Wellness - Never Perfect, Always in Process
Last Friday marked one year since my last ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). A year later, no medication, I'm relishing a period of wellness. I soak in every sunset, sunrise, moment of laughter, hug, hike, art exhibition, play or good meal that I can. Kahlil Gibran said this of joy and sorrow: "is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?" Ah yes, you can count on that. Those of us who appear joyful have built the vessel of ourselves with the pain of living deeply. One does not come without the other. Survival depends on understanding both pain and joy have their value and purpose, even if we can't comprehend it at the time.
Considering this is the longest period of wellness that I've had in two years, I'm writing this blog to remind myself what's different.
Back in May, I did a talk for Bishop Dunne, and revised my wellness list for teens into a College SENSE list. I couldn't remember my top ten for wellness, so certainly these college bound students couldn't. SENSE is a simple acryonym:
S - Sleep
S- Stress Management
E - External Support
A printable version of this list can be found here for teens: College SENSE
and here for adults: Common SENSE
I like to think of these wellness lists as the 95% predictor of wellness. Most of wellness, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual is about doing the boring, everyday things to stay well. All of us try our best and fall off the wagon (for me, a lot!). Over time, how we live our lives day to day has the biggest impact on our health.
Of course none of us live in a bubble, right? Trauma occurs, life changes occur. If someone you love someone dies, betrays or physically abuses you, the trauma is likely to cause a problem. Or perhaps nature has wreaked havoc on your life. Friends of mine who had their homes destroyed in October by the tornado in Dallas know that.
These life traumas have an impact, no matter how well we have practiced Common SENSE. For some this might be heart disease or cancer, for others, like me, it may be mental illness. Medicine or brain stimulation can help push a person back on track, much like an antibiotic. And like an antibiotic, immune systems weaken if medicine is overused or practiced in isolation. What do I mean by that? ECT might provide relief, but if I go back to an emotional life of daily burgers and fries, I should not be surprised if I have emotional cardiac arrest again. Health is a strange individual balance of trying to determine what is the right thing to do at the right time. It's never perfect or permanent.
When I tell people I'm not on any sort of medication these days, I get one of two reactions:
- "oh great! you're cured!!"
- "oh no! without medication you will relapse!"
Here's the deal. I'm not on medication now. I may have to go back on medication or use brain stimulation at some point in the future. That's okay. My health is not a fixed point. Neither is yours. WIth the help of my psychologist and psychiatrist and (sometimes more importantly) the watchful eyes of family and friends, I maintain my balance.
Sometimes I don't maintain balance (e.g., 2016-2018, for me). I moved out of my house of 20 years, had a lot of stress over institutions I care about, had to readjust after my kids flew the nest. I had to stop and use medical treatment. Some treatment was not the right treatment, so together with my support team we had to figure out the right treatment. Finally, I got better again. Hopefully, over time, we'll all learn from our mistakes and my personal biology. With experience, the road to health should be shorter. With wisdom, the time being well will hopefully be longer.
I'm very excited to share three things:
1. Treatment Discovery: The Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern has recently published a paper regarding their work at better directing patients to the right form of treament. In a nutshell, by looking at an EEG – it's possible to predict whether someone should take an SSRI (antidepressant) or skip that and go to brain stimulation (TMS - transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or Electroconvulsive Therapy - ECT). Usually someone goes on an antidepressant for 6-8 weeks, then tries another, and another, suddenly months have passed with no improvement. This is a big problem because people are get worse and more helpless as things don’t work. Here's Time Magazine's take on the discovery: How AI Can Help Pick the Best Depression Treatment
2. Ken Burn's Documentary: On March 13, there will be an important announcement about an intiative to promote mental wellness, including a documentary by Ken Burns. I'll make sure I write about that.
3. Audio Book. I've recorded my first chapter of my audio book for Struck by Living. Hope to have this out and accessible, chapter by chapter in the next month. April 10 marks the 10 year anniversary of the publication of Struck by Living. WOW. Hard to believe. Feel very grateful for the friendships, laughter and joy this illness has brought into my life.
Guess that's it. Not sure anyone reads this stuff, but it's good for me to write it down and celebrate being well.
My lute is jamming, first time in a long time. How's yours?