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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 ‘electroshock therapy’

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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Just Calm Down

“Just calm down.”

This is the wrong thing to tell somebody suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Believe me, if there were any way to calm down I would have done it by now. I admit there is a lot I haven’t tried that has been suggested to me, including marijuana, meditation and music. But I’m skeptical that those things will work as my anxiety feels so ingrained and intractable.

My rational mind tells me there’s no need to be nervous about things. I try my hardest to listen to it, but anxiety overwhelms me anyway. I know I’m being irrational. I know I need to calm down. But I can’t do it. It’s like driving a car and losing control of the brakes.

The drugs I’ve been taking so far have not helped much though the jury is out on Seroquel, which I just started taking at a very low dose and which studies have shown helps with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). (The dose – 12.5 mg – may be too low to be effective but 25 mg made me feel sedated.)

I’ve been getting electroshock treatments (ECT), and my psychiatrist is adamant about continuing them though I recently cut back against his advice from biweekly to every three weeks.

ECT may have helped with my depression and my general functioning has improved since I began getting the treatments, which is why my psychiatrist wants to continue them. But ECT is not known for having much effect on anxiety, which I find comes back soon after a treatment. I suffer more from anxiety than from depression so ECT doesn’t feel like much of a solution to my problems. And a neurologist I recently saw says it kills brain cells.

I hired a private yoga teacher in the fall but found myself so anxious during our sessions that I ended them. I haven’t tried yoga since though I do swim 30 minutes a day in our pool and feel calmest in the water.

It all convinces me that whatever I have is definitely a disease or disorder and not a personality flaw. If it were a matter of personality or character I could just buckle up and calm down at whim. But it doesn’t feel like it’s up to me.

So I keep trying to breath deeply. For the moment I am trying to write the anxiety out, which is at least as effective as any of the drugs I’ve tried.

But I don’t feel like I’ve found a solution to dealing with all these fears that paralyze me and ruin my days and which I never experienced until three years ago.

And meanwhile, no one tells me to “just calm down” more than I do.

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Do you have a practice that keeps you calm? Share by commenting below!

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                                                                                      Photo © Martinmmark

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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