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

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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

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.