Nancy: I never give up

I literally woke up one morning and everything was different – the light that was shut off for 54 years was now shining bright. I finally felt just like I had as a child – self-confident, comfortable, and yes – happy! The treatments, all 22 of them, rewired my brain so that I was once again in touch with Nancy.

My story started when I was 13 years old. Prior to starting junior high school, all was well. I earned excellent grades, I was very social and popular, and I was a great athlete. All around, I was a very happy kid. Suddenly, something switched. I felt different, uncomfortable, unsure of myself, and I lacked self-confidence. I became, instead, a very unhappy kid. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was now living my life with bipolar illness.

I didn’t receive any sort of treatment and no one understood what I was going through because, at the same time, my older sister Judy was also suffering with her own battles with depression. My parents were very involved in trying to get her the help she needed and I didn’t want to bother them with my own struggles. Unfortunately, Judy lost her battle when she 27 and I was 23. I don’t use the “S” word…it is something that is hard for me to say.

During my high school years, I did whatever I could to fake that all was well with me. Unfortunately, that involved not always doing my own school work or taking on assignments as I should have. I would do anything to get out of responsibilities.

Actually, I was able to fake my way through most of my life. I was present, but not really there. My identity was more focused around my looks and my athletic ability than around my accomplishments and my intellect. I saw many psychiatrists over the many years and was able to maintain a somewhat normal life, except for the four times when the depression was too much for me to handle and I was hospitalized.

The manic times of my life didn’t really come into play until later on in my adulthood. Some of my manias were quite wild, expensive, and dangerous. Perhaps I will write about them one day, if I decide to write a book.

I am able to write my story now because of the ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) I received in 2009 as a last resort attempt to overcome a year-long bout of extreme depression. A doctor I had been seeing for eight months with no results finally recommended to my family that I try electric shock. My brother ultimately made the decision to go ahead with the treatment since, truly, I really didn’t want to go on anymore. I knew that taking my life was not an option because my sister already had and I couldn’t do that to my family. I, therefore, went along in an almost zombie state to the hospital for the ECT.

After six weeks of treatments, the light went on. I literally woke up one morning and everything was different – the light that was shut off for 54 years was now shining bright. I finally felt just like I had as a child – self-confident, comfortable, and yes – happy! The treatments, all 22 of them, rewired my brain so that I was once again in touch with Nancy.

Needless to say, I have hit the ground running with all of this new-found love of life. I am very involved in the mental health community and doing what I can to make a difference. I’m hoping that my story can let others know that there are treatments out there that can help. ECT may not help everyone with depression, but it is certainly worth a conversation.

I am a true testament to never giving up. Things can change – there is help and support out there. I am so very blessed to have a network of family and friends who were always there for me through my struggles. I am very careful to take my medication every day while getting plenty of sleep, plenty of exercise, and plenty of time with family and friends. I still live with bipolar illness, but I now have the tools and resources to stay in balance. Yes, life is very good and I am happy.

–Nancy Alterman