Saturday, February 9, 2008

Scars on My Soul- My experience with ECT.

(Written in 2002, re written Feb 2008)

I have scars on my hands from touching certain people. Certain people, certain events have all left scars on my hands. " - JD Salinger

As I look back at my life, I feel a kinship to Salinger’s Seymour Glass. A grown up who would have been Holden Caulfield, had Holden not been suspended in time as a teenager. And one day when the pain of being with people, the agony of being different and feeling things stronger than others got to Seymour, he took a gun and went gently into that good night.

I hope when I do break I am stronger. I guess I am lucky, when the time came to break, I bent like a flower that bends with the rainfall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about people lately. About the good ones I ‘ve met and the bad ones. The evil ones. Yes, I have met pure evil, those that wished to hurt me by raping me, or beating me to an inch of my life. And all have left scars on my soul, like Seymour’s scars.

I have been out of the hospital since the end of December 2002 . I’m in recovery now. I’m supposed to be getting better, getting stronger. It’s hard. Last weekend I just wanted to destroy, to curl up in the bathroom and die. A few weekends ago I went to the train station and looked at the trains. But I didn’t jump. Or feel like jumping. It was if the act of train-spotting was enough. Indeed my carapace seemed to get stronger with each passing train. I finally left several hours later, went home, and slept soundly. I hadn’t been able to sleep without Seroquel since I got out of the hospital. That was the first night since then I slept without anything stronger than a glass of warm milk.

I went into the hospital on December 4. I didn’t want to go, I was given an ultimatum from work. It was like they put a gun to my head. "Hello Susan, well, you can either go to the hospital or you can get the sack. Which would you prefer?"

Let me backtrack. The human relations department gave me the ultimatum because it got so bad one night. I couldn’t jump in front of the train. I couldn’t be Anna Karenina. I didn’t have access to a gun -I had tried to purchase one to no avail. That left one method I never tried, namely because it frightened me. But the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem so bad. So one night in early December, when the pain was so horrible I couldn’t take it anymore, I took the belt from my green chenille bathrobe and an old kitchen chair and I went outside to find a nice sturdy tree in which I could hang myself. I found one, tied the belt like a noose around my neck and the tree branch, hiked it up, stood on the chair, and said a small prayer, looked at the moon and kicked the chair away.

I remember looking at the moon and how pretty it was, and how this didn’t hurt like I thought it was, it was very peaceful, like going to sleep. And I fell asleep ... And woke up with the branch on the grass, myself on the grass. I had failed and even worse, I had wet my pants. Talk about ignominy. I was totally abashed, ashamed, and I felt like a three-year-old who didn’t want their mommy to discover what they did.
So I went into the hospital. First I went to the local hospital’s emergency room. I was greeted by a nice older woman in her sixties who offered me a peppermint Life Saver as she typed my vital information into the hospital’s computer. Name, age, sex, social security, etc. She asked me how I felt right then, I said I really wanted to hurt myself. She asked me how I would do it in her office, I came up with several different ways. She looked at me. "You’re a pretty girl," she said. "Why are you in so much pain"?

Then two security guards came and got me and put me in the emergency room. Gave me one of those gowns that doesn’t cover your backside. I was given a chair to sit down, a blanket, and one of the guards stayed by my door for seven hours while the emergency room on call doc looked at me, a couple of nurses looked at me, and finally the doctor from the hospital came. During the time, I was treated to a turkey sandwich, which was delicious, and a carton of skim milk.

When the hospital doctor came, he asked me a few questions and then told me I better get dressed, I was going to be admitted to the other wing of the hospital. Two orderlies then came and got me once I was dressed and transported me to the mental care unit which is about three miles away, in the country.

About the hospital stay, what can you say, other than as hospitals go, this was a nicer one. My last hospitalization I had no insurance, so it was in the State psychiatric facility. This was more of a country club in comparison. The doctors were nice and I was medicated on different meds. But I was still suicidal. All I thought about when I wasn’t sleeping was how much I wanted to die. This perplexed the doctors. Surely the lithium, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and all the other meds should be kicking in. I got worse. I started to see things that weren’t there. No worries, add a bit of Geodon to the mix, and Seroquel to calm the OCD that was developing. Everything will be OK soon. Trust the doctors.

But I was still suicidal. The nurses were watching me. Fifteen days into the hospitalization with nothing getting better, I had been seen by a panoply of doctors and they sat down with my parents and decided that perhaps ECT might get rid of the depression.

Forms were signed, and a week before Christmas I got my first electroshock treatment. I had a total of six altogether. I had problems with my veins and had to get a PIC line put in to help make the treatments easier. The treatments left me feeling woozy, when they were done, it was difficult to get dressed again and try to remain "normal". I would try to eat my breakfast, but I just wanted to sleep. The first treatment left me in agony, I could count every one of my muscles. I remember in tenth grade biology class that a human has over 600 muscles. I felt every one of them that day. I couldn’t move. It was agony.

Only one other person close to my age was getting the treatment. The others were senior citizens. They looked at the young man Charles and I with understanding and pity. We were so young. Several told me their stories - they were depressed because their spouse of 50 some years died, or a child died, or a grandchild had been murdered. One lady had a husband at home who had Alzheimer’s and she was depressed over his care.

I just knew I would lie down, electrodes placed to various parts of my body and when it was over I could have a glass of cranberry juice. The cotton mouth I would experience was not akin to the type of cotton mouth you get when you drink.

My last treatment was the day after Boxing Day, December 27. I went home on December 28. On December 30, my beloved cat Cleopatra died. She was 16. I had her for 15 ½ years. About my despair on losing her I cannot bring myself to write. I miss her, I think I will always miss my gray darling. She was my best friend. It hurt me that I was so fragile from just getting out of the hospital - and now this.

I started an outpatient program at the hospital right after New Years. Nine thirty till two thirty. Some of it was good, but a lot of it I found to be not helpful. I was still weak from the ECT, I had problems recalling simple things. Ask me who the president was, I knew it was President Bush, but I thought it was the father, not the son. I thought it was a decade or so earlier than what it was. There were gaps in my thinking, I knew something horrible had happened on September 11, but I couldn’t recall what it was, despite the fact I knew people who died on that day. I would sit in group therapy, something which even when I am well, I have to admit I am not a fan of. I don’t have the personality type to be an effective patient for a group setting. I am too much the introvert. And that part of my personality was coming through loud and clear. I was not participating, or commenting to the other people. I couldn’t eat during meal times. I cried a lot. I asked to go for one on one counseling and was told the insurance company wanted me in this type of atmosphere.

Finally after six weeks I was discharged. I had made no progress, and the worst thing was I could not write. I realized I had to take the bull by the horns, and could not stay passive in my recovery. I had to be active.

I found a support group via the NAMI website that is about 20 miles away. It meets every Friday night. I would like to say I go every Friday but I am not that diligent. I go every other week. I went back to work. This was the hardest thing for me. My brain is barely functioning, and I am still suicidal. Some nights I still go to the train station, and look at the trains, thinking about jumping. But I don’t. I’m in recovery. Sometimes I think of OD’ing on my meds, but I don’t. I’m in recovery. The feeling is strong. I try to stay afloat. It’s two steps forward sometimes, three steps back. I’ve developed bulimia again, something that I haven’t had since I was a teenager. I have OCD now, in little snatches, and at work a mild case of paranoia. The Kinks sang "Paranoia, will destroya", and I just have to keep saying to myself, it’s all in my head. The suicidal thoughts will go away. It’s all in my head. The thoughts about wanting to hurt myself, all go away, I am in recovery.

Right now I have to go to work and make sure I stay afloat. I am in recovery.

I learned I have some real good friends who stood by me when I needed them. I had other friends who I lost because it was too much for them to deal with. I miss them terribly and blame myself, even though I know no one is to blame. I guess when the chips fall you learn who really do care about you. And for them, I have to get strong again.

I adopted a new cat, Holly, in February. I couldn’t take living by myself without something in the apartment. She’s a young cat and we are becoming fast friends. I still miss Cleo. But there is room in my heart for two cats.

I slept like a child. I dreamt that night, of the flying dream I haven’t dreamt since childhood. I must be getting stronger. I soared to the heavens, that must mean something.
Heavens. And Hells. The inner turmoil that comes with being up and down. A year ago this webmaster told me I wouldn’t get better unless I accepted that I have bipolar. At the time I didn’t want to accept it, I loved the highs and the lows gave me creativity. The problem was the lows were getting lower and lower and I was starting to embrace suicide. My attempts were becoming more lethal. But I didn’t want to be compliant. I didn’t want to take my meds, they were taking away the highs. I didn’t realize they were also giving me the crashing lows. I was playing with fire and getting burnt. My life was hanging on by a thread. I can see that now. I didn’t need drugs or alcohol to help me deal with my moods, I was getting high off of being high and low. The highs made me feel like God. The lows made me feel like a tortured poet.

I was killing myself by not being med compliant. It hurts to say that now. I was hurting myself by not wanting to get well. It was a joke to me, so what if I was off work on medical leave for eight months? I got to write everyday. I slept till nine and wrote till midnight. I could be a hermit and isolate. And I had those lovely demons that only I could hear. My Muse.

I realize now my Muse was killing me. His sweet siren song was destroying me as surely as Odysseus had to chain himself to the mast not to hear the sweet mermaids sing. The mermaids were singing to me, their songs weren’t waking me up as I drowned in the madness of my mind. Instead, they were causing me to drown in my own made lake, the route I was going was taking me more and more into the inner workings of my mind. The dragons I was fighting, self pity, self despair, fear and loathing, were winning. I was on a one way course to Hell, literally and figuratively.

It’s been hard to realize the things that you love the most can hurt you.

During this time one of my best friends, Chris Brown, died tragically in a car accident. I miss him terribly. It is with love that I dedicate this article to him and his memory.


Anonymous said...

This morning I clicked on the link to your webpage and was so overjoyed t see you had written something. I tore through it; I stopped and I read it again slowly.

I have been there. I have had ECT. I have lived even though my short-term memory was patchy, even though I had to start a new job a week after I came out of hospital. I could have written all what you wrote myself, but I don't have the talent to do it. So I just read what you wrote and let my emotions wash over me.

You're one of my lifelines. Each day, I read what you write and it helps me.

Thank you so much.

susan said...

Thank you! You made my day, Anonymous.

More coming later today......

And another new post today.

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