Ermahgerd! Electricity! (ABC Wednesday, 2/12/14)

Thor's Wrath

Recently, Jesus gave Zeus the finger. Or, rather, Zeus took it.

There was a huge lightning storm over Rio de Janeiro and a bolt blasted the statue of Christ which looks over the city, knocking off one of His fingers. While you’d think that Jesus could protect Himself from such an attack, it’s probably not our place as mere mortals to adjudicate the MMA matches of the gods.

Lightning is a scary thing, electricity in its most feral state. Crackling death from above. Surprisingly, though, only about 10% of people who have intimate encounters with it don’t survive. Some that do are scarred with fractal maps in their skin, branching networks of sizzling branchwork like tattoos of evergreen fronds or ivy.

               

I’ve had a special relationship with lightning for years, starting, I guess, when I was struck by lightning when I was a teenager. I survived. I had no visible scars. I wasn’t even hurt, as far as anyone could tell.

It happened one stormy day. A friend and I were cavorting in the rain, chasing each other, jumping at the crashes of thunder, laughing our asses off. Ultimately, soaked and getting cold, we headed for his house. We splashed in, drenched, and his mother informed us that there was a tornado warning. Later, we found out one had touched down less than a mile away. She insisted we dry off, so we headed to the bathroom, and as we entered, a bolt of lightning crashed through the window (open, as his mother had forgotten to close it for the rain, so I think the lightning was riding the breeze as lightning can do). It went through my friend and me, knocking us off our feet, and scorched the floor under our feet.

We were incredibly lucky. Neither of us was hurt, though we were scared shitless and our ears were ringing. This amount of luck in a lightning strike is rare but not unheard of; most burn damage resulting from a strike is from superheated objects (like change in someone’s pocket, for example), and most deaths result from cardiac arrest. We were both young and fit, so if our hearts were spooked by the blast, we didn’t know it. We didn’t even go to the ER.

Of course, not all damage is visible. Brain damage is a common effect of lightning strikes and can lead to memory impairment, irritability, terrible headaches, even personality change. And, unsurprisingly, depression. And, as regular readers of this blog know, I have depression big time.

Through therapy, I’ve learned that much of my struggle is attributable to loss of my mother as a baby and familial abuse throughout my formative years. But it’s possible the strike contributed.

But electricity in the brain has also proven helpful in my fight. I’ve had two rounds of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, aka shock treatment) in the past few years, the second as recently as last November and December. My depression is a stubborn, mean mother fucker and was highly resistant to everything we were throwing at it until we decided to sing the brain electric. Afterward, my short term memory is sort of crap (though it already was, as depression itself is hell on the memory), but my focus and motivation are remarkably improved. This strategic use of electricity blasted straight into my brain has been literally life-changing. The fact that you’re reading this now, and that I’m blogging again in general, is directly attributable to it.

So, thank you, Zeus, thank you Thor, thank you spirits of thunder and lightning. Thank you for not killing me years ago, and thank you for saving my life now.

E

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter F. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is currently on sale to celebrate Valentine’s Day

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Good Memories of 2011, Day 1: Electroshock Therapy

 

Yeah, I know. Electroshock therapy? A good memory?

Yep.

I’ve struggled greatly, for years, with chronic, terrible depression, and I’ve done therapy and all sorts of self help and multifarious concoctions of antidepressant meds, but nothing actually worked to any significant degree. I finally got desperate and started looking into electroshock, or as it’s known these days, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Continue reading

I’m Back From The Dead, Wish You Were Here…

Twist 'n' shout, baby...

When I first discovered that depression was pretty much the source of most of my troubles, the reason I hadn’t been able to build the life I wanted, and sought professional help, my MD referred me to a beautiful lady shrink at Emory (let’s call her Susan Silverman, for those in the know, because she would have been perfect). I met with her a couple of times, and she explored my history then referred me to another shrink in the program she thought would work well with me.

One thing she told me before I started working with the other doctor has always stuck with me. Continue reading

Return of the Wild Side

My first “grown up” romantic relationship was with a lovely German girl I met the day I arrived at my Army post in the village of Treysa, West Germany. She was smart and funny and sexy, and we were together for something like four years. She was a good girl friend.

I was a good boyfriend too. Mostly.

I’ve been remembering certain things the past few days, as I’ve dealt with the after-effects of my electroshock therapy, tossed around like a cork on a sea of emotion churning, chaotic, and deep.

Then, I was young and passionate and immature. I had some anger issues. I lacked a certain measure of self control. I know this sounds like I’m about to launch into some darkly revelatory reminiscence, but the truth is (mostly) a lot goofier than that. Continue reading

Getting On Track (Help Wanted!)

On Track...

It’s been an interesting week. Largely in that “Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times” sorta way, but interesting.

And this post has been a pain in the ass. The main idea is to talk about things I’ve done this week to get my life back on track, and the plans I have going forward, and also to ask for some help.

But I’ve started several times, each time digressing as I tried to establish context and discuss what got me to this point, until the post becomes more  a rehash of recent history than a plan of action. If you need such a rehash, I’ve covered most of that ground here already and you can easily catch up. In the notes below, I will briefly cover some pertinent details.

I don’t want to make the mistake I’ve made at times in the past and cook up a huge plan of action that is too much to take on, only to inevitably (and quickly) falter. So I’ll focus on certain areas, and commit to a few definite tasks in those areas, allowing for the plan to grow more complex over time as appropriate.

And, as I said, I’m asking for help. I want friends to help me stay on track by holding me accountable. If you’re interested, I’m looking into ways to post my progress day to day (probably on Facebook) so you’ll know if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and you can alternately cheer me or badger me. I think it’ll help me a lot. As I figure the tracking system out, I’ll post more info.

Now, the foundation… Continue reading

The Passion of the Tim

"It's just the beast in me..." --Elvis Presley, JAILHOUSE ROCK

Hiatus over.

The past couple of days were rough ones. Kate and I were getting along wonderfully again, then POW, we stumbled over some truly picayune stuff and suddenly were back in the stress zone.

Neither of us acted as well as we might have, both of us being human, but I have to lay claim to the lion’s share of the blame. I overreacted to some things, then my mind wouldn’t let me release it even as I kept trying to. Kate was visiting her family, and wanting to go be with them, and we were arguing via text. I kept saying stuff like “It’s okay, go, I want you to enjoy the time with your family,” and I was sincere…but there was a rhetorical snapping turtle in my head that would only let me sit calmly a minute or two before throwing some new antagonistic comment out and insisting I send it her way. And I would try to maintain self control and not send it, but would lose the fight. Then after some more shared friction, I’d be back to saying I didn’t want to keep her from her family.

And, I wound up damn near destroying our relationship, which we’d managed to rebuild from our earlier problems. By the time I went on “hiatus,” I felt I’d lost all hope, and was so devastated I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything positive or productive for a long time…if ever again. Continue reading

Lightning Squared (ECT)

So maybe it was an error to undergo the ECT course while I’m freshly heartbroken…

Every session, they quiz me to see if I’ve improved. Questions like “Do you feel sad? If so, do you feel sad part of the time, a lot of the time, or all of the time…?”

Well I feel sad all the time, thank you. The electroshock has done nothing to erase that. So I’m left feeling terrible, and uncertain as to whether I’m getting any benefit from the treatments.

Honestly, I’ve felt little change at all, positive or negative. And that led them to max out the voltage on the unilateral charges they were giving me. Unilateral charges are given to one side of the head and are safer generally than bilateral, with fewer memory issues and such. Usually unilateral do the trick. But now I’ve allowed them to switch up to high voltage bilateral charges, which we started today. And I feel groggy and a bit headachey for the first time. No memory issues I can spot yet though, so that’s good.

I don’t even know if I really give a damn any more, though. I’m glad I’m alive for exactly one reason, and that’s so I can be here for my son. If it weren’t for him, I could get squished by a fucking meteor and not be too put out by it.

In My Write Mind (ECT)

"Get to work!"

Yesterday proved to be a very interesting counterpoint to the day before.

Whereas Thursday I’d been fogged in and unfocused,  after my ECT session Friday I went home and became nothing but focused.

Actually, it started earlier than that. For the second night in a row I slept terribly, my mind racing with thoughts of recent sadness. It just wouldn’t shut up. By three I was fully awake and couldn’t get back to sleep.

But after suffering a while longer, I realized something. My thoughts weren’t just a stream-of-consciousness parade of feelings and memories, they were self-organizing. My mind was composing sentences and paragraphs, actually editing each thoughtpolishing it up before moving to the next. I hadn’t planned to write anything more about my heartbreak, but my mind clearly disagreed and wasn’t going to leave me alone until I did. I got up and started trying to capture those thoughts, and as I wrote my mind calmed; it had my attention now, it no longer had to yell.

I wrote until it was time to get ready to go to ECT.

When I got back home, I started writing again, shaping all my thoughts into a blog post. I didn’t stop until deep into the evening. The result was a post nearly 3,500 words long (this from the guy who has trouble making 500-1,000 words a day). And it’s a pretty damn good post. I may even post it here, but not right now.

I have, at times in the past, written in journals to deal with tough times, but as far as I remember this is the first time my mind has insisted I do so. And it helped somewhat, especially while I was actually writing, focused on getting everything down. I’m still hurting though; that’s going to take a while to heal.

My brain kept me awake ruminating on the hurts of the past few weeks, then forced  me to write as a way of coping. For a writer, that’s not a bad sign. Perhaps it’s a signal that what’s going on in there right now, sparked by the ECT, is reawakening or reorganizing the parts of my mind that make me a writer in the first place. Maybe it cleared some rubble from the passageways and it’s easier to move around in there again. Or maybe my mind just did what it had to do to keep me from imploding fully into despair.

I’m still depressed. I’m still heartbroken. But I wrote. Was it because of the ECT? I don’t know.

Modern Day Frankenstein (ECT)

Or, to make the reference accurate, Frankenstein’s monster. But that doesn’t have the same ring.

I am just back from my second ECT session, in which they are trying to use lightning to spark life out of that which is dead, meaning my vitality and joy and ability to live fully. So far, we’re lacking an “IT’S ALIVE!” moment, but here’s hoping. We are still at the beginning.

Today wasn’t much different than Wednesday. The biggest difference was the nurse did a worse job putting in the IV and had to dig around a bit to get the catheter properly in the vein. Good times.

So far today I’m more clear-headed and alert than I was yesterday (described here). It’ll be interesting to see how I am tomorrow, if my brain seems to be motoring at a lower RPM, or if yesterday was just a temporary adjustment, if related to the ECT at all.

O Aimless Me (ECT)

Aimless Tim

I suspect it has something to do with my brain reacting to yesterday’s lightning strike, but I am utterly useless today.

I’m unfocused. I don’t feel like going anywhere, or watching anything, or reading, or playing a video game. Unfortunately that leaves me spinning pointlessly through the internet on and on and on, not paying much attention. I have far too much day to spend dwelling on things I need to forget.

Well, there’s a reason they don’t let you drive while in ECT treatment. I guess while the brain works to fix things, it’s burning energy that normally would go to other things, like having an attention span or rational thought. I’m managing to write this, but I’m not really focused on it, and the writing’s slow.

I’m still gung-ho, though. This is kinda an adventure.

Lighting The Spark (ECT Day 1)

Survived.

It wasn’t nearly as harrowing as I expected.

They had me fill out some forms (“I agree that if my cerebellum sizzles like a frying egg, I absolve the cook from all responsibility…”). They encouraged me to empty my bladder, and recommended I put on a Depends diaper because sometimes people wet themselves when they’re on the muscle relaxants. I opted for no diaper. I’d expected to have to don a gown, but they let me keep my clothes on. Continue reading

THUNDER

When I’m writing this, I’m up way too early Monday morning. But when it appears on my blog Wednesday morning, I will be at the ZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAP lab, possibly already riding the lightning.

To commemorate this first session (which I’ll try to blog about afterward), here’s some AC/DC.

Thanks to all my friends who are with me in spirit as I undergo this treatment…

Counting The Clock That Tells The Time

I have the go-ahead from my psychiatrist, and just got off the phone with the ECT clinic.

Next Wednesday morning, I start my lightning ride.

If we can stand up
When all else falls down
We’ll last through the winter
We’ll last through the storms
We’ll last through the north winds
That bring down the ice and snow
We’ll last through the long nights
Till the green field’s growing again
Growing again…    

(Peter Gabriel w/ Kate Bush)

Shock Me

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with the storm.

I’ve written here about my longtime depression, and my attempts at dealing with it. Last year, I spent a fuckton of money I couldn’t afford trying a treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation, with a local doctor named Brian Teliho. (You can read all about it here and here). I saw it as my last stop before taking the step of ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, the less barbaric modern version of ye olde electroshock. If the TMS didn’t work, I planned in January to sign on for ECT.

Well, the TMS was a complete waste of time and money. But come January, I went back to my regular pattern, which is, frankly, to try to do better. To try to get to the gym regularly. To try to write a bit every day. You can find my little plans and hopes in the posts I wrote here, and as always, the depression won out.

Then, I fell in love, and that did make a difference. Kate improved my life. She inspired me to write. I started to think, y’know, I sure am glad I didn’t do ECT, because all I really needed was Kate.

But the truth of the matter was that, as much as her support and presence helped, it didn’t help nearly enough. When I was with her, I functioned well enough, but most of that functioning was just hanging out with her, enjoying her and sharing things with her. When she was back home, hundreds of miles away, I tried to stay upbeat and buckle down, and I did get some writing done, but the usual fluctuations of energy and motivation were still there. Maintaining that same pace, I’d still get nowhere.

Then, of course, I lost her. I expected that to pretty much destroy me, at least for a while, but as I wrote in my last post, I recovered (mostly) from the trauma of it almost immediately. I was relieved and clear-headed and thoughtful…and I picked up the phone and called the ECT clinic.

The only thing this has to do with Kate is that I wasn’t doing it while I was with her because I was entertaining the false hope that I didn’t need it. This is what I need to do. I should have done it in January. I damn sure should have done it instead of TMS.

It’s a big step. It’s a harrowing process, it costs a lot (though not as much out of pocket as TMS, which insurance won’t cover), and there are dangers. The biggest danger is memory loss and possible losses in cognition; as a father, I’m terrified of losing memories of my son, and as a writer I’m worried I’ll lose the particular synergy between left brain and right which allows me to use language and imagery in the fanciful ways I do.

But you know what? If I can’t actually make myself write often enough to produce anything, it doesn’t matter how great that synergy is. And if I wind up losing all hope and killing myself, I lose my son altogether and worse, he loses me.

So, I have an appointment with the storm, and I’m going to ride the lightning.

Wish me luck.

My TMS Adventure [UPDATED]

I mentioned in a post yesterday that last year, trying desperate measures to deal with my lifelong chronic depression, I’d looked into ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), and while researching it, found out about a newer, less harsh treatment called Neurostar transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

TMS seemed very promising. A sort of less powerful electro-shock which uses a targeted electromagnetic charge (about as strong as an MRI) to stimulate an area in the prefrontal lobe of the brain that controls mood, it lacked the potentially dire side effects of ECT, such as memory loss. It was a simple in-patient procedure that didn’t require anesthesia every time, as ECT does, so you don’t pay for an anesthesiologist and have to have someone drive you home every day because you’re so out of it. And the claims for its results, and the longevity of its effectiveness, sounded very appealing.

The biggest downside to trying it: insurance doesn’t cover it. It’s only been FDA-okayed for treatment of major depression since 2008 and insurance companies, always leery of paying for anything, haven’t accepted its use yet.

Still, it sounded promising, and nothing else had worked to any significant degree, and I was quite leery of ECT (which insurance does cover). So I decided to go for it.

There were a couple of places in Atlanta I could go, and I opted to be treated by Dr. Brian Teliho because he was the less expensive option. The course of treatment was a session every day Monday through Friday for 4-6 weeks, depending on how the patient responded.

Each session cost $300, so I was paying $1500 a week. This is a lot of fucking money for me, as it would be for most people.

But, I was desperate. Continue reading

Walking Out Of The Darkness

I’ve been blogging a bit lately about my battles with depression and the impact it has had on my life. Now, leaving the wretched first decade of this millennium behind, I’m determined to turn this around and stop letting the monster control things.

Last year, I reached a point of near hopelessness. Therapy hadn’t helped much. Meds hadn’t helped much. And I was just getting worse. I decided extreme measures might be called for, and started looking into electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the modern version of ye olde electro-shock.

ECT is intense, and it has side effects (most notably memory loss, sometimes dire and permanent memory loss). But it also has the highest success rate of any depression treatment, and many people who’ve undergone it have had their lives not only significantly improved, but pretty much saved.

Still, it’s a big scary thing to do. And while reading up on it,  I found out about a newer treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a more controlled and allegedly highly effective therapy without ECT’s scary side effects. I decided to try it, even though it’s so new it’s not covered by insurance in this country, even though it cost me $9,000 for the course of treatment.

I’m going to blog in detail about my TMS adventure, but here’s the short version: it didn’t do shit for me. In fact, it cost me a huge amount of savings while not doing shit for me, so if anything it contributed deeply to my overall sense of hopelessness and despair. [UPDATE: the detailed post about TMS can be found here.]

Looking ahead to the beginning of this year, I’d pretty much decided that, if I didn’t manage to at least finish up Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull and deliver it to my editor by now, I’d go ahead with the ECT. The book’s not done yet. But ECT’s still pretty scary, and I figure I owe myself at least one final attempt at a Hail Mary pass before going with the electrodes.

In the past, I’ve made big plans to overcome the depression and to get back on track, and clearly that has never worked to any consistent degree. So this time, I’m taking my cue from Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob?

Baby steps. “Baby steps through the office…baby steps out the door…all I have to do is take one little step at a time and I can do anything…baby steps out of the office…baby steps to the hall…baby steps to the elevator…”

The two most important things I need to do every day are:

  1. Write
  2. Exercise

So my new plan begins there. Whatever else I have on my to-do list, whatever else I may or may not accomplish in a day, I need to at minimum get at least some of both those things done. Every damn day.

So my daily to-do list from now on forms around this:

  • Write 500 words
  • Do 20-30 minutes of cardio of some sort

That’s my minimum daily requirement now. I will often write more, and exercise more, but when the will is weak, I can at least force myself to do that much.

My plan will evolve, and I’ll blog as I go. Hopefully I’ll be able to wrangle the dark beast enough that I won’t have to ride the lightning.

I start officially on Monday. Stay tuned.