The other day, Heather Armstrong of Dooce announced a book deal on Instagram. It’s a memoir about “her experience as one of only a few people to participate in an experimental study involving 10 rounds of chemically induced brain death as a treatment for depression.”
I mean, holy shit.
As she explained in a later blog post, the reason ECT works is that it makes your brain flatline. The treatment she tried uses anesthesia to do the same thing, but without the side effects of the seizures ECT causes. So far the results have been encouraging, and her personal experience was extremely positive. I’m looking forward to the book, both because I’m curious about this treatment and because she’s a great writer and really funny.
After reading the post, though, I could feel a tiny part of me relax, just a little bit. We’re really lucky that Catharine’s bipolar, which tends to run towards depression, responds to meds as well as it does. I’ve known people whose doesn’t, and it is such a rough road. But I’m aware that things change, and that meds could stop working, and so it makes me feel obscurely more secure to know there’s another treatment on the horizon, however dramatic it is. The more options there are, the further away we are from “there’s nothing else we can try,” the better I feel.
That’s what living with chronic illness does to you, right there. It’s not just living with someone who has mental illness; my own chronic illnesses have so often caused doctors to shrug their shoulders and either tell me “the labs look fine,” i.e., so you must not really be sick, no matter how terrible I felt, or “have you considered therapy?” which is code for “we have no idea what to do with you, so maybe it’s all in your head.” The first time I encountered a doctor who said, okay, we’re going to try this, and if that doesn’t help/pan out, we’ll do this, and then this, and then this, I felt a wave of gratitude and hope. A plan and options meant she both believed me and had real, thought-out ideas for likely solutions. So knowing that, in the case of Catharine’s bipolar, we have options even if her current treatments stop working? That feels like security.