For most of her adult life, Judi, 56, has battled bipolar disorder with a wry sense of humor.
“I swing easily from mania to deep depression,” she says. “It makes everyday activities difficult and life very unpredictable.”
Thanksgiving has always been a time of special celebration for Judi and her husband, but in 2015, family and holiday pressures became unbearable. She admitted herself that day to UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital for treatment.
“Depression can be overwhelming: it’s like being forced to carry heavy suitcases around with you all the time. I had to stop it — and the lethargy that comes with it — from taking over my life,” says Judi, a former pediatric neurosurgical nurse. “I didn’t want to live my life holed up in my house and that’s where I was heading.”
Over the years, she and her doctors tried dozens of medicines to find a solution.
“They’d work for a while, then lose their effectiveness,” says Judi.
Through trial and error, she discovered she was allergic to monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). She even was selected to participate in a national study group for vagus nerve stimulation (a surgical implant for treatment-resistant depression), but developed painful side effects from the procedure. She ultimately turned to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for help.
During her hospitalization at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, Judi had ECT three times a week, followed by twice a week treatments after her discharge. Now she receives weekly maintenance treatments as an outpatient at the Center for Interventional Psychiatry at Western Psychiatric.
“I know that some people fear ECT, and I really try to reassure them,” says Judi. “I call them my happy seizures: I know I’ll feel better afterwards.”
More than a decade ago, Judi had briefly undergone ECT.
“Had you asked me about it back then, I would have been very negative about my experience. But this is truly a wonderful program that’s helping me be a better person to be around,” she says. “I can’t say enough about the quality of the doctors, nurses, and other staff at Western Psychiatric. They help you in every way possible. It may seem hard to believe, but we laugh and make the best of it.”
ECT isn’t a cure for Judi, but it’s enabling her to manage her bipolar disorder. She’s even getting out and socializing more, enjoying a part-time job at a specialty wine shop.
“You always have to have hope,” she says. “This is all in God’s hands. All I ask for is the strength to see it through. ECT is helping me do that.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment with the Center for Interventional Psychiatry, please call 412-246-5063.