings (though I didn’t make those). I have a few pieces of fine jewelry that my husband gave me as gifts, but I only wear those on special occasions that call for a night out. Those, of course, are few and far between because of my depression.

Do you wear jewelry?

via Daily Prompt: Costume

Stigma Towards ECT

Me, post-ECT, November 2014; photo provided by author

When I posted The ECT Procedure: How It’s Done on Twitter, someone replied that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or, electroshock treatment “is craniocerbral [sic] trauma” and that it “causes brain damage.” The person referred me to the site, ECT Resources Center, to confirm this.

I was surprised to receive such a response, because I thought that ECT is a largely accepted treatment for depression, because it works and is considered safe. There are memoirs out there, particularly Carrie Fisher’s Shockaholic, that describe positive experiences with the treatment. In Fisher’s book, she treats ECT as just another form of therapy. She doesn’t make a big deal out of it; rather, she normalizes the treatment.

At the point in my life when I read the reply, I had undergone ECT many times. All told, I’ve had approximately 50 or so treatments — maybe more — I’d have to ask for my medical records for the exact number.

Then I visited that website, run by psychiatrist Peter R. Breggin, MD,, and was surprised at what I found: he claims that ECT

“always damages the brain, resulting each time in a temporary coma and often a flatlining of the brain waves, which is a sign of impending brain death. After one, two or three ECTs, the trauma causes typical symptoms of severe head trauma or injury including headache, nausea, memory loss, disorientation, confusion, impaired judgment, loss of personality, and emotional instability. These harmful effects worsen and some become permanent as routine treatment progresses.”

What?! Except for memory loss, I’ve never experienced any of those things. Did I show impaired judgment by taking a selfie after a treatment? Do I look disoriented? You tell me lol! I didn’t bother exploring the site because I thought it was ridiculous, but I did more research about the stigma towards ECT. I found this article, “Electroconvulsive therapy: A history of controversy but also of help,” written by medical history professor Jonathan Sadowsky,  on The Conversation. Sadowsky states that:

“Many critics have portrayed ECT as a form of medical abuse, and depictions in film and television are usually scary. Yet many psychiatrists, and more importantly, patients, consider it to be a safe and effective treatment [emphasis added] for severe depression and bipolar disorder.”

He goes on to say that most people are “exposed only to the frightening images of ECT.” For example:

“Many depictions of ECT in film and television have portrayed the therapy as an abusive form of control. Most famous is the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” [based on Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name] in which an unruly patient is subjected to the procedure as a punishment. There is probably no fictional story that so haunts our consciousness of a medical treatment.”

These negative portrayals, I’m sure, fuel the stigma towards ECT, as well as the anti-psychiatry movement that Sadowsky describes. I never even knew there was such a movement. The extreme members don’t believe that mental illness exists! (It’s worth reading the article.)

Though mental hospital staff in the past may have threatened to administer ECT to patients they couldn’t control, in my experiences of being in psych wards, I’ve never seen that happen. And in order to perform ECT nowadays, the patient has to sign a consent form. No one can just wrestle you onto a gurney, and give you ECT.

Also, when my psychiatrist recently recommended ECT, he reminded me numerous times that it’s my decision. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I don’t feel pressured to do it. And he can’t just write an order for me to undergo the treatment.

As for the supposed results of ECT after only 3 treatments listed in the first quote (Breggin’s), I have experienced long- and short-term memory loss. Both are common side effects. Long-term memory loss, I admit, is the trade-off for feeling like yourself again. Since I started blogging daily, my short-term memory loss has improved: words in my vocabulary that I have trouble recalling, I’m now able to conjure up without struggling.

Like I said, I’ve had about 50 treatments, and have I lost my personality? Hardly. I hope this comes through in my posts! As for the other results the quote describes, I haven’t experienced any of them, at least not because of ECT. For example, I get nauseous when my anxiety flares up, not because I’ve had ECT.

It’s too bad that there are people out there using scare tactics to dissuade patients who could benefit from the treatment, from getting help. ECT has helped me.

What are your thoughts on ECT?

via Daily Prompt: Conjure

Poor Hygiene & Going to the Salon: A Paradox

Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Visual Hunt / No known copyright restrictions

It’s been  just over a week since my psychiatrist raised my Prozac dose, and that I’ve been using my light box for 45 minutes to start, and then 1 hour the last 2 days. I feel a little better, but not much. My insomnia still troubles me. If it didn’t, I’d probably have trouble getting out of bed.

It’s been 2 weeks since I showered, and on Tuesday, my husband washed my hair because I couldn’t do it myself. I did manage to wash my privates (I’d like to repeat that I won’t sugarcoat my experience with bipolar), although it was much more difficult to do than the last time (which was before my most recent shower). That difficulty in doing what was previously a simpler task makes me tend towards going through ECT again, after all. Especially because on most days, my husband still has to help me get dressed.

However, we have a short trip planned for the weekend after Valentine’s Day. We’ll be staying at a bed-and-breakfast for a few days just to get away and relax. I’ll make my decision when we return. I’m hoping that between now and then, my depression will improve and that I won’t need ECT.

The procedure itself isn’t bad. The entire process of going to the hospital and all the prep they do — which is a good thing — is a huge pain, though. (If you’re interested in what I go through on ECT days, please click here.)

I haven’t been completely idle this past week, probably because I’ve had extra hours in my day, due to the insomnia. Anyway, I’ve blogged daily — writing is therapeutic for me; finished a crochet project — also therapeutic; saw my therapist on Friday; and went to my salon appointment yesterday for a brow wax, mani/pedi, and hair color to hide the gray lol!

This seems counter to not taking care of my hygiene, but going to the salon is part of my self-care. For the hour or so that I’m there, I’m pampered, and until my next appointment, I feel somewhat good about myself. I know it’s weird because I don’t particularly care how I look otherwise: that my hair’s a mess, that I wear sweats and a t-shirt every day — on the days I change out of my pajamas.

I’ve been going to this salon since they opened in 2004, and am friends with the staff, who knows I’m bipolar. So the visits are also a way for me to socialize. They always ask about my well-being and actually care. The owner has repeatedly invited me to visit, even if I don’t have an appointment, just to hang out. I would take her up on this, particularly on the days my husband works from the office, but he’s the one who drives me to the salon. I’m not yet comfortable taking the train by myself.

Do you care about your appearance and/or have trouble maintaining basic hygiene when going through a depressive episode?

via Daily Prompt: Tend