“A Bipolar Life”

After my break, I floated around for a while.  My parents were there to take care of me, I was not in the psych ward.  I’m not really sure what I did, except try to piece together what had been going on for the previous two years.  I remember little pieces of things but not very much.  I also know I hunted around for quality psychiatric care.  Other than that, I come up empty.  Six or seven months after the break, I had found a psych doc and therapist. My meds had changed and I was starting to feel the fog lifting a bit.  I had started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on an outpatient basis at the psychiatric hospital.  I had been going for a month and I really wasn’t seeing any benefit.  My biggest complaint was that I was still hearing voices telling me to do all kinds of things, the least of which was to crash my car.  One of the counselors took me aside one morning and talked to me about ECT.  I went home and talked to my parents about it and we set up an appointment at the hospital.

The next thing I remember clearly is being taken off the unit I was on and walked down to the ECT department.

The first ECT went like this:
After the lengthly talk with the nurse, blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, temp, etc. etc.
Walk down the hall to the ECT Room
Hop up on the gurney
Hello to the Nurse, Doc, Orderly, Anesthesiologist
Nurse hooks up a bunch of electrodes, then finds the vein, hooks up the IV
Doc puts electrodes on your head
Anesthesiologist administers heart rate drug (downer, feels a little good, I could stay on this for a while)
Anesthesiologist administers knock out drug (it felt like my heart stopped and I died, I don’t need to or want to experience this again)
Wake up on the gurney in a long line of gurneys and curtains (ECT Recovery)

The way I experienced ECT for the first few months was to black it out.  This was made easier by the anesthetist.  Having to go for treatment on a regular basis meant that my regular life was pretty much blacked out as well.  I remember doing things in and around San Diego, but they’re a little fuzzy.  When the treatments got farther apart the three of us would go on weekend then week long trips.  Yosemite was a favorite and I know we went two if not three times. (I’ll have to look back at the pictures I took).  We also went up the coast to Santa Barbra, and further North to go whale watching.  Most of my in between treatment memories are held in pictures and video that I have on my computer.  Other than those trips, my memory of that time is empty.  I don’t know if it was because of the way I was approaching ECT or if it was the ECT itself.  I have nothing.  Though I will say, the ECT appeared to be doing its job.  My mood was better and the voices had stopped.

Then the disability from my job ran out and I was officially laid off.  We needed to find a new place to live.  I did, and my parents were coming with me.  So, we moved to my aunt’s house in Elk Grove, VA.  That’s about an eight hour drive North of San Diego.  We moved there and still “commuted” to San Diego for ECT treatments.  They were getting further apart so we didn’t have to go too many times.  Still, those trips were a blur.  I think we drove down the day before, stayed in a hotel, had the treatment the next day then drove back to Elk Grove.  I float in and out of the early days in Elk Grove too.  After a little while we made arrangements with the Psych Hospital in Sacramento to take over the ECT treatments.  They required that I go in patient to start so I could be monitored.  I remember three things about that stay.  Gray,  the cafeteria made me want to retch, we had to walk through the gym to get to the ECT trailer and it smelled of sweat, rubber flooring and rubber balls.  After the initial treatments I went to outpatient again.  Once my government disability and Medicare was available we moved out of my aunt’s house and into an apartment close to the hospital.  My memories of this time are better.  For one, I had an outstanding therapist who just “got me”.  Also, all the relatives I had around provided a constant source of interaction and I was finally coming out of the fog I had been living in for a long time.

Looking back on that time of my life, I can now see how I pulled myself through some horrible experiences.  The only way I can describe it; I was present but I wasn’t always there.  I found myself in a sequence of situations that I didn’t want to be in, so for all intents and purposes, I went on auto-pilot and just got through.  I am greatly and sincerely sorry to anyone this may have hurt, inconvenienced, put-out or mislead during that time.  I was trying to survive the best way I could.

Reading “Madness: A Bipolar Life”  by Marya Hornbacher for the past week and a half has made me look at my own relationship with Bipolar Disorder a lot differently than I have been.  Marya’s experiences with Bipolar are very different from mine.  To begin with she has Bipolar I, rapid cycling, meaning she goes from depression to mania very quickly, she also suffers from mixed episodes where she experiences depression and mania at the same time.  I have Bipolar II and suffer mainly depression (though I am not a stranger to mania and psychoses).  She has also been in hospital many more times than I have.  Where our experiences do cross how Bipolar has affected things in our lives like relationships with family, friends (gained and lost), jobs and careers (won and lost).  Mental illness affects these things and many, many more, in all who suffer from it.

I learned a lot about myself reading this book, I saw a lot of myself in those pages and I think that I am better off for having read it.  One thing I will take away from it comes from the Epilogue (that’s right you should always read the Epilogue) where Marya talks about who we are and what we can become.  She writes:

“How do we know who we are or what we can become? We tell ourselves stories.  The stories we tell are what we know of ourselves.  We are a creation, a product of our own minds a pastiche of memory, dream, fear, desire.  My memory looks like a child’s collage, or a ransom note, incomplete and full of holes.  All I have is today, this moment, to work with.  I am writing my story as I go.  I am inventing myself one moment, one experience at a time.

And that’s all right.  It means I can choose who I become.  It means I can write my future.  I can create a person, write a story, full of hope.”

I sincerely hope you get a chance to read “Madness: A Bipolar Life”  by Marya Hornbacher.  It’s a gripping, funny, maddening, harrowing, human story that could possibly change your life.

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One thought on ““A Bipolar Life”

  1. Sounds like you went through at type of dissociation during those early ECT experiences! I’ve got a friend having her first ever course as an inpatient. She’s doing OK. I’m really glad it worked out well for you.

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