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MidAge Mom is for women who are parenting in midlife rather than celebrating the empty nest on a beach in Bali . . .

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Posts Tagged ‘ECT’

It Could Happen to You

The big lesson from my recent experience with anxiety and depression is that they can strike anyone.

I was perfectly fine before I started to have some physical problems and then severe anxiety and depression almost four years ago. I had had two hip replacements in 2013 – big surgeries – but was recovering nicely and was proud of the progress I was making walking around the golf course.

That summer I travelled to North Carolina twice to drop off and pick up my two girls from camp and went on family trips to Colorado and California. That fall, however, my hands startied to be painful, and I had to get a dictation program called Dragon Dictate for the computer because I couldn’t type.

Then the pain spread and got worse, anxiety and depression hit, and I didn’t travel much again until last summer when, after a round of electroshock or ECT treatments, I went to Colorado with my family. Before that, I spent a lot of time in bed and was hospitalized three times.

Mental Illness Can Be Unpredictable

All of this was the last thing I was expecting. My life was and remains great; I have no reason to be anxious or depressed. I’m happily married, have two wonderful kids who are stable and doing well in school, live in a beautiful old Spanish house and am financially secure with a husband who has tenure.

I have a great nanny/housekeeper who is like family. I even have a good dog. And while my childhood included some challenges, overall I was happy.

When my problems started I was pretty together – the kind of person who is active and has lots of interests. I was in decent shape and went to the gym every day. I had published an award-winning book called  Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life. I liked working as a a writer. I was sending money every month to help support the driver who had worked for me in Nicaragua.

Who would have imagined that I would end up with pain so severe that I could barely walk, sit or drive and a mental condition so bad that I would end up in the hospital?

Recovery

I’ve been feeling like a new person, or rather my old self, since a neurologist put me Lamotrigine a month ago. A  walking EEG test had found seizure activity in my brain. Lamotrigine is for seizures but is also a mood stabilizer. I still don’t know for sure if the drug is the reason I feel better. And I have no idea why the pain suddenly disappeared last summer.

Mental illness can be mysterious.

The Stigmas

It’s easy to stigmatize people facing emotional challenges like depression and anxiety, to believe that they’ve done something wrong. But while I wasn’t perfect when my problems began,, for the most part I was doing things right.

In addition, a lot of people who deal with depression have been doing so for years making it easy to think that if you’ve got a good emotional track record you’re immune. For instance, Scott Stossel, author of the excellent book, My Age of Anxiety, has had psychological problems since he was a child.

Other people go through tough times, suffering the loss of a spouse or a close relative or a divorce, making their emotional problems seem predictable. If you’re not facing such challenges you feel pretty safe. I certainly did.

But the lesson of my experience is that life can take you by surprise and throw you a curve ball.

We need to treat mental illness like any other disease and recognize that, like cancer, it can strike anyone at any time.

I find it all hard to talk about. I have the same preconceptions and prejudices about mental illness that others have. At times I feel like my experience marks me as a weak person.

But I know better and keep putting it out there so other people can realize the truth too.

The bottom line is that every day you feel stable and every moment you are sane is a gift. Because you never know what is going to happen next.

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Do you have preconceptions about mental illness? Share by commenting below! Or contact me at: jenniferbhull@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

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Advice

Never before have I gotten so much advice. But then, I’ve never had such a mysterious illness.

For the past four years, I’ve suffered from depression and severe anxiety. It came, unexplained, out of the blue. I’ve tried at least ten different drugs without success to treat it. I get electroshock (ECT)  treatments every two-three weeks but they’re really geared to relieve depression, not anxiety, and I mainly suffer from the later. As a result, perhaps, ECT treatments only make me feel good for a day or so.

But that’s the first line of advice I encounter – from both my husband and the psychiatrist: that I should get regular ECT treatments because I was a wreck before I started ECT. They both believe that although the therapy’s immediate benefits are short-lived, it has helped my overall functioning, allowing me to travel and write. (My husband points out that I am writing this on an ECT high, one day after the procedure; most of the time I am too anxious to write.)

My own instinct tells me it’s not worth it to wake up at 5 a.m. to get a seizure produced under general anesthesia, which leaves you groggy and unable to remember the names of your children. And a neurologist told me he didn’t like ECT because the therapy destroys brain cells. After more than 30 treatments, I can definitely say that my memory is not what it used to be. Yet I find it hard to argue with my husband and the psychiatrist because, unlike them, I can’t remember my catatonic, pre-ECT days.

So I take their advice and get the ECTs. As a result, both my mother and my therapist say I’m not listening to my own inner voice, especially since I get anxious and don’t sleep the night before being electroshocked. They don’t think I should get the ECTs.

Then there is our beloved nanny/housekeeper who gave me five showers in my catatonic, pre-ECT days and who is like a member of our family. I rely on “nanny” as we call her, in all sorts of ways and most of all to help me keep my anxiety in check. She constantly reminds me to take things “dia por dia” or “one day at a time” – by far the most valuable advice I’ve gotten on this difficult road.

This has been hard for her as well as for the rest of my family. Yet I’m just incapable of taking a lot of her advice to get out and do things, like walk the dog, staring out the window drinking coffee instead. Such is the nature of an anxiety disorder; you just don’t want to go out into the world. (I do drive my younger daughter to dance, something I didn’t used to do.)

So while I took up nanny’s suggestion to start swimming, we often end up disagreeing, with her advising me to do something I say I can’t do. Among other things, she thinks I should swim in our freezing cold pool twice a day.

And that’s not to mention those caring and compassionate family members who have made their opinions known in an effort to help me. My sister-in-law got me signed up for a clinic where you send stool samples for analysis so we can see if anything strange is going on in my gut. (She is doing the same for herself.) My brother and mother want me to go to a major center like the Mayo Clinic.

I sent off the stool samples and my husband signed me up for the Mayo Clinic. I then wrote “please cancel” on the information the clinic sent us. I’m scared to travel, so going to the Mayo Clinic sounds like flying to the moon, plus I believe Miami has good doctors.

Still I think I could handle it all if it weren’t for the fact that some of my beloved husband’s advice conflicts with my gut instincts (which he claims are solely to sit staring out the window). In addition to believing more in ECT than I do, Bill thinks it would be beneficial for me to listen to some hypnotherapy tapes I have on my phone and believes vitamin injections help me – neither of which I feel.

He also likes the psychiatrist better than I do, not that I prefer the others we’ve seen.

I appreciate so much how Bill has supported me through this ordeal that I tend to go along with his opinions. And I can’t deny that he remembers the last four years and last few weeks a lot better than I do.

So are my mother and therapist right: am I failing to follow my own best instincts because I’m ill? Or am I just taking the best advice around me like any smart, sick person would do? I really don’t know, but I’d love to hear your comments.

Just because I’m up to my eyeballs in advice doesn’t mean I couldn’t use a bit more.

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Do you have advice for me? Share by commenting below!

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Fear

Who me, afraid?

In my long battle with anxiety, the main enemy has been fear. I’m afraid of just about everything: getting together with friends, going to the store, checking the mail.

No one is more surprised by this state of affairs than me. None of this used to scare me before. Indeed, I was once rather brave.

As a reporter, I’ve routinely done things other people were afraid to do. I covered civil strife in Nicaragua, and the jeep I was reporting in was strafed with machine gun fire. Tiny pieces of the bullets ended up in my shoulder. I’ve reported on the West Bank and in Gaza – not the happiest places on earth. I’ve visited refugee camps throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. As an author, I’ve also done a lot of what scares some people more than anything, speaking in public to promote my book Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life.

And this is the same person who is afraid of getting the mail?

It all makes the anxiety I’m suffering from not only painful but discombobulating and paralyzing. I am simply not the person I knew before. And I knew that person well. These fears are also what distinguishes anxiety from depression and makes it so hard to address.

All these fears started coming out of nowhere three years ago. And it’s been tricky business. I know many of them are irrational, but I have the feelings nonetheless and have found no effective long-term strategy for getting rid of them.

I constantly ask my husband, Bill, “Is everything okay?” – to the point where it must get tedious. Of course, this reassurance needs to come from me; I need to know that everything is okay without asking, to feel confident that I can handle things the way my husband thinks I can.

I have made some progress in fighting fear in the last six months. I am no longer afraid of paying the gardeners. Few things have felt scarier recently than opening the bill section of my Bank of America account. I had no idea what was paid automatically and what wasn’t – or what was there at all. I couldn’t even get my password to work. With Bill’s help, I got a new password and sorted out each online account.

I think it was easier to go crazy before computer passwords and online banking accounts. Life is too complex to lose your mind these days.

I’ve also become very daring about going in our freezing cold, unheated, Florida swimming pool every day. Indeed, I’m the only one in our family who will go in at all this time of year. Swimming is by far the most effective anti-anxiety therapy I’ve found.

And I’ve developed some backbone about getting regular electroshock, or ECT, treatments. Involving getting up at 5 a.m., taking a taxi to the hospital and being completely knocked out, they always make me nervous. However ECT seems to have raised my overall functioning in the last six months so I “feel the fear and do it anyway” every few weeks.

Brave at times, I feel so close to overcoming my other fears – and yet so far away. If I could just overcome these fears, I could conquer this condition. I could be free. And yet the old adage: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain,” is too simple. Instead I avoid a lot of what I’m afraid of, having my husband take my daughter to the eye doctor, for instance, instead of doing it myself. Bill says, “The world is okay out here.” But I remain unconvinced.

Part of the trick is to accept fear, since it won’t let you ignore it. To accept that being scared is inevitable right now; to know that other people feel afraid, though maybe not as much.

In the end, the question is always the same: does fear stop you? I recently travelled to San Francisco with my older daughter and husband despite major fear and got credit from them just for going. I won’t pretend that the trip was all fun. At times it was agonizing. But I also had some good days in San Francisco, especially shopping with my daughter and seeing an old friend.

This week I have a friend coming over for coffee, despite some trepidation. Because that is what writers do: they invite other writers over for coffee. And that is something I used to enjoy doing.

If I keep on keepin’ on, will I get to be the person I used to be and be enjoy these things again?

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Are you battling anxiety or depression? Share by commenting below!

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                                                                                      Photo © Anettphoto

Disclosure: I use some affiliate links. If you click and buy a product, I make a small commission. Thanks for your support!

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