Another day, another memory I discover I don’t have.
In many ways, this is normal and expected. I often learn about things I said or did, things that happened, events I attended, people I’ve met, emails I’ve sent, places I’ve been, etc., etc., etc. that my brain no longer has access to. I’m used to saying, “Sorry, I just don’t remember.” But this one is also different. This is more unsettling than usual. This is humiliating, and damaging, and I don’t know how far the consequences go.
I suffer from major depressive disorder. I am 40 years old, and have been struggling with depression since I was 10. Throughout these 30 years, I’ve had ups and downs. Right now is a big down. I’ve been languishing here for 4-ish years, and I am barely surviving. I live in filth. I (try to) shower once a week. I don’t generally get out of bed unless I have a commitment to other people. I have been carrying an oppressive weight for 30 years, and I am simply exhausted.
I’ve tried everything – medication, therapy, exercise, illegal drugs, support groups, self-help, spirituality – and I’m still sick. Most recently, I tried electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which often works for treatment-resistant depression. I spoke with a few people who have done ECT. They said it saved their lives. One person said that the memory loss, a common side effect, was difficult to manage, and made her unable to work. But the memory loss was temporary, only affected short-term memories, and lasted a few months at most. Compared to 30 years of suffering, was there even a question.
ECT was going to save my life.
I’d tell you about the treatment, but honestly…I don’t really remember much. I know that I did it. I know that I had about 15-18 treatments. I know that my friends really stepped up to the plate, picking me up from the hospital and baby-sitting me after each treatment, staying with me until I was alert enough to safely get home on my own. I know that my coworkers still have to remind me about things I should know.
But I also know that I had to be hospitalized for several weeks. I know that my family, my ex-husband, and several close friends established Team Meredith – a group text that they reach out to when any one of them discovers I’m in danger. I know that my brother has spoken at length with my psychiatrist. I know that several members of Team Meredith had to speak with my boss. I know that I really scared a lot of people that I love.
The thing about memory loss is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m no longer surprised when I find out a friend got married, and I actually attended their wedding. Or you visited me when I was in the hospital. Or a celebrity I love died years ago. For the most part, I’m able to find a thread of these memories in my brain, and pull on it until more of the memory comes out. My texts, emails, chats, Facebook posts, and all other manner of e-captured history also help a lot.
But there are some memories that are completely gone, which is really distressing. Apparently I took a full month off of work to go to rehab in Pennsylvania last December. It’s in my calendar, in my texts and emails, and a lot of people have confirmed the story. But I remember nothing. Even looking at the website of the facility that I went to (and left 4 days later, against medical advice) fails to jog any memories. That was kind of a big thing, no? How can it just be gone
And just yesterday, I learned about another situation that is nowhere to be found in my head. Another big one. Listening to my coworker tell me about the series of events that preceded my hospitalization – the way I treated people, the things I said and did, the people I threatened, the outrageous things I seemed to believe – I am horrified. And humiliated. And one idea is dominating my thoughts, becoming harder and harder to dismiss.
It was not depression; it was psychosis.
Psychosis can also cause memory loss. The different nature of this memory loss – the fact that I have absolutely zero recollection of a string of events that spanned weeks, and resulted in people having to intervene to get me into an inpatient facility – is challenging my understanding of my own mental illness.
So where does this leave me? I have some major damage control to do at work. I have to rebuild my colleagues’ faith in me from below ground-level. I have people to whom I owe apologies, but I am miles away from being able to issue these apologies with any semblance of composure. I have an explanation as to why my colleagues seem not to like or trust me. I have confirmation that their coldness towards me is not just in my head.
I have more reasons to hate myself.
Meredith is a public health professional, sexual health and rights advocate, social justice activist, and birth mother. She feels best when she is making a difference in the world, and she knows how and when to ask for help. She is blessed with a fiercely supportive network of friends and family. She is loved.