I did it! And I didn’t CoC it up.

I’ve been distinctly absent from the ‘blogosphere’ over the last few months. It has been an interesting ride.

So I went back to the PhD and within the first six months you have to complete what they call your “Confirmation of Candidature” (or CoC as we PhD’s call it. Hubster, being the mature adult he is thought our term CoC was hilarious. It all started when I accidentally sent him an email meant for my supervisor where the first sentence was: “I’m concerned that my CoC is too long. Can you please give it a look and see what you think”.)

Anyway. I didn’t realise  the CoC it was such a big thing (heh.) until I would tell people in the office what I was doing and they would be all “Eeeee” with a strangled look on their faces, before regailing me with some kind of horror story from their own CoC. Then they would try and save it by saying “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine though.” Kind of like the last weeks of your pregnancy where everyone around you seems to have had a near death experience during labour.

So what is a CoC?. This is basically where you complete a long literature review and research proposal on your topic. Mine is a few thousand words off my Honours thesis. And it is pure blood, sweat and tears. Literally. I gave myself a paper cut on the damn thing.

So after writing the document you then to do a big presentation to the research board, all the faculty and grad students within the school attend as well. You yabber on about your topic and then everyone asks questions. There are three outcomes of this. You get through and are now officially a PhD Candidate. You get kicked out of the PhD program. Or you are asked to make some changes and once they are done you get through.

So basically I have been working full pelt on this stuff. Hubster and I were basically a tag team. I worked weekends for extra time. It was hard not spending time with my family, especially after I was away so much last year in hospital. I felt I was being pulled apart in different directions (the way, I’m sure many parents feel). It has not been easy.

One of my more relaxing Sundays…:)

One of my more relaxing Sundays…:)

Firstly, I had six months to complete this milestone. Problem is I completed three months. Got sick. Ended up in hospital forever. Had ECT. Returned in January to realise that because of my short term memory problems associated with the ETC…I HAD FORGOTTEN IT ALL!

The horror.

So I basically had to start again. Reread all these notes and diagrams I had made and try to make sense of it all. I now, basically, had 3 months to complete this task.

But of course, I have a three year old. I have very limited childcare. I was trying to achieve in three days a week, what other people achieve in five. Which is why I gave up and started working weekends, grabbing any extra time I could.

Then of course, I have two chronic illnesses that like to make themselves known occasionally. I have had flare ups. I am under the care of four different hospitals and have appointments with each. More time down the drain.

All in all it was a bit of disaster, and at times I felt like everything that could possibly prevent me from doing this PhD was happening. Maybe it was a sign? Maybe I should just give it up.

But one of my greatest assets and sometimes biggest downfalls, is that I am incredibly stubborn. I persist until the bitter end. I ignore people who tell me that is ok to give up. This can be a good thing, or a very bad thing.

So I continued. I worked my arse off. I took on board every ounce of feedback from my supervisors. I wrote a document I was damn proud of. I spent ages designing my presentation and then practicing it over and over again (alarming fellow grads who walked into the office to find me talking to myself). Then the day before my presentation, I stopped myself. I had done enough. There is nothing more I can do.

On the morning of the presentation Hubster very kindly made me breakfast and took Master D to daycare. On the way out he waved and called out “Don’t CoC it up!” Then I went….and I did it.

I stood up in front of all these academics that I greatly respect. The entire school. The research board. And I told them why I think we need to address mental illness stigma in the community. I talked about the complicated theoretical backing behind my design.  I told them how I wanted to achieve change. And, it really surprised me, but I loved doing it.

And I got some awesome feedback. My study design was “fascinating”, and “well thought out”. There were a few questions, but nothing major, and certainly nothing intimidating.

After I returned to my desk and found email upon email from people congratulating me which was so sweet. After the presentation the board have a big meeting to determine whether I am able to continue with my PhD (until you have achieved this milestone you are probationary). This process can take up to a week. I have heard it taking up to a month.

Within ten minutes I got a phone call saying that I was through (informally). A few minor budget adjustments and then I’m set to go.

I don’t often say this, but I am really proud of myself. After everything that has happened…I went back. I achieved what I wanted to do. I stuck with it. And from what everyone has been telling me…I did damn well.

My supervisor told me that a lot of people would have given up in my circumstances. And no one would have blamed them.

But I didn’t give up.

I did it!

This whole thing has been a confidence booster. And not just on the academic side.
I have proved to myself that I can fall down hard… and pick myself up again.

A year ago I was hooked up to a urinary catheter, in a psych ward, under involuntary status, pushing around an IV pole. I was completely dependant, psychologically and physically. I couldn’t even pee on my own.

A year on and I have learned to manage both of my illnesses. I get up every morning. I sleep every night. I earn an income. I achieved a major body of work. Hell, I can even pee by myself.

I did it. I came back. I have rebuilt my life.

And I didn’t CoC it up 🙂

World Bipolar Day, Questions and Answers

Today is World Bipolar Day. A day to raise awareness of this illness, and reduce stigma. Well, you know me an my feelings on stigma, so when I saw that the lovely Blahpolar and Raeyn from the Scarlet B both completed this questionnaire in light of World Bipolar Day, I thought I would join in. Check out both of these awesome blogs, and feel free to complete the questionnaire yourself.

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1. What does bipolar disorder mean to you?

I always see bipolar disorder as a lack of balance. I swing one way, then overcompensate and swing the next. Living with bipolar disorder is a quest to maintain that balance.

2. What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

Turbulent. I’m lucky in that I don’t tend to rapid cycle. In fact I can go months or even years without a full-blown serious episode. This may sound positive, but it means that when the shit does hit the fan it is basically a shitplosion that takes months to clean up afterwards. In between major episodes, before diagnosis, was constantly anxious, mild to moderately depressed and sometimes self harmed. Oh and I heard voices. Every day of my damn life.

3. How old were you when you were diagnosed?

I was 26 when I was diagnosed – less than a year after the birth of my first child. I was an involuntary patient at a mother and baby unit and had been for around six weeks. My medical team suspected bipolar disorder because of the extent of my depression and psychosis. They actually thought I was having a mixed state as I was completely wired. But I didn’t talk much and they couldn’t get a full medical history out of me. Also I really didn’t know that the periods of high energy and not sleeping in my past were hypomanic/manic episodes so never thought to mention it.

Then one day in hospital I woke up and wouldn’t shut the hell up. Seriously. Unsuspecting trainee nurses would be lured into listening to me rabbit on about completely random nonsense before they could say “It’s a trap!”. I proclaimed  that I was cured and felt so good. Then things started to get weird… I started going on about how I had superhuman powers because I didn’t need to sleep (oh. if only), and that my dreams could predict conflict in South Korea. Round about the point where I told Hubster I wanted to dance around outside naked my doctors slammed their clipboards shut. “Gotcha! Bipolar Disorder! Kaboom.”

Good job team! It only took 10 years to get a diagnosis 😉

4. How do you manage your symptoms?

Day to day, week to week, sometimes hour to hour. I take medication. I see my doctor regularly. I try to limit stress. I watch my diet. I write. Hands down best treatment I have had was ECT. It may have its controversies, but I now no longer hear voices every day. Which gives me so much more time to ponder world peace and what to watch on Netfix.

5. What is life like for you now?

Interesting. I’m not sure really. I’m recovering from pretty much the worst episode of my life, so I’m a bit anxious about my mood. I analyse every up and down and if I have a bad day it’s all “HOLY CRAP IT’S COMING BACK!”. I’m like a mood meerkat. Since ECT my psychosis has gone which is awesome. But I still have to work really hard to keep my mood stable.

6. Has having bipolar disorder affected your friendships, personal life, or professional life?

Undoubtedly. Friendships – not so much. The people in my life who choose to have a problem with an illness I do not choose to have are no longer in my life.

Personal life – yes. I would agree that being separated from my family for months while being in hospital had a distinct negative effect on my personal life.

Professional life – yes. It took me years longer to finish high school and university due to episodes. I had to suspend my PhD months after starting, and I had to cancel a presentation I was due to present at a conference because I was in hospital.

7. How do you think society treats people with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder?

Not great to be honest. I think society has more understanding than say, the 1950’s, where we all got locked up in an asylum. But there is a lot to improve on. I would like mental illness to be treated with the same respect as physical illness. It frustrates me that I knew nothing about World Bipolar Day until I came on WordPress. Nothing in the news. Nothing on Facebook. Nothing on the radio. But when it is, say, a day to recognise Diabetes, it is so widely promoted and respected. Mental illness kills too! (Also, I’m not dissing Diabetes. It is a serious illness – and I, myself, have a physical illness too. This is just one example of how mental disorders are looked past within the general community).

8. Have you ever felt discriminated against or looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder?

Yes I have felt discriminated. While I was in hospital I was denied treatment by dieticians because I was in the psychiatric ward. But apparently I could access this treatment if I were on a medical ward. Yeah. Doesn’t make sense to me either.

I was also left for 8 FRIGGING HOURS in severe pain on a psychiatric ward, with the nurses calling every half hour for a doctor to assess me. When he finally came it was evident that I was ACTUALLY really sick (and not just making it up), and suddenly everyone was rushing around and I was having an emergency CT scan. I get that hospitals are busy places. But you don’t leave someone in severe abdominal pain, without assessment, for 8 HOURS, when even the nurses are extremely concerned. I wouldn’t have been left that long if I presented to the ED. And when I have been on medical wards and in severe pain I have been seen to very quickly. Good job I wasn’t having a heart attack, because I would have been dead by the time I got any help.

And yes I have felt that I have been looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder. I think a lot of it comes from a lack of understanding. But it still hurts.

9. Do you have any words of advice for people in the world suffering with bipolar disorder, or other mental illness?

Seek help when you need it. Don’t do what I did and struggle on until you are hiding in bushes and convinced the police are after you. Don’t be the bush girl!

Reach out. To anyone you can – friends, family, doctors, hospitals, help lines, bloggers, anyone. You are important. And you are not alone.

He Loves Me

He loves me.

He loves me even though I have a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder.

Even though I’m not great with the whole “mushy” thing, and generally show my affection through sarcasm and teasing.

Even when he found me on the bathroom floor covered in blood.

He loves me even though I mock his beard and continually enquire as to when he is going to enter Whisker Wars.

And even though I changed my ringtone for him to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO. And when he complained, changed it to the Star Wars “Imperial March”

He loves me when I’m manic. And I call him up at some ungodly hour from the hospital. To inform him that I am going to bake a cake.

Even when I was psychotic and began to believe that he may actually be a criminal mastermind.

He loves me when I have to cancel the “date night” we rarely are able to have because I have had an allergic reaction to something.

He even waits outside the toilet with a glass of water.

He loves me even though I fall asleep during every damn movie we watch. Then he patiently restarts it the next night and asks me “what is the last thing you remember.” To which I reply; “I don’t know. I was asleep!”

He loves me even though I have scars, and stretch marks, and a post childbirth body. He says he loves me even more.

He loved me on the days I couldn’t get out of bed. The days I told him I couldn’t keep on living.

He saved my life. More than once. And he didn’t stop loving me.

He loves me even though I sing “The Thong Song” every time he mentions his Cisco qualifications.

He loves me even when I ask him inane questions. Like “If you had to sleep with either Susan Boyle or The Queen who would be the lucky lady?” And he will be all “neither.” And I will say “You have to choose. Or the world will DIE.” And this happens most days.

And also when I strap a garden gnome in his car, or tuck it into his side of the bed, or sit it on the toilet, and then upon discovery gleefully tell him that “he has been Gnomed!”

Even when I have been frogmarched by security guards.

Even when I forgot pretty much everything after ECT.

He loves me even though I veto his music choices on car journeys.

He lets me put on my playlist.

And doesn’t complain.

Much.

In the ten years we have been together I have spent a total of eight months in hospital, had at least 3 manic episodes, a handful of mixed episodes and countless depressions. He knows Bipolar disorder is episodic. That it may happen again. He still loves me.

He tells me every day he loves me. And every night before we go to sleep.

He loves me.

Me.

And I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

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On Confidence: Wearing a Witch’s Costume and Owning It

When I was about seven, we had our annual school concert coming up. Now, you have to understand, these concerts were HUGE. Our school was big on the performing arts, and had a theatre so large and sophisticated that it was routinely used for community events. Our annual school concert involved performances from every grade, and every parent, grandparent, or associated family figure came to watch.

Anyway, somehow I got it into my head that I needed to dress up as a witch for our performance. To be fair, I think the song was about a witches cauldron, so it is (a vaguely) a plausible conclusion. It may also be that we were told to “dress up”, which presumably meant to look nice, but for me somehow translated to “dress up as a witch”. I was also a bit of a “show off” as my family fondly remind me, who loved to sing, perform and dress up. Once, during a particularly solemn and quiet part of a catholic wedding ceremony, I asked my father whether I should get up and do a dance in the aisle to entertain everyone. So, it is also entirely possible that I just wanted to crack open the costumes.

Luckily for me we lived in a small town in Norway, in a community which, due to the oil industry and resident NATO base, was largely American. In line with American tradition, Halloween was one of the biggest events of the year, and consequently I had every Halloween costume you could imagine. Including (drum roll here) a witch’s costume.

This costume was fairly elaborate. Head to toe in black cloak. A waist length grey streaked black wig. An enormous pointy hat. And the crème de la creme, a prosthetic warty hook nose. As I got dressed on the day of the concert, I looked, if I do say so myself, pretty frigging amazing.

We drove to the school, and to the absolute horror and dismay of my parents every single other child was dressed in their Sunday best. White shirts, black pants, fresh clean faces, polished shoes. And then me. The witch with the prosthetic nose.

My teacher saw me and came over and without batting an eyelid said. “Oh wow! Look at you! You look great!”

Mum, dying inside, hurridly said “I’m so sorry, there must have been a misunderstanding…I’ll take her home get her changed!”

My teacher, being the laid back, chilled American woman she was, waved her hand “Oh no, don’t worry about it. Look at her! She looks awesome!” before breezing off to greet someone else. To be fair. I did look awesome.

So that is how I ended up on stage at the annual concert dressed as a witch.

I sung my little heart out, beaming from ear to ear. I was as happy as a king (or, ya know, a witch) and seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that I was wearing slightly different attire to everyone else. Halfway through the performance, some backstage guy came up to me and told me to take my hat off because they couldn’t see the kids behind me. I was cool with that. I mean, I still had the wig.

For my parents, in the audience, it was slightly different. As my class trooped up on stage there was lots of murmurs and whispers, and then a little girl voiced what everyone else was thinking: “But why is that girl dressed as a witch?” Sadly I don’t have a photo I can show you of my big moment. It is one of the great tragedies of my childhood that my parents didn’t take a photo or video of the event.

On the way home my parents tentatively asked me how I thought it all went. “Oh it went well.” I told them. “But I was the ONLY one who BOTHERED to dress up!”

And that, my friends, is confidence.

A decade later, I lost all confidence completely. An angsty teenager, with a diagnosis of mental illness. I was so concerned with my image, what people thought of me, whether I was “good” enough. I used to call my friends before going out to check what they were wearing. Change my outfit about a million times, and then still feel like crap when I went out. Although I knew the answers, I was afraid to speak in class, purely because I didn’t want to bring attention to myself. I analyzed the behavior of others to a ridiculous degree. Were they talking about me? Do they like me? Have I done something wrong?

This anxiety about life went on for a long time. I strived for perfection, but never seemed to achieve it. Each award I won, opportunity I received, I was sure that it was a mistake and I was some sort of imposter. When I was offered a PhD scholarship, I kept thinking of reasons why the board had made the wrong decision. I got incredibly nervous talking to my academic superiors, and expressing my views and ideas. Because they were talented and had spent decades in the industry doing amazing things. What could I, a lowly research student, possibly add of value? I hated my body. I felt completely inferior to every human being on earth. I was frightened to complain about service, to make phone calls to unknown people. I let others walk over me. It probably didn’t help matters that I was constantly hearing voices that told me I was inadequate and “bad”.

Last year, after being released from hospital, I just kind of gave up on it all. I had been in hospital for five months, I had a serious mental illness, I had had ECT, and EVERYONE AREOUND ME KNEW. I wasn’t perfect. That was well established. One day, like an epiphany, I distinctly remember saying to myself; “Fuck it. I’m ok with who I am. If other people aren’t, that’s their deal. I can’t do this anymore.” And I started to like myself.

Now, I’m completely ok with the fact that I have mental illness. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops. I don’t let it define me – as I am a bunch of other things aside from “bipolar”. But if someone asks me about it, I will talk to them.

I’m ok with the way I look. Sure we all have off days, but I don’t spend hours scrutinizing myself in the mirror, and I wear what I want to wear.

My relationships have improved. I don’t feel needy or walked over. I am more assertive. I have so much more free time now I am not obsessing over every little detail. I recognize that I will never please some people, and I have made peace with that. That’s their loss.

I’m more assertive when it comes to service. I am not afraid to ask for what I want, and (politely) complain if it is not to standard. I don’t ask Hubster to call people up. I say “excuse me” to people who are standing in my way, instead of awkwardly standing there like some weird stalker, waiting for them to get off the phone and move.

Increased confidence has had an impact on my PhD. I feel comfortable talking to my superiors. I ask lots of questions, because that is what I am supposed to do. I’m not SUPPOSED to know everything yet. It is my JOB to learn. I play like a scientist and look at the evidence; positive feedback, awards, an elite scholarship. I worked hard and have been rewarded. I no longer feel like an imposter.

And I write what I want to in this blog. I tell my story, like it is. I give my opinion, how I see it. I don’t spend hours writing a post, then suddenly feel complete paranoia in posting it in case someone doesn’t like it, or thinks I am stupid. It’s the internet. There’s always going to be strange people. But the way I see it, this is my blog, my story, and I am not forcing anyone to read. The amazing thing is that I have had a huge increase in followers – over 600 on WordPress (you guys are awesome!)!!! What’s more, the wonderful people who read and interact with my blog are so incredibly supportive and kind. Thank you for being you!

I guess what I am trying to say is that I am not perfect – and that’s the whole point. I still have, as I suspect everyone does, days where I lose confidence in myself. And that’s ok. It’s when lack of confidence controls your life that it is an issue. Sometimes when I feel unsure I think about that little girl in the witches costume. After I have finished laughing to the point of weeping, I smile and try and channel her confidence. Because if you can go on stage randomly dressed as a witch in front of 500 or so people and totally own it, you can do pretty much anything.

Letter To Myself: On 2014

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Hey there, chick.

So it’s December, and at the closing of a year we like to do that thing where we reflect on what we have done, the achievements we have made, all the awesome stuff we did in 2014. You know the thing. Everyone does it.

But the thing is, 2014 wasn’t an awesome year. It wasn’t even quarter to an awesome year. It was downright miserable.

I know you had all these plans for 2014. You were going to start your PhD, you had been offered a scholarship that only 10 other university students received. You were going to present your research findings at a big interstate conference. After all these years of struggling you were finally making some money. You were going to have a baby. Or at least have fun trying. You were going to look at building a house. Everything seemed to be going right. 2014 was going to be your year.

Well, that didn’t happen.

I know that you look back, and you try, but you can’t see anything particularly positive about 2014. I mean, yeah, you’re alive. And yeah, the rest of your family is healthy. But everyone around you seems to be going on fancy holidays (or even unfancy holidays), building houses, having babies, getting promotions, actually being able to eat out at new restaurants without having to come home to barf. Living their lives, basically. And you’re sitting here now, typing in bed, with a fever, a queasy stomach, and a new script for Lithium, just like you have been for the past 11 months.

But you see, I think you’re looking at it all wrong.

Yeah. It was a shit year. But that doesn’t mean it was wasted.

You see, you learned a lot this year. You learned how to treat your body and your mind, and what happens if you ignore your health. You learned to put yourself first. You learned what changes are necessary for recovery. You learned what you are allergic to. You learned what medication and treatments work for you – and which ones don’t. You learned about your diagnoses. You learned the value of health. You learned who your true supporters are. You learned that your marriage can make it through the toughest of times, and you can still laugh together. You learned how resilient and strong your son is. You learned that stigma is still ever present, and this fuelled your passion to pursue stigma reduction research . But most importantly, you learned that YOU CAN DO IT. You can get through it. You can survive. Because you did.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Less than six months ago you were in a locked ward, periodically being shocked (as in electroshocked…although I’m sure you witnessed various shocking events as well. Actually, looking back. YOU were probably the one instigating the shocking events) and medicated. You were hallucinating. You couldn’t keep down, like, ANYTHING. You were being fed cans of formula. Dude, you could barely even walk. You were so sick.

And now, look! You can walk. You’re even exercising. You’ve withdrawn from fifteen of the seventeen medications that you were put on – a feat which is pretty damn amazing in so little time. Yeah, you have the odd vomit attack, but you can eat a whole lot more than cans of formula, chicken and rice. You’ve lost nearly 6kgs of your medication weight gain in the last three weeks.

And as for the other stuff…chill. You’ll get there. Stop trying to DO everything and BE everything when you’re barely out of hospital and still dealing with chronic illness. Give yourself a little breathing room.

The house? It will happen. You know you are an expert at making things happen. It will just take more time than expected. The baby? Relax! You’re 28 years old, the biological clock does not have to start ticking yet. So what if your kids have a big age gap? That’s life. And it totally saves on daycare fees (and quite possibly, sanity). The PhD? You’ll go back in January and it will work out or it won’t. If it doesn’t, if you are too unwell, you can ALWAYS go back to it in a few years time. You could work somewhere. Or you could become an awesome stay at home mum. It’ll work out. And however it works out will be for the best.

So cut yourself some slack. It was a crap year for sure. But you have picked yourself up, dusted yourself off and are ready to try again. And that perseverance, that determination, that positive attitude that I know you have at least SOME of the time. That’s what counts.

Life isn’t a competition, and it isn’t a race. You’ll get there, chick. It’s just been one helluva set back. But don’t forget –  EVERYBODY has their struggles.

2014 isn’t a year that should be commiserated. 2014 is a year that should be celebrated. Because you did it. We all did.


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The Controversy of ECT

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Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is a tricky topic. There seems to be a split between the small percentage of people who have experienced it (or have seen their loved ones through it) and swear by it, and the vast majority of people who think it is barbaric and unnecessary.

Before my recent hospitalisation, and even as a graduate psychology student, I was firmly in the “against” ECT camp. To me, anything that involved a general anaesthetic and the induction of grand mal seizures felt extreme, slightly terrifying, and yes, barbaric. In fact, I will admit that for a long time I thought it was a practice that wasn’t conducted anymore. It was one of those “Terrible Historical Moments of Medicine”. ECT was merely an entry in a dusty history book, alongside Thalidomide, heroin cough syrup for kids, and consumption of the honey coated cadaver, (yes, you read that right. I do not joke about honey coated cadavers), only useful these days for mockery by pre-med students and the occasional pub quiz victory.

I was wrong.

When I was hospitalised after the arrival of Master D I was offered ECT. I remember being completely horrified and telling my doctor, in no uncertain terms , that there was no way in hell that I’d be signing up for that kind of treatment. She held up her hands, told me no one was forcing me, but that ECT is very safe and has been proven to really help with my sort of problems. I told her no. She put me on Lithium. I recovered. And that was pretty much the last time I thought about ECT for a while.

Then I was hospitalised again. Now medication, with the exception of Lithium, has always kind of been a sore point for me, in that it rarely actually seems to, you know, work. Anti-depressants made me suicidal. Anti-psychotics were GREAT for spending the day in some half sleep haze and stacking on a load of weight, but they never actually stopped “the voices” I had in my head. I often have bad reactions to medication. Random side effects. My body gets hooked to stuff easily so once I am on a medication it is a complete nightmare to come off it. Lithium works. The rest, quite frankly, I could do without.

Anyway, my body’s general reaction to medication was further complicated by the tiny matter of me spending most of my time vomiting and/or running to the toilet, thanks to the good old Oesinophilic Gastroentoritis. The medication I was on wasn’t even getting the chance to make it into my bloodstream. I was seeing people who didn’t exist, dangerously suicidal, I had been in hospital for months, and was, quite frankly, a menace on the ward. Something needed to be done.

You know, I don’t remember discussing ECT with my doctor and family. I don’t’ remember signing the paperwork. I don’t remember anything about it. I have no idea how they got me into the “ECT suite” (which by the way is not a suite. It’s a scary looking operating room). I can only assume that the doctor offered ECT, I accepted telling him “Do what you want to me, nothing else has worked. Clearly I’m doomed.” And my family went along with it because no one knew what to do with me.

So I had ECT.

First unilaterally. Then, because that wasn’t working, bilaterally. And then – and this is quite amazing – I felt better. The voices stopped. The depression stopped. I felt, mentally speaking, okay. Within two weeks. Five months later I still feel better. Well, mentally anyway, physically things are still pretty crummy.

Of course ECT didn’t come without its problems. I suffered major memory loss for an extensive period of time to an abnormal degree. After ten sessions, my family made the executive decision to stop treatment.

“She is supposed to be doing a PhD,” my husband told the doctor “She is supposed to be doing a PhD and she can’t even remember the word for “carrot. This can’t go on”.” And everyone agreed with that. So we stopped treatment.

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I know my family hated seeing me go through ECT. They described me as looking like a “stunned mullet”, as I came out of the suite, one or two nurses holding me up as I staggered to the ward. Then I’d be all “Where am I? What’s happening?” Every other day they would have to sit down with me and patiently tell me the story again, where I was, what had happened. I would sit there in amazement. Asking question after question. “What do you MEAN I Have been in hospital for four months?!” It was like a bad dream. Soon my family learned not to tell me anything upsetting, as I would forget it within 48 hours when I had the next dose of ECT, and then have to go through the trauma yet again. We would ALL have to go through the trauma again.

Even now I’m not quite sure what my stance of ECT is. I no longer see it as barbaric or dangerous. In fact. I have learned a lot. Quite honestly, I feel I was safer having ECT in the short term than polluting my body with the seventeen or so medications in the long term. I certainly see the value in ECT, particularly for extreme cases, or for people where medication isn’t working. It worked. For me. It was tge best decision. For me. It also had consequences. For me.

But you know what. I’d do it again.

Certainly not for a minor blip in my mood. I would have to be pretty damn unwell to start considering ECT again. But I feel comfort in knowing that there is a tried and tested treatment out there should worst come to worst. Something that works, and works quickly  If it meant I was able to come out of hospital sooner, be with my family sooner, and avoid side effects and interactions and all the trouble you have when you are on a tonne of medication. If it meant that I would never have to go through, and put my family through, the hell that has been this year. Yeah I’d do it.

I hope I never have to. But I’d do it.

How do you feel about ECT? Hate it? See it’s value? Did it work for you or your loved ones?

So….who are you?

One of the major side effects of ECT is short term memory loss. And, boy, did it affect me.

I underwent ECT thrice weekly for ten sessions in the locked ward. Which, incidentally, reminds me. Recently I was considering my time in hospital and found it remarkable that when you are first involuntarily frog marched to a locked ward it is a major crush to the soul. You’re all “let me out of here! I’m being held against my will!” you pound your fists on the air lock doors and almost inevitably get told that you are going to be given something to “calm down”, which actually sounds quite pleasant until you are stabbed with a hypodermic needle. Then a few weeks later, after you have settled in, you’re all “Welcome to my crib. Bitch.” Institutionalization at its finest. Clearly a topic for another time.

Anyway, back to my terrible memory.

While I was in treatment people often tried to make me feel better about my increasing forgetfulness by relating comical instances of their own forgetfulness or stating that they have a terrible memory too. While I appreciated their kindness, they really didn’t understand the extent of my memory problems.

I forgot where I was, why I was there. Which room was mine. What foods I wasn’t supposed to eat (a major problem as the nurses wouldn’t always be informed of my diet, and I would cheerfully tuck into the cheese toasty they brought me after treatment…) how old my son was, the fact that my grandmother had died, major family events, what my PhD was on.

Even worse, I started to forget the names of objects, words for things and feelings. On my homecoming found that I sent my doctoral supervisor, like ten million emails, all basically saying the same thing. I had to restart the book I was reading every few days as I would forget. Perhaps, most weirdly of all, I started to like foods that I used to dislike. Like honey (or bee vomit, as I used to call it.) Thats right. I had forgotten my food preferences.

I knew things were bad, but i don’t think i realized how bad until one day (over a month after the completion of my ECT) when there was a knock on the door. My registrar (who, incidentally was the splitting image of Gok from “How to look good Naked”. A resemblance so uncanny I had to wonder what the hell was going on when I first met him.) and a middle aged woman. They said hello and sat down and then there was this awkward silence, while I waited for the woman to introduce herself.

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Eventually I cleared my throat, and since she looked too professional to be a student, said “So…are you a doctor?”

She and Gok looked vaguely surprised and then she asked if I remembered her.

It turned out that she had been my treating psychiatrist for some time. I had absolutely no recollection of her. Of course then I had to complete a number of ridiculous memory tests which I miserably failed, because, sheesh, who does know who the current prime minister is?!

I was then informed that, while most people’s memory improves fairly rapidly after ECT, I most likely had a rare side effect of severe memory loss due to taking Lithium during ECT…WHICH YOU ARE TOTALLY NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. Thank you, State Psychiatric Facility.

Luckily for me, with some rehabilitation (aka crossword puzzles and my Book of Things to Remember) my memory eventually returned to normal. There are still a few things that I don’t remember about my hospitalization….

But I think some things are best forgotten.

Miss Independent

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For the first time, perhaps in my life, I am now mentally independent.

You see I used to hear voices. Not your average self talk. But actual voices, from people who had passed. These “People”, as I began to refer to them, told me that I was special in that they could communicate with me, that I had a gift. The People were my moral compass, my life guides. The People told me repeatedly that they “only wanted the best for me, and for me to be the best person I could be.”

I can’t remember when exactly the People became a part of my life. But I distinctly remember their presence during my adolescent period. Most of the time The People and I lived together comfortably. I accepted what they told me, and I never told anyone about them.

It never even occurred to me to tell someone, as their presence was all I knew. I had no idea that I was experiencing psychosis. I had a gift , goddamn it!

A few years ago, I casually mentioned The People to my psychiatric team. Suddenly I was being ushered into the on call psychiatrists office and being prescribed heavy duty anti – psychotics. I was in shock, and in trouble. The drugs didn’t work, and the voices got angry at me. They didn’t like being talked about. This was supposed to be our secret. They got nasty. I felt guilt and shame.

By the time I was admitted to hospital they were telling me to kill myself. They told me I was a bad person, who did not deserve to be helped. I was taking time away from people who were actually sick. For the first time in my life I saw them in person. They followed me around. They told me what a evil person I was. They told me I was lying. I didn’t have psychosis. I was just trying to get attention. And because the anti psychotic drugs never managed to vanquish them, I believed them. If I truly had psychosis, surely the medication would rid them?

Then I had ECT.

Suddenly the voices started to recede, then they disappeared. For the last two months, for the first time in…as long as I can remember… my mind is quiet.

As odd as it sounds, some days I struggle with this. It’s like leaving a toxic relationship. For the best part I feel free, open, and relief. But then some times I hear myself thinking “What would the people say?”. I miss their advice, crazy as it sounds.

Sometimes you feel comfort in the uncomfortable, merely because it is what you know. And I have to relearn how to deal with life without their guidance – no matter how helpful or unhelpful it is. I have to make my own decisions, without first referring to my guardians. I have to come to terms with the fact that I was not “special” at all – just psychotic.

I don’t know how long this mental quietness will last. Some research indicates that ECT will only keep symptoms at bay for 6 – 12 months. I don’t know what the future brings.

But I do know that, right now, I’m independent. I’ve broken free. I still thank The People for the lessons they have taught me, but it’s now time for me to make my own way in the world.

Shocking me right out of my brain!

Eventually I was prescribed an 10 session course of ECT, or electro convulsive therapy, as my medication was not working. Now ECT has a really bad reputation within the community. In reality it is not that bad.

ECT is basically where they put you under a general anaesthetic, then put an electrical current through your brain, inducing a seizure. This seizure can “kick start” the brain.

My doctor told me that I was on far too much medication (yep – please refer to “Cocktail Hour”), and wanted to try ECT as an alternative. I was dubious at first, but decided to give it a go. Here is the experence of ECT.

FIrst you are taken to a “theatre” type room. The doctors chat to you, and you lie down on the bed while they try and find a suitable vein. For me this is a mammoth task, and my hands and elbows were black and blue during the course of treatment.

You feel a cool liquid being pumped into your veins and suddenly, try as you might, you find yourself drift away and become unconscious. Then suddenly you are waking up. You might have a headache. You are definetely confused and the staff, or your loved ones, have to tell you what has happened.

There is sticky stuff on your temples, your veins are green and blue. You stagger out of the room and your loved ones fill you in on what has happened. You are terribly confused, and you may have terrible short term memory deficits. After a few sessions I forgot important things, such as my Nannas death. But I also forgot the trauma that had occurred in “the Dungeon”. I started to feel better, more positive. I started to wonder WHY I Had become so depressed.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding ECT, even my family were anxious about me having it. But for me it made a real positive diference to my life. Without ECT I’m not sure of the level of life I would currently have. I’m not sure that I would be experiencing the quality of life that I am now. However, I do experence some major short term memory loss which I am working on.

ECT is a cost. ECT is definately a last resort. But I don’t doubt that ECT saved me.