Just make happy memories

Sure, that’s an easy one. A few weeks ago vintage brain mapmy therapist told me to make a list of all the awful and triggering memories that make October 1 through January 1 so difficult for me. Two pages later, my homework was done. When I gave it to her, we went over it and then she said “OK, now I want you to list what you are going to do to make happy memories.” My jaw dropped, and before I could say “How the hell am I supposed to do that?” time was up.

Nothing, I had nothing. The decades of horror are so deeply ingrained in my brain, when I try to think of new ways of thinking the old memories wheedle their way back in.

There have been many techniques over the years to help people, especially people with PTSD, change the way they think about the past. There are ways to resolve past wrongs, ways to change how we remember things, and ways to erase the memories altogether. I’ve been through many of them, none with much success, one in particular did more harm than good.

EMDR – I had a therapist who tried a form of this, but was ineffective for me. It’s possible I didn’t give it enough time. When one of my daughters was young, I saw a different form used on her and it worked very well. It’s an interesting way to retrain our brain. This is from the EMDR International Association’s website:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.

ECT – This links to the NIMH’s page which covers ECT as well as other Brain Stimulation Therapies. All I’m going to say about ECT right now (I’ve written other posts about my experience), is that the after-effects made me much worse. I understand it is helpful to most people with severe unipolar depression, but I have since learned it should never be used on a person with bipolar depression because their brains are different – thanks, now you tell me.

In addition to the above, there is hypnotism, meditation/mindfulness, and sheer will (I’m guessing). But wait, there’s more…

There is also a kind and loving husband who unknowingly helps almost eradicate the crap with a lovely, tiny furry surprise.


This is important for two reasons. One is the guy to the right ->Paris

He came in to my life about a year after I escaped from domestic violence. He was always with me when I needed him, and he’d sit on my lap and purr until I felt better. He died of renal failure a few years ago at the age of 14.

The other reason, is that this was a selfless act of pure love on the part of my husband. We have three old cats that have been around about twice as long as I have, who were not happy when I brought my cat to live with us, and again when I tried to replace him shortly after he died with another kitten (whom I love no less with this new addition). Now the old folks and the youngster are all mad at us because of this new little kitten. I’m introducing him slowly, and currently the little two-pound wonder is puffed up as big as he can get to show one of the others how tough he is. He does have his own room, but I’m letting him run around for a little bit this morning. Back to my husband – the pet store that houses a few of the adoptable kittens is next door to his office. While waiting to have lunch with him last week, I went next door and nearly squealed out loud when I saw a tiny clone of my beloved Paris (named for the mythological character, not the blond airhead heiress, nor the the city). I took a picture and showed it to Greg. He said “Do you want him?” I hesitated just a moment and said it was enough to know that he would let me have him if I did, and I didn’t want to bring chaos into the house (hah, maybe that’s what I should name him!). But Greg knew what this would mean to me, and a few days later this tiny creature came to live with me.

In the following years, I can now look back on this time of year and remember how loved I am. Mission accomplished.

ECT Aftermath Update

Recently, someone I know asked if I’d recommend ECT. The past couple weeks the sustained memory loss has seemed to become more evident. I’m so tired of saying “no, I don’t remember that.” It’s been ten months, according to the professionals, all memories should have returned by now. I’ve divided my life to Before January and After January. That’s what I ask now when my memories don’t match someone else’s “Was that before or after January?” I started to say I have a Swiss cheese brain, and now others are saying it as well. I suppose that one’s my fault for perpetuating it. I thought it was funny at first, but now that the people I care about are saying it, I have to admit it hurts a little. I feel defective.

I can finally get around to familiar places without my GPS, but as I bring out my winter clothes I’m surprised sometimes by what I have. It’s kind of like having a new wardrobe, except I don’t really like the person’s taste who picked out those things…and I can’t find my damn gloves! It’s hard to look at it with humor anymore because it’s been going on for so long, its’ just not funny or ‘quirky’ anymore.

So would I recommend it? I don’t know how to answer that one. I wish I’d never done it, and I don’t think it did any good for me, but I do know it’s been a lifesaver to others. I’d hate to think that someone based such a life-altering experience on my advice. It’s a tricky question, one which can only be answered by doing research. I didn’t do enough, I just listened to my almighty psychiatrist. “Here take this pill, zap your brain, don’t do this, don’t do that, do only what I say.” Well, no more, Dr. Holier-than-thou.  I’ll think for myself now, thank-you-very-much. With what little brain I have left, I’ll make my own decisions about my mental health care now, and I strongly suggest that others do the same. Do research, ask a lot of questions, and for your mental health’s sake, if you don’t feel comfortable about something ask more questions or find another psych.

I want my brain back

I want my brain back. Yes, I know, it’s a defective brain but ever since I’ve had ECT, it’s been worse than usual. According to my therapist and my psychiatrist, I’m better than I was before (my depression was not responding to medication and I was feeling suicidal). But afterwards I still felt depressed and the frustration of memory loss just added to it. It’s not just short-term memory like I was told to expect. I was told that the only memory loss would be of the time immediately around the treatments. I couldn’t remember how old my grandsons are, was confused the first time I went to the grocery store, couldn’t remember how to get to Greg’s (my boyfriend) house, didn’t remember my daughter drove to Georgia in September, and so much more.

When I first got home from the hospital, I looked in my closet and was surprised by all the clothes I had. I had no idea what to wear and ended up wearing the the same few sweaters over and over again. I couldn’t remember when I had been in the hospital or how many treatments I’d had. Rachel (my 20-year-old daughter) told me that it was mid-January, and I had 6 treatments-3 in the hospital and 3 outpatient. Taking me to the outpatient treatments was very stressful for her. I’ve read that some people have had about 12 or more. I can’t imagine going through it that many times, but I suppose it’s a life saver for many people. I don’t remember anything about the treatments except that I just wanted to sleep the rest of the day.

When I first got home, I had absolutely no interest in doing anything that I used to enjoy doing, nor did I want to talk to any of my friends. I just wanted to isolate. A little bit of my memory is coming back, but really nothing significant. I’ve also been responding to a great anti-depressant, Nardil, and my depression has finally abated.

When I’ve read over my past blog posts about the severity of my depression, I have to wonder…do I really want my old brain back? Maybe I just need to learn to accept the loss of memories and start building new ones; and be grateful that I’m not as bad as I was before.