My parents and I sat in a waiting room full of patients, all of whom were having a mental crisis. My dad decided to make conversation with the lady across from us and her daughter. She openly told us that she hung herself that morning but it failed to work. She assured me that I would be fine here but I couldn’t help but think my parents were leaving me in hell. This girl was sent home because the hospital was full, they told her they would call her when they had a bed. How could they give me a bed over her? Was I worse than I knew?
A nurse called me in and asked me a bunch of questions, none of which I remember, I’m not sure if I was still out of it from the handful of Ativan or if my brain just blocked it out. The only thing I do remember is being strip searched and forced to squat and cough. I was horrified. How could my family do this to me? I wasn’t a criminal or a drug addict, I was just tired. I pleaded with my parents that I was not that bad, but I knew deep down that I was falling apart and this was exactly where I needed to be.
I was given a room and learned that I would spend most of my days in group therapy. My parents just happened to be there for the family group that was going on when I was admitted. We were the only family present so my parents learned a lot about support and dependence. I spent the first night throwing up and crying and the second day seeing psychiatrist, internist, rheumatologist and more.
As the days passed, I found comfort in the group therapy. I was not alone and I was not surrounded by “crazy people,” there were nurses, a lawyer, an executive, students, mothers, fathers and grandparents on my floor. I listened to their stories and realized we all were just trying to feel better. They understood that I didn’t want to be depressed, I didn’t want to commit suicide, I just wanted to feel like myself again. I wanted to experience pleasure like I once did. I wanted to enjoy the activities I used to.
I didn’t just survive the hospital, I thrived. I attended every group, did every workbook, started a journal; unfortunately as soon as I returned home and faced the real world, I still felt that emptiness. I faked my way through, trying to keep up with the housework and the kids but everyone knew. I stopped going anywhere and I didn’t want to see anyone. I lost a lot of my friends because they just stopped inviting me after awhile, I can’t blame them.
I had two medical hospital stays over the next year, one for shingles that were so bad I required surgery and the other to remove my gallbladder. My depression grew and I finally made the decision to readmit myself to a different psychiatric hospital. This time I went in with a plan. I was going to have electroshock therapy to treat my depression.
My mom cried and asked me if I was sure I should be doing this. Everyone has an idea of ECT because movies and television often portray it as a form of punishment, torture or as a dated procedure that should not be used. I, however, had spent weeks researching the procedure and outcomes in medical journals. I had tried multiple medication changes and intensive outpatient therapy but I was more depressed than ever. I had made up my mind.
I was admitted and scheduled to begin ECT the following morning. That night I worried about the possible side effects, especially the memory loss. Would I forget my kids? Would I forget how to speak? I saw other patients in terrible pain after treatments, would that be me?
The morning of my treatment I was prepped like I was having surgery and taken to what looked like an operating room. There were several other patients. The patient before me was taken behind the curtain and I could hear them telling him he would fall asleep now. I then heard vibration, followed by the doctor saying take him to recovery. It was my turn. The nurses hooked me up to the sticky tabs to measure my heart rate and such. They also placed tabs on my temples and something in my hair on the back of my head. I was given a bite stick and a blood pressure cuff was placed on my ankle. The anesthesiologist told me it was time to sleep.
I woke up feeling groggy and thinking it had only been a few minutes later. I had a slight headache but as the day continued I was fine. I noticed I was talking a bit slower and it took me a moment to find some words but that passed. The most wonderful thing I noticed was that my brain felt empty. I didn’t have any racing, nagging thoughts running through my head. I felt relaxed and euphoric. As the treatments continued the headaches did become worse but I felt like a new person. I felt pleasure. I could read without my train of thought wandering away. I enjoyed arts and crafts, exercised and laughed for what felt like the first time in forever.
ECT saved me. It gave me that jump start I needed. Of course, in time the effectiveness did wear off but I am nowhere near as depressed as before I had the treatments. I am actually considering another round of outpatient treatment because it made me feel so much better. I’m not saying it is for everyone but it was life altering for me.
Hospitalization and ECT are both options for treating severe depression. They are scary and no one wants to be there but sometimes we have to do things that we know we need to do in order to feel better. Neither of these things cured me, I still suffer daily but it helped. I learned tools to use and ECT gave me the ambition to use them. Some days I can’t and I find myself in bed or struggling with my mood but other days I feel enjoyment and I know that I’m better than I was. I also know I will continue to do what I need to do even if it’s not necessarily something I want to do. We all must reach down deep and find that little bit of positive energy left in us and use it to tell ourselves that we will continue to fight this illness.