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.

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. 

 

 

 

Remembering

As y’all are all well aware, it’s been weeks since we started self-quarantining and though I feel stretched thin by homeschooling and being with the kids 24/7, I have discovered an advantage I have – my ECT treatments (for depression/anxiety) and the holes that they left in my memory.

I once read that (usually) people who suffer from ECT memory loss only lose memories around the time of treatment. That hasn’t been my case. My treatments have erased memories from years ago. I’ve forgotten people. I often have no idea how I’ve met my friends on my Facebook page. It’s been embarrassing and frustrating and that’s why I considered it such a burden in my life.

Until now.

To maintain even a modicum of sanity, I have turned to my favorite books, TV shows and movies. I picked up my favorite book last week (Summer Sisters, Judy Blume) and although I did remember most of it, there were delicious new details that I consumed – they felt new anyway. I was also able to watch one of my fave shows again. This time I couldn’t remember plots and characters. I have to admit, it was nice watching like it was the first time. I cried during the series finale, probably much like the first time I watched. Everything is new again.

I began to think – my memory loss isn’t such a bad thing. It was then I realized I could apply this thinking in other aspects of my life. Mainly, with the children. Being home with them all day reminded me of when they were babies. The days were long and hard then, too. And yes, they’re older now but I can rediscover parts of my babies that I otherwise might have forgotten.

Isla’s laugh.

Eli’s all consuming love for his Weerows.

How bright and tender hearted they are.

I’m memorizing their faces, gestures and little quirks that make them who they are – (hopefully) better versions of me and my husband. This time I’m documenting it all. I hope they remember the games we played during this time, the pictures we drew and stories we read.

I don’t know how my brain chooses to keep or erase memories. I’m sure some might want to forget these past few weeks forever, as thousands are dying and sick. And while I’m ok with blocking that out, I will remember that it was a privilege staying home with my family.

That I’ll never forget.