Retrograde Amnesia

As many of you know, I have retrograde amnesia, caused by the many ECT treatments I’ve had to do in order to obtain relief from my depression. For the record, I must have these treatments — my depression is treatment resistant, meaning that most medications can’t help alleviate my symptoms. Not much does except the ECTs, which I started in 2019.

During a treatment, I’m anesthetized and electric currents are sent through electrodes that are placed on my forehead, inducing a seizure. It’s not known exactly how the treatments help; I’ve always looked at it as a hard reset of my stubborn brain.

I would be lying if I said I don’t mind the treatments — I actually hate them, because over time I’ve developed a phobia of the anesthesia. And it’s definitely bothersome that I can’t remember some things. My memory loss goes back years, decades even, and it’s very hard to retain information even now. It’s also pretty embarrassing. I’ve forgotten who some people are, their names and how I know them. And when I say I have amnesia, I’m met with blank stares. And then I have to explain ECTs, which sounds unbelievable if you’re not used to it.

When I do try to recall something, I see only a gray wall where the memory once resided. Things aren’t just fuzzy — they’re just not there most of the time.

This must sound awful, but there is one good thing about my memory loss: the memory loss.

That’s not a typo.

I’ve suffered for decades with major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder and a personality disorder and it’s unbelievably painful. But, just like I can’t remember who I ran into at the grocery store last week, I also can’t remember the most painful, darkest moments of my depression. I only know about it from my husband’s or best friend’s account of it. Or previous blogs.

Even with the ECT treatments, I still suffer with depression, just on a much lighter scale. I’m glad I can’t remember every time I couldn’t get out of bed or every time the pain was so deep that I wanted to end my life. Because if I sit and dwell on just how bad it was or can be, then I might forget that I do want to live — and live happily.

I don’t know if that makes much sense, but I do know that I (likely) will be struggling with depression and anxiety for the rest of my life. That thought alone makes me sad, and I can see how that thought can make me — and others — lose their faith in life and just put their suffering to an end. Mental illness can be so lonely when you’re in such pain all the time. And people still don’t understand it; the stigma of having a mental disorder is still there, too. So, if you do know someone who struggles, please be more understanding and empathetic. It’s just so lonely.

Even if I have to go under anesthesia and have electric currents sent through my brain every eight weeks, it’s not so bad. Not compared to the reality I was living without the treatments.

I just have to remember to take notes anytime I’m awake.

At My Worst

The thing I hate the most about depression is that I can be feeling so good about myself and then — bam — something triggers me or I get into an argument with my husband or best friend. It could be something small, but it can throw me into a downward spiral of despair and pain.

That’s what happened tonight. I was reflecting on my day and how good it was. I made progress with my intuitive eating program (I didn’t overeat at all). I started to put more work into my blog, which excites and drives me.

Then it hit — self doubt, self loathing and despair after an argument with a loved one. All of these things were lurking in the shadows of my obstinate brain, and it didn’t take much to pull them out of hiding. It scared me. I began having intrusive thoughts that I should kill myself* and that my family didn’t need me. I tried to sort through my thoughts, desperately trying to determine which were true and which were lies. Normally, I don’t entertain my intrusive thoughts; as soon as they enter my head I stop the thought and release it, thinking of something happier. But I didn’t have the strength to stop them this time. It was a barrage of darkness and sadness. And I’ll just stop there, because this is making me sad.

All the progress that I had made during the day was gone, so it seemed. I got ice cream and binged on a couple servings, even though I didn’t really want it.

I didn’t have much time to wallow after that because both of my kids came into the room claiming they couldn’t sleep. It was several more hours of coaxing them and threatening before they finally went down. I felt depleted and frustrated.

The argument I had was inconsequential, forgotten by morning. But what stayed with me was the idea that this — me and my mental health — is probably as good as it’s going to get. I don’t mean that like I’m giving up and in to depression — I mean that I don’t know if I’ll ever feel better than I do right now. Every day, I hustle to stay on top of my depression. I take my meds, I got to weekly therapy appointments, I do ECT treatments, I avoid sleeping during the day, I stay busy with the kids, writing, hobbies, etc. And there is always room for improvement, but I think I need to be OK with the fact that this may be as good as it gets.

It’s not so bad. I’ll probably always live with these demons, but what I need more than to accept that this is my fate and life is that everybody else accepts it, too. That they love and support me at my worst, which is kind of scary sometimes. But in the same breath, it’s taught me to be grateful for all the good in my life and happy moments. And there are many.

It’s hard for me to talk about the dark or bad side of my depression (is there a good side, lol), because it’s hard for people who don’t suffer with a mental disorder to understand. It’s unknown and scary to them. But if you have a loved one who does suffer, love and accept them at their worst. And let them know that you do.

It makes this “journey” a lot easier.

*Please note that I am not in crisis or suicidal. Intrusive thoughts are just thoughts — not desire. I am safe.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

The past couple days have been hard. I’ve been extremely fatigued, irritable and I’ve fallen back on some unhealthy coping skills, such as binge eating. I don’t know why, but I’m just exhausted. It hurts to move.

Tomorrow I get another ECT, so maybe it’ll reset my brain and I’ll get back on track. Things were going well up until a couple days ago. I have a lot to look forward to.

We leave for San Antonio in just an hour. We’re staying the night in a hotel so we can get to the hospital bright and early. I know they help, but I really don’t like ECTs. Not a fun time for me.

Please think good thoughts and send light my way.

Here’s to next week. Hoping y’all have a good one, too.

Real Me vs. Depressed Me

This past two weeks have been amazing. My demeanor has changed. My mood has lifted. And I’m able to do things that were near impossible before. The ECT treatment I had two weeks ago must have been a good one. I’ve seen a glimpse of my authentic self, who wants so badly to be set free from wherever she goes when a depressive episode hits. Before this past ECT, I was suicidal. I was unbelievably sad and anxious. I thought I was doing OK but I can see now that I wasn’t.

I didn’t recognize this feeling of joy and happiness, and I can’t tell you the last time I felt it either. I’m more familiar with “Depressed Me,” a slower, sadder, less efficient version of me, riddled with depression symptoms, who seems to be the reigning champion of my brain. But now that I am feeling happy and I see the “Real Me,” I’m going to fight tooth and nail for it. I refuse to go down without a fight. How I’m feeling and what I’m able to do right now — that’s worth fighting for.

In the mornings, I don’t immediately feel weighed down and already exhausted before even starting my day. I have energy and am excited about the day. The chores and tasks I absolutely have to get done don’t seem so taxing and annoying. Showering is now relaxing and not a daunting chore I’d put off for days (yes, days!). I don’t feel the need to stuff with my face with food that I don’t want or need, which is a battle for most everyone. I’m more cheerful and attentive to my kids. The Real Me is kind of a badass.

I could name so many more examples. I don’t know if it was the last ECT. I don’t know if it was a new medication I started the same day as my last ECT. I don’t know how long this will last, but again, I gotta make hay while the sun shines. And I have to fight.

Fighting looks like me not solely depending on my medication and ECT treatments. It means exercising, going to bed early, eating healthily, keeping a strict routine and reaching out the minute I feel like things are slipping. It sounds like a lot, or maybe it doesn’t, but I’m done with my rebellious, depressed part of me that refuses to comply with even the simplest of instructions.

When I’m not handicapped by severe depression, I’m so powerful. I radiate love and happiness. My writing flows onto paper, because my words are powerful, too. I utilize my limitless ability to care for my loved ones. I’m able to reach my full potential, instead of being a shadow or fraction of my true self. Like the phoenix, I am rising and there’s not a whole lot that can stop me.

Here are some examples of what the Real Me versus the Depressed Me are like:

The Real Me exercises, reaches out to friends, eats healthy foods, writes/blogs, goes outside, puts the TV remote down, reads for pleasure, sings all day (to the point where her family complains), cooks, bakes, showers, brushes her teeth, laughs loudly, plays with her kids even more, styles her hair, gets massages (or goes to any self-care appointment).

Depressed Me sleeps more, watches TV until having to get the kids, endlessly scrolls social media, gets in bed until she absolutely has to move, doesn’t shower, blows off doctors appointments, gives into sadness/anxiety, doesn’t smile as much, has a short fuse, is impatient and more.

Depressed Me goes to sleep at night because she can’t stand to be awake one second longer than she has to. She’s judgmental and mean about her appearance and body.

The Real Me looks forward to the future but enjoys the present.

I’m certainly enjoying right now, and although I’m cautious about the future, my outlook is finally optimistic.

As I’m writing this, I’m hoping that you don’t get the wrong idea about Depressed Me. While I would love not to experience depression and anxiety, I respect Depressed Me. She fights hard and doesn’t give into her suicidal thoughts. She’s a fighter. She’s scrappy. She has grit, and without her efforts, the Real Me wouldn’t appreciate what it’s like to be happy.

For that, I’m grateful.

To learn more about major depression and signs of depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website here.

When The Bad Thoughts Win

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation
Please note that this blog was written last week and I am no longer experiencing suicidal ideation.

I was told not to write this blog but I’ve always had trouble being compliant. You see, the past week has been extremely difficult. My depression became unexpectedly worse and I’ve been suicidal. Please know that I have a safety plan and am not a danger to myself or others.

Depression can leave you feeling suicidal, please seek help if that’s the case.

But I feel the need to describe this pain because I know others experience it but few talk about it. It’s too lonely, heavy and dangerous to keep to yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others. Sharing and normalizing these feelings could be life saving, though.

Right now I’m exhausted. I feel completely empty but so full of anxiety, fear and sadness all at once. I just put down the kids and as I walked down the stairs I realized I’m not going to be distracted by them for the next few hours. There’s nothing but pain to feel now. I immediately thought, “What pill can I take to not feel this way?” But the answer is always nothing, no matter what meds you have.

Tomorrow I plan on getting another ECT treatment, the one a couple of weeks ago just didn’t take. I’ll take my meds as prescribed. I’ll go to therapy. I’ll do what I need to do, even though it feels so futile sometimes. I’m holding out for hope and I’m so fortunate to have the support and therapies in place to give me that hope. Some don’t ever find it. There are those who die by suicide, and I would never judge them for that. You can’t judge others for the choices they make when you don’t know the options they had to choose from. You might even think it’s the “easier choice” to let go but you would be wrong. Nothing about mental illness, especially depression, is easy.

This past week hasn’t just been a heaviness on my chest. It’s intrusive thoughts telling myself I’m not good enough. That my family doesn’t need me around to fuck them up. That I should literally kill myself and do everyone a favor. During depressive episodes, these thoughts, sometimes worse, are on repeat in my head. And it is so, so hard to say, “Stop!” You get to the point where you think, “Which voice is right??”

But I do know. I’ve been through enough to know that my lying ass brain is just that — a liar. If you are in that headspace where you don’t have the clarity to see what’s a lie and what’s the truth, seek outside counsel. Ask your friends, (maybe) your family, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. No matter what crisis looms, you will be OK. It may hurt some more and get uncomfortable but that just means growth is coming. You are valuable and loved and needed on this Earth. I turned to my beloved mom’s group to hear this myself, and I’m so glad I did because their words helped me push through.

I can’t promise your pain will ever go away — mine hasn’t yet — but leaving this world before God calls you home will only bring pain to your loved ones. I’d like to hope all depression sufferers can tolerate the pain just long enough to find a support system, resources such as a good psychiatrist, therapist, medications and develop self-care practices. It’s also good to have a safety plan, in case you “come off the rails” and if that does happen, go easy on yourself.

Again, I’m not saying any of this is easy and I definitely don’t have all the answers. I probably won’t ever but maybe we need to ask ourself different questions…?

This shit is hard and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it has made me stronger (sometimes annoyingly so). I have to let go of the fact that my brain isn’t “normal,” that I’ll have a life-long struggle with this disease and that sometimes I might feel like dying. That’s OK, because most of the time I want to live, and what a sweet life I lead.

I’ll leave you with something one of my mom friends said to me when I admitted I was suicidal. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.

“You are so loved. So valued. I know your heart hurts. I know your mind lies to you. Trust me when I say you are worthy, loved and freaking amazing. You are needed here.”

And I am. Thank you for everyone helping me out when I was so low.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site here.

Edit: Please read this article about what to do if someone you love is suicidal and in immediate need of help.

Misconceptions About Depression

A few years ago I posted an Instagram photo with me crying and a caption that said, “This is the face of depression. Be kind to others because you don’t know what they’re going through.” That photo upset some of my friends because I hadn’t really discussed my depression before in such an open way. To them I was happy and a goof ball. What most didn’t see was I was moody, miserable and even suicidal at times.

Though I was diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, it was after my babies were born that it really got bad — and scary. I had dealt with postpartum and post-weaning depression but had inadequate psychiatric care.

On the outside I was posting pics of my kids in cute outfits and everything online told a completely different story.

Many people mask their pain for different reasons. I had the idea that depression wasn’t talked about, that having depression makes you weak. That it was a matter of willpower. I didn’t want to be the depressed mom, I wanted to be the mom that does it all, which is a dangerous and unrealistic expectation for anyone. That stigma that I was buying into keeps a lot of people silent about their struggle. It can be especially hard in certain cultures, such as Asian cultures (read more about that here.)

There are definitely common misconceptions about what depression looks like. In my case, I’m not sad every minute of everyday. There are good and bad days, just like anyone else. Sometimes my depression manifests in other ways, such as overeating or binge eating; sleeping too much; having a short fuse; or partaking in other unhealthy behavior.

I was freed of the heavy weight depression holds when I admitted to all my friends and family that I went to a psychiatric hospital in 2019. I even wrote a forum piece about my experience for the local paper. It was not easy, in fact it was a little terrifying knowing that essentially the whole city knew my secret, but like I said, it set me free. I just didn’t care about anyone’s opinion anymore. I know it can be annoying when I plug my blogs or pieces in the paper but I’m hoping they will reach someone who needs to hear what I’m saying — that it’s OK having depression and there is no shame in it. Those who I’ve met who struggle with depression are the strongest people I know. We are fighters. We are survivors.

Ideally, everyone should be able to talk about their mental illness but I understand why people don’t. It’s terrifying being vulnerable, especially when there’s a chance someone will react negatively. But I urge everyone to reach out, even if it’s to one person. You’d be surprised how free it makes you feel, and by telling a friend or family member, you’re lightening your load. Your support system can help you carry that load, and you should take help where you can get it.

If you can’t reach out to someone, please know there are several online resources that can help. To learn more about depression or find resources visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They have a 24-hour helpline.

Other Misconceptions About Depression:

  1. “It’s all in your head.” – Depression is a psychological and biological disease. You have no control over it, so if someone tells you to “buck up” just know that the problem is not with you — it’s with them and their lack of understanding. You don’t have to pretend or fake it, just do you.
  2. Depression = being really sad. – Sure, you get sad when you’re depressed but someone equating it to “just being sad” is trivializing your feelings and your disease.
  3. Depression means you’re weak – I already touched on this but it’s worth repeating — I think people with depression are so strong. Depression can wreak havoc in all areas of your life. Some people deal with suicidal ideation daily and others have to tap into a reserve of strength and energy just to take a shower (me!) or go to work. Often that reserve is depleted.
  4. Depression is not treatable – There are a variety of medications that are safe and effective in treating depression. There might be side effects and it might take a while before finding the right combination, but (most of) patients feel better. There are also therapies you can try, such as talk therapy, TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusion therapy, and my favorite, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Please consult your doctor before trying any medication or other treatments.

These myths are damaging, but again, please reach out if you are struggling. It gets better.

If you are suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site for chat support.

The Exhaustion of Barely Surviving

Warning: This post mentions suicide and suicidal ideation. If you will be triggered, please go back to the homepage. 

Me, playing with the kids

 

There are days where each of my limbs feels like I’m dragging 50 pounds. All I want to do is stay in bed or on the couch, which proves difficult when the kids are home, which is all day, every day these days.

Showering seems like an impossible task and honestly, I can go days without one. It takes me that long to get the energy to take one and then it’s an exhausting ordeal.

With the kids home, I don’t have the luxury of lying around and mustering the strength for a shower. The kids have needs and those needs have to be met. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking care of the kids but at the end of the day it feels like I’ve run a marathon or I’ve been hit by a truck. Not only is there zero time for self care but also I have zero energy or desire to take care of myself. There’s just nothing left – no reserves to tap into. And that’s ok, for a little while, but it’s not sustainable and almost always leads to total exhaustion or a breakdown.

How I combat these feelings is with medication and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). But guess what? When you’re depressed, you don’t want to take your meds, even though it’s so simple. Another impossible task. Taking care of yourself while depressed is a full-time job, one that my brain prevents me from showing up to. And what’s dangerous is the belief you’re not good enough to take care of. That it’s easier to make bad decisions. Bad decisions can make you feel so good – like overeating or bingeing on terrible foods.

In the past, I’ve also abused some of my meds, like benzodiazepines and sleep meds. These self-destructive behaviors are just my experience. Other risky behaviors include excessive drinking, drug abuse, unsafe sex and cutting. I don’t condone it but I certainly don’t judge – I understand it all too well. What’s scary is that people who do these things are more likely to attempt suicide or die by suicide. I can’t speak for everyone but when I have engaged in self-harm or risky behaviors, it’s all about stopping the incessant pain that’s felt everyday. And even though it might be there, it’s hard for depressed individuals to see the light at the end of the ever-elusive tunnel.

I get why people attempt suicide. I have thought about it many times, unfortunately, but each time I just wanted to numb the pain, drown out the mental and physical pain. Before I went to the Menninger Clinic, I felt there was no hope with my depression. I was labeled treatment-resistant, meaning none of the meds available would help. I won’t go on a tirade now but I was lucky to go to Menninger. Not everybody has the funds or time to be inpatient at a facility like that. Hell, no everyone can afford medicine, therapy or psychologists. My therapist and psychologist are cash only – they do not accept any type of insurance. I guess my point is that there are many obstacles that people with depression face, internal and external.

Even if I take my medicine perfectly, get regular ECTs, go to therapy and avoid risky behavior, I’m still going to struggle. Those things definitely help stay on track but during a depressive episode, every day – and everything I have to do to life – is exhausting. I have to do all those little things to barely survive and I’m not the only one who feels that way. Mental health care in this country sucks – not everyone with depression is treated and those who are aren’t treated well or efficiently. Some people still wrestle with reaching out for care because of the stigma.

It’s easy to abandon a treatment plan. It’s easy to fall by the wayside, and it’s so unbelievingly hard to fight through the pain and fight the stigma on a daily basis. The exhaustion of living can wear you out. It does me, anyway.

Many people are fighting this invisible illness, some fighting just to get through each day. I certainly relate. I’ve been through hell and back and even though I’m doing much better now, I still feel the weight of depression (and everybody’s expectations), not to mention my sometimes crippling anxiety. I don’t know if that weight will ever lift but at least now I’m strong enough to carry it. I pray that others suffering will feel the same.

To My Future Self

A year ago I started electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for my severe depression. I try to do one every four to six weeks because I need them to live, truly. When I’m going through a depressive episode, it resets my brain somehow, and after my stint at the Menninger Clinic, I want to avoid going to that dark place (in my head) again.

While the ECTs help me to be my best self, they have crippled my memory. Usually, ECT will affect your memory around the time of treatment, meaning you might not remember coming in for the treatment or directly after it. For me, I can’t remember things from years ago. My memory is just so random; I can’t figure out how my brain has decided to keep some memories and discard others. I’ve also forgotten entire people. Months ago I went to a nail salon and a woman asked about David and the kids. I did my best to talk with her but I was so embarrassed and frustrated. 

When I try to remember something I often come up with nothing – just a fuzzy gray wall in my brain. Sometimes it shakes me to my core because I’m afraid I’ll forget my most cherished memories — being with my grandmother as a child, getting married and memories of my babies being born, etc. And as weird as it sounds, I want to remember what it was like before I went to Menninger, so I can recognize those painful feelings and behaviors and stop them as soon as possible.    

But above all, I want to remember me and the memories that helped shape me, so I thought I would write myself a short reminder. 

To my future self, please remember how strong you are. Remember when you bravely moved to Corpus Christi, hundreds of miles from family and friends and didn’t know a single soul. That you had two children in 23 months and won a horrible battle with postpartum depression. Remember when things got hard again and your brain betrayed you, telling you to kill yourself but instead you found hope in a psychiatric treatment facility for six long weeks. And that during that time, how you fought like hell for your family and friends.

Please remember your big heart and limitless capacity to love. Your sense of humor and generosity. Don’t forget how loudly you laugh (it’s more of a guffaw, really) and your ability to be inclusive and open-minded. Know your worth, that you are deserving of love and respect.

Remember that you are the best mom to raise Isla and Eli and to always lead by example. Never forget the words to George Strait songs you sing to Eli at bedtime or that Isla gets scared at night and needs extra cuddles. How Eli is totally obsessed with seahorses and named his seahorse stuffie Weerow. That Isla’s sense of humor is beyond her years. Remember how amazing your mama is and how you feel such comfort and love when she is near and that Mema made you feel the same way. You are loved – and were shaped – by very strong women. YOU are a strong woman, despite what your brain tells you. 

And finally, when it is dark and you can’t seem to find the light, remember that one shines within you. If you can’t remember that, just know that you have really good friends with really good flashlights. 

 

 

 

Beautiful girl, you can do hard things

My 5-year-old daughter is sensitive and she can be anxious – she’s her mother’s daughter, for sure. When she does get anxious I try to calm her down with deep breathing and I started repeating one mantra over and over – you can do hard things. Does it help her? Maybe but it definitely helps me.

It’s so simple but it hits me deep in my core. My depression (and anxiety) just crushes me, the weight of it feels so heavy that I can’t move. But the thing is, I can do hard things.

In the past five years I’ve given birth to two kids who are 23 months apart. I’ve battled postpartum depression. I went to a mental hospital for six weeks. I started ECT therapy and have had more than 20 treatments – that’s 20 times under anesthesia and 20+ seizures. I have been suicidal many times but I’ve clawed my way back to me. I’m proudly scrappy.

I will have depression forever, and I’m sure there will be dark days ahead but I can do hard things. That’s the mindset and philosophy I want to pass down to Isla (and Eli).

I try my best to hide my depressed self from the kids but I know it seeps through at times. I just hope they remember how strong I am and how much I love them. I hope they never really know how sad I can be. I want them to know I have a big heart and big emotions, and that’s ok. That they are cut from the same cloth, that they can tap into their grit and resolve.

It’s easy to give in to depression, to the despair and apathy that accompanies it. What’s not easy is to do it in front of your kids. They’re always there, watching and imitating. While it’s scary to think I could have another depressive episode, I know I can get through it. I can fight. I can overcome.

I can do hard things. And so can you.

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.