By Julia W. Prentice
There was a time when my brain was at war—at war with me, my hopes and dreams and my love of life.
This brain was speaking such a negative language to me, filled with caustic hatred, self judgement and burning shame. My inner dialogue chastised and accused me, rejected and berated me. My mood sank downward, spiraling into darkness and despair. I saw many doctors, took many pills, and so much time passed by. Treatments usually failed, or only worked a short time until the brain wrested back control. I remember how often they said: “Let’s try this new one.” Each one I tried, soon became a failure that felt like my failure to rein in this battling brain.
I was losing the war.
Then a new doctor was called in to talk with me, to offer me a new weapon in my arsenal. He called it ECT, electroconvulsive therapy. From my wrapped web of darkness, I could vaguely conjure horror stories from old movies, as the once vital patient became complacent, drooling and nonfunctioning. My thoughts about this new treatment shuttled between weak terror and faint hope. I was told, “It does have some memory loss, but short term memories that can and sometimes do come back.” This was the message I heard and absorbed: short term memory loss/recovery/works for many. On the basis of this message I agreed.
Yes, the depression lifted.
The unfortunate side effect was memory loss. Robbed of short term memory, I lived in fear and my own home town became a foreign territory. I wasn’t able to remember how to get from one place to another. It was as if an eraser had been rubbed and smudged over the once familiar route in my mind. I could see the beginning as I climbed into my car, and recall the endpoint I wanted to reach, but no amount of cudgeling of my brain would make me remember how to get from point A to B.
Even worse, not only short term was effected, but also long term memories became dim, faded or evaporated altogether. I forgot important family vacations and memories of my children’s early years faded. Looking at photograph albums I could see the pictures, but couldn’t recollect what happened before or after. I flushed with embarrassment when I saw someone and could not remember who they were. My normally good ability to remember names and match them with faces was no longer reliable. My self confidence plummeted and a new kind of desperate depression ensued.
Reassured that the memory would return, I waited. And waited.
While some things did return, most I had lost did not. Slowly and with reluctant acceptance, came a new place to dwell in light and in relationship with the fragile nature of memory and my new brain. Holding onto what was gone, the anger and frustration, (often turned against myself) only made things worse. Letting go, however, helped in a multitude of ways.
As part of a group therapy training called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, I learned mindfulness.
It was such a novel thought: dwell in the present, experience the now. Bathing myself in the good memories was soothing. Slowly my self esteem crept back. Now able to drive with confidence, I began to work with others who might have had similar experiences to mine. Learning to advocate for myself and others gave me back my power.
Still recovering, I am a better wife, a better mother and a much better friend, especially to myself. I try to take no moment for granted, living in today. I make new memories, and hold very dear the ones I have retained. At times there are still skirmishes between me and my brain.
But it is easier now to keep hopeful and hold out hope for others.
My mother drove me
Changed to bare nighty
White with blue dots
Uninviting bed, starched sheets “Just relax”
A drip in one arm
In elevated pulse
Heart monitor hooked up Tattooed beats jumping On gray screen
Each beat a blip
They should be shrieks
“Get me out”
To damp forehead
Ready for the voodoo deed The mask smells strange “Count backwa…”
Never feeling the
Tickle of electricity
The Witch Doctor has applied Waking, numbness, blankness I can recall my name…
So much lost and gained Memories faded
Dark depression lifted
As I pray on the altar
Of my tortured brain
Chanting to God
“Please, let it end”
Voodoo, loss, life?
Uncertain, I ride
The iron chair
To the waiting car
And bleak knowingness
I will return again in two days Tribal ritual to be repeated “Call me in the morning”
If I can remember…
Julia W. Prentice is a deeply feeling Cancer, and has been writing since her teenage years. She has successful careers in teaching, interpretation in sign language and assisting persons with mental health challenges to find their own paths to recovery. She writes like she breathes: incessantly, some in ragged gasps, some in whispering sighs, some in mighty shouts; always she is driven to write. Recently she has heard the universe telling her to share her writings. Julia is published in “Where Journey Meet: The Voice of Women’s Poetry” and “Temptation: ‘A Sizzling Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins.” She can found on her blog.
Editor: Dana Gornall