Beautiful girl, you can do hard things

urlMy 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.

Fight Like Hell

I write a lot about having depression and reaching out to get support but it has come to my attention that when I’m the one struggling I don’t reach out often. Maybe to my mom, husband and best friend but with everyone else I put on a happy face while inside it feels like I’m dying. I think it’s important I talk about the dark while I’m in it.

It started a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t being honest with myself about how things were going. I happen to have a therapy appointment and one with my psychiatrist that week so I let it all hang out. It felt good to come clean and it was decided I would get an ECT treatment ASAP. I scheduled it for next Friday so in the meantime I made an impromptu visit to my parents’ lake house. The kids were dying to get out of the house and I figured it would do me good as well. While the kids had a blast, I didn’t fare as well. I can remember one night eating steak with my parents and I was staring at the bright pink steak knife that cut the steak so well. I wondered how it would feel down my arms. Later, I told my mom to just hide the knives.

I decided to chat on the suicide lifeline messaging system. The lady was asking my history and as I told her that I had major depressive disorder, anxiety, I’ve done ECTs, been to a psychiatric facility, etc. She the said, “Wow, you’re a fighter.” Though I know it’s the truth, it’s not something I’ve heard a lot through my life. I’ve heard I’m lazy, that I’m basically useless, but not a fighter.

But I fight everyday. For my kids, my husband, my family, my amazing friends who support me no matter how depressed I am or how unwashed my hair is. And I know sometimes I’ll fall back on the idea that being mentally ill makes you weak, but I can’t stress enough how that’s total and utter bullshit. And then I’ll remember that I’m a Phoenix rising from the ashes, that I’ll regenerate and will continue to be born again. Because I’m a fighter and I will continue to fight like hell, even though it sucks, even though it’s hard, even though it tires my soul. If anything, I need to show my children that there are many ways to be strong. And that it’s ok if you’re different than others. It’s even ok if you need to go to a mental health hospital. And that self care is a necessity and doesn’t make you selfish. I’ve tried pouring from an empty cup and it got me nowhere (technically it got me to the mental hospital) so even though my journey is a messy one, my kids can still appreciate it one day. I hope.

If you need help, I highly recommend either calling the National Suicide Lifeline or using their chat function. Call them 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.