I have been having Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) since late December last year to treat severe depression with suicidal ideation and not talking about it widely. I have tried to put on a brave face and tell some of my closest friends and those we see regularly but have not broadcast the fact beyond that and I suddenly realise that is due to shame.
Yesterday I was reading Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’ when I read a chapter on shame, a compelling exploration of the topic and one that has enabled me to see my shame at my perceived health failings and need for seemingly extreme medical treatment.
As I have digested Brown’s research and conclusions, I find myself agreeing with her, shame is harmful to us and open, honest dialogue about shame itself and whatever we think is shameful is the best path forward for healing.
Those of you who know me, know I work as a health promotion professional and Lord help me, my last role was managing a suicide prevention team within a Mental Health Service. Our job was to promote open discussion around mental health issues & good mental health practices, work to prevent suicides within the community and support the community when sadly, they did occur. Depression and mental illness are not unknown to me.
I have personally experienced bouts of depression, usually following a serious health crisis, life alteration and restriction. Not unreasonable you might say. Fortunately, these bouts have all resolved thanks to psychotherapy and medication. I have always been compliant in the application of these interventions and prided myself on doing the necessary ‘work’ to overcome the depression. I wholeheartedly do not enjoy the smallness of the world when I am afflicted with depression.
This time the depression beat me, but it had an unfair advantage in the form of a medication whose worst known potential side effect is severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Following brain surgery (to clip aneurysms) in 2016 I began experiencing strange episodes of lost speech and drowsiness. They were seizures caused by a tiny bit of damage in one of my speech centres and did settle down a lot but not completely. Working with my Seizure Neurologist I was using an ‘as needs’ medication whenever I felt a seizure coming on.
When we discovered I needed surgery on my spinal cord nerves, I spoke with the Neurologist about taking a preventative seizure medication so as to support my recovery not add to it. She agreed and prescribed Keppra, a common anti-seizure medication.
It worked fine for preventing seizures but unfortunately had some nasty side effects on my mental health. As my mental health declined, I consulted a Psychologist, then at her insistence, a Psychiatrist and took the medications he prescribed, whilst continuing with therapy. When I began getting teary for no reason and having vivid visions of inflicting serious, if not deadly harm upon myself with kitchen knives, Jason insisted I go to the doctor and he came with me. Once the doctor understood I was experiencing frightening, vivid, suicidal hallucinations, he was quickly on the phone to my Psychiatrist whom recommended putting me in hospital to keep me safe.
Not understanding what was awaiting me, we complied with the doctor’s request. I’ll stop there for now on the back story of the depression as the experience of being admitted to the ‘Psych’ Ward is a whole other story!
I wanted today to admit to having ECT, to having severe depression and suicidal ideation as I believe we need to be as honest as we can about mental health issues and not drown in shame about them.
However, just writing about it makes me sad because I feel bad about dragging Jason through all this. It’s been a really long, hard year for us and I can’t help feeling guilty about that. Perhaps if I’d worked harder in therapy or recognised the warning signs sooner, been stronger, not needed the damn seizure medication or, hell not needed surgery, who knows…
Jason has been simply amazing through all of this and to be honest, I’m still alive because of him. I just wish I hadn’t had to be reduced to such a low where nothing gave me pleasure, and life didn’t interest me. I wish I didn’t feel shame at having to need such a seemingly radical medical treatment as ECT; a treatment that renders me near non-functional for days and days. Leaves me making mistakes daily and wandering around in a near-permanent state of confusion.
An effective treatment that is lifting me out of the dark, restoring my spirit, allowing me to see clearly again so that whilst I can still feel my shame, guilt and sadness at all that has occurred, I also am starting to understand that I’m not to blame, neither is anyone suffering with depression; and it is suffering. I recently said to my ECT doctor, “I don’t know where I’ve been”, referring to the past six months of my life; too which she replied, “Suffering is where, suffering”.
So, should you find yourself in distress or a perpetual state of sadness, please, please reach out to someone and get help. I didn’t have the sense to recognise the danger I was in so had I not told my husband about the dangerous hallucinations and thoughts, I could have come to serious harm. Mental illness can feel as though it still has a stigma attached to it, but you’d be surprised at how supportive and kind people can be and the health professionals working in this area are generally very caring.
As I improve, I realise I do not want to carry a bag full of negative emotions about the experience forward with me, thus I tell you all today where I’ve been recently and what I’ve had to do to get through it. Thank you for taking the time to read this.