By Kurt Sass
Ten years since my last ultra-serious depression
February 13, 2008 was a big day for me. It was my 10th Anniversary. Not your usual anniversary, mind you. It was exactly 10 years to the day that my worst depression ever began. This depressive “episode” would end up lasting two years, involving numerous hospitalizations, cutting myself up to 70 times a day, daily suicidal thoughts, double digit medications and 22 ECT (electro convulsive therapy) treatments before even beginning to return to any form of normalcy.
What triggered this most acute of attacks on February 13, 1998? Just like all my previous depressions, absolutely nothing at all. I was just sitting at home, watching TV. Everything was going along just fine at home and work. No pressures, no anxieties, no warnings. All of a sudden, it was as if someone just stuck a pin in me and drained all my life out. I was suddenly frozen with fear, lethargy depression, you name it.
I mentioned that this depression was by far worse than any of the others I’ve ever gone through, which began for me way back in 1979. All the others had a life span of about eight weeks, and would usually die out. This one decided to become a senior citizen, however. Not a single medication worked. Month after month passed with absolutely no change. It would be a constant struggle just to get out of bed, to eat, bathe or go to the bathroom. I would sleep for days at a time and suicidal thoughts were constant. I would curse out loud that I only lived on the 2nd floor. And for the first time ever, I started cutting myself, since the physical pain would provide a respite (if only brief) from the constant emotional pain I was going through.
After two additional medications were given their eight-week time periods with no success, the head psychiatrist at the clinic (my case had been deemed so serious by this point I had “graduated” to him) suggested I get ECT treatments. Like many others, the only thing I knew of ECT “shock” treatments was from watching “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.” I initially said “No, Way!” but after two more months with no improvement whatsoever, along with reading about 20 articles on ECT and viewing a video of the procedure, I decided to go ahead.
I was scheduled for a series of eight treatments. Just as many of the articles stated, I started to feel better after the 3rd or 4th treatment. And just as many people on medication who start to feel better do, I stopped treatment. I did so because I became fearful of the anesthesia. Lo and behold I had a relapse. I had to start from the beginning and go through the full course of eight treatments again. After the treatments, I felt so much better. I wasn’t back to my old self, but I would say about 80%. I continued to have monthly maintenance treatments, the last being in 2000.
Once I was feeling better, I had to slowly re-integrate myself back into society. After all, I had practically been a hermit and a mute for two years! I started by doing a lot of volunteer work and going to a lot of support groups. I then, with a lot of rejections along the way, eventually found work as a home health aide, then as a service coordinator for Community Access, helping fellow mental health consumers.
I’d love to say that everything is 100% peachy-keen now, but it isn’t. I still wake up with suicidal thoughts each and every morning, but fortunately they fade almost everyday within an hour or so and don’t come back for the rest of that day. But with that being said, I am feeling so much better than 10 years ago. I have all the reason to celebrate my “Anniversary.”
Note: Although ECT helped the author, he only recommends it as an option of last resort, and only after options such as medications and talk therapy have been exhausted. Kurt Sass suffered some minimal memory loss from ECT, but approximately 5-10% of patients suffer major, permanent memory loss.