Northward Midget Pole to Pole


Shock Therapy

What the hell am I going to talk about?  I might as well start with the most recent event of note in my life: electro-convulsive therapy.  For years I've "struggled" with depression.  No, that's not right.  I lay beneath depression as it pinned me to the floor and anxiety piled on top.  A few months ago, I stopped taking all of my anti-depressants (Pristiq and Abilify) in hopes of exorcising the zombie in me and bringing out someone who enjoys life.

It didn't work.

Instead, I got a demon monkey in my belly, tying my insides in knots of horrible anxiety.  If you're actually diagnosed with depression, don't ever quit your meds without first consulting with your shrink.  Trust me.  You may get over the fortnight of brain zaps and think you're in the clear, but then the black comes back and you're well on your way to a stay in hell.

ECT, for me, involved a two week inpatient stay at BryLin hospital.  My first impression was of a minimum-security prison -- at least the kind I'd seen on TV, having never been incarcerated up to that point.  The beds were glorified cots, the bathroom light didn't work at first, and I had to flash my raw genitals to a nurse upon admittance, presumably to absolve them of any allegations of abuse.

I got an EKG, a urinalysis, and then the next day a shot of Robinul.  From what I overheard, this was to keep me from salivating.  Presumably, doing so is a bad thing.  Maybe it'd cause lightning to jump around my teeth like tin foil in a microwave.  So, that morning they take my vitals and I get my shot and I'm escorted upstairs to where they do the deed.  There's a waiting room with an older projection big-screen TV.  It's always got Good Morning America or one of the other morning shows running.  By the time I got there it was about time for Regis and Kelly.

I get a robe and wait.  They call me out, I climb onto a gurney, and from then until I awake I'm staring at the ceiling.

There are two types of ECT: unilateral and bilateral.  In the former, they shock one lobe.  In the latter, both lobes.  During prep, this matters only in which or both of your temples are lubed up.  I did unilateral, so should have one side, but they always did both, wiping off the other once the psychiatrist eventually reminded them "he's a uni."

After the lube, I'm wheeled into the room.  I can't tell you what's behind me, but above me, plastered to the ceiling, are images of butterflies and affirmations of serenity.  The anesthesiologist is on my right.  Usually it's an older Indian gentleman.  He wants to stick the IV in my hand, and I hate that.  Until a few years ago, I had horrible problems with needles; I'd faint every damn time.  Now I'm better, but it's still uneasy having that valve slipped into the veiny branches of my hand.  Worse, once it's in and the juice starts flowing, it burns.  Later, after I mention the sensation, he gives me something to alleviate it, but by that time my course was near its end.

Anyway, the stuff starts into my vein, he taps my arm lightly and says "good night" and I inevitably start to hyperventilate waiting for that cold burn to run up my forearm, through my bicep, and flood into my heart and brain and put me down.  Once I remember them giving me some oxygen.  That's as far as I can remember any of the procedures going.  Usually, I feel it up to my elbow, then a feeling not unlike the getting up too fast after being on bended knees, or the beginning of a faint, then it's a sweet blackout.

"It's all over.  Your procedure's done."

That's the recovery nurse, and it is indeed all over.  I feel groggy.  The first time, I had a sore jaw.  There were jokes with the other crazies about possible advantages being taken on my unconscious mouth.  Apparently, the first time you get this cocktail of anesthesia and muscle relaxant, it affects your jaw muscles.  Oh, and for me, that first time, I woke up sobbing.  Sadly, that was the emotional highpoint of the treatment.  I wish those choking sobs would have meant my vomiting out two decades of deep depression, but it was just a trick of the knockout drugs.

Four more treatments inpatient, three more outpatient, and I can't say it did anything for me.  But I'm jumping ahead.  How was the stay in a mental hospital?  Well, there was no smoking, and that pretty much ruined any restfulness for me.  I get bored, I want a cigarette.  I eat, I want a cigarette.  A patch doesn't help.  I roll my own, and it's more about ritual than nicotine.  All but a handful of those in here are smokers, and all want to smoke.  What the hell kind of cruel policy denies the mentally ill the one medication that consistently works for them?

If it weren't for the obsessing over smoking, it would have been a great trip.  No worries.  No job.  No family responsibilities.  Sleep, get my dreamtime shocks, go to group therapy, embellish fairy coloring books with crayons, sidle up to the pharmacy bar for a Xanax or a Klonopin or Ambien when bedtime seems like too much trouble.

But I squandered it wanting a smoke and whinging on about how boring it was.  As soon as I got out, I wanted to take a nap.

After my cigarette.

And you know what else?  As soon as I left, I missed it.  I missed the sleep-when-you-want, but I also missed the people.  They were interesting, and we all had the same basic problems of depression and anxiety.  There was only one annoying woman there, and she was more comical than seriously perturbing.  Once in group they asked about our support network and I mentioned my wife had pretty much given up on me.  She said I didn't need my wife and that I was gorgeous.  Except for my teeth.  But those can be fixed.  And she can help me.  She's an HR representative.  Once she couldn't remember an orderly's name and yelled out for "that colored gentleman."  I mean, she wasn't that old.  Where'd she get the idea someone wouldn't take "colored gentleman" poorly?

Anyway, she meant well.

There were a few cute girls there, but I'm old enough that they were young enough for me to feel like a wretched old geezer if I paid too much attention to them.

I spent too much time in the TV lounge.  There was a larger lounge where most congregated and where meetings and socialization activities were held.  The TV lounge was a converted dorm room with an old CRT TV.  A few days into my stay, the remote broke.  Someone must have sat on the setup button.  A suave, tan, businessman type figured out how to get it to switch channels, but you had to press up maybe a hundred times for each channel.  We don't have cable at home.  At least I got in a good night of TCM before the remote broke.  "Twelve Angry Men."

They never did fix the remote.  Five minutes online and I could have done it.  Or five dollars at a discount store for a new universal remote.  I noted that in my exit comment card.

I enjoyed group therapy.  One guy was struggling with a friend who'd committed suicide.  Why couldn't he have helped her?  Well, you tried it yourself, bub, who could have helped you?  When you're in that place, it ain't easy to get out.  Besides, it makes perfect sense to want to escape this sty of a world.

I was a little more sensitive in my reply.  He wondered why God took her and let him live.  Well, there is no God, so no such choice was made.  I didn't press my atheism as much as I thought I would, but it came out politely and respectfully at appropriate moments.

These people had problems that seemed surmountable.  Trauma.  I didn't have any "thing" done to me.  I wasn't abused, I wasn't addicted.  I just didn't want to live.  I wanted to want to live, but I didn't.  How do you fix something like that? Damned if I know, but it felt good helping people with their "real" depression.

Now, back to the drugs.  The Ambien seemed to help me get to sleep.  The Xanax, not so much good towards the anxiety, so they switched me to Klonopin.  That seemed to be better, but I didn't notice how drowsy it made me feel until the Saturday I came home and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I guess it's hard to notice you're sleepy when you can just go to bed whenever you damn well please.  I did end up filling the script, and I think I'm already developing a tolerance, as it doesn't make me seem like a total stoner now.

After discharge, I had a few more outpatient ECT treatments.  This was a logistical nightmare.  My wife was already nonplussed with me for this whole fiasco.  Now I'm asking her to take me downtown at 6:30 in the morning, rolling the kids out of bed to boot, then come back and pick me up a few hours later.  She did it, dutifully, with understandable resentment.  She hoped I'd get better.  Maybe she didn't have the magic hopes I did, that my demons would be shocked the hell off me into a flock of metaphorical pigs and over a cliff.  No, but she hoped it'd help, and maybe she hoped I'd have tried harder while I was in there, took advantage of more of the activities.

She's just about out of hope.  But that's a topic for another day.

Posted by Quinn

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  1. Very interesting reading from someone that is suffering from depression..i have been for a few years..but i take my meds..after reading ur page i better not in for just 3 days once so it was not to bad..i hope ur getting better..i thought i would leave a mess so u knew ur not alone in how u feel..and i also wanted u to know someone is reading ur posts ..ok

  2. Thanks, Yvonne. We all know we’re not the only ones who feel this way, but it’s easier to believe when a fellow traveler says hello.

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