I'm four and a half months out the institution where I spent 45 days and finally, as medications did not improve my state, underwent 12 ECT treatments.
For those who think the procedure horrible, it's really humane and the only side effect for me, besides feeling a little fuzzy, was a headache.
Unfortunately they did not work, just as my medications are not working.
Altogether in my life I've had 33 ECT treatments. At thirty, when I was first diagnosed, they worked and I went back to a life, my life. The last two courses--March of 2008 and this year--did little or nothing. I left the hospital no longer "actively suicidal" but still profoundly depressed, as I am now.
I take an antipsychotic, a mood stabilizer, an anti-anxiety medication and an antidepressant. So much my cocktail. But my dysphoria (the polar opposite of euphoria) is still intense, and the pressing, circular thoughts of suicide daily afflict me. I make bargains with myself--I won't do it until my next AA meeting, yada yada yada yada. Thus I forestall my self-destruction, though I pursue it through lesser means like chain-smoking. What most prevents me is the sorrow it would cause my loved ones, and their faces parade before me when I feel utterly forsaken. This struggle is not new. I've weathered it before. This is a cyclic illness and I must remind myself of that. Someday I will feel better. In fact, just recently, I had a four-day uplift in mood which quickly slipped through my mind's fingers. During that time I briefly developed ambitions--volunteer work, a musical project. But with the return of the albatross all seemed lost.
I believe this is the worst disease to afflict mankind, and furthermore, in the history of Christian philosophy, no sin is greater than despair. In a way, depression--sloth, accidie, melancholy (to use more medieval terms)--is also a sin of pride. The great "NO" one speaks to the world is a narcissistic collapse of pride, proving that one's self-esteem was a chimera to begin with. Although one feels no pride in this state, one can assign it--to say to God that you are incurable and that he made a mistake, to wish you were aborted as Job did--is an inverted sort of pride (although I take no pride in it). Still, shall the creature say to his creator that his life is of no account? And cancel the phantom debt by dissolution?
"To be or not to be." At what degree of psychic pain is it permissible to end one's life? It has been argued that chronic, unremitting physical pain is a moral justification for suicide. If so, doesn't psychic pain, which I find much more difficult to endure, qualify as an even better justification?
I spoke recently with a dear friend who haltingly tried to formulate her sentiment towards me. It amounted to this: she wouldn't blame me if I did commit suicide. Having had brushes with severe depression, she could only imagine the suffering I endure, or rather she found it unimaginable. In any case it was as if she granted me permission. But she is not God or fate; she is simply an example of extreme Christian charity in my view. God bless her for her understanding. Tearfully I received it. I told her it was the most charitable thing anyone had ever said to me.
But I will not do it. I must hold to hope. I have weathered this storm before and I will do so again. I probably ought to be hospitalized or institutionalized but have no desire to return to those puke-yellow walls or gray carpeting or the smile of psychiatric nurses trying to understand when they have no idea of the burden such patients suffer.
Am I being self-indulgent? Probably. Is it a sin? I don't know. I don't have the gumption to do anything beside read brain candy (as in mystery novels) and take out the trash and walk the dog and floss my teeth and try to attend AA meetings and to make a pact not to raise my hand against myself until the next therapy appointment, the next meeting, my next visit to my psychiatrist. I am blessed to have so much help but cursed in that I do not benefit from it in any tangible way I can perceive. I ought to join a monastery if they would take me, or the Peace Corps, but my chronic back pain won't allow me to participate fully in life or live the rigors of such commitments. Still, to have my life regimented by some other authority would be a great blessing.
I wish I could offer the reader, if I still have any readers, more hope. But I have always stated in this blog that my idea was to help others endure depression more than anything. Although some go to their grave depressed, most recover in time. I pray I might be one of the lucky ones. I can't imagine living like this for another twenty years when every day seems like an eternity already.
Enough blathering. Here's Dark Sonnet XIII, revised:
You want to die more than you want to live
And smile tightly, trying not to let on.
With luck you’ll pass for normal, forced to give
A weak impression than you’ve not withdrawn
Entirely. Get up, get dressed and shave
And go to work and earn your daily bread.
Each day is one day closer to the grave--
Still on you clomp as if your shoes were lead.
You’re only doing what you have to do
To engineer some cheer to fool your friends
Into believing you’re no more than blue
Or else distracted by important ends.
This dedicated sham can last for years
If you hide the embarrassment of tears.