|Tra-laa, It's May...|
I had a scare this week. A bad one. I came close to returning to the mental hospital. While my response to life's events had me anxious and depressed, my feelings at the prospect of being locked up again brought me to a point of despair that was both frightening and painful.
What triggered all this? It isn't easy to pinpoint a single moment or event. Actually, it's been several weeks in the making. Maybe months. Maybe years. I suppose it depends on how far back in time I want to dig. The judge's signature on our divorce decree. Funerals for cancer warriors. Frustration with my acting. A lingering knee injury that's kept me from training hard for weeks. Disappointment about romantic false starts. The loneliness of single life. Financial trials. All the way back to separation from Mrs P. If I chose to dwell on it, I guess I could touch every descending tread on the stairway of depression all the way back to my childhood, but swilling the sour milk of history only leads to nausea.
Whatever the root cause, the results were agonizingly familiar. Harboring self-destructive thoughts and engaging in isolating behavior. Missing work. Skipping exercise. Eating garbage. Disrespecting myself and others. I embraced all the miserable drama of The Shadowside. That's the name I've given to the dark region where I travel when I allow my depression to define me.I was determined to put an end to it this time, one way or another.
My research and writing set off on two separate journeys. On one path, I began seeking out the thoughts of others who knew the hills and valleys of The Shadowside: people whose pain led them to take desperate measures against themselves. On the second path, I explored alternatives to the therapeutic course I had taken so far. Drugs didn't cure me; therapy didn't cure me; was there another coruse that might lead me to freedom from my depression? As I picked my way along these two divergent paths, it became clear to me that I did not really want to end my life; I wanted freedom; I wanted to live without the chains of mental disorder. Hopeful research led me to something called ECT: Electroconvulsive Therapy.
|One flew east and one flew west...|
I may have been a little too convincing.
After hearing about my mood, my actions, and my thoughts, he instructed me to check myself into the hospital at once. "Impossible," I replied. I have classes to teach. I have a play opening in five days. I can't simply fall off the map for a week. My reputation, which I have spent the past year rebuilding, will be destroyed forever.
"Come on, be serious," the doctor urged. He outlined the reasons I needed immediate hospitalization. "I will order the ECT. You can start tomorrow." Then he said he had no choice but to contact either an ambulance or the police to transport me.
I pleaded. "Let me talk to my therapist. Let me find another solution." The doctor agreed, and I went next door to make my case. In exchange for my freedom, I agreed to stay on my meds, schedule extra meetings, and to contact the shrinks if I felt any kind of crisis coming on.
|Dinner, Balagula Theatre, May 2014|
Even as I was struggling to save myself, God was sending ministers to me. A dear friend invited me to coffee. Mrs P wrote and phoned to check on me. Mom called, and sent me an email with information about how my insurance could help with treatment. I heard from someone whose friendship I thought I had lost forever. And finally, the play opened to wonderful audience response and received a very positive review in the paper. Even as I was preparing myself for the follow-up appointment with the doctor; the one that might very well send me into the hospital; God was flooding me with reasons for hope.
When I met the doc, I asked him to educate me about ECT. He gave me a lot of information. The most persuasive thing he said was that the procedure addresses only the biological causes of depression. It could not change my thoughts. It could not change my character. In other words, it could not change the way I respond to the trigger events that steer me toward The Shadowside. I made the decision. ECT electrodes were not the magic wand I was hoping for. I would not submit to the procedure. The doc affirmed my judgment, and we made a plan. Continue with the new meds. Continue with therapy. Check back in a month.
Since making the decision not to have ECT, I have experienced relief. I think I was afraid of side effects. ECT often results in memory loss, and I was worried that it would amplify the "chemo-brain' effect that I still have, years after my cisplatin treatments. But more than that, I think I was afraid that it might not work; that even after submitting to such a dramatic treatment, I might still be sick. I wondered how I might respond if the Magic Pill didn't work.
The sirens of The Shadowside have been tempting me for almost 54 years. They haven't killed me yet. Today, more than ever, I am determined that when Death comes, he will find me running in the sunshine, not hiding in the dark. #reboot2014 goes on.