THE STRUGGLES OF RECOVERING FROM DEPRESSION
By Arlene Appelrouth
While suffering with an episode of clinical depression, I became incapable of concentrating.
Week after week I would sit down to write my “According to Arlene,” column, but all I could write about was feeling miserable. I’ve lived long enough to know most people do not like hearing others complain. That’s all I wanted to do, so I missed deadline after deadline.
Weeks turned into months and when friends asked if I had given up being a columnist, I shrugged and explained I was out of things to say. Depression is not well understood. People who have never been numbed out by its deadening symptoms think those who have a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in life itself, depression affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
I was unable to write and also had trouble doing normal day-to-day activities. Depression robbed me of my ability to experience joy. It took away my ability to appreciate my friends. Food lost its taste so I stopped eating. I lost all interest in cooking.
All I could do was remind myself, “this too shall pass,” while taking anti-depressant medication which didn’t do me any good.
After trying numerous medicines that failed to ameliorate my symptoms, my psychiatrist told me to exercise an hour each day. I was not interested. My doctor expressed regret that I was treatment resistant and suggested I consider shock treatment, electroconvulsive treatment, called ECT for short.
Visions from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” surfaced from the recesses of my depressed brain. Imagining myself lying on a hospital bed while a doctor artificially induced a seizure was not appealing. My doctor told me it usually takes between six and twelve treatments to cure depression. Each session takes place under general anesthesia in a hospital.
My primary care doctor encouraged me to sign up, explaining that according to current research it’s more effective than medicine, and it doesn’t have side effects, except for short term memory loss. Shock treatment seemed traumatic and aggressive. I said no.
Time kept passing.
I lost my ability to interact with my grandchildren, who formerly brought infinite pleasure to my life. When my youngest grandson celebrated his fifth birthday, and a granddaughter had her fourth birthday, those days passed with only an apology from me that I had not managed to purchase a gift, let alone a birthday card. I was falling down on my job as a Bubbie.
The more time passed without my symptoms abating, the more I questioned if life would ever be enjoyable. I didn’t have any desire to spend time at my lake house. My husband suggested we go somewhere on a vacation, but I refused and suggested he go by himself.
I read the book “Final Exit,” which detailed various methods of committing suicide and read books about the psychological impact of suicide on children and grandchildren. My children were aware of how awful I felt and I decided to let them know I saw ending my misery as an option. “Don’t do it,” one of my children said. Another asked if I thought it would be fair to my husband, who had been patiently supportive during my illness.
“Why don’t you think about your grandchildren,” one son advised. “How do you think they will understand your absence during their bnai mitzvah’s, graduations, and weddings?
Did I want to celebrate them? Yes. Did I think I was capable of enjoying them? Not if my clinical depression persisted. I decided to do some research into a course of ECT. I found out that there were several hospitals in the Atlanta area where geriatric psychiatrists provide the treatment. The cost is covered by Medicare.
After another month of suffering I agreed to try ECT. The environment was horrible, even in my depressed state, I was horrified. The waiting room was filled with others, waiting for treatment. A few patients sat screaming that they didn’t want to be there.
Waiting for my turn in the treatment room was scary, the truth is I was terrified. I was scheduled for three ECT treatments a week and the doctor told me they would wait to see if I responded to the treatments.
After eight treatments I was as depressed as when I started.
When I went for a routine appointment to my psychiatrist she said she was disappointed I had not had benefitted from the treatment. She advised me to continue. Last week, after the ninth treatment I had a meal I actually enjoyed eating. I went to the mall with a friend and tried on clothing in my new size. I had lost twenty-five pounds during the course of the depression.
I bought several outfits and costume jewelry to accessorize. Then I went to a shoe store and purchased shoes to wear.
I know some people might question my honesty about this subject, but there might be others who suffer from depression and are reluctant to consider ECT.
The light is back in my eyes, I’m grateful to be alive, and I look forward to writing more columns for The Atlanta Jewish Times.
Arlene Appelrouth earned a degree in news-editorial journalism from the University of Florida and her career as a writer and journalist spans a 50-year period; she currently studies memoir writing while working on her first book.