The Other Side

Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high right now.

I’ve been dealing with depression for almost my entire adult life, so I know what healthy behaviors I should be practicing in order to have some sort of control over my illness. For instance, someone with severe depression benefits from having a routine, exercising, eating healthy, etc.

I know to stay diligent when it comes to taking my meds. To keep appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist. Last year, I spent six weeks at an inpatient psychiatric facility, so I’m also equipped with healthy coping mechanisms, as well as a safety plan if I get suicidal. 

I know what to do. So, why is it so hard to do it? Why is there a part of me that doesn’t want to be healthy? There’s another side of me that I constantly battle and no matter how many positive blogs I write about fighting depression, that other side fights to be in control. There have been times where I have let it.

No too long ago before going inpatient at the Menninger Clinic, I let the unhealthy side take over. For some reason, I stopped taking my medication. It seems so stupid; taking pills is not hard but it became an impossible task. Obviously, my mood suffered from not getting my regular meds, but I just didn’t care.

That’s how it happens — you let the unhealthy part of you in just a little and soon the pull of not caring, not having to fight to be happy, commandeers you and you start to suffer in other aspects of your life. It’s easy, so easy, to succumb to this and while there are temporary moments of pleasure, there are permanent actions that are painful. Not just for you but your family, too.

Overeating or bingeing on unhealthy foods became an almost daily occurrence. I abused my anxiety medication. I wanted to escape and those actions gave me that escape, but again, it was all temporary.

Why did I want to escape? I mean, I have an amazing life — a loving family and supportive friends. I’m very fortunate and privileged. I have everything I’ve ever needed. I’m grateful for all that, but I have a very hard time lowering the volume of the voices in my head woh tell me nonstop that I’m not worthy. That I’m an unproductive loser. That there’s no point in being healthy, because I don’t deserve good things. It’s too much work.

I know that’s my depression and anxiety talking. And I know that they’re liars. I know it all, but there’s a big difference in knowing what to do and actually doing it. Therein lies the struggle everyone with depression deals with.

I’ve been inpatient, I’ve done therapy, I’ve done ECT treatments, I’ve taken dozens of medications. I’m much better than I was but that doesn’t mean it’s not a daily fight. I’ll always be saddled with this disease and I’ll always fight that darker “other side.” I pray that I’ll always win but there is a part of me that thinks I won’t.

It’s hard fighting my own brain. Believe me when I say that my brain is an adept fighter. One of its tricks is to tell me I’m amazing one minute and then next that I should kill myself. It doesn’t fight fair. None of this is fair, not that it matters.

This blog feels like some long rant, but that’s all I got today.

Everybody struggles with depression differently. If you’d like to read more about depression and mental illness, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s available 24/7.

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.

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.

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.

A Quick Hello from the Inside

Look who has internet access! There’s so much to talk about, I don’t know where to start.

So, it’s been a week since I’ve been at the Menninger Clinic – it’s a psychiatric hospital in Houston. They’ve done a lot of psychological and cognitive testing and it turns out I’m severely depressed and I have anxiety. Duh.

Testing has also shown that I have a horrible memory, I have a hard time dealing with my emotions, I have no coping skills and my quality of life is at 25 percent. I knew the other things but when you see the results of a psychological test tell you that your quality of life sucks, and sucks bad, it makes you even more depressed. If that’s possible. And I’m here to tell you that it is.

I have a “team” that guides me through my journey here that includes a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, therapist and social worker. We all agreed that ECT was the way to go but what I didn’t expect was that I would have to be weaned off all of my meds. ALL OF THEM.

That’s:

Lamical
Topamax
Wellbutrin
Zoloft
Rexulti
Trentellix
Vyvanse
Klonopin
Ambien

That’s a lot. I’m surprised I haven’t exploded yet. Or maybe I should’ve exploded when I was put on all that crap. I’ve had little withdrawal except for the fact that I cry at the drop of a dime. I’m not all too sure that’s not normal at this point.

It’ll probably be two more weeks before I’m off most of the meds, then I can start the ECT, which I’m excited about. Some of the girls here have done it and said they’ve felt some improvement. My doctor said he hopes he can get me back to where I was before I had my little breakdown in 2017. That would be lovely. But I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. The program I’m in asks me to go to classes, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, self compassion, grief journeys, chemical dependence education and more. They don’t depend on biological therapies only, they make you work. And teaching you how to mentalize and employ solid coping skills is a big part of the program.

My brain is super foggy right now, so I’m going to sign off.

I hope ya’ll are staying well. I’ll try to keep up the my blog as best I can.