Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Missing memories

It's hard to believe, but my 30th high school reunion is coming up this summer. 30 years! Talking with a friend the other day, we were chuckling about how, 30 years ago, we thought people our current age were so terribly old. And now here I am, 48 years old, 30 years removed from those high school days. It's hard to believe.

I have yet to decide if I'm going to attend my reunion. Despite being a good student, an athlete, and having had a steady boyfriend, I never felt like I fit in during high school. I wouldn't say I was popular, but I wasn't unpopular either. I just felt like I didn't fit. This was especially true after the age of 15, my sophomore year of high school, which is when my first bout with depression began.

That bout with depression may have something to do with my indecisiveness regarding attending the reunion as well. As an adult, it has become apparent when my depression symptoms are bad, I have difficulty forming new memories. Whether it's the result of depression or not, the fact is I don't remember a lot of my high school years.

I have a general, fuzzy overview of high school, but specific memories are lacking. I worry I'll look like a lost puppy while reminiscing with friends at the reunion. I have a fear of feeling left out...
um... not fitting in, 30 years later! (Okay, that was difficult to admit.) Of course, this is reinforced on Facebook when old classmates make references to past events I can't recall. I hate that.

Depression plays a roll in another piece of this puzzle. When I went off to college, I packed all of my yearbooks, photos, awards, etc... in boxes and stored them in my mom and former stepfather's garage. They divorced shortly thereafter, and my mom moved out, but my brothers and I continued to maintain contact with my former stepfather. He's still in our lives today.

Fast forward multiple years. I am now in the throes of my adult depression. My former stepfather announces he's selling his home and asks my brothers and I to remove our stuff from his garage. He also, apparently, told us he would throw out anything we left behind.

I never retrieved my boxes. I don't know why. I don't remember. I probably couldn't pull myself together to make the 4.5 hour journey. And my former stepfather threw out all of my high school yearbooks, photos, awards, etc... Everything from my childhood and teenage years...gone.

If I had some reference points, like yearbook photos, I'm certain I'd have some concrete high school memories. I'm also certain I'd feel a lot more connected to my past and be much less worried about attending my reunion. I don't want to look, or feel, like a lost puppy. It sucks not being able to remember.

To make matters worse, it's not only high school memories which have disappeared. Depression has stripped many of my adult memories, too, whether due to the side effects of ECT treatment or simply because of the illness itself. It doesn't matter, the memories are gone either way, and I end up feeling lost in space. It's disconcerting.

Disconcerting is often my reality. The missing memories are unlikely to return. I have so little, internally or externally, connecting me to what's gone on before, I truly must live each moment for that moment. Sometimes that's okay, but with this reunion coming up, I wish I was a bit more tethered.


Anonymous said...

I went to a very close-knit high school in south St. Louis, which is a close-knit community. I wasn't from there, so I automatically didn't fit in. I went to my 35th reunion recently and I still didn't fit in, mostly because my classmates were all still immersed in the close-knit south St. Louis culture. One man still lives in the house he was born in. Another man's wife went to the same OB who delivered her when she was pregnant. That kind of thing.

I don't think I knew about the possible memory loss effects of depression. Maybe it's different for each person, but my sibs have talked of childhood memories that have completely escaped my own memory. I guess I don't miss the memories since I don't even have them in fragments, but it is a bit disconcerting. And I realized (in therapy) that the short stories I've been writing recently are all an effort to create a childhood and adulthood that I wish I had.

Great post. You've really given me some thoughts to chew on. Thanx!

Anonymous said...

Memories are pretty much fabricated stories any way. It is nice to talk with people who don't box you into their ideas and memories of you and are just able to enjoy present moment gathering. A welcoming face is all one needs. And if people go down memory lane you can right off let them know you've lost chunks of memory. People love to be listened to.

I have met so many people who felt they didn't fit it that I wonder who those few are that felt comfortable in school.

Whatever you decide, I hope you don't in anyway judge it from a point of unworthiness . Lives are incomparable. Ig

Tricia said...

How funny. My 40th is coming up and I'm going because I missed my 25th and promised myself not to do that again. I hesitate because I have few memories, can't recall anyone I went to high school with and I'm never sure how I'll feel at the time of the event (will I be sleeping 20 hours a day by time the reunion rolls around!?!). I think almost everyone would say they felt like they didn't fit in -- I think that's just symptomatic of the angst-filled, identity-searching teen years. But going to the reunion by myself makes it easy to slip out if I'm not feeling comfortable. It'll have cost me $125 plus 3 hours drive, but at least I'll have made the effort and won't regret having not tried.

SomeTruth said...

I had three episodes of depression. One lasted 3 months, one three years, one a month. I recovered each time with zero drugs, zero doctors- just time and sleep and routine and putting one foot in front of another. I lost not one memory.
I unfortunately agreed to drugs and ECT for the last episode. I ended up brain injured, lost 15-20 years of memory after 21 ECT in 7 months. Of these, 14 bilaterals. I have no doubts about what caused the chalk eraser wipe out of my memories. Too many ECT patients are being told their memory losses have resulted from "depression" when that is not the case. No one should be given multiple closed head injury concussions and grand mal seizures and told this is "treatment" for an emotionally distressed brain. The science is clear:,ECT is brain injury.

etta said...

@ SomeTruth: Congratulations on your recoveries. As far as your “scientific comments,” I’m sorry you had the result you did from your ECT treatments. Like you, I have had poor outcomes with ECT at times. Unlike you, ECT has worked for me more often than not, in fact it has kept me alive. For that, I am extremely grateful. And yes, ECT has erased some of my memories. I knew that going in. Memory loss is a well-documented, well known side effect of ECT. I have never decided to use ECT on a whim or without consultation. It’s always the intervention of last resort, but I make the decision WITH my treatment team based on the situation at hand. When my very presence on this earth is at stake, the benefits have, thus far, outweighed the risks.

Allow me to clarify one other point. Nobody ever told me depression would cause memory loss. It’s not common. But in my experience, unlike yours, I have difficulty forming new memories when my depression symptoms are at their worst. That’s my experience, and that’s all I write about here in my little blog.

Lastly, I don’t use medications or ECT for an “emotionally distressed” brain. I actually have a biological, biochemical, brain illness. It’s called Depression. It’s a very serious illness that will kill me if I don’t treat it. And unlike what I do for my emotionally distressed brain, which is take good care of myself, talk to others, and put one foot in front of the other, I take medications and have used ECT as part of my treatment for Depression. That’s what has worked for me, and since this blog is about my experience with Depression, the illness, that’s what you will read here.

I don’t pretend to know what is best or right for anyone else. Just because a certain medication, for example, doesn’t work for me, or causes side effects I don’t like, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. It certainly doesn’t mean I should condemn it. My hope is that people with any mental illness will seek out the help they need, whether that be a good friend or a good psychiatrist, and that each person will participate fully and honestly in their own care.

Anna said...

Etta, thank you for your writing! Thank you for explaining the difference between "an emotionally distressed brain" and Depression the illness. Your words resonate with me and inspire me to strive for more knowledge, help, someway to deal with this damn disease. Today I am thankful to be in a much better place than I have been, and I look forward to trying to patch my shattered life together one more time...thank you for being a voice for so many! Anna

SomeTruth said...

This was a very detailed and thoughtful response. I understand you are writing about your own experience and not encouraging anyone to do anything but careful and invilvedvin their own treatment decisions. I admire your determination and think you write beautifully.
I do believe Depression is a biological, physiological, chemical
condition/illness that is life- threatening and people need to seek appropriate help and interventions.
At the same time, when one is deathly mentally sick, desperate, vulnerable, and confused, often without a rational advocate to help out, that person is hardly in any shape to make life altering decisions about something like ECT, especially when consent forms are lacking and real information about risks is not presented.

etta said...

@ SomeTruth: Again, I am sorry that was your experience. It has not been mine. Like I said, I went into ECT with my eyes open, with full understanding of the risks and benefits, and in full consultation with my treatment providers.

Perhaps the differences in our experiences highlight the need for those of us with mental illness to seek help early, to treat our illness in consultation with professionals we trust, just as we would treat diabetes or heart disease, and to treat our illnesses before we become incapacitated by them. That is my sincere hope anyway.