fairly quickly the kinds of self-destructive thinking that made me a good candidate for the security a hospital offers, weeks and months passed before my critical thinking returned. This was a time during which I still cried from frustration that I was not the person I had once been.
Another 18 months of relative calm passed. My fatigue eventually abated, my mind regained some of its suppleness, and I stopped crying. However, my lost memories remained lost, while a bizarre form of remembering replaced real memories. Now I knew only what others told me. For example, if someone told me I'd been somewhere or met someone, I now recalled the version of what I'd been told, not the actual event or person. I tried to make light of the possibility of reinventing my life because everyone engaged in the conversation grew uncomfortable whenever the subject of my profound memory loss came up.
But inside I was troubled and felt vulnerable, and with good reason. According to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it." Significant pieces of my life were simply gone in the wake of both my ECT-induced memory loss and the terrifying confusion that is a hallmark of severe depression. As a writer, I felt the vacuum especially acutely because my pool of stories was evaporating.
And then during early 2005 my world began to darken yet again. I was overcome with exhaustion and could barely get out of bed. Noise was intolerable. Writing became a Herculean challenge. Once more I began crying daily, often several times a day, until I largely gave up going out in public. My head felt gripped in an unrelenting migraine. Bizarre images once again raced through my thoughts, stealing my capacity to think clearly and sometimes even provoking feelings of motion sickness. I stopped bothering with my hair and with putting on make-up because I didn't care what I looked like. I stopped caring altogether what anyone thought of me.
As at several times in the past, I began to believe that the world would simply be better off without me. When I'm suffering
ECT worked magic in terms of banishing fairly quickly the kinds of self-destructive thinking that made me a good candidate for the security a hospital offers, but months passed before my critical thinking returned. I still cried from frustration that I was not the person I had once been.
from depression, the world becomes full of opportunities I don't consider when I'm well. Every isolated spot I pass on my bicycle becomes a place where I imagine it's possible to kill myself and not be found for days. Every tree with a broad, strong crown, its branches lifted like imploring arms to heaven, becomes a hanging tree. The cliffs lining the interstate highways invite me to drive my car into them. The dark waters of every pond and lake where I kayak look capable of keeping my death a secret. The world is transformed by my depression into a place where my imagination considers only endings.
At that point, with both children out of the house, I went into the hospital last March. Once again I felt as if my depression had stripped me of everything I had and was, but that did not make the decision easier. Even without children at home, the choice was no easier to make than it had been the first three times—in part because I suspected that ECT would once more be
a significant part of my therapy, as, indeed, it was. However, I was too tired and overwhelmed to fight my illness. I was no longer safe being left alone but no longer able to tolerate company. The psych ward routine was at least comfortable. I returned to groups—relapse, family, medications—that were now as familiar as programs at a fondly remembered summer camp, and I filled out another relapse-prevention booklet. The staff held these notebooks up in front of our faces as though they were Moses delivering the Commandments. In mine, I named people I could call on when my life felt as if it were collapsing and activities I could engage in while I waited for help to arrive. I did not share the staff's faith in the notebook's contents, however.
Yet on the whole the staff was extraordinary. Someone noticed that I needed some art, and soon I had a watercolor set and paper. Such actions typified my treatment. In a place where I had arrived with every edge frayed, I was treated with respect and gentleness. My nurses and doctors urged me to consider being hospitalized for severe mental illness not as the penultimate step before the end but as a life-affirming step for someone who needs the comprehensive services of a psych ward to regain her footing.
Trying to change how I looked at hospitalization became part of an enormous and continuing learning curve about mental illness that has changed the way I look at myself. One of the most important things I've learned about my illness is how foolish were my efforts to try to shield my family from it. Even though I try (despite how I feel inside) to act smart, funny, and self-confident when I am with my husband and children, they have all been touched by my illness in ways that are heartbreaking. Depression is a global illness that affects almost everyone who crosses its path, especially other members of a family. Some wounds may heal, but scar tissue grows over hurts too big to hide.
After my first two hospitalizations, for example, my husband was angry for several months, and for all the right reasons. For years during my dark times, my illness had cheated us of a normal marriage—one full of give and