August 28, 2016

Back from the Edge

UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
Two days ago, I returned home from UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) in Pittsburgh, and I want to tell you a little bit about my three-week stay there.

I chose WPIC because the limited psychiatric facilities in Erie PA don’t offer the services I need to treat my Serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) of Major Depressive Disorder - Recurrent Type - Severe.

In addition, no psychiatrists in Erie are accepting new patients.  Dr. Gustin, the wonderful doctor who cared for me from 1985 until 2014, retired abruptly due to health problems, so I found myself an orphaned psychiatric patient.  I was fortunate to find a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP), Charlotte Riddle, who has experience with psychiatric nursing and was accepting new patients. Even though CRNPs can practice and prescribe on their own, Ms. Riddle has chosen to affiliate with an M.D. psychiatrist and another CRNP; she says she likes to have colleagues to consult with on occasion.

Char has guided me well so far. As I fell into another suicidal depression earlier this year, she asked if I had ever considered ElectroConvulsive Therapy (ECT), what they used to call “Shock Treatments.”  Ya know, like in those old movies The Snake Pit or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You may cringe, but I had actually given serious consideration to ECT long ago. Here's why:

My mother received ECT in the mid-twentieth century, back when it was far from the gentler procedure it is today.  And even though it was unpleasant, even brutal, for her, she preferred receiving “shock treatments” over playing the anxious game of waiting for medications to work.  Or not work.  Mom said that, unlike meds, the “shock treatments” helped her mood right away.

So off I went to Pittsburgh. What a great bunch of professionals they are at WPIC, providing care with respect from the moment I set foot in the facility.

After evaluation and assignment to the appropriate unit, I settled in. WPIC is everything I could hope for in a psychiatric facility. Clean facilities, decent food, caring professionals, structured group therapy conducted by people who "get it," and skilled medical treatment. And my fellow patients were generous with their moral support and friendship.

There's a mix of patients there, from old birds like me to college students, and from patients who are spending weeks there to those who are only there for a couple days. If you are up to joining in, there is also music therapy, art therapy, and pet therapy. I thought I had received every kind of therapy possible over my 50 years of recurring depression, but I learned that they are still developing new therapies and that even this old dog can learn new tricks.

I have so far received eight ECT treatments. It wasn't all smooth sailing, but around my fifth treatment I noticed definite improved mood. At no time did I observe smoke or sparks spewing out my ears from my fried brain. I will continue with several more weeks of outpatient ECT, then we'll reassess to determine if and/or what kind of further ECT to pursue.

Don't get me wrong; I am still struggling and have more to learn, but I am no longer actively suicidal, and I feel as if I may be able to continue to live with this chronic illness. My next tasks are to make some decisions about whether I am able to return to work and what kind of work I could do. But the biggest factor in my decisions will have to be in regard to how I stay well. I want to contribute to this world, but I'm guessing I won't do anybody any good once my ashes are spread across its surface. Well, except maybe compost.

I'm going to lie low for a while now to allow myself to rest and recuperate. I would be honored if you shared your thoughts or questions on this post and/or shared this post on your favorite social media platform. The way I see it, we can only encourage suffering people to get help if we talk about mental illness and help eliminate the stigma attached to it.

God bless you all and thank God for the professionals who do the very difficult work of caring for people who have mental illnesses.

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