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But her journey isn’t for everyone

Sarah picked up the phone and called just after I left her a message. Like me, she gets pummeled with scam calls aimed at what the world at large sees as a vulnerable population: lonely, aging women over 65.

Maybe for some. Sarah’s not a good target any more than I am. She lets someone call, if they leave a legit message she calls back. So do I.

It was wonderful, after two years, to hear energy, enthusiasm and joie de vivre in her voice. She really did sound like a new person. First time in ages I heard the voice of the person I was initially drawn to back in 2017. She’s walking, exercising, eating better. Taking care of herself.

I’d been almost dreading speaking with her as it’s been difficult. We met just after a genuinely awful incident with an international client triggered serious depression. They were righteous shits to her. That flattened her emotionally, ended her business and she spiraled downhill.

It didn’t help that when she referred me to that same client I got treated the same way. That makes a string of three, maybe four, uber-competent women who got burned. In fact, I suspect she felt guilty, because it caused me a lot of grief as well. Not her fault, though. I stepped up, I pays my money and takes my chances.

With a pattern like that, it ain’t us. That didn’t help Sarah. What they had done was flip the switch on a whole series of buried feelings and experiences. It wasn’t just this cretin client. As with so many emotional traumas, sometimes all it takes is just one more to open Pandora’s Box.

Chances are, especially with this shitstorm of a year we’ve had, you know exactly how that feels. I sure do. Which reminds me a lot of those articles at the start of quarantine about texting our exes.

You all right?
Yeah, I was before you texted me, asshole. Thanks.

Ask any person of color about triggers, trauma and depression. And the added weighted blanket of feeling the need to be the Happy Black Person who’s just fine as more folks experience Death by Cop, or Idiot Child With Gun Kills Peacemakers.

Our society as we have designed it leads to depression. Then this year’s extra layers really forced us to look where we really don’t want to look. That can also be depressing.

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Sarah was damaged goods, and this incident forced her to look at it. Most of us are damaged goods, but would prefer not to look at it.

Every time we spoke thereafter, this incident would come up, as fresh for her as though it had just happened. She pushed at it in her psyche the way our tongue pushes at a rotten tooth. She couldn’t leave it alone.

In the ensuing few years, I would check in. She was undergoing shock therapy.

Look, that’s not my cup of tea. However, it can work for some, albeit the results are mixed. This is my understanding of what she went through:

Electroconvulsive therapy
Electroconvulsive therapy ( ECT), formerly known as electroshock therapy, is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures…

From the article:

A course of ECT is effective for about 50% of people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, whether it is unipolar or bipolar.[7] Follow-up treatment is still poorly studied, but about half of people who respond relapse within 12 months.[8] Aside from effects in the brain, the general physical risks of ECT are similar to those of brief general anesthesia.[9]:259 Immediately following treatment, the most common adverse effects are confusion and transient memory loss.[4][10] Among treatments for severely depressed pregnant women, ECT is one of the least harmful to the gestating fetus.[11]

Sarah seemed to be getting nowhere, based on our conversations in the beginning.

Yet she told me that she had recently admitted herself for ECT, and had herself put through a much more grueling schedule. By the time I’d called, she was down to perhaps one session every three weeks.

She was lighter in every sense of the word. Still.

ECT isn’t for everyone.

This article from the Mayo Clinic explains further:

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are…

From the article:

ECT may be a good treatment option when medications aren’t tolerated or other forms of therapy haven’t worked.

Those who are older, like Sarah, and who aren’t athletic, who have problems with medication side effects, might be good candidates.

Please note, I said “might.” Like anything else that touches the brain, you and I really need to be mindful that leaping on this bandwagon simply because it helped someone with unique needs like Sarah can lead to all kinds of problems.

There is no quick fix for mental illness, any more than there is a quick fix for depression, any more than there is a quick fix for anything worth having. We have to work to get better. Sometimes that work means spending time depressed. I’ve spent plenty of my own time there.

I tried all manner of things, although not ECT. Ultimately my time in the barrel served me. I discovered, through managing my own process as Sarah has done, that the meds I had been prescribed were the far bigger problem. Once I got off them I felt one hell of a lot better. I cycled off my meds slowly, let my care team know what I was doing, made sure they knew it wasn’t negotiable, and cleared up thirty-five discrete symptoms that my docs, as is their habit, were treating as new illnesses.

Deposit photos

No. They weren’t. They were medically-induced. Many of them made me feel, act and function like an elderly person. Remove the meds, holy cow. I gave myself my youthful energy, eyesight, and love of life back. Again, that isn’t for everyone.

I still get sad, and sometimes depressed. Because that’s normal. I just don’t stay there.

As with all things, especially when it comes to you, your body, your brain, it depends. That journey deserves your undivided attention, respect, and a willingness to stay the course when things are rough.

Is the cure worse than the condition?

Sometimes, trying to manipulate ourselves into being happy all the time is precisely the wrong approach.

Depression, for many of us, has a sacred purpose. Stay with me here. I’ll circle back to that.

From the article:

Although ECT is generally safe, risks and side effects may include:

  • Confusion. Immediately after treatment, you may experience confusion, which can last from a few minutes to several hours. You may not know where you are or why you’re there. Rarely, confusion may last several days or longer. Confusion is generally more noticeable in older adults.
  • Memory loss. Some people have trouble remembering events that occurred right before treatment or in the weeks or months before treatment or, rarely, from previous years. This condition is called retrograde amnesia. You may also have trouble recalling events that occurred during the weeks of your treatment. For most people, these memory problems usually improve within a couple of months after treatment ends.
  • Physical side effects. On the days of an ECT treatment, some people experience nausea, headache, jaw pain or muscle ache. These generally can be treated with medications.
  • Medical complications. As with any type of medical procedure, especially one that involves anesthesia, there are risks of medical complications. During ECT, heart rate and blood pressure increase, and in rare cases, that can lead to serious heart problems. If you have heart problems, ECT may be more risky.

ECT is no joke, and like most treatments, no laughing matter.

However if I may. We laugh when we’re ready. Part of the purpose of being depressed is that, at least the way I see it, we have to learn to dance with our demons. When we first come face-to-face with them, typically we have no defenses. Like most things, over time we learn how to lead, not follow, and how to make that tango a lot less tangled.

You and I don’t build those skills if we medicate ourselves in the persistent effort to be happy-dappy all the time no matter how shitty life is. Effectively, we rob ourselves of the deep work of learning that dance. We have the resources. We’re made to have those resources, which includes all those chemicals that the pharma companies tell us are “off.” No. What’s off is the assumption that you take a pill and everything is right as rain.

This article speaks to the larger issue of just how complex depression is, the factors involved, and why there is no simple answer:

What causes depression? - Harvard Health
It's often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn't capture how…

From where I sit, this article speaks to who benefits from our desperate need to try to be giddy happy 24–7:

There Are Too Many Bipolar Disorder Diagnoses
A supervising psychiatrist examines a problematic trend

From the good doctor’s article:

I supervise a small number of clinicians and review clinical charts. I see the diagnosis of bipolar disorder appearing in charts with an implausible frequency, as high as one in three patients. As a rule, I believe none of these bipolar diagnoses without proof. Unfortunately, my skepticism is usually born out.

This growing pattern among mental health professionals of diagnosing bipolar disorder, in lieu of clinical depression, is repeated across clinics and practitioners. My colleagues see the same pattern, which research has now confirmed. Sadly, with each mistaken diagnosis comes the risk of inappropriate treatment, overmedication, and years of unnecessary suffering. (author bolded)

My ex had a good friend in the pharma business. One day he WAS giddy. He proclaimed, with great enthusiasm, that one in four American women is diagnosed with bipolar.

In fact, it’s one in three, see the doctor’s piece above.

My god. What a great windfall for pill pushers. What a horrible state of being for us, mostly women, that our caregivers would do this to us, and that we would allow them to do it to us.

I was one of those. I’m about as bipolar as a polar bear. I do have PTSD from multiple rapes, but I’m not bipolar. But some VA doc slammed me with that unsubstantiated diagnosis and gave me meds that nearly took my life.

I’m the one who had to stop that insanity.

In fact, that is OUR job, not theirs, to stop that insanity.

Deposit photos

Sarah took her care in hand. She tried a variety of approaches, chose to work through things in her own way and on her own terms. She took her age, her physical condition into account. In other words, so far at least, she’s been a responsible steward.

It’s paying off. I loved the energy in her voice. However, I don’t know whether or not she’s learned to lead in the demon dance. I don’t know if she’s built the skills to sustain her feeling of being more in alignment in her life. Because she will find herself facing off with her demons again. That’s their job. Our job is to learn to lead in that tango.

The demon dance is in all of us. We all carry a bucket of those bastards, whether from childhood sexual abuse (my hand is up) sexual assault (ditto), bullying (yep) I could go on and on and on. We all have them. In some ways they are garden variety, achingly normal and everyday, albeit such abuses have no place in any kind of decent society. That they are common and widespread speaks to a sickness in our world, not necessarily in those beaten up by it.

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

Let me tease that out again: that humanity is sick, that society is full of sick and abusive people, is not an indictment of those of us damaged by those people. Yet we wear that pain as though it’s our fault we happened to be in the path of pathologically ugly.

This year we’ve all had to do demon dances. I believe strongly that depression is a normal part of life. A cyclical part of human experience. Our lifestyles, the noise, pollution, widespread hateful -isms make things so much worse, for toddlers to tottering oldies. On top of all that is the lie that we believe we should, after all as Americans, be happy all the time.

It’s written right into our Constitution, in fact. (not for all, for some)

We are not happy in America. To that:

What America can learn from the world's happiest countries
Item: The life expectancy of the United States was recently found to have declined for the third straight year…

There are societal factors which would help, like creating decent health care, doing something about institutionalized racism, ensuring that people get more than that deserved break for shit food at McDonald’s.

But since that’s a fantasy, what’s not is learning better self-care. To that, here’s a simply lovely article I read today about how to deal with much of what makes us depressed and crazy:

Finding the Path to Being Enough
As I approach 60, I am ready to rest in my own ‘enoughness’

From Beth’s piece:

I have been trying to find that ‘something more’ I should be doing by stuffing more and more knowledge and wisdom from others into the cracks and crevices of my life. I’ve been seeking the key to my enoughness from outside myself. (author bolded)

I did that too. It was depressing. Getting older, entering our sixties, often gives us an utterly new lease on what’s possible, better mental health as we stop striving, and a peace with What IS. That’s Goddess Work. That’s why I read Beth and Ann Litts and Rosennab and Nalini MacNab and so many of the other crones-in-training for their wisdom.

Surrounding yourself with Goddesses-in-Training goes a very long way towards holding depression at bay. And when it does come, and it will just like a grey day or rain or the pain of loss of a loved one, you will have love around you, you will have wisdom around you, you will have strength. For Goddesses are the webs of love which hold us together from the beginning of life to the end.

Sarah’s getting there, too. On her own time.

Being enough is likely to allow us happiness. No pill or ECT can do that. These days when I am overwhelmed, I put everything down. Walk (hobble, thank you, I have a fractured toe) sit outside.

Being enough isn’t about having enough. It’s very different. Being enough to me, also means that despite my assault and rape history, those aren’t statements about my value. They are statements about someone else’s evil. I don’t have to wear that shit.

Sad? Sure. Depressed? Sometimes. Sure. That’s part of life. I refuse to pill that away. For those walks through the darker woods of the forests of my inner world, strewn with Spanish moss and the sounds of small things skittering in the bushes, are part of what make life’s sunlit meadows so perfect.

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