I made this at art night tonight. Powerful messages. I power up again on Thursday.© Michelle Routhieaux 2018
I feel so good. My body is really sore and I can’t drive but I feel light. Colors are crisp and clear. They may only last a moment but I have ideas. I smile warmly for no reason. I breathe deeply without having to think.
Today I had ECT (my 1st since April). A change in anesthetic caused some problems but I am so much better. I am blessed with an amazing doctor who genuinely cares about me and a dream support team. Friends are helping with rides. I am released to rest and sleep (both from my depression & ECT).
It’s been almost a year since I was doing somewhat okay. My current therapist says he doesn’t recall ever seeing me not in crisis. Late summer I started to get worse. My repeated calls for help fell on ears that considered them my norm. I prepped to go inpatient in Sept/Oct but thanks to an amazing arsenal of coping skills and extra sessions of therapy I was able to hold off. I asked for ECT. My doc wanted DBT-IOP. I got pushed into a different program instead due to my people being in DBT, despite my multiple warnings that it was not a good idea. It was, as anticipated, a catastrophe that ended with an event appropriately described as trauma that I’ve yet to be able to process. In 1 day I went from 25+ hours of treatment/therapy per week to 2-3 hours. Not good.
Lately my suicidal ideation has been through the roof. I’m fighting for my life. I’ve also been impulsive, angry, self-harming, dark, unable to access empathy, scared, feeling alone and hopeless. Last week I called my therapist at midnight. I packed for the hospital. I cried.
They laid hands on and prayed for me at church on Sunday. It was unexpected yet utterly calming. I was surprised last week when my pdoc offered ECT. In one moment she validated and made my ongoing normalized experience true. I was confused. Even this morning I was panicked as they put me under. But Dr. M had my hand and I could feel God and see the outlines of my angel and D- and some unknown to my left. I am exhausted and sore but I am okay.
God, thank you for blessing me with family & friends and kick ass doctors. Please continue with my healing and keep using me for Your will.
My next treatment is Thursday. I wonder how long they will last – not the set but how long between treatments before the effect begins to wear off. I’m itching to do weekly. I can drive then. ;)
I enjoy resting and sleeping now. And rain
Update 1/31/17 1:46am:
I had a treatment on Thursday and another today. The weekend was really bad but I feel better now. I’m getting some rest and reminding myself to do one thing at a time, be “gentle to self,” as we say in group. I’m proud of me and grateful for my treatment team, my friends and ECT. There is hope in electricity.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2017
I’m sitting in the VA parking lot. The potluck was tonight and I pulled it off well, got a special award from Libby. I cleaned up and socialized, kind of. I feel weak and dizzy and faint, like before I passed out yesterday. I walked the stairs anyway. I want that star.
(rest on my fist the space between my eyes)
Mom didn’t come.
I missed my opportunity. I fucked up. This is my fault. I need and wanted ECT. In the time I could have done it and recovered I tried something else to appease my doctor, which went horribly wrong. Now I’m in a med change. She’ll want to know if it’s working tomorrow.
Is my new med helping? Is it better or worse? I’m not sure how to answer that. Before I was severely depressed and non-functional. I wanted and needed ECT and had time to do it but needed help with logistics. Now I don’t know what I am. My best guess would be rapid cycling mixed episode with mild psychotic features and marked memory impairment. I go back and forth from bitter to rage to desperation to confusion – lots of confusion – and back. The period I’m not supposed to have now comes for about 3 days every week and a half. I’m bingeing a lot, making myself ill, impulsively maxing out my credit cards. I shut down completely in private and in public at inopportune times. I’m isolating from everyone, including D-. Fighting with Mom every day. Is that better or worse?
I missed the opportunity. They don’t come often. Today I went back to work for F-. I’m expected at group and outreach events and appointments. Because my moments are split I don’t get to pick ECT anymore. I don’t get to do what I know works for me ‘cuz I’m feeling now. Fuck.
(curled over, feel my heart beat on my skin)
What do I do now?
Just keep working.
I didn’t matter enough to fix. :(
Not my turn.
3 – When Daddy hides the roller skates, run run away.
No like Daddy clip his fingernails.
Ice live in penguins, Mommy.
I get to see J- on Thursday. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it but I want my life back. I NEED me back.
What do I want/need help with?
(stare, hear a GameBoy game song)
3 – I want to go humbly. I mean home. You bozo.
(VA police sweep)
The difference between now and then is that in the darkness I felt hope.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2016
I feel sad. (pause) I’m sitting on the couch, tv off. Mom’s asleep. The clock is ticking relentlessly, rain falling on the metal overhang outside. I watch the candle flicker. I don’t know what’s happening.
I feel so much better after ECT today. I had a good conversation with Dr. M and an 86 second seizure. He said I can stop the Wellbutrin to hopefully lower the anxiety. There were no students today and the IV guy, D, waited to knock me out until I was done talking. Dr. M held my hand and left me a note. I just have to change the day of my next ECT. I feel safe. I can breathe.
I was so anxious before. I practiced willing hands, straightening my arms and breathing deeply. I reached to the sky and twisted and stretched. I meditated on the chorus of our gospel song “I Love You, Lord.” It’s slow and soothing. And I prayed, A LOT.
I walked into the treatment room praying I’d die on the table. I woke up feeling happy and free. I have a slight headache and I’m tired but I’m like a totally different person. I’m so grateful.
I danced a prayer in the back yard and drew two pictures. I was too tired to color. I ignored my phone most of the day and tried to limit my computer time. I didn’t eat but I put on classical music and lit a candle. I took care of me. I even had a great conversation with my mom tonight. She pointed out that I’m actually talking. Yeah, I guess I am. :) Praise God.
I’ve really been struggling the past few weeks. Every day I have fought back the urge to self-harm or die. My anxiety has been so high that I’ve literally been afraid of everything. I’ve gone back to bingeing, purging and restricting. And the most meaningful activity of my life has been taken from me. I’m no longer a nanny. I miss the girls so much. They’re family.
I’ve also been really scared that the ECT stopped working and nothing else could help pull me out. But today God proved me wrong, reminded me not to doubt Him. I need rest but feel joy and am grateful to be alive.
Thank you for believing in me and reading. I’m going to my aunt’s tomorrow. I love her so much. Maybe we can do our nails together. And I can walk. Yard sales first. Captain’s orders.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2016
I’ve been wanting to write on ECT for awhile now. It seems everyone has their own opinion about it, even if they haven’t experienced it. I say, unless you’ve tried it shut your face. This is my experience with it.
In case you didn’t know, ECT stands for Electroconvulsive Therapy (shock treatment.) Right, like in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” only not. ECT is used for severe depression when medications and other treatments haven’t worked, suicidal depression, psychosis, severe mania or catatonia. It may seem barbaric but it’s actually quite effective. Antidepressants have about a 30% effectiveness whereas ECT is about 70%.
I started ECT mid-November after 15 years of med changes and 13 hospitalizations. I wish someone had offered it to me sooner. 5 of my doctors worked together to make it happen. Here’s how it happened. I was given the option and information that I could sign only after having it for 24 hours. My doctors made sure my labs were good and I passed my EKG. I was evaluated by 2 doctors and then scheduled for my first session. I opted not to view the ECT video. I’ve seen it before. I’ve had many friends who’ve had ECT so I knew a bit of what to expect and considering I’d rather have been dead the outcome really didn’t matter.
I started ECT inpatient 3 times a week. The night before they give you a red wristband that means you can’t eat or drink after midnight until they take the band off (because of the anesthesia.) I got lucky for my first ECT and had my favorite nurse assigned to me. She came to get me super early in the morning when the ECT dept was ready for me and walked me down there. The nurse there greeted me with a smile and took my vitals. The nurse from my unit stayed with me until it was my turn. Then they took me back to meet my doctor in the treatment room. As soon as I go in, I sit down on the gurney (which is ridiculously soft.) The nurse on my left starts an IV in my left arm, the nurse on my right covers me with a warm blanket, the anesthesiologist is above my head and my doctor is either sitting at a computer on my right or standing at my feet talking to me. Someone puts electrodes on my forehead and right temple. I try to stay conscious as long as possible but inevitably mid-sentence my doctor grabs my right hand, smiles at me and says I’m going to get sleepy. The world gets a bit blurry, shakes back and forth two or three times and all goes black. The next thing I know I wake up in the recovery area. I still have no idea how I get there. When I wake up I feel happy and healthy, they take my vitals and someone gives me apple juice.
While I’m asleep they shock me on the right side and top of my head (unilateral), causing a seizure. In the IV they give me meds to paralyze my body so I don’t shake. Because of this, they breathe for me. They tape my eyes shut and put a mouthpiece in so I don’t grind my teeth. I don’t suggest keeping contacts in if you wear them. I did the first time and somehow lost one when they pulled the tape off. Don’t worry. They do it before you wake up and it doesn’t hurt at all or leave a mark. I have longer seizures than most people. Last week I had my longest yet – 148 seconds. The length of the seizure doesn’t seem to matter as long as it’s at least 20 seconds. Some people have bilateral ECT, which means they get shocked on both sides. That kind of ECT has more memory loss and side effects. They don’t seem to know how or why ECT works. I read an article last year that said it slightly damages the part of the brain that’s overactive in depression. Other sources say it basically jumpstarts the brain or changes the chemistry. Either way, it works.
My first ECT was the worst. They didn’t give me any extra meds because they didn’t know what I’d need. I had no idea where I was or who the people on my unit were. I was crawling on the floor nauseous with a HORRIBLE headache. I did at least remember my nurse, who I’ve known for years. My legs hurt SO bad for several days, which they told me was because they were super muscular and adjusted the anesthesia. They “stacked” my first two treatments – two days in a row. After the first one they started giving me Toradol and Zofran in the IV and I’ve had much less difficulty with pain and nausea. After the first treatment I felt joy, which confused but elated me. I didn’t know it was possible. I had 5 treatments inpatient and was doing so well that they discharged me without a plan for maintenance treatment. Then my therapist fired me and some other shit happened and I took a hard and fast dive towards death. So I decided to go back to ECT. Now I’m getting treatments once a week.
ECT has not been without side effects. After doing treatments three times a week I couldn’t drive for 2 weeks. Now that I’m doing it weekly I just can’t drive the day of or the day after treatment. About an hour after I wake up I get a headache and feel very nauseous. Sometimes I can stay up and work on the computer or write. Other days I just sleep. I have Tigan to take PO for the nausea. My memory is spotty and my cognition is definitely impaired. I have trouble remembering names, passwords, how to get places. My mind, which is usually chock full of thoughts and ideas, is often pretty blank. This is new for me but I don’t altogether hate it. There are certain things I don’t remember at all. I’ve gotten into arguments with people about things I apparently did but have no memory of. This is frustrating for me. Thankfully at least one of those people understands why. My mind is usually a steel trap. If I don’t remember it, it didn’t happen. But I guess now it might have. I’m learning. It’s like ECT as ERP. I’m learning to accept not knowing or remembering. I so often now hear myself saying, “I don’t know.” I also get very sore muscles for a few days after my treatment – sometimes my neck or shoulders, tongue, back. The soreness seems to travel but doesn’t show up until the second day.
I feel offended when people tell me I shouldn’t be doing ECT or when they hassle me about how many treatments I’m having. They say they’re concerned about my mind or the side effects. They fail to take into consideration that it’s saving my life. I KNOW I’m not the same. I’m aware that my mind is different. I’ve seen how it can ruin people’s minds. It’s not ruining mine. I trust my doctors and God has given me ECT. Maybe not for forever, but definitely for now. I finally found something that actually helps me. I do feel sad more often than usual, but I believe that’s because I’m actually feeling. I’m dissociating less, actually living in the moment. It’s new for me. I think it’s good. I intend to keep doing ECT until my doctors and I agree on stopping. Please don’t try to dissuade me.
If you’d like to talk about ECT, feel free to leave me a comment here or contact me personally if you know me. I’m not up for philosophical arguments but I’m willing to answer questions or help you out. It’s not as scary as it seems. I promise.
This is the Mayo Clinic article about ECT. Mayo Clinic – ECT
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
I just got home from DBSA and Ralphs. They were exhausting. I started the Wall of Hope. I sat in on Libby’s room, finished it off when she left. There were 2 nursing students there I invited from Point Loma Nazarene. On the way home M- had a panic attack on the 52 after asking me what ECT is like. A police officer asked us to switch and me drive. I told him I couldn’t. Thankfully M- improved with time and air.
Mom is on the phone with Don, who won’t answer when he’s coming back. Ellie is asleep next to me on the couch. NCIS LA is on the tv. I see Dr. H in the morning. I’m not sure what to tell her. M- is taking me. A- is driving me on Wednesday.
I don’t know what’s supposed to happen to me now. I feel like a different person. I’m not the same me. When I wake up in the morning I don’t know what to do, where to go, who to talk to. I don’t know what to eat, what to wear. I don’t know me. I think it’s harder coming home this time because my train of thought is different. My whole outlook has changed. I’m just not sure how to change with it. I want to be healthy. I want to be okay.
I wish I could have more structure in the community. I would love to live in a unit like South Rotunda. I don’t know of any that exist.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
Homework: Imagine a life built on happiness…
Imagine a life built on happiness…
I would have energy and motivation. I would take chances and try new things. I would take better care of myself and spend more time with friends. I would DANCE and maybe have the guts to try musical theater again. I could tolerate spending more time with the girls. I would spend less time in darkness crying.
I would probably do more fun things like bowling and Zumba. I would be stronger, more able to handle others’ crises without crashing myself. I would have more art parties and probably shower more often. I might even be able to start brushing my teeth regularly. What a concept.
If I had a life built on happiness I’d paint my nails more often. I’d probably answer my phone and my self-esteem would improve. I could move on to DBT Level 2 and spend less time in appointments and therapy. Maybe my health could improve and I could have less random physical and neuro symptoms. That would be nice.
A life built on happiness would probably be filled with hope and possibility, art and writing, LOTS of music and dancing and yoga and movement. And maybe I could learn how to do nothing. That would be nice. I could find peace. Learn boundaries. Set limits. Take risks. Breathe. Be.
I just asked my nurse how long my seizure was today – 79 seconds. I wonder why they’re getting shorter (105, 97, 79.) I hope it’s not a trend.
I almost lost my room today. I’m thankful I got to keep it. I wonder how my life would be different if I had discovered ECT works for me before now… I’m glad I’m brave.
I was right. Something did die with ECT – the intense need to die, the voice telling me I need to die somewhat constantly. It is almost absent. I feel a sense of wonder and joy. I do get heavy waves of sadness but not deathly despair. I feel happy to be alive.
Dr. H is letting me go to DBT on Thursday. Armando is going to take me and bring me back. I’m so glad I’m not dead. It’s a new feeling. This is a chance to reinvent myself, build a “life worth living” like they say in DBT. I’ve never been healthy before. Life starts now.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
I’m listening to the credits’ music from “August Rush.” Feels like it should be later than 8:30pm. Mom brought me dinner and visited tonight. I’m really glad I’m here. I had my second ECT Friday and it went MUCH more smoothly than the first. They gave me nausea and pain meds in my IV and I’m not having as much memory loss. My muscles are still sore but that’s it. It’s curious because instead of forgetting people I know, I think I know people I don’t. Eh. Whatever.
I made a really cool bleeding tissue paper art piece today. It is multicolored with a picture of two mccaws in the middle and says “Fly Free” because that how I feel. I also made a bracelet that says “JOY.” I’m not sleeping very well but my appetite is back. I miss my dog.
I’m not sure what’s gonna happen when I leave here – if I’ll go back to DBT or what my schedule will be like. I know I can’t drive for two weeks but I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any maintenance. I look forward to going back to Soleil and Dr. H and the girls. I’m hoping this emptiness in my head doesn’t stick around and that the thoughts start to repopulate. My doc here says we’re “rearranging the furniture” and not to worry. That’s a tall order but I’m working on it.
(yawn, look around)
I got to talk to my aunt today… I feel like coloring. Maybe I will. I could draw or color some furniture, or just imagine it. I feel SO grateful. I find it curious how whatever controls seizures so strongly influences mood… We were going to watch “Roman Holiday” tonight but the new lady doesn’t want to. (long pause) The noise from the tv is hijacking my brain. Let me reiterate how grateful I am for this hospital, my doctors and ECT and I’ll let you alone. Goodnight. :)
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
I had my first ECT this morning. Kicked my butt. I had one of my favorite nurses today and a doctor I super love and trust did the procedure for me. I gave him a huge hug. I’ve had friends who’ve had it before but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Today – uncontrollable crying, super dizzy, intense nausea and muscle pain, and the inability to remember where I was, why I’m doing ECT and almost everyone on the unit – even people I’ve known for years. It was somewhat of a curious brain teaser trying to remember what the unit looks like. I’ve had a hard time catching my breath today but it’s getting better. They said I had a 105 second seizure.
I feel pretty wretched but I’m glad I’m doing this. I have another treatment tomorrow and then I have the weekend off, more next week. I made myself a bracelet that says “PROUD” today when I was finally able to get out of bed. I don’t have anything brilliant or exciting to share. I just wanted to check in. My mom’s coming with some food soon. I can’t wait to hug her and I hope I can keep the food down.
Thanks for caring and reading.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
I was given a gift tonight. D- visited and we sang. I shared some of me with her. She doesn’t want to lose me. I enjoyed the singing, the truth connection, but I still want to die. The exhaustion of interacting used everything in me. I talked to H- in the hall. Then J- came with a gift – a red wristband.
I never thought I would be one of those people who took a million meds or had a rolodex of doctors. I’ve never planned to be a sick person. I didn’t look forward to struggling through days. Yet here I am with a red wristband. I feel defeated. I’ve turned into Janet, only I’m not dead.
What does it mean about me?
I think I can let go now, stop fighting just for tonight. God is here and my family is around me. My insides are hollow and my outlook dark, but my soul rises up. This is the end. I want to die.
I trust my team. I don’t want to let them down. I will sleep safely and meet Dr. M in the morning for ECT. I’m scared but I trust him with the brain attached to this red wristband. I just don’t trust myself.
I thank God for my doctors and my friends & family.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
Sorry for the last post. Didn’t mean to freak anyone out. I met with my doctor yesterday and today and he’s working with four of my other doctors. It feels good to have a family around me. I’m going to start ECT tomorrow. I’m nervous but not afraid. I just really hope it helps. I want to feel better. I want to enjoy my life.
Some people are still upset that I don’t want visitors unless we’ve talked about it. That request stands. I’m working hard here on getting healthy and I have a low tolerance for humans. Thank you for caring. I really appreciate it. I have cards and notes from people taped all over my room and a big sign on the window that shouts “YOU MATTER.” I check my email and voicemail often. I’m makin’ progress one breath at a time.
I really didn’t want to tell anyone about the ECT. I feel like I’ve failed and have shame about needing it. I keep most things secret in my life but I think this secret should be something I can use to help others, even if sharing it really bothers me.
I gotta get off the computer now. I’m typing myself to sleep and Chandler is about to propose to Monica on a rerun of Friends. Stay well, my dears.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015