Reflections on 2014

This past year has been filled with horror, sadness, hurt, pain, joy, happiness and above all, tremendous love. I don’t mean the love where we so casually tell our partners we love them at the end of a phone conversation. I mean love that you feel with your gut, your soul, your entire being. This is a new phenomenon for me as I had never felt that before. I was not able to feel it.  Now I begin and end each day with these incredible feelings, for my husband, my daughter and for my family and friends. I still get tearful as I think of how monumental this is for me, at the age of 40. 
I began this year with therapy and numerous medication trials. What followed was the sadness, hurt and pain that I could never accurately describe. It is a hell that you want to desperately exit, but there are no signs of where to go. The horror was my summer when I was so severely depressed, my thoughts were closed to any possibility of relief. I inhabited my own personal hell where it was dark, lonely and scary. In the hospital, where I needed to be and am so thankful to work with an amazing psychiatrist for getting me there, there was more fear. I had to take ownership of my thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t hide behind the “mommy” mask or the “wife” mask. I was just “Risa” and that was all I needed to be. No pressure from the real world. The focus was on me. My focus was on me. 
And then it was time for a new treatment: one that would literally shake things up. I needed this. I needed something that would give me a rapid response as it was time for my horror to end. I needed to find that exit from the hell I was living. I found it as a result of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The terror that I felt prior to my initial treatment will never be forgotten as it was a fear I had never experienced before. As I called my outpatient psychiatrist numerous times the night before that first treatment, she gave me the language I needed. While I was telling her I was “scared,” she was able to really hear me as she said, “you – are – terrified.” I will never forget that moment. I was able to make the language connect to the feeling. Indeed, I was absolutely terrified.
Countless electroconvulsive therapy treatments later, and still more to go, what has happened in these past months since it began is a true testament, not just to this particular treatment but to medication and therapy, too. I look forward to a new year while I continue this process of recovery. I am happy to feel the space of time since my summer of horror but am also moved by all I went through. I am in awe that I endured so much for so long. I am proud of the work I have done in my therapy, intense and difficult as it is. Without this work I never would have arrived at this point of feeling such love. You can’t feel love as a result of taking a pill or having ECT. Having this new gift is a direct result of my therapy and while I cannot clearly explain how it happened, it did.
The process continues and I have more work to do but I am in a much better and healthier place today than a year ago. 
Moving forward, I hope I can be strong, emotional and loving to and for my husband and daughter. I feel that love…intense, sometimes overwhelming, amazing.

Speak Up!

This is my story that I told at Speak Up in Hartford on 12/6/14. It is not word for word, but close enough. The theme was “reunions.”

“You’re back?”
Those were the first words I heard as I stepped back into the psychiatric unit this past July. This did not come from a patient who wasn’t in touch with reality…I was there just the week before.
I had only been gone a week and I was not too happy about being back. So, not only was I reunited with this patient, but I was reunited with other patients, mental health workers, nurses and doctors whom I had spent 5 days with the week prior. The “fuck you” I heard from another patient directed at no one in particular was truly my welcome back onto the unit.
My depression was relentless and I needed more than the initial 5-day stay had given me. The “I remember you” my nurse told me that first night back was not reassuring as she looked up my evening meds. I didn’t want to be remembered since I felt ashamed that I had to return and was already feeling so horrible that I had let down my outpatient therapist who made the call to hospitalize me for the second time. So, I was just oozing with guilt.
The next reunion was with my attending psychiatrist, whom I really liked. He was none too pleased with me as I had convinced him the week before that I was better and ready to go home. Trust was lost and I needed to mend our relationship. As I worked on that I spent my time locked in to my treatment. This involved taking my medication, having open communication with my nurses and doctors and also reuniting with my ECT nurses. I had started Electroconvulsive Therapy (yes, that is what is also known as shock therapy) the week before and I needed to continue with this treatment. My first ECT treatment as a repeated inpatient was very difficult. You see, the nurses who work in ECT are the most warm, loving and caring people and I felt I had let them down, as well by returning to the inpatient unit. I actually sobbed that first treatment back. On their end of this reunion, they were just as warm and consoling as they had been before. I was cared for with no judgment.
Returning to a psych unit after having been there just the week before is a humbling experience, to say the least. I was there for 5 days and then was sent home to the open arms of my husband and four year old daughter. I was severely depressed and that first hospitalization did not change that. So it was back to being “checked” on every 30 minutes and being watched while I shaved my legs. It was asking for a staff person to input a code into the phone in order to make a long distance call so I could reach my husband and daughter. And it was back to daily visits with my husband which were full of sadness and longing and a bit of hope. Each time he was let in to the locked unit, I would cringe a bit, due to the guilt I felt at putting him through this difficult time. But once we hugged, I could let that go and focus on him… and his phone which he would sneak in to the unit to show me pictures of our daughter.
When it came time to discuss discharge after seven days, my doctor said to me, “you fooled me once…I don’t want to make that same mistake again.” How could I blame him? I told him I was really ready to go home and truthfully, I was.
It all ended on discharge with the most emotional reunion of all…seeing my 4 year old daughter again…this involved literally smelling her skin, using all of my senses to take her in, kissing her all over and simply not letting go. I had missed her in the most intense way a human can miss another human. And when we were reunited, I simply could not imagine anything feeling so important or real. This little girl who looks more like me than me and who can melt my heart with one brief look. This was the most poignant reunion of all.
So, while I was initially not too happy to be back in the hospital, the truth is, there were people I worked with there who helped to save my life. These reunions were necessary for my recovery, including my reunion with my outpatient therapist after my discharge, which felt just as significant. For this I will always be thankful: to all of those who believed in me the second time around.
If someone were to ask me that question now, you’re back? My response would be,  “I am back…back to feeling better with the people I love.”

Letter to my Therapist

I had this weird feeling that I was cheating on you. I walked into the office and checked in with the receptionist. I was directed to a waiting room. As I sat in this room, all I could think was how surreal it all felt. What if I don’t like him? What if I do like him?

He came and introduced himself and walked me to his office. I sat down across from him and we began. He asked me for my story. I told him about my childhood, college years and my history with depression. We went over all of the medication trials and the success of the ECT. He was laid back, funny and a good listener. I became more comfortable as the time went on. I was able to focus on the task at hand. I need a psychiatrist to monitor my medications who is local. Period. His role is not as therapist, that’s still your role and I am grateful. This was your choice and I followed through.

It feels monumental, in some way, as if this is part of my progress. Life goes on and I am moving forward. He is just another member of my team but you are still the captain.