Saturday, February 7, 2015

Living in Darkness

My name is Rana. Yesterday was my 36th birthday; which commemorated over two decades of a life poisoned by depression.  Sadness and despair have characterized me since the young age of fourteen.  It was then, in eighth grade, that I first attempted suicide.  You may be wondering why a middle school student would become so desperate that death felt as if it were the only option. I will try to explain by telling my story about living in darkness.

I didn't feel like a normal adolescent.  Although I was popular, I struggled with understanding social conformity and didn't feel as if I fit in with my peers at school. I had a hard time controlling my moods far beyond the average swings caused by fluctuating hormones present in all teenagers' bodies.  I often cried for no known reason and spent the majority of my days feeling overwhelmed by sadness.  Things were so turbulent for me, emotionally, that I spent hours alone in my room listening to the melancholy lyrics of the 1980's punk rock band "The Cure".  Many of the complex topics that lead-singer Robert Smith wrote about were above my maturity level, but I could identify all too well with the feelings of desperation, loneliness, and isolation that emoted through the tunes.

My feelings of sadness became so overwhelming that near the end of  the school year, late one spring night, I sat alone in the floor of my darkened bedroom, sobbing without cause.  I was exhausted and overpowered by my intense emotions and the thought of death as an end to my suffering slowly swept into my pubescent thoughts. Without hesitation I went into the bathroom medicine cabinet and searched for a bottle of pills potent enough to end my life.  Alas, the only bottle I found contained Tylenol but that did not end my suicidal ideations.  Without even a drink of water, I began choking down handfuls of the small, oblong pills, hoping that if I ingested enough I would not have to face the light of another day.  However, the sun rose upon me with an aching head and upset stomach.  I was angry that I was alive, but more so I dreaded the state of constant depression in which I existed.

 Over the next 22 years, I suffered from depression that became so dark that it suffocated my spirit and overshadowed my accomplishments.  I was treated by multiple psychiatrists, who prescribed countless combinations of prescription drugs which only provided minimal, temporary relief of my symptoms. The side-effects of these psychiatric medications included everything from constant fatigue and drastic weight gain to sexual dysfunction and various neurological symptoms.

 At one point, when I was 24 years old, my body became resistant to pharmaceutical treatment.  This left me with no other option than to have Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), more commonly known as shock therapy. The hope of this treatment was to reset my ailing brain much like you would reboot a malfunctioning computer. The procedure was vulgar, requiring a electric shock administered to the brain to induce seizure.  I had to be placed under heavy sedation during each treatment which left me disoriented and groggy for the rest of the day.  It also caused some lasting memory loss, not to mention the stigma attached to such a treatment due to it's depiction in horror movies containing scenes of insane asylums.

It was during this time frame that I was declared totally and permanently disabled and started receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the government because I was unable to hold a job.  I spent the next twelve years feeling lost and without purpose, having no career with which to occupy my time or provide me with a sense of self-worth.  I had no friends and my family was my only support system.  I spent my days alone, wasting time with unproductive activities that only served to worsen my feelings of depression.  I was hospitalized in psychiatric facilities more times than I could keep track, mostly because of failed suicide attempts by overdose.

In 2014, during one particular hospitalization after a short, pain-staking pregnancy that ended in miscarriage, the depression had worsened to the point I was sleeping throughout multiple days at a time.  I told my attending psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Schrieber, that I had previously received ECT treatments and he began telling me about a new treatment founded on the same principles that ECT was based, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).  Dr. Schrieber explained that unlike ECT, which had to be performed in a hospital setting, TMS was being performed in his outpatient office by a neurologist named Dr. Katherine Heatwole.  I was intrigued to say the least by the thought of a non-invasive, outpatient procedure used to treat depression.

After my release from the hospital, I became a patient at Ocean Psychiatric Group, Dr. Schrieber's practice, in Virginia Beach, Va.  It was there that I made an appointment to consult with Dr. Heatwole in order to see if I was a candidate for TMS.  With that appointment, a chain of events began that impacted my life in an unimaginably, positive way.  I was accepted as a candidate for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and suddenly I had hope again:  hope in the idea that I could experience remission from my lifelong depression... hope that I could become functional in all aspects of my life... hope that I could be happy.

1 comment:

Ann Eaton said...

Rana, I was your next door neighbor for several years. You dad called you Rana Banana. I am sorry for all you have suffered, depression is so crippling. I admire your spirit and hope that you have great success in your treatment. Ann Eaton