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Hanging on to Hope


I’ve led a challenging life. I’ve struggled more than some and been blessed more than others. Through it all I’ve had one goal: to help others. While that may sound nauseatingly altruistic, it really isn’t. It’s my need to have life make sense. If I’m going to go through pain, I want it to mean something. I want there to be a purpose to it. I don’t want to experience pain just to experience pain.

One of my struggles – as you know if you read this blog – is mental illness. It is misunderstood. It is discouraging. It is frustrating. It is a general pain in the a**. So many of us suffer in silence. So many of us suffer alone. I try to let others know they aren’t alone by sharing my story.

When I started this blog I called it, “Lessons from the Storm: Experiencing Joy Through Mental Illness”. I wanted it to be uplifting. I wanted to show that even with mental illness we can have good days – GREAT days. I still believe that but I also have discovered that it can be more challenging than I expected. After I started this blog my struggle became greater than ever before. I faced more depression, more delusions, more psychosis than before. I had to use unilateral electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) when medication didn’t work. Still I hoped.

This week that hope took another blow. While the ECT worked at first, it didn’t last. As my struggle worsened yet again, I decided to double down on the ECT. Yesterday I had my first bilateral ECT treatment. Unilateral ECT passes a current through one side of the brain while bilateral sends the current through both. Unilateral has less side effects and is generally effective but bilateral works faster and I read some studies suggesting there is less long-term damage to the brain with bilateral ECT.

When they (doctors and researchers) say bilateral has more side effects than unilateral, they aren’t kidding. My first round of ECT was painful, mildly debilitating with short term memory loss that left me frustrated and mildly annoyed. Yesterday, I was hit by a train. It left me with a headache that Toradol, Tylenol and Ketamine together couldn’t dent. I struggled to walk, needing assistance for even short distances. The memory loss is harder to describe. I know who everyone is but events are vague. When I went into the kitchen, I couldn’t remember what was in the cabinets.

Many people have asked me “Why?” Why go through ECT again if it didn’t last the first time, knowing it will be worse? The answer is simple: I have no choice. Nothing else works and I won’t give up. I won’t give in. I will keep fighting this illness. I will keep pursuing joy in the midst of the storm no matter how many storms I face. I will keep doing it because I believe it can be done. I’m not special. I’m not stronger. If I can do this then others can, too. YOU can too. We can overcome our struggles with joy in our lives.

It’s been 12 hours since my treatment and the side effects are improving. The pain is manageable and I can walk without assistance (although my 13+ year old dog with severe arthritis and a herniated disk can beat me to the door). The memory loss is another story. I try not to dwell on what’s been lost. With all that, I also know this was day one. I dread the next treatment.

I am not trying to be an advertisement for ECT. I am trying to encourage everyone who reads this to not give up or in, to keep working with doctors and therapists, to not give in to the discouragement. We’ll enjoy what we can and fight through the rest. We’ll take control over our illness and overcome. We’ll find that joy no matter what it takes.

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