Stories of Hope: Your Life is Worth Fighting For

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by psychologist David Susman for his series, Stories of Hope, which features individuals sharing their experiences with mental illness and recovery.

Here are my words of encouragement to anyone out there fighting a battle:

“Don’t give up. No matter how horrible, how hopeless, or how dark life seems right now, never, ever stop fighting. You are a beautiful person, inside and out. Even if you don’t think anyone cares — I do. We may never meet, but I do care. I know your pain and your chaos. I know how awful it feels, how much you wish you could just go to sleep and never wake up. But take it one day at a time, one hour, one minute, one second — whatever it takes to get through. Just promise me you won’t give up, okay? Your battle is worth fighting, and your life is worth fighting for. There are wonderful things ahead of you, but you have to be alive for them. Stay strong.”

You can check out the entire interview here!

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Bipolar Out Loud

Hey, everybody! My second post is now up on Bipolar Out Loud:

Electroconvulsive Therapy and Memory Loss

And here’s my first post: Creative Minds

Check us out! We have some wonderful contributors and articles over there.

Post-ECT breakfast

pancakes, IHOP

Don’t those look drool-worthy?

I have orders for NPO (nothing to eat or drink) after midnight before each electroconvulsive therapy treatment. IHOP has become a regular hangout for my dad and I after a treatment, as I’m always starving after I wake up from the anesthesia. Coffee is another necessity at breakfast.

Tomorrow is another treatment, so bring on the pancakes!

IVs and bruises

A downside (and mind you, this is very, very minor compared to its benefits) of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is having to get an IV for every treatment. I’ve been going every week since the first week of April. I had 9 in my acute series, in which I was going multiple times a week, and moved right into maintenance once a week, making a total of 13 treatments so far.

My viable veins have been picked over, and the ones in my hands are small to begin with. I’m constantly bruised. Also, why is it so hard to scrub off the adhesive from medical tape?

For this past Tuesday’s treatment, they set up the line in the inside of my wrist. That was definitely not fun. That hurt worse than any IV they’ve set up before. Just the thought of having a needle in my wrist makes me shudder. Uggghh. But I’ve learned to breathe through them and avert my eyes.

I’m happy to say I’m still doing well with the treatments. I’ve now moved to every other week! Yay!

Dreaming under Anesthesia: is it possible?

This morning was another Electeoconvulsive Therapy treatment day. I was relieved the nurse anesthetist had no trouble setting up the IV this week (my left wrist is still a pretty mixture of red, purple, and yellow right now. And my hand veins are all shot from having so many IVs in them, so it’s now a hunt for a viable vein every week even though I’ve been drinking lots of water).

Everything went smoothly before the treatment — getting hooked up to the heart monitor, EEG, the actual treatment electrodes, nasal cannula — then it was nighty nights induced by Brevitol. Why does anesthesia burn when they inject it? It’s such a bizarre feeling; first, my arm feels likes it’s on fire, then all of a sudden I’m out. It happens very fast. 

The treatments themselves are no more than a few minutes. Then I wake up in the recovery room, am given some water and a few minutes to be somewhat more alert before they wheel me outside to my ride. I asked how long I’m usually asleep in the recovery room. The nurse said usually no more than fifteen minutes. Then as she was checking my vitals one last time, we discussed what I was going to have at IHOP for my weekly post-treatment breakfast. I had cinnamon brioche French toast, by the way, and it was delicious. 

But today I was dreaming before I woke up. I don’t recall ever dreaming before. God only knows what I was dreaming about, but it definitely happened. I didn’t think you could dream while under general anesthesia. Or maybe the Brevitol had worn off and I was just sleeping? I really have no clue. 

Waking up from anesthesia is weird, too. Even though I’m only out for 20 minutes, it feels like hours. It feels like I’m trying to swim through molasses to wake up. 

I’m just happy and grateful that ECT has done wonders to help with my bipolar disorder. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy (AKA “shock” therapy)

When you hear of “shock” therapy, what do you think of? One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Old, outdated methods involving painful seizures?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a very misunderstood, stigmatized method of treatment. Take a look at some of these comments from Youtube on a video of someone’s ECT treatment:

ECT ECT ECT ECT

It is ignorance and shitty comments like these that perpetuate the stigma around an amazing treatment. Do us all a favor and do some research before you comment on a treatment you don’t understand. Believe me, I tried alcohol and drugs. I tried self-medicating. It only landed me in rehab.

I am an ECT patient.

These treatments have saved my life. I have been battling my treatment-resistant bipolar disorder for 12 years. I’ve been on countless medications. I’ve seen several cognitive therapists. I was still suffering. In my third and most recent hospitalization this past March, I began my acute series of ECT. I’m now into maintenance treatments. After 6 in my acute series, I was feeling well and my doctors and I made the decision to try to stop at that. A week later, I had a dip in my mood, and ended up going back for 3 more treatments for a total of 9 in the series. We made the decision to go right into maintenence to prevent another relapse. Right now I go once a week, then they will begin spacing the treatments out with more and more time in between.

Let me dispel some myths and misunderstandings.

ECT is not painful. For every treatment, I am given general anesthesia through an IV, as well as a type of benzodiazepine and toradol. Getting the IV is the worst part, and even that’s done in just a few minutes. The anesthesia burns once it’s injected, and within a few seconds I’m out. I do get mild headaches sometimes after I wake up, but those have stopped since they began giving me toradol.

ECT does not make you lose all your memories. While memory loss is a possible side effect, it is less common with unilateral ECT. I have had some memory loss, but it is very minor.

ECT is not torture. I was not forced to undergo these treatments. The hospital I go to is very careful that I sign a consent form before each treatment, and it is filed in my chart each time. Forcing people to suffer through mental illness because some people don’t understand ECT — that’s torture.

The treatments are nothing like what most people have seen in movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You can search on Youtube and see what a modern treatment looks like. It really doesn’t look like much. No violent seizures. No Nurse Ratchet holding big electrodes on the patient’s head. Let me give you a rundown of how my treatments go:

The hospital I go to has a separate treatment room and a recovery room. While I wait my turn, I sit on a gurney in the recovery room. As the previous patient is being wheeled from the treatment room to the recovery room, I’m being wheeled in. The hospital is also a “teaching” hospital (I have to also sign a consent form that I understand there are med students), so there are at least two doctors, a nurse, and at least two people from anesthesiology. Sometimes there are more doctors for a treatment, but that’s always the minimum. While one of the anesthesiologists ties a tourniquet on my arm, looks for a vein, sets up the IV (the worst part!), one of the doctors is hooking me up to electrodes. I get electrodes on my chest and on my sides to monitor my heart, then an electrode behind each ear, and on one foot, and finally the unilateral electrodes — one on the right side of my forehead and one on the right side of my skull. It all happens very fast, and the doctors are masters of distraction while the IV is being set up. The nurse wraps a blood pressure cuff around my ankle (it stops the muscle relaxant from going to my foot). They always call a “time out”; they verify my name, DOB, and patient ID#. It all happens very fast. They place what looks like a nasal cannula on my face to measure my O2 levels during the treatment, then an oxygen mask. The anesthesia is injected into the IV. I begin feeling a burning sensation up my arm. Within 30 seconds, I’m out.
After the treatment, once the anesthesia wears off, I wake up in the recovery room. A nurse takes my pulse and blood pressure, then sends my husband or my dad (or whoever happened to bring me that day) to pull the car up to the building. Once I’ve woken up a bit, although still groggy, they wheel me to the car. By now I’ve woken up enough that we usually go out to breakfast, as I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. IHOP is a favorite spot for my dad and I.

If you are considering ECT, I highly recommend talking to your doctor about it. It really has done wonders for me. My mood has been stable. I’ve been able to focus a lot more — enough that I was able to finish the manuscript I’ve been working on for over a year.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Please note that I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice. I can only give my personal experiences. Here are some links with information on ECT:
How Does ECT Work?
NAMI on ECT