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?
I had an appointment with my psychiatrist today, which couldn’t come soon enough, even though it’s only been 4 weeks since my last appointment. I’ve been going through a severe depression for the past 3 weeks, right after the short hypomanic episode triggered by my misuse of my light box (I was supposed to start using it for 30 minutes, but I skipped right to an hour). Because of the hypomanic symptoms, and under doctor’s orders, I went a week or so without using it.
My mood slid smoothly from one pole to the other (hypomania to depression), so with my doctor’s permission, I began using the light box again for 30 minutes max per day. It hasn’t helped, but today we agreed that I’d start using it for up to 90 minutes a day. Still, I think I’ll work my way up from 30 minutes to 90.
The depression has been so severe that if I want to change out of my pajamas and into sweats and a t-shirt, my husband has to help me. I haven’t showered in a week (and for 2 weeks before that), and I can barely brush my teeth. Once, when I couldn’t stand the way my hair felt, my husband had to wash it for me in the sink because I couldn’t do it myself.
I’ve also had terrible insomnia, so not only do I have my depression lethargy, I’m even more tired from lack of sleep. At least I’ve kept up my meditation practice and blogging daily.
I have no desire to go anywhere, but I did go to a hockey game, saw a friend’s acoustic show, and went to a coffee shop with my husband maybe twice, in the past month. A hat is good camouflage!
I’ve also made it to my weekly therapy and salon appointments (self-care, you know? 😉 ). I don’t particularly care about my appearance right now, but it’s nice to be pampered. Other than that, I haven’t left my house, not even to walk Rudy.
And that’s another thing. I’m experiencing hip pain, so it hurts to fu@king walk! I’ve been on 2 different anti-inflammatories that haven’t helped, and had an x-ray that looked normal except for a touch of tendinitis. I see my primary care physician for a follow-up in 2 days. It’s very painful to walk, even in my own home, so that hasn’t helped my depression.
So I described all of this to my psychiatrist, and after thinking for a few short moments, he was the conveyer of news I didn’t want to hear: he thinks the best course of treatment for my current episode is ECT. I was hoping not to have to go through that this winter, like I have for the past 4 years.
I’m taking high doses of 6 different medications for bipolar and anxiety, and he was hesitant to increase any. The good news is, there was one medication that he felt he could adjust, and that’s the Prozac. So starting tomorrow, I’ll be taking 40 mg instead of 20 mg. I’m hoping this will help.
He said we’d see how I feel in a week, and if my depression doesn’t improve, then it’s ECT for me. It’s my choice, of course, but if even my meds aren’t helping, and ECT is the only thing that helps (based on my history of ECT treatments), then I guess I’ll do it. (If you’d like to read what the procedure is like for me, check out this post.)
I don’t really want to do it, mainly because I hate going to the hospital so early in the morning; getting a nurse who may not be good with inserting needles — I’m a “hard stick” — very few discernible veins; the anesthesia. But I can’t stand living the way I have this past month. Fingers crossed that the Prozac helps.
Have you ever had ECT? Would you be willing to share your experience? You can always use the Contact form if you want to discuss it confidentially.
NOTE: This is a pre-written piece in which I was able to include today’s prompt.
NOTE: My experiences of hospitalization in a behavioral unit (psych ward) does not reflect other people’s.
If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, then you know why I was first hospitalized in the ’90s. My stay was similar to my most recent hospitalization, which was in 2014.
During my first stay, there were 2 units: the one where I was placed, and the one where patients were behind a heavy, steel door with a small square window in the upper half. Staff used a key to enter. I learned that the other ward was for “sicker” patients. I would later discover what that meant.
Before being admitted, they took away my shoelaces, and had I worn a belt, they would have taken that, too — same with clothes with drawstrings. Although I could wear my own clothes, the staff didn’t want me to have anything I could use to hurt myself.
I was frightened at first, but the other patients were welcoming, and mostly older; I was 25 at the time. For their privacy and probably legal reasons, I’m going to write about other patients in generalizations.
The rooms contained two twin-size beds that weren’t hospital beds. I didn’t have a roommate. I was provided with a plastic comb, shampoo, conditioner, a small bar of soap, a travel-size tube of toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Turned out, the conditioner was actually body lotion.
In the mornings and evenings a nurse distributed my medication in a tiny, disposable cup. The psychiatrist met with me for a few minutes each day. We discussed my symptoms, and any side effects of my new medications. (He became my psychiatrist for almost 20 years.)
We had 3 meals a day in the day room, not in our rooms. Every morning we were given a paper menu listing the options for the next day’s meals. We used short, eraser-less pencils to circle our choices.
I learned that if I wanted more than one of a particular item to write “x2” next to my circle. This brilliant tip worked at other hospitals where I’ve stayed, even the ones I’ve been to for surgeries. I always wanted 2 packets of honey for my breakfast of Malt-O-Meal (kind of like mushy grits).
I can’t remember much: we had group therapy daily in the day room, which had board games, decks of cards, a TV, and a pay phone. We didn’t have phones in our rooms.
Unlike other psych wards I’ve stayed at, there wasn’t a separate area for visitors; I met with mine in the day room. My sister says that her purse was checked because the staff wanted to make sure she didn’t bring contraband like drugs or alcohol or, I presume, something with which I could hurt myself. She remembers it as depressing, and because the board games were missing pieces, that made it more depressing.
I don’t disagree, but I don’t completely agree, either. At least the place wasn’t institutional. There was carpeting, which I don’t know why, but to me seems less institutional. There were no conflicts between patients.
What I remember most was the smoking room. Imagine that! A smoking room inside a hospital! We weren’t allowed free access to it; throughout the day there were intervals where a staff member unlocked it for us.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience. It was pretty quiet.
I was hospitalized in different psych wards several times since then, but can’t remember the stays. I know that in 2004, I was admitted to that same behavioral unit twice in a month. The stays weren’t long, maybe a couple of days each time, but I was hypomanic and the psychiatrist added a new medication to my cocktail (my regular psychiatrist was abroad). He wanted to see how I would react to it, which was why he wanted me to stay. I can’t remember the exact circumstances of how/why I was hospitalized, and I only know what I’ve just described based on an entry in the LiveJournal I kept at the time.
What I can remember is that the unit changed. They closed the ward where I first stayed, which meant that I was behind the locked, heavy, steel door. There wasn’t a smoking room, though I had quit by then.
It had a different vibe — totally institutional (no carpeting). It was loud, unlike the other ward, and sometimes there were conflicts between “sicker” patients.
I can’t remember if we had group therapy. I can’t remember eating, though I’m sure I must have. I do remember feeling scared and staying in my room as much as possible.
It was not a pleasant experience.
My most recent stay, in 2014, was at “ECT Hospital.” I was there because of a severe depression, and had to resume my ECT treatments.
ECT Hospital’s unit is swanky compared to other places I’ve stayed, probably because it’s newer or remodeled. You don’t have to share a room! And yes, there’s carpeting.
I was also more savvy: I knew they’d take my shoelaces, so I wore wool clogs, and packed clothes without drawstrings. (I wasn’t admitted through the ER.) We had group therapy, art therapy, anger management classes. There’s a day room with a TV and games, and that’s where I learned to play dominoes.
It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but not one I care to repeat.
Were my hospitalizations therapeutic? Not really, because who wants to stay in a psych ward? I never knew how long I had to be there, and all I had was the hope that I’d be discharged soon.
I realize this is personal, but if you’ve ever been hospitalized in a behavioral unit, what was your experience like? If you prefer, feel free to respond by using the Contact form above. Our discussions will remain private.
From Nerdling to Wild Thing — Hypomania?, which describes how I went from a nerd to a party girl, and what would have happened had I received treatment after my first bout with suicidal thoughts in 1989. Would I have done all that partying? How would my life have been different?
These posts were the most popular of the year. Enjoy!
NOTE: As mentioned on my About page, I don’t advocate for or against ECT. I’m just sharing my personal experience. I wrote a post about the outpatient ECT procedure here.
I stopped ECT treatment this past March because for the first time, it didn’t seem like it was working, but was still affecting my memory. ECT Doctor 1 asked me to keep him updated on how my memory is functioning. I sent him a 3-month update in June and another in September.
My short-term memory hadn’t improved, so he wanted to meet with my husband and me, which we did in early November. He said, which I already knew, that my long-term memory — some events from my past — would be gone.
For example, after my parents’ divorce about 14 years ago, my mom moved into a townhouse. That townhouse doesn’t exist to me. I have absolutely no recollection of it, and my husband says that we even house-sat for her one weekend. That memory is completely gone. I do remember the condo she moved into when she sold the townhouse. However, if my husband tells me about something I may have forgotten, parts of that memory do return, just not always in detail.
When I first underwent ECT around 2006 with another doctor at another hospital, I understood that this was the trade-off because ECT works for me. (I switched hospitals because when I was last hospitalized in 2014, I was transferred to what I now call ECT Hospital, which is a lot nicer.)
Anyway, back to my short-term memory. I sometimes forget things like saying something to my husband, and then five minutes later, repeating what I said because I completely forgot that I had already said it. I could go on, but this is a good example. Also, what’s really annoying is not knowing a word for something — I know what I want to say and that the word exists, but I have to grasp at what that word is. This word thing is a common side effect of ECT, and in the past improved after a few months. Same with short-term memory. Not this time.
ECT Doctor 1 met with us and talked about my short-term memory, confirming things with my husband as to whether I had those types of memory lapses in the past. (I hadn’t.) The doctor determined that my memory problems are ECT-related and will improve, although because of the number of treatments I’ve had, it’ll take longer than it has in the past.
We also came up with a new plan should I require ECT again: instead of having 3 treatments at the regular (machine) frequency for 2 weeks in a row and then tapering off the number of treatments, I’ll have treatments at a lower frequency 2x/week instead of 3 (and then tapering off), but with the understanding that it would take longer for my depression to improve.
Although I hope that I won’t require ECT in the future, my husband and I are satisfied with this plan.
Also, in my previous post, I mentioned that I couldn’t remember whether or not I continued with ECT in December 2016. Then I came across a Facebook status posted December 9, 2016, that said:
ECT update: I spoke with my original ECT doc about my concerns (mainly how stressful they were) about my 2x/week treatments in November. He suggested a 4-week maintenance schedule since the initial treatments did help. I had my treatment yesterday and he held my hand during the entire procedure, or at least until I drifted off into anesthesia land….
So apparently, I went every 4 weeks, but I’m not sure for how long. And, ECT Doctor 1 rocks!