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

Bad Day

For the past few weeks I have (mostly) been rocking the quarantine by staying on top of school work, baking, cooking more, sewing and I even learned to make bread. Good bread. I kept repeating myself, “When is this period of productivity going to crash down on me?” Because it always does, and today was that day. This whole week, actually. I stopped home schooling the kids, my sleep schedule is messed up, I haven’t done anything but lie on the couch and have a migraine.

I know everyone has bad days but why does something so good get taken away from me, just like that? Why can’t I go a long time being productive and happy?

I don’t mean to whine because there are people out there who have it so much worse and I want to remember that. I’m just sad. I’m in mourning of the me that got so much done, the me I was so proud of myself. It hurts to say this but I don’t know which one is the real me, the baseline Heather. I’d like to say the productive, happy one is but I’m better acquainted with this Heather – the one who feels buried beneath judgment, worthlessness, hopelessness and inadequacy.

I want to tell myself that it’s just hormones and/or only anxiety, and if I know anything, it’s that anxiety is a big, fat liar. It can take over your brain, meld your thoughts with those of the devil. And it feels so real. So, so real.

I know I’ll pull out of this little funk in time but I’m so afraid I won’t get back to the point where I was doing all the things I love, not just loafing on the couch wishing it would happen again. I waste so much of my life waiting for the good to come. But most of the time I’m too tired to breathe. So I just wait some more.

A Horse of a Different Color

The other day my doctor suggested a couple of Ketamine infusions to do until I can do ECT. I didn’t think much of this because I’ve done several ketamine infusions in the past and they didn’t do much for me, but I learned the clinic that I was going to in Corpus was doing the infusions wrong, or perhaps not in the ideal way. Let’s put it that way.

At the old clinic they were adding benzos (Ativan, Valium) to the ketamine, which actually lowers the efficacy of the ketamine. I didn’t know that until I got to Menninger. Also, the other clinic’s protocol was to give everyone 100mg/hour no matter what. Here, they go by weight. I was skeptical of that at first but now I see why.

When you do 100 mg per hour, rather when I do 100 mg per hour, I feel like I’m in a black hole. There’s a lot of dissociation and I just feel drugged up and then I’m tired for the rest of the day. When I tried ketamine at the clinic, it was almost a religious experience. It was the most calming, most relaxing, therapeutic experience I’ve EVER had. I felt happy – and I haven’t felt happy in a loooong time.

It was amazing. Now, this infusion lasted just 40 minutes but I’ve already noticed a shift in my behavior. I made some jokes with some of the patients and staff here. I cleaned up my room and generally my mood is a bit better. I still have depression, of course, but it did provide a respite from the constant pain I’m in.

This makes me hopeful. I’m scheduled to have another ketamine treatment Monday and then later in the week, I’m due to start ECT. I’m not expecting my life to change but I’ll take any improvement from my current state. Some days it’s just so hard to breathe and it’s so exhausting to be a wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc. It’s just painful. Everything is painful, so relief is all I want. I want to be there for everyone. I want to smile and laugh – just live in something other than this awful darkness. I know I have to work on my therapy, too, and believe me I am. Everyday here is emotionally draining and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without crying, but that’s okay. I’m just trying to get to the other side.

I hope I see ya’ll there soon.

STFU, please

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from friends, family and strangers. Most of it is really positive – some have thanked my for being so blunt and open about mental illness and they don’t feel so alone. I’ve also had others tell me that I’m “not doing it right.” I’m not praying hard enough, I focus too much on the negative, or this is something I’m doing to myself.

This is part of the stigma I’m trying to fix.

And I don’t have to defend myself. I know I’m one of the hardest working people when it comes to my mental health. Depression is NOT something I do to myself subconsciously. Nobody wants this. Nobody.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re doing this to yourself. Don’t think you can just pray this away (prayer does help but you know what I mean). Don’t let anyone think you are a lesser person because you have this disease. Those people obviously haven’t struggled the way we have, and good for them – they are very fortunate.

But you can try every treatment, pill, therapy, alternative medicine, meditation, etc., and you will still have this disease. Do you know why? Because your brain is not the same as everyone else’s. You have unruly neurons. It’s just chemical and it’s not your fault. Especially if you are treatment resistant, it’s not fair.

It’s still not your fault.

So the next time someone says pull yourself up by the bootstraps or think positively (I know you are), just remember that you are working hard. And forgot those other people who obviously are ignorance to the intricacies of depression and anxiety and how it affects you.

Just keep swimming, friends.

Spravato: Treatments 1 & 2

This past week I completed my first two treatments of Spravato. What’s that, you say? It’s a nasal spray with esketamine (very much like ketamine) that helps with depression and a host of other things, such as migraines – at least for me.

My first treatment did not go well. First of all, I HATE things going up my nose. Second, it gave my a horrible taste in the back of my throat and I got a little nauseated. I also didn’t dissociate, which is one of the biggest side effects of the drug. Under the FDA’s rules I had to stay there for two hours, so I was hoping for a little dissociation, otherwise it’s just boring. So, it had no affect on me besides being a little sick to my stomach and then I was bored for two hours. Plus when I got home, I got a huge migraine and for the next two days and had to see my neurologist to get a Nubain injection for my migraines to go away. Maybe it was just a coincidence but I was annoyed and didn’t want to go for the second treatment. It had been awhile since I’d had a migraine.

But to my delight, the second treatment went well. I got the hang of putting the nasal mist up my nose, got used to the nasty taste in my throat and this time they gave me Zofran for the nausea. I still didn’t dissociate but I was tired enough to take an almost two hour nap, so the visit passed rather quickly. Can’t say the same for my husband who has to stay there the whole time and give me a ride home. FDA rules again. He can’t leave the whole two hours while I’m receiving treatment.

I don’t feel a whole lot better, and since it’s hardly affecting me, my doctor is going to bump me up to the big girl dose next week, which is about 84mg of esketamine. When I go to get the ketamine infusions at the clinic via IV, I’m receiving 100mg, plus they give me a benzo in the IV – I don’t know why they do that. So, maybe the larger dosage will help me more.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a complete failure. I do feel better after the second one but I’m still dealing with symptoms of depression. But I don’t feel as blah as I have been.

I’m supposed to go three times to the clinic next week to get the larger dose, so we’ll see how that goes.

As far as my weight loss and journey to get healthy, I haven’t even been on the scale. I’ve been eating poorly and drinking Diet Coke again. My depression just hit hard this week and the week before. I think. I can’t remember last week. I’ll get back on track and keep you guys updated. Thanks for the support.

Stay well, my friends.

 

Lake House Trip and Update on Life

Let me start by saying the lake house was a lot of fun. I learned to play corn hole and I learned that I wasn’t very good at corn hole – my sis in law replaced me pretty fast as her partner but I still had a blast playing. The best part of the trip was watching the kids have such a good time. They went swimming, riding on the mule, jet skiing, and playing with a bubble machine. The lake house is truly magical for them. There’s nothing like spending time with your cousins and I’m so glad they have that.

All of that was briefly interrupted by a stomach bug. It started with my niece, then my mother, my nephew, sister in law, my daughter, me, my husband, my aunt and my brother caught the tail end. It was pretty awful for the adults but the kids bounced back rather quickly. I was in a lot of pain, really dizzy and couldn’t eat for days. In fact, I lost 5 pounds which I was really excited about. If you’re going through so much unpleasantness, let’s say, you need some kind of award.

BUT GUESS WHAT. I seemed to have gained it all back despite not eating much since. My stomach is still a little queasy, so I really haven’t partaken in a good meal. I’m very disappointed but oh well. So….

Starting weight: 187
Current weight: 179

Now that I’m back home with my own food, I’m sure I’ll be able to eat my healthy meals and continue to lose some but I’ve been saying that for a couple of weeks now. It’s starting to piss me off.

Also, I feel off the wagon on the Diet Coke front. My parents have no shortage of Diet Coke and it’s in every fridge in the house and lake house. It practically poured itself down my throat, so I’ll have to start over with that. It’ll be easier because I don’t have any here. So, I tell myself.

That’s about all – I did see my psychiatrist while I was up in the Dallas area. She was happy with my meds, even though I told her some days I wake up and say to myself “is this as good as it’s ever going to get?” and she seemed to say yes, it might be. She said for me, depression is a life-long illness and I might never get better but someday I could get to a better place. That depressed me, because I used to see butterflies and rainbows most days. Now I’m lucky to see some moths flying around a light bulb. Not to say I’m totally unhappy with my life. My life is great as far as my family, friends and how fortunate I am. I just miss feeling happy most of the time. Now I feel like I’m just getting by and that’s surviving, not living.

Sorry to leave on such a negative note but that’s how it is sometimes.

Stay well, my friends.

Exhaustion

You know when you wake up and you’re in a good mood? You don’t even have to think about it, you just have a good day…

I don’t.

If I wake up in a good mood, which is rare, I have to constantly monitor my emotions to keep myself in a good mood. My therapist pointed out to me that (most) other people just have emotions but I have to manage mine. And it’s exhausting. I think that’s why I have to compulsively eat, compulsively shop or take something, like an anxiety pill, just to feel ok. Anything throughout my day could set me off or unnerve me and I’m always on alert. It leaves me feeling so depleted all the time, and along with my depression, I’m just so worn out.

I’ll tell you a story that isn’t the best example but it’s the only thing I can think of right now. My husband told my daughter that she could get a new kitten. I wasn’t on board at first, as we have three older cats now. I finally got on board and I went to look at some kittens alone last week. I was excited. I was having a great day and almost felt manic, which when I look back, I probably just felt like a “normal person.” Even my husband commented on what a good mood I was in. Back to the kittens. I found one that I liked and called my husband. I thought we could bring the kitten home and surprise the kids. I thought wrong. My husband said no – that we would have to wait until we got back from out of town. We’re leaving for a week after the kids get out of school.

I was crushed. I immediately felt depressed. All the happiness that was running through my veins turned cold and I couldn’t stop crying. I knew this wasn’t over the kitten, I didn’t even like it that much. It took me a few hours to realize that I was scared and disappointed because the feeling of happiness could be gone just like that. That I’m so fragile. I had stopped managing my emotions.

Again, that was last week and I haven’t felt that great since. It’ll come back, I’m sure. I hope. And if it does, I can’t let my guard down for a second.

I’m tired just thinking about it.

Stay in the light, my friends.

Oops

Oh, hey. It’s been since September since I last blogged. My apologies. It’s been a hard few months since. First, I was busy with the holidays and since the beginning of the year I’ve been depressed and haven’t felt like talking despite everyone’s urging to do so.

That’s the thing about depression, even when you need to talk the most you feel like you just can’t do it. I can say that I’ve been going to therapy on a regular basis but my meds have stayed the same despite me feeling like crap. Because I’m treatment resistant, there’s really nowhere to go from here medicine wise. My psychiatrist has suggested ECT but I’m just not ready for that. Yet.

I have been getting ketamine infusions which helps with my moods. It doesn’t last very long but thankfully we have the money to get them. I don’t know what I would do if we couldn’t afford it. If you’re poor and have MDD, you’re screwed. My medicine alone costs hundreds of dollars. So wrong.

My therapist and I started Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Basically, you identify your negative behaviors and teach yourself positive behaviors. Seems like common sense but it’s really helpful when all you’ve been doing your whole life is practicing negative coping skills. So far, so good. I’m working in a workbook, which I would recommend to anyone.

I’m also going to try the new ketamine-based nasal spray, Spravato. It was approved by the FDA in March. The doc that did my TMS treatments called and wants me to be her first patient. You have to be in the office and monitored for two hours after receiving the spray and I think you go twice a week for six weeks at first. I hate stuff going up my nose so we’ll see how this goes down. Waiting on insurance to clear my first, of course. It’s always insurance.

That’s my update for now. I’ll try to be more consistent with everything and I’ll definitely keep you updated on the Spravato.

The Impossible Task

Recently I saw a Tweet talking about depression commercials and how they don’t mention how hard it is to do certain things – Impossible Tasks. This really hit me hard because when I’m very depressed there are chores and very easy tasks that I need to get done that seem impossible. Like, I might die if I have to do it. And not a lot of people understand it.

For instance, when I’m really down showering seems so hard. It seems insurmountable to get in the shower, wash my hair, then get out of the shower and do my hair. And shave my legs. Kinda gross, right? I don’t go long periods without showering but I dread when I have to do it. This is my impossible task.

Why does it seem so hard? I have no idea. But I’m thinking that everyone with depression has at least one task like that.

My husband and best friend don’t understand. It can take less than 20 minutes to shower. They ask, “why don’t you just get it over with?” But still, it’s not that easy. Even brushing my teeth seems hard sometimes. I swear I’m not disgusting or smelly, I’m just keeping it real. 

But going back to what the Tweet was talking about – they don’t mention things like that on the commercials. They talk about sadness and losing interest in things you used to enjoy, which does happen, but I feel the commercials miss a mark when they don’t talk about the other stuff: anxiety attacks, social anxiety, not wanting to leave the house, lying in bed for days, etc. I guess they only have so much time for the ad, but I think it adds to others’ perception that depression is “just sadness” or losing interest in things or being lazy. That doesn’t sound so bad, but there are dozens of symptoms that come along with depression, especially treatment resistant depression and major depressive disorder.

I’d really like to know your Impossible Tasks. Leave a comment and we can chat.

Thanks for reading.