The Electroconvulsive October

I’m not going to remember this fall.

To me, that’s tragic, because October is my favorite time of year. Not only is it uniquely beautiful, it’s also the time of dark, spooky things – witches and skeletons and jack-o-lanterns and other Halloweeny symbols that have been part of my alternative style since I was in junior high. There are also pumpkins everywhere during this month, which brings me childlike joy. Spirit Halloween stores start to pop up, where I can go to be surrounded by goth things, and even take those things home with me if I choose to.

And don’t get me started on the Halloween wonderland that is Michaels in October.

Not to mention, for some reason, all the most important moments in my life seem to happen in October. I can’t exactly explain why this is, but I’ve observed it to be consistently true. I fell in love in my sixteenth October, and took an extremely fateful trip to San Francisco (more on that in another article) two Octobers later.

So, I suppose it’s only fitting, based on that trajectory, that I would find the medicine that would finally cure my lifelong depression in October – specifically, this one.

Starting electroconvulsive therapy, which is a controversial but extremely effective treatment for depression, was the smartest medical decision I have ever made for myself. I’ve been in and out of psychiatrists’ offices for nearly a decade, seen a therapist almost every week for just as many years, and swallowed an absolutely countless number of pills in the pursuit of a depression-free existence.

And none of it has ever worked.

Now, at this juncture in the story, I’d like to take a moment to say that I would never encourage anyone to stop seeing their doctors or stop taking their medications just because those things didn’t work very well for me. Especially in cases of mental illness, everyone’s physiology is extremely different, and individual cases of disease respond uniquely to various treatments. As it stands, psychiatry and therapy work for most people – that’s why they’re considered first-line treatments for people with symptoms of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Let me put that a little more directly: if you consult a doctor, do not stop seeing them on my account.

It’s the rare person who suffers from medicine-resistant depression, like me, who finds themselves consulting an electroconvulsive therapy doctor. And even then, people in my situation don’t stop communicating with their regular doctors or stop taking their medications. I’ve been on lithium, Zoloft, and Abilify the whole time I’ve received ECT treatments. Those meds weren’t enough to cure me on their own, but they’re still a crucial part of my recovery.

Not as crucial, however, as the ECT itself has been. I started my electroconvulsive treatments about a month ago, and I can already see the enormous difference they’ve made in my mood. For one thing, I don’t hate everything anymore. That’s a step up. Plus, this past month, I’ve been able to appreciate beautiful things, contribute to conversations when I would ordinarily be too depressed to speak, and love my human of choice more fully. (The one I fell in love with seven Octobers ago.)

So that’s been nice.

And it follows the trend, as I mentioned earlier, of the best things always happening to me in the fall. As I write this, it’s almost Halloween, which means I’ve been able to bask in my favorite month for the past several weeks (with the help of ECT, of course). I must admit I’ve felt more abjectly normal this past month than I have since I was a small child.

What the ECT hasn’t helped with, unfortunately, is my memory. Certain cognitive functions have been drastically impacted for the worse by ECT, and though I know these detriments are only temporary while the treatments last, they’re still horribly inconvenient. Not only have I had a difficult time arranging my thoughts coherently, which is why I haven’t been updating Miss Misery lately, but I’ve also had a terrible time recalling important things. The spaces in my skull where my memories should be are just blank recently. Music I’ve been listening to for years, directions to places I used to visit daily, important instructions about things I’m expected to do – it’s all just a dead end in my brain, a mental nothingness.

According to my ECT psychiatrist, there’s a very good chance I’ll never get these memories back, even once cognitive clarity returns when the treatments are done. Things I knew before the ECT started might come back to me – like the directions to old haunts, and the lyrics to my favorite songs – but things I learned during the period I received treatments will likely be gone forever.

Ultimately, that means that although I very fittingly had my life-saving procedures during the month of October, I’m also likely to forget most of that October permanently.

I’ve been mourning that fact recently. Some very important things have happened to me/will happen to me during this cognitively compromised treatment period that I would much rather remember. I started doing management work for a friend who starred in one of my favorite movies. I saw/will see my heroes from Mystery Science Theater on two separate occasions this fall. And I celebrated my seventh anniversary with my human of choice who I mentioned earlier.

As far as I can tell, each person only gets a limited number of Octobers in their lifetime, and those Octobers only occur 1/12 of the time. I’d rather not lose any of my precious fall months to faulty memory, but I don’t have much choice in the matter if I want to be cured of my depression (which I want more than anything).

The irony is not lost on me: I have to suffer in order to be well. In fact, I just received this message from a friend: “You can have creative clarity, but with extreme pain. Or you can experience happiness, but lose the clearness to create. Those are your genie choices. You have the genie’s ironic wish.”

But I have the upper hand: I can choose happiness, and remember next October.

3 thoughts on “The Electroconvulsive October

  1. A great update even with the bittersweet aspect of memory. So glad to know ECT is helping! One foggy October isn’t so bad.


  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve a fellow depressive who’s always had a pretty knee jerk reaction to the idea of ECT, it’s good to see a different view point. May your next October be glorious, and I hope your memory settles down soon.


  3. Admire you and your pop for being so ‘real world’. It’s rare, refreshing and possibly “hard-won”. Blessings to you both (from a staunch atheist)…


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