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.

The Camera Adds 10 Pounds

This weekend I’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of our annual family photos. This year we opted to do them inside our new home, so I’ve been dying to see how they turn out.

I’ve also been dreading the new photos. It’s no secret that I’ve gained almost 20 pounds since the onset of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to see, especially in our family photos.

I know it’s been hard on everyone, and a lot of people have gained weight. I know that I should love myself no matter what. I hear others say that I’m beautiful no matter what, but my anxiety and eating disorders speak louder. They always have.

Because we just moved in, a couple of our bathrooms don’t have mirrors hung yet. At first it was annoying but now I’m relieved I don’t have to look in the mirror. It doesn’t matter how much positive self talk I spew — I just don’t like what I see. My weight is tied to my confidence, and sadly, my self worth. Right now, it feels like I’m worth nothing.

The family photos will just confirm what I’ve already been telling myself: I’m ugly, fat and unworthy.

Except, here’s the thing — my daughter is watching. And listening. If I admit these truths aloud, she will for sure hear them. And my voice will become her inner voice. My actions will becomes hers as well, and I’ll be damned if she cultivates this ugly self-hate that’s just rotting my worth and self-esteem.

I’ve talked about this before, many times. I have to change the way I talk to myself, treat myself. I’m raising kids, but really my goal— and what all our goals should be — is to raise healthy adults. I don’t know much about that, but I have my missteps to guide me.

The first thing I’m going to do is post the family photos — no matter what they look like. I’ll frame a couple in my house, not just because I’m trying to set a good example, but because damn, that’s what I look like now. This is what my family looks like after nine months of a deadly pandemic. We have survived, and even if I survived in a way that led to tighter clothes and an expanding waistline, I’ve survived. And that’s all that matters.

I want to thank Jennifer Stewart for capturing out family in our new loving home. I want to thank my body for supporting me during this time. I want to say that I do love myself and I’ll try harder to love it no matter my size. They say the camera adds 10 pounds, but maybe it’s time I stopped buying into that.

That I stop buying into diet culture and equating being then to being happy. I need to be happy now, instead of waiting until I’m a certain weight. Fuck that.

I’m going to be happy now, because both my daughter and son are watching. And that’s OK that they’re watching — it’s OK that they see me struggle, and even when I’m sad, but they’ll also see the fight in me, the determination and my grit. I’m all for them seeing me as human, because I am — just a perfectly imperfect human. That’s all we can be.

Edit: Our family photos were not available at the time of publication. I will add them in once I receive them.

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.

Shame, Shame, Shame

Me with my Going to Therapy is Cool shirt

“You need to think positively.”

“You need fresh air and sunshine.”

“You’re lazy.”

I’ve heard all three of these statements in regards to my depression, and even though they are NOT TRUE, they make me feel such a sense of shame.

Shame (for me) is that awful feeling I get in the pit of my belly; it’s surrounded by humiliation and I feel less than. Unloved. Like something is seriously wrong with me. And really, there’s not a single thing to be ashamed of when you’re mentally ill. I didn’t give myself depression, or anxiety, or even avoidant personality disorder. But here I am 20-plus years into my diagnosis still feeling the occasional prong of shame and guilt.

When I was first diagnosed, I kept it a secret. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to admit to my family and most friends that I was flawed. I didn’t see anyone in my family struggling, so it felt like I was the only one suffering. And when I went to a psychiatric facility last year? Holy shit, was I embarrassed. But if going to the “mental hospital” is the worst thing people can say about me, then let them say it, scream it if they want.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking help, whether it be for a mental illness or diabetes. Taking care of myself enables me to take care of my two young children and husband, and to be there for my friends. To live a life I’m proud of. Ain’t no shame in that.

Far too many people suffer in silence and that’s so dangerous. There needs to be a shift — a societal shift of acceptance, understanding and no judgement. Why there is still a stigma surrounding depression and other mental illness is beyond me. The stigma that people perpetuate is what’s flawed. Not me. Not anyone else.

Depression is not a matter of smart and dumb, weak or strong. But it is a matter of life and death sometimes. And the silence surrounding mental illness only widens the gap between those suffering and the help they need. Shame about it feeds anxiety and low esteem. Anxiety feeds depression and depression feeds risky behaviors, drug/alcohol abuse or suicidal ideation. It’s an awful cycle and it’s very hard to break, especially if you can’t afford psychotherapy, medication or doctors’ visits.

It’s overwhelming to have depression, to say the least. It’s OK to stay in bed all day (to an extent), it’s OK to cry. Being angry about it is OK. Whatever emotion you choose, just know that depression can be treatable. You can live with depression. You can be happy. Some of us will work harder than others at it — also OK. Be proud that you are a fighter, I know I am.

I will continue to fight my disease until I die. I will be a voice for those who can’t speak. I will help normalize depression and there sure as hell no shame in that.

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.

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.

Out of the ashes, baby

I’ve had depression since I was young; I can remember feeling anxiety in middle school and I definitely had depression in high school, I just didn’t know it then. It wasn’t until college (when my Mema died) that I really had a problem. When she died, I couldn’t handle it. I dropped classes because of the stress and overwhelming sadness I felt. I dropped so many classes that I was only going part-time. I can remember leaving campus to drive to my parents’ house multiple times a week.

I started therapy at my college and after a couple years, I realized I needed medication to help with the depression. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t even tell my parents. Now, my parents have always supported me and never really talked about depression with me but I had it in my head that this was a major flaw – my family seemed stronger somehow, that I should just pull myself up from my bootstraps and get a grip. But I couldn’t.

After I graduated college and started my first job hundreds of miles away from my family and friends, my depression got worse. It made me miss work….a lot of it. My other coworkers were resentful and I felt like my bosses hated me. I didn’t fare well in Corpus Christi and after a bad breakup I moved back home. I felt unsuccessful and like a loser. My depression got even worse.

Fast forward to me going back to Corpus Christi: I got married, bought a house and got pregnant. After my first pregnancy I felt ok but after having my second child I was not ok. Postpartum depression reared it’s ugly head. I had to stop breastfeeding at 4 months so I could get back on my antidepressants but even the meds couldn’t save me from being suicidal. It was awful. I spent my energy on making sure my kids were ok and I simply didn’t have enough strength to fight the ugliness that had infiltrated my body. One day I had to go to the ER for suicidal thoughts. Luckily my parents were with my kids. I was sent to an acute behavioral center and saw an awful doctor who wouldn’t listen to anything I was saying. I was released after a couple days and I found a new psychiatrist who started me on different meds. I’d like to say that fixed me but it didn’t. I was diagnosed as having treatment resistant depression, meaning my meds were not effective in fighting the depression off.

Things were pretty bleak and my depression was not controlled at all. The only thing keeping me going were my kids – they of course had constant needs that I had to focus on. It was when they were sleeping that my anxiety increased. I couldn’t control ugly thoughts like I was a bad mom, a bad wife and a total loser.

I was running on empty with no hope in sight. After talking with my therapist and husband, we decided that I would go to a psychiatric facility for help. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. It would mean at least 6 weeks away from my babies and husband and I felt incredibly guilty. But I had to go.

At the Menninger Clinic I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety and avoidant personality disorder. I started electroconvulsant therapy (ECT) and different meds. I was able to come home after 6 weeks but I have to do ECT treatments every now and then.

I still get depressed. I’m actually in a little funk right now but I know I’ll get through it. I will always rise. I used to think that people with depression were weak but now I know that’s nothing but bullshit. We are strong. We fight to live every day. It’s hard and some of us don’t make it because they don’t have the means or a support system. They suffer in silence and that’s why I cannot. Please do your part in eliminating the stigma around depression and help normalize it. Check on your loved ones, let them know you care and shine a little light in their darkness.

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.