Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections on 2014

This past year has been filled with horror, sadness, hurt, pain, joy, happiness and above all, tremendous love. I don’t mean the love where we so casually tell our partners we love them at the end of a phone conversation. I mean love that you feel with your gut, your soul, your entire being. This is a new phenomenon for me as I had never felt that before. I was not able to feel it.  Now I begin and end each day with these incredible feelings, for my husband, my daughter and for my family and friends. I still get tearful as I think of how monumental this is for me, at the age of 40. 

I began this year with therapy and numerous medication trials. What followed was the sadness, hurt and pain that I could never accurately describe. It is a hell that you want to desperately exit, but there are no signs of where to go. The horror was my summer when I was so severely depressed, my thoughts were closed to any possibility of relief. I inhabited my own personal hell where it was dark, lonely and scary. In the hospital, where I needed to be and am so thankful to work with an amazing psychiatrist for getting me there, there was more fear. I had to take ownership of my thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t hide behind the “mommy” mask or the “wife” mask. I was just “Risa” and that was all I needed to be. No pressure from the real world. The focus was on me. My focus was on me. 

And then it was time for a new treatment: one that would literally shake things up. I needed this. I needed something that would give me a rapid response as it was time for my horror to end. I needed to find that exit from the hell I was living. I found it as a result of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The terror that I felt prior to my initial treatment will never be forgotten as it was a fear I had never experienced before. As I called my outpatient psychiatrist numerous times the night before that first treatment, she gave me the language I needed. While I was telling her I was “scared,” she was able to really hear me as she said, “you – are - terrified.” I will never forget that moment. I was able to make the language connect to the feeling. Indeed, I was absolutely terrified.

Countless electroconvulsive therapy treatments later, and still more to go, what has happened in these past months since it began is a true testament, not just to this particular treatment but to medication and therapy, too. I look forward to a new year while I continue this process of recovery. I am happy to feel the space of time since my summer of horror but am also moved by all I went through. I am in awe that I endured so much for so long. I am proud of the work I have done in my therapy, intense and difficult as it is. Without this work I never would have arrived at this point of feeling such love. You can’t feel love as a result of taking a pill or having ECT. Having this new gift is a direct result of my therapy and while I cannot clearly explain how it happened, it did.

The process continues and I have more work to do but I am in a much better and healthier place today than a year ago. 

Moving forward, I hope I can be strong, emotional and loving to and for my husband and daughter. I feel that love…intense, sometimes overwhelming, amazing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Speak Up!

This is my story that I told at Speak Up in Hartford on 12/6/14. It is not word for word, but close enough. The theme was "reunions."

“You’re back?”
Those were the first words I heard as I stepped back into the psychiatric unit this past July. This did not come from a patient who wasn’t in touch with reality…I was there just the week before.

I had only been gone a week and I was not too happy about being back. So, not only was I reunited with this patient, but I was reunited with other patients, mental health workers, nurses and doctors whom I had spent 5 days with the week prior. The “fuck you” I heard from another patient directed at no one in particular was truly my welcome back onto the unit.

My depression was relentless and I needed more than the initial 5-day stay had given me. The “I remember you” my nurse told me that first night back was not reassuring as she looked up my evening meds. I didn’t want to be remembered since I felt ashamed that I had to return and was already feeling so horrible that I had let down my outpatient therapist who made the call to hospitalize me for the second time. So, I was just oozing with guilt.

The next reunion was with my attending psychiatrist, whom I really liked. He was none too pleased with me as I had convinced him the week before that I was better and ready to go home. Trust was lost and I needed to mend our relationship. As I worked on that I spent my time locked in to my treatment. This involved taking my medication, having open communication with my nurses and doctors and also reuniting with my ECT nurses. I had started Electroconvulsive Therapy (yes, that is what is also known as shock therapy) the week before and I needed to continue with this treatment. My first ECT treatment as a repeated inpatient was very difficult. You see, the nurses who work in ECT are the most warm, loving and caring people and I felt I had let them down, as well by returning to the inpatient unit. I actually sobbed that first treatment back. On their end of this reunion, they were just as warm and consoling as they had been before. I was cared for with no judgment.

Returning to a psych unit after having been there just the week before is a humbling experience, to say the least. I was there for 5 days and then was sent home to the open arms of my husband and four year old daughter. I was severely depressed and that first hospitalization did not change that. So it was back to being “checked” on every 30 minutes and being watched while I shaved my legs. It was asking for a staff person to input a code into the phone in order to make a long distance call so I could reach my husband and daughter. And it was back to daily visits with my husband which were full of sadness and longing and a bit of hope. Each time he was let in to the locked unit, I would cringe a bit, due to the guilt I felt at putting him through this difficult time. But once we hugged, I could let that go and focus on him… and his phone which he would sneak in to the unit to show me pictures of our daughter.
When it came time to discuss discharge after seven days, my doctor said to me, “you fooled me once…I don’t want to make that same mistake again.” How could I blame him? I told him I was really ready to go home and truthfully, I was.

It all ended on discharge with the most emotional reunion of all...seeing my 4 year old daughter again...this involved literally smelling her skin, using all of my senses to take her in, kissing her all over and simply not letting go. I had missed her in the most intense way a human can miss another human. And when we were reunited, I simply could not imagine anything feeling so important or real. This little girl who looks more like me than me and who can melt my heart with one brief look. This was the most poignant reunion of all.

So, while I was initially not too happy to be back in the hospital, the truth is, there were people I worked with there who helped to save my life. These reunions were necessary for my recovery, including my reunion with my outpatient therapist after my discharge, which felt just as significant. For this I will always be thankful: to all of those who believed in me the second time around.

If someone were to ask me that question now, you’re back? My response would be,  “I am back…back to feeling better with the people I love.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Letter to my Therapist

I had this weird feeling that I was cheating on you. I walked into the office and checked in with the receptionist. I was directed to a waiting room. As I sat in this room, all I could think was how surreal it all felt. What if I don't like him? What if I do like him?

He came and introduced himself and walked me to his office. I sat down across from him and we began. He asked me for my story. I told him about my childhood, college years and my history with depression. We went over all of the medication trials and the success of the ECT. He was laid back, funny and a good listener. I became more comfortable as the time went on. I was able to focus on the task at hand. I need a psychiatrist to monitor my medications who is local. Period. His role is not as therapist, that's still your role and I am grateful. This was your choice and I followed through.

It feels monumental, in some way, as if this is part of my progress. Life goes on and I am moving forward. He is just another member of my team but you are still the captain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Foiled Again

Damn this depression! Just when I was finding my "feeling well" groove, I get struck down. I had my monthly ECT this past Friday and since then I have felt disconnected, out of it, flat and a little sad. After talking with my outpatient psychiatrist, she contacted my ECT doc who actually informed her that this can happen once one begins the monthly maintenance treatments. He explained that they bring the patient back in for a treatment to get her back on track and then try again with the monthly schedule. So, that makes me feel a bit better. I will not allow this to bring me down. I am strong. I've also been through worse.

So, I will go off to ECT tomorrow and plan to feel better after. The trajectory for recovering from depression is most definitely NOT a straight line. I am a testament to that. Just glad I have the fight still in me!
As Nana used to say, these are all things in life. I will surely get through this bump in the road.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Truth

Wednesdays are difficult for me. I stay over the night before in MA and then head off bright and early to see my psychiatrist for a double session. After that, I hit the road and head back to CT to go to work. I work until 5 PM and then have to pick up my daughter and endure the evening ordeal that all parents deal with each evening: the dinner debacle. I go through my day emotionally exhausted and in somewhat of a fog. I go over the session in my head and try to come to some understanding of what was discussed. What happens in the hour and a half can be described as difficult, hard, hurtful, sad, happy, pleasing, painful, get the picture. It is truly an array of feelings. It is the most difficult hour and a half of my week and I would not change that for anything. The work that is done there is helping me in ways I can't even describe.

The truth is...I still feel depressed sometimes. I didn't just have ECT and wake up all better. That's not how it works. The combination of the ECT, medication and therapy have pulled me out, but it is a process. During the past week all I have thought is how happy I am to go for my monthly maintenance ECT this Friday. I feel like I need it. This past week I have felt a bit off...a bit flat. The feeling is familiar and is one I am not happy about. Although my psychiatrist is increasing one of my medications, I am hopeful that I will feel a bit better after Friday's treatment.

I had such a tremendous change in mood shortly after my hospitalization and since then that has remained steady. This past week serves as a reminder that recovering from depression is truly a process that takes time. It does not simply go away; it is a process and I am still in it, working harder than I have ever worked on anything in my entire life.

Monday, October 27, 2014


And then, there were none.

My last remaining grandparent died last week. She was 98 years young. I am 40 years old and I am very aware of how lucky I have been to have grandparents live well into their 80s and 90s and be a part of my life.
My mother’s mother died from cancer when I was 13 years old and at the time, I felt as if my heart had broken. I had a special relationship with my Nana and while I was beginning to endure my adolescence, I lost someone so special to me. I always think of her when I eat oranges as we would peel and share an orange as part of our special time together.

My father’s father died when I was 23 years old. Although it was difficult to hear the news, my Grandpa had endured quite a bit and it felt more peaceful for him to pass. After his stroke, I went to visit him in the rehabilitation center with my parents. I put on a yellow gown and proceeded into the room with my parents and grandmother. I remember holding his hand and looking into his vacant eyes. He was simply not there. I was overcome by what was my first anxiety attack (I did not know that’s what it was at the time) and I looked at my parents and told them I needed to leave the room. That was the last time I saw my grandfather. I could not cope with his state and knew I would not visit him again. Now, I think of him daily since I call my daughter “lovey” and my grandfather called each of his grandchildren, “lovey.”

My mother’s father died when I was 28 years old. Being 98 years old, my Papa led quite a life. Interestingly, after my grandmother died when I was so young, I became closer to my grandfather. I remember packing up his home when he moved from Chelsea, MA to Brookline, MA. I would frequently give him rides to my parents’ home for holiday celebrations and he would always marvel at my “machine” (car). He was not only kind to everyone he encountered, he maintained his sweet nature as he aged. My daughter is named for him.

My father’s mother passed away in her sleep, peacefully. She had been suffering from dementia and had had difficult moments dealing with others. Grandma loved her family and was always overly concerned with her children’s, grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s safety and happiness. As an adult, she would always tell me not to work too hard.

All four of my grandparents were immigrants from Russia, Romania and Latvia. They left situations that had not entirely revealed themselves and ended up being incredibly lucky as a result. Whether it was to dodge the army or to seek a better life, they each came with the hope of something better, safer and healthier.

I am lucky to have such great memories of them and lucky that I shared special times with each of them. There are parts of me that are direct gifts from them; I am honored to pass on these parts to my daughter so she can benefit from their living.
We talk about it “taking a village” to raise children and for me, my grandparents were very key figures in my village. How brave they must have been to have traveled to an unknown land at such young ages (teens and young 20s). Their lives were blessings for themselves and for those who were touched by them.

How lucky, indeed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Some Wednesday Lightness: My History with Barbra

At the young age of 18, I became a true Barbra fan. That’s Barbra Streisand. After viewing The Prince of Tides, I was hooked. I fell in love with her music and her films and did my research about her, as a person. I was instantly impressed with her charitable giving and felt her feminist activism was powerful.

When I went to college in New York City, it was important for me to go by the sites that she had been to and I would frequently experience New York while she sang into my earphones as I walked down Broadway. 

When I learned she would be filming a movie on my college campus, I knew I needed to be a part of it. I was able to sign up to be an extra and was lucky enough to get called. In the weeks leading up to my film date, I would see her on campus and get very excited. I so wanted to talk to her and tell her what a positive influence she was for me. I really just wanted to talk about anything with her, I didn’t care about the subject. I wanted to tell her how I didn’t realize how short she was and on days when she was not filming scenes herself, she looked so casual and comfortable. But, I remained quiet.

The big day came and I wore all brown. We were told not to wear black but to wear neutral colors. I was given a pink scarf to wear by wardrobe and I was ready to go. The scene is toward the end of the movie when Barbra is walking through campus with Pierce Brosnan. I am seen for a split second. Filming that one scene took several hours and was a very cool experience. I was asked to stay while they filmed another scene, indoors, but was not used. I was able to watch the process and really appreciate the work.
At the end of the night (after 12 hours of work) I knew what I had to do. As I got my stuff together, most of the extras had left, probably needing to return to their dorms to study. I took a chance and waited by the front door of the building we were in. I heard someone yell, “Rose is coming,” and knowing that was Barbra’s character’s name in the film that Barbra was coming downstairs. I waited. 

As she walked past me, this was the interaction:
Me: “Barbra?”
Barbra: “Yes.”
Me: “I really enjoyed watching you work today.”
Barbra (smiling): “Thank you.”

Cue her bodyguard who pushed me away from her…

And with that, I walked to my dorm as tears began to flow down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the entire experience, but the fact that I was able to have a brief conversation with her sealed the deal for me. I was 20 years old and I felt as if I had lived a dream.

Fast forward 20 years and I am now living a dream with my husband and daughter. I do feel as if Barbra has been there through good times and bad with me. Her music can be haunting and uplifting, depending on my needs. Her films are all wonderful and I highly recommend the little known, Up the Sandbox. My love of Barbra will continue and is now shared with my daughter. 

And really, there is nothing like hearing your 4 year old daughter sing, A Quiet Thing/There Won’t be Trumpets at the top of her lungs while riding to preschool in the morning.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Year and Thank You Message

I have historically enjoyed this time of year. I love the fall and celebrating the Jewish New Year holds great meaning for me. When I think of what I want for myself in this new year, all I can think of is health. Health for my family and friends and for me. I am not sure I can describe what I have been through in the past year but words that come to mind are: hell, pain, misery. While I would like to just feel competent and happy-ish, I have to settle for simply "better." My mental health is much better than it was a few months ago and I am thankful for that and for the people who helped me get to this point. I am still fighting and continue to work on the medications. I will continue to have "maintenance" ECT once a month into the winter. I will also continue my hard work in therapy which brings me places I never imagined (both good and bad, but mostly good). I may feel different, better, a little more at peace, but I will not have unrealistic expectations of making a grandiose and instant recovery. That will not happen. My recovery will continue on its upward trajectory with this new year or without it. Time is time and nothing can change that.

I do wish happiness and health for my family and my friends. I am so thankful for having them and they have supported me in more ways than I can list: a simple phone call, a text/email, a visit, driving me to ECT, etc. There is so much to be thankful for and many people to thank. You know who you are and my ongoing recovery would not be possible without you. It takes special people to drive you to ECT, for example, and continuously make you laugh and put you at ease.  This week I am thinking of all of you and wish you all peace, health and happiness. Not only do I consider myself lucky to have you all in my life but I feel as if I won the lottery!

I will continue on my journey and am honored to have special people accompanying me along the way. My husband and daughter are my anchors and I am so thankful for them. They are what ground me when I feel overwhelmed and what calms me at the end of the day.

Shanah Tovah. A Happy and Sweet New Year.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A New Way to Be Independent

When I make a mistake, I apologize. When my husband makes a mistake, he apologizes. We are teaching our four-year-old daughter to take responsibility, always. Historically, when I have needed help with something, I was slow to ask and often ended up feeling frustrated and blaming the other for not reading my mind. This is not a character trait I would like to pass along to my daughter so I am changing things for myself. I am practicing this now as a new phenomenon. I share with others, appropriately, and let my needs be known. This is still very new for me but there is so much as stake, not just for me, personally, but for my daughter. I don’t want her to experience the disappointment and interpersonal struggle that I have in my life due to being overly independent. 

When my daughter throws a tantrum because she cannot zip her sweatshirt or can’t buckle herself in her car seat, I sometimes have trouble being patient with her. This is partially due to the fact that we share this “perfectionist” trait. I get it. Through my frustration, I tell her that it is okay to ask for help. I do not want this to grow into something bigger for her for I know what the outcome will be and it is not very positive.

Asking for help can be a double edged sword: I am weak if I ask for help and I will suffer in silence by not asking for help. Accurate?  Not exactly. I want my daughter to learn that, as humans, we are not perfect and do not employ super-human abilities. There will always be times when we need to ask for help and it is appropriate and okay. I told my daughter this morning if she needs help zippering her sweatshirt, she can certainly try herself, but she should feel free to ask one of her teacher’s. I let her know it is okay, that I don’t have unrealistic expectations of her. And even though I am seen on a pedestal in the eyes of my four-year-old daughter, I make sure that she sees and hears when I ask someone else for help. It is so important to model this for her right now. I feel like we are at such a pivotal moment in her life and it is pertinent for her to incorporate this into her being. 

I hope that as she realizes how good it can feel to ask for help and how a relationship can grow as a result, she will carry that experience with her and will remember it as being positive. My wish for her is to trust others and let them in. Allow others the benefit of accompanying her in her journeys, whether it is asking someone for help with a drawing or asking for help reading a book. These can be profoundly positive experiences and I hope she does not make the same mistakes I made and can allow the “other” some space. She will be more well-rounded and solid as a result. 

When I pick her up from school later today, I hope to hear from her teachers that she worked through any issues on her own and allowed others to help her as part of that process. I look forward to praising her efforts and behavior. We do not function in silos and we need to teach our children that being independent does not mean erasing the “other.” We can be independent and still allow the “other” to be a part of our experience, for in reality, by allowing the other to be with us, growth will be prompted that would never have been possible without it.