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Aug 7 2014

Electroconvulsive Therapy Saved My Life & Helped Me Be Myself Again

By at 2:58 pm

Risa-hospital

After months of worsening depression and intense psychotherapy, it was an email I sent to my psychiatrist that was the last straw. I simply told her, once again, how lonely I felt and how much pain I was in. She called and told me it was time to go to the hospital–I had suffered enough.

Just a few hours later I was in the Psych ER being evaluated and then admitted.

Terrified and emotionally exhausted, I was shown to my room. I don’t remember how I slept that night but when I woke and met with my treatment team, I was immediately brought to tears. My doctor was calm and cool while he presented my options. The first was to try a different class of medication, pretty much the only medication I had not yet tried. One issue: I would first need to get off of my current medications and there were dietary issues, such as certain cheeses and chocolate that cannot be consumed. I looked at my doctor with a straight face and told him there was no way I could cut out chocolate. Luckily, he smiled and offered me a second option.

ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). The outpatient consult I had the week prior to my hospitalization also recommended ECT. My husband and I watched a DVD about it and I knew when we finished, this was what I needed. I had been at the bottom for too long, and ECT was the best-proven and most expedient treatment. My first ECT was scheduled for the next day.

After a terror-filled night, I got up and began the waiting game. As the hours wore on, I grew dizzy (no food or drink before anesthesia) and frustrated. My best friend and my parents came to see me around 3 p.m. and I was finally called in for my first ECT. Tears filled my eyes and as I sat on the bed, the sobbing began. I had never been so terrified of something before; no prior surgery had made me feel so afraid, not even giving birth.

The nurses calmly and gently reassured me while rubbing my arms. I was poked five times on both arms before the anesthesiologist was able to get the IV in. Then I was wheeled into the actual area where the ECT is done and the crying continued. I jokingly told the doctor I never should have watched “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He agreed with me. As my heart rate soared, I took some deep breaths (so glad my outpatient psychiatrist taught me how to really take deep breaths). The last thing I remember was asking the anesthesiologist to tell me everything she was inserting into my IV.

I woke up and felt a pain in my jaw, but no fear. The nurses were there and they were just as gentle and calm as before. I thanked them profusely for providing such incredible care to me. I was given Tylenol for my jaw pain and headache before going back up to my unit. I could not believe I did it.

My parents and my rabbi (who is also a friend) were waiting for me. I told them about my experience and felt kind of “good.” That evening was amazing. I was talkative, animated, and thinking more clearly than I had in a while. When I was able to go outside after dinner, the sunlight felt like a gift, as if breathing the air and soaking in the sunlight was a new experience. When I showered that evening, even the water felt amazing on my skin. When I spoke to my husband on the phone, he could not believe it was me…I was coming back.

Clarity can be an amazing thing when you are depressed. Perspective is simply a gift. Before my hospitalization, I knew I was depressed but I did not realize the extent, how much it took over my life. I kept pushing myself–go to work, be a wife, be a mommy, be a friend–push, push, push. It was too much. This depression ended up swallowing me whole and deepened its grip over time.

When I gained perspective, it was time to give thanks. I was lucky that through all of this, I had tremendous support. I had so many visitors while in the hospital, whereas many of the other patients had none.

My yearning to go home grew strong. I couldn’t wait to breathe in my daughter, kiss her little cheeks, smell her until she yells at me to stop.

But life doesn’t always go according to plan. Soon after I was discharged from the hospital, things started going downhill again. I was honest with my outpatient psychiatrist, and told her about the dark places my mind started to inhabit once more. Within a few hours, I was back in the same Psych unit.

After another seven days with ECT three times a week, I am now, finally, on my way back to being me. I am feeling the longer-term effects of the ECT and have an even greater perspective of how horrible my depression really was–tricky and unforgiving.

This has been my life for too many months, but I am not ashamed of it. This summer won’t be remembered as the greatest summer ever, but it will always be remembered as the one that brought me back. It will be remembered for my bravery. One day, my daughter will hear of what I went through, that I took a risk at a time when I thought all had been lost.

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