Thursday, October 14, 2010


Call me Ishmael.

Call me Electro-girl.

I’m back, scrubbed free of thoughts of nooses and self-abuses. Once again, my desperate depths (chronicled, perhaps to some extent in the last post), landed me in the psych hospital. Once again, I went in thinking, “Oh, just a few days to get me through the crisis moment,” only to emerge, bleary-eyed but with newfound hope, almost three weeks later.

I suppose it stands to reason that when you seem to have a drug-resistant depression as I do, and you begin looking up online the best way to form a noose, or contemplate how to duct-tape a garden hose to the exhaust pipe, those in the know might have a serious concern that I might indeed, in my usual impulsivity, act on the plans. And to some extent, I did, at least in the habitual ways I hurt myself—an armful of new scars to contend with, to explain away, to cover up under long-sleeves, to hide from my kids’ persevering curiosity.

“Momma, what happened to your arm?” my daughter asked upon my return.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t remember.” Obfuscation? Abstraction? I forget that doesn’t work with a concerned 8 year old.

“No, Momma. Really. What happened? Did a dragon attack you?”

If only this could be explained away by some spontaneous, mythological attack.

“No,” I said. Because of course, in her world, a dragon would never attack a member of her family. Not when she loves both of them so much. “How about a snack?” I said. Food diversion always works with her because she is always hungry. And thankfully, the offer of the Pringles can worked.

But I know this won’t work forever. At some point, I’m going to have to explain myself. She’ll be the caterpillar smoking the hookah, with all the time and attention in the world. “Who are you?” she’ll ask. “And what are all those scars on your arm? And why do you keep going into the hospital and leaving us? And why do you have a brain disease? And why, Momma, why do you want to die?”

This time, I can say with surety, that I have left the hospital with (muted) optimism. No. I’ll go a step further and say, I feel good. How do I know this? I’ve been laughing an awful lot since my return—at myself, with the kids. And the suicidal rumination? Gone. You might ask, “How is this possible? You went into the hospital on 7 (yes, count them), 7 medications and arrived back home only on 1.” One small mood-stabilizer. Tegretol. It seems strange not to have to line up my competing armies of pills each morning and night, and stranger still that I seem to feel buoyed up without them. But there it is: laugher and stability.

Oh yes, and ECT, aka, Electroshock Therapy. I have embarked on a course of treatment by voltage and seizure and, miraculously, it seems to be working. All neurons firing at once; the brain plastic; new pathways forming? That might be the technical explanation for this week-long, sustained sense of well-being, of being glad I am alive, that I did not vacate the premises 3 weeks ago.

Is it scary? Hell, yes. Particularly the anesthesia and muscle paralytic. Because that asks me to cede all control over to a group of relative strangers and I am, as you have learned, not one to do that. It’s what the cutting and the eating disorder have at their hearts: my need to exact complete, tyrannical control over my, my, my (did I say “my”?) body. But therein is the lie because that control actually belongs to IT. “I” don’t really want to punish and torture myself, whip myself into submission before ITs implacable demands that I die. “I” want to live. I want to love and be loved. And yet. And yet. My arms and body might announce the opposite. So the practicalities involving ECT (the complete loss of self and self-control, momentarily, under anesthesia and paralysis) are unsettling.

And then there is the smaller detail of current and electrodes. I try not to think about that. I stupidly Googled “ECT” and landed at a website devoted to posting pictures of people undergoing ECT. I had to look away, at once from the wires attached, even if for only seconds, to the brain. Because those are images of utter passivity and if nothing else, I am not a passive person. As Dr. B. said a few days ago, “I don’t like to get caught up in battles of will with you.” I refuse to give in. And yet here I am, giving in already 5 times, and at least 5 more times.

Why do I do it? Because I have to. I want my life back and if this is the last option, if this is what stands between me and an early grave, then I’ll do it. For my family. For, dare I say, myself.

Which brings me to what matters most. The other night, I was snuggling with my daughter, glad to be home, glad to have my son on the other side of me already asleep in the blissful knowledge that HIS MOMMA was home, I decided to ask my daughter how she was feeling about this latest trial. Christopher had given her a rudimentary explanation of why I was back in the hospital and what ECT was—her curiosity demanded it of him and, well, she was old enough to know because the knowing might help allay some of her fears.

“So,” I said, “were you scared when Daddy told you about the procedure?” (Her word, not mine. “Procedure” a big-enough word to encapsulate the knowing and the not-knowing, a big enough word for her to assert her own sense of understanding, the word she and Christopher had settled on that offered some distance from the perhaps terrifying realties (to an 8 year old) of what was happening to me, “up there,” at the hospital.)

“A little,” she said, then hesitated. I thought she was going to cry. Instead, she surprised me and laughed. “But I think it’s kind of cool to have Frankenstein for a Momma.”

And with that--my daughter’s usual ability to surprise, with her beautiful sense of irreverence-- my newly discovered belief that I will live to see this through, that I will indeed, outlive IT, took hold. And I have not been able to shake it since. Frankenstein. Electrogirl. Still Momma. And here. And hopeful.