Shame, Shame, Shame

Me with my Going to Therapy is Cool shirt

“You need to think positively.”

“You need fresh air and sunshine.”

“You’re lazy.”

I’ve heard all three of these statements in regards to my depression, and even though they are NOT TRUE, they make me feel such a sense of shame.

Shame (for me) is that awful feeling I get in the pit of my belly; it’s surrounded by humiliation and I feel less than. Unloved. Like something is seriously wrong with me. And really, there’s not a single thing to be ashamed of when you’re mentally ill. I didn’t give myself depression, or anxiety, or even avoidant personality disorder. But here I am 20-plus years into my diagnosis still feeling the occasional prong of shame and guilt.

When I was first diagnosed, I kept it a secret. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to admit to my family and most friends that I was flawed. I didn’t see anyone in my family struggling, so it felt like I was the only one suffering. And when I went to a psychiatric facility last year? Holy shit, was I embarrassed. But if going to the “mental hospital” is the worst thing people can say about me, then let them say it, scream it if they want.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking help, whether it be for a mental illness or diabetes. Taking care of myself enables me to take care of my two young children and husband, and to be there for my friends. To live a life I’m proud of. Ain’t no shame in that.

Far too many people suffer in silence and that’s so dangerous. There needs to be a shift — a societal shift of acceptance, understanding and no judgement. Why there is still a stigma surrounding depression and other mental illness is beyond me. The stigma that people perpetuate is what’s flawed. Not me. Not anyone else.

Depression is not a matter of smart and dumb, weak or strong. But it is a matter of life and death sometimes. And the silence surrounding mental illness only widens the gap between those suffering and the help they need. Shame about it feeds anxiety and low esteem. Anxiety feeds depression and depression feeds risky behaviors, drug/alcohol abuse or suicidal ideation. It’s an awful cycle and it’s very hard to break, especially if you can’t afford psychotherapy, medication or doctors’ visits.

It’s overwhelming to have depression, to say the least. It’s OK to stay in bed all day (to an extent), it’s OK to cry. Being angry about it is OK. Whatever emotion you choose, just know that depression can be treatable. You can live with depression. You can be happy. Some of us will work harder than others at it — also OK. Be proud that you are a fighter, I know I am.

I will continue to fight my disease until I die. I will be a voice for those who can’t speak. I will help normalize depression and there sure as hell no shame in that.

One-year Anniversary

A year ago this month I went to the Menninger Clinic for inpatient psychiatric care for six long weeks. The months leading up to my trip to Houston weren’t good ones. I was emotional, suicidal and so damn sad. I had been labeled with treatment resistant depression, thus none of my meds were working. I also had tried TMS and ketamine infusion treatments but it didn’t lighten my load at all.

I was scared. Mostly because I feared I wouldn’t be around to watch my kids grow up. My husband, therapist and psychiatrist all agreed Menninger was the next step. After going over my history, meds and different treatments, I was told I was a prime candidate for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It took weeks for me to wean off all my meds – an antidepressant, antipsychotic, benzodiazepines, anti seizure meds and Ambien.

While I was weaning off my meds, I underwent psychiatric testing and went to classes about how to deal with mental illness. I also had to go to the classes on addiction because I wasn’t great at taking the prescribed benzodiazepine the way I was supposed to, to put it mildly. When we weren’t taking classes, we were required to do therapy and meet with psychiatrists. The classes – and the teachers – were all very helpful. My diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Dysthymia and Avoidant Personality Disorder.

I became close with a couple of patients who were in the same boat asI was. I still talk to them; sometimes it seems like they’re the only ones who understand what I went through since they were right there with me.

The facility was nice. It should be for how expensive it was, but hey, it did save my life. What stuck with me is that there were not rods to hang your clothes on, no drawers and no shower curtain rod – nothing a patient could try to hang himself from. At night we could shut our doors but the staff did checks every 15 minutes. The whole night. Every door leading outside was locked so patients couldn’t leave. We couldn’t have our phones but they offered cell phones for patients to use. We also had access to computers where all social media sites were blocked. It was a hard adjustment but it kind of made me feel safe, cocooned really. The girls had one wing, boys another and we all shared one common area with couches and a TV. On the weekends, we did movie nights and ordered food from outside the facility. Although it was scary and heart wrenching to be away from my family, I felt supported by the friends I made and never felt alone, despite my depression and anxiety.

When it was time to start ECT I don’t remember being scared, although it sounds scary to me now. I had three treatments a week for three weeks before starting a maintenance phase. At first, I got awful headaches after each treatment but those eventually subsided. By far, the worst side effect of the ECTs is the memory loss. Usually, it only affects patients around the time of treatment, meaning you might forget things that happened the day of treatment. But lucky me, my memory loss goes back years. I’ve forgotten people’s names, and sometimes, entire people. I still can’t remember how I met the majority of my Facebook friends. My short term memory has taken a hit, too. I can’t figure out how and what my brain is actually going to remember.

But as bad as memory loss sucks, the ECTs saved my life. And for that, I’m grateful. I relish in spending time with my kids and watching them grow. David and I enjoy each other more now, too. My mental illness takes a toll on him and I’m very thankful for his patience, love and support.

I won’t lie – there have been dark days in the past year and it hasn’t always been easy. My brain is not reliable and I have to remember during anxiety attacks or depressive episodes that it lies. It tells me I’m not good enough, that I should want to die, that there’s no way out. I ride out the pain best I can and turn to my support system – my doctor, therapist, best friends, parents and then to more ECT treatments. It’s not a perfect system but here I am.

I somehow learned when I was young that having mental illness made you weak, but after my experience I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be further than the truth but the stigma surrounding depression is certainly real. I could have easily overdosed on my meds or died any other way by suicide, but it was strength that saved me and what keeps me going now. I’ve been battling my brain for a long time – decades even – and I know I have more to go but I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

My brain has betrayed me (many times) but my dear, hardworking heart never will. Thank you to all who have supported me.

If you are suffering from depression and need help, the National Alliance on Mental Illness visit http://www.nami.org

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

ECT and Me

I’ve talked a lot recently about my six-week stay at the Menninger Clinic but haven’t really discussed why my stay there was so helpful – doing (electroconvulsive therapy) ECT treatments.

Over the years I was told to try ECT because of my treatment-resistant depression, meaning none of the meds I tried (and I tried a lot) worked well. ECT always scared me and I think it scares a lot of people. I imagine a lot of people associate it as being “shock therapy,” a very primitive form of today’s ECT from the 1900s. But I was doing so poorly by the time I got to Menninger, I prayed that I was a candidate and it worked. Turns out I was and it did.

I did my initial (or index) treatments at Menninger. I did treatments about three times a week until I left the hospital. Each treatment began with memory and cognitive testing. After that came the actual treatment. The nurses would place electrodes on my head, which would provide an electric stimulus to my brain, inducing a seizure. It was then my brain’s job to shut off the seizure, and I was told the shorter the seizure the better. I had monitors for my heart function, blood pressure and pulse, as well.

After everything was in place it was time for the anesthesia. They would administer it, insert a bite guard into my mouth and place an oxygen mask over my face and nose. I’d fall asleep, have the seizure and be awake in about 15-20 minutes.

At first I had awful migraines after the treatments and would have to stay in bed, but now I get a minor headache, some neck pain and fatigue. Not so bad, considering.

As I mentioned earlier, I did my initial treatments at the Menninger Clinic but then switched to a facility in San Antonio, Laurel Ridge Treatment Center after I done at Menninger. Unfortunately, there are no doctors who perform ECT in Corpus Christi, where I live. Both facilities are very good but different. Whereas Menninger might see a handful of patients – if that – a day, Laurel Ridge sees much more and they’re very efficient getting people in and out.

Sometimes I panic before a treatment, although I don’t know why. Nothing scary has ever happened to me but I do get very nervous beforehand. The nurses/doctors can’t give me anything to relax because most meds in that category prolong the seizures. Regardless of my panic, I still get treatments when I’m feeling down.

If you are contemplating ECT, feel free to contact me and I’ll answer any questions. I know it can be scary and intimidating but the treatments are very safe. It has been, by far, the most effective treatment for my treatment-resistant Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder. I’m happier and have more energy now.

One thing I will mention is memory loss. This is normal and usually occurs around the time of treatment, so you might not remember getting to the hospital or recent conversations. In my case – and this is just me – I have lost memories from years ago and short-term as well. You can read my memory loss blog here.

Having said that, I would still recommend ECT to anyone who is suffering with depression. It really changed my life at a time I wasn’t sure if I’d make it much longer.

Disorderly Personality

In 2019 I entered an inpatient program at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. I was having some issues to say the least, including suicidal ideation, severe depression and I was mis-using some of my medication. I guess the better word would be abusing.

Going into the program I had already been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). After six weeks of intensive testing, therapy and meetings with doctors, I was able to return home, but I had a new diagnosis to my already growing list – Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never heard of it and I didn’t know anyone else with a personality disorder so I was feeling like a “legit” crazy person, if there ever was such a thing.

I’d spent years being diagnosed with depression, dysthemia, an anxiety disorder and I was even misdiagnosed as Bipolar II. I knew next to nothing about Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) but I soon learned. It’s a disorder characterized by social discomfort and avoidance of interpersonal contact. According to the Mayo Clinic, someone who has AVPD avoids intimate and social contact with others.

When I read this, I thought, “Wow, this is me.” I think it’s apparent to those who know me well know I’m no extrovert. And while I do have friends, it is rare for me to be around a lot of people and not at all uncommon for me to cancel plans (usually due to anxiety). But as I continued reading, something struck a nerve. My paperwork stated that people with this condition may be extremely shy, fear ridicule and be overly concerned with looking foolish. That they – I – could have an inferiority complex. Yes, I’m sensitive and don’t respond to rejection well but isn’t that everybody?

Apparently not.

As I continued learning, I read that these folks have low self esteem and here’s the kicker – it’s common for people to avoid work, social and school activities for fear of rejection. I was constantly missing school and later work. And it always caused problems.

According to WebMD, a person with Avoidant Personality Disorder may be afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, blushing, stammering or otherwise getting embarrassed. That they may also spend a great deal of time anxiously studying those around for signs of approval or rejection.

I know my diagnosis doesn’t define me, so I try not to get upset when I revisit my paperwork. But sometimes I do get upset and that’s ok. Yes, I have “mental problems” but who doesn’t?

But it is important to me not to be “extremely shy” and so scared of rejection. It’s more important to me because my children are watching me, and I would hate for either of them to be painfully shy, to miss out on things only to create a world of isolation and loneliness.

So, I’m (trying) to step up. Kids’ birthday parties? We’re there. Encouraging my children to say hi to others, even adults? Yes. Teaching them to be confident and strong? We’re working on that, too.

No parent wants their children to repeat their mistakes but I hope both my children pick up on some of my attributes that weren’t in my Menninger paperwork – my empathy, resilience, creativity and generosity (that I already see blossoming in my oldest).

Again, my diagnosis does not define me and how I live my life. If anything, it helps me live life more fully and with having more empathy. And that’s ok with me.

My bad

I have been remiss in updating my blog since I returned from the good ol’ mental hospital, so my apologies. The hospital actually helped me quite a bit. I was there for 6 weeks, which was terrible in terms of being away from my family, but I was able to get help for my depression, anxiety and my tendency to over medicate. I left with a brand new diagnosis, too, so that’s fun. Turns out I have Avoidant Personality Disorder, along with depression, dysthmia and generalized anxiety disorder. I also started up ECT treatments while I was there, which I am continuing now. It’s not as scary as it sounds – I know a lot of people think negatively about “shock therapy” – they seem to be working, for the most part. The only sucky part is that I have to drive two hours away to get the treatments, as Corpus Christi doesn’t have a place here to do it.

Things were going really well but honestly right now I am on the struggle bus. Even though I’ve been compliant with meds and going to therapy, my depression has returned as has my binge eating disorder. I got a lot of problems, right? Feels like it. I’ve gained a lot of weight in a very short amount of time and even as I write this blog, I am miserably overfull from a binge.

I plan on calling a nutritionist and upping my therapy appointments, among other healthy ideas but it’s really hard not to feel bad about myself right now. Bad that I am so depressed and not a lot seems to help it. Bad that I’ve gained weight and feel so horrible. Bad that I’m not the best example for my kids. I’m trying to pull myself out of this funk, but it’s so hard. It’s getting really hard to take care of myself, at least in the healthy way I learned about in the hospital. OK, so now that I’m typing all this it doesn’t seem like the ECT and new meds are helping. Sigh.

Even with all this crap going on, I still feel hopeful that I can get back on track and live a healthy and happy life. At least my hope isn’t gone. I have my friends and family to think for that – they all have provided me with more support than I ever could have imagined. I’m a lucky girl. And of course, my beautiful children keep me going.

So, I can beat this. I will. I’ll feel better soon. It wouldn’t hurt for y’all to pray for me, though. I’ll take whatever I can get.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking around through all my mess. Much love.