Archive for August, 2009

August 30, 2009

Don’t drink? You might be depressed.

According to a new study published in the new issue of Addiction, it found that the happiest people were “those who averaged about two glasses of alcohol per week, where a glass of alcohol represents one bottle of beer, or a glass of wine, or a shot of strong spirits.”

“Researchers also found that non-drinkers reported having fewer friends than drinkers did, which might explain their increased odds of being depressed. They saw that this group is less socially well-adjusted than other groups. Generally when people are with friends, it is more acceptable in Western societies to drink than not to drink.  While the questionnaire recorded non-drinkers’ subjective perception of the situation, a number of other studies also confirm that teetotalers experience some level of social exclusion. ”

Maybe all I need are more dates with a Tom Collins.

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August 30, 2009

no depression with Cymbalta (sales, that is)

Well, someone’s doing well even during the Recession. According to the article The Big Money: Depression and the Recession in the Washington Post, Cymbalta sales increased 14 percent over the previous year. Of course, people wouldn’t have been prescribed this stuff in the first place if they weren’t really suffering. But “as it turns out, the business of depression is particularly lucrative. Whereas other costly conditions, such as heart conditions or cancer, tend to strike late in life, most people experience depression when they’re much younger, usually between the ages of 15 and 30. Besides setting in early, depressive episodes tend to recur.”

Great. After reading this, I feel like I’ve fallen into some Big Pharma, corporate trap.

August 29, 2009

Catch the traveling exhibit about bipolar depression!

There are traveling circuses, carnivals and art shows. Then there’s now a traveling exhibit about bipolar depression. AstraZeneca  has put together a traveling exhibit with the intent to help Americans understand and manage the depressive side of bipolar disorder. “The Bipolar Journey: Living with Bipolar Depression” is an interactive exhibit that is currently touring across the country, with its goals to give patients the resources they need to help find appropriate support to manage their disease. One neat feature is called “My Story,” where visitors can step into a photo booth to record a short message about their experience with bipolar depression. Select messages will be posted on an “inspiration wall” to travel around the country with the exhibit.

The company has also set up  Thinking Forward, a support program that provides free information, resources, and practical advice for people with bipolar depression. has the tour schedule.

Btw, AstraZeneca is the maker of Seroquel.

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August 28, 2009

Shock therapy moves past stigma | Argus Leader

There’s a news article about ECT, Shock therapy moves past stigma, in Argus Leader, a newspaper in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. It’s essentially an article that summarizes what ECT is while weaving basic information with an account from a man who is undergoing the procedure at The Avera Center in Sioux Falls. It’s an interesting read, but what always fascinates me about these articles are the types of reader comments that are sent in. It’s pretty amazing just how much, well, hatred, is out there for this treatment. So much for ‘moving past stigma.’

August 28, 2009

the fifth anniversary of my suicide attempt

I’m amazed it’s been five years. I’m really just amazed that I’m not dead. But here I am, still alive, and writing out this little entry. I do not bring this date up often, but I have been thinking about it since the month turned to August. Dr. A calls it my ‘personal 9/11.’ I guess it’s something like that.

In my last post, I put up a study about Asian-American women and suicide. While I could relate to much of what was written, I have to say that this suicide attempt had little to do with these life trials of being an Asian-American girl. As I came to find out in the hospital, my moods were cycling that past week, and that hypomanic mood plunged to a deep depression on that Friday night. I remember coming home from work and as a ‘Six Feet Under’ episode played on my television, I made myself a frozen margarita. Then I lined up a variety of pills, dozens of them, in pristine little rows. And one by one, I inhaled them, well over 30 of them, with that margarita.Unlike the first time, I wrote a note of apology to my family and to my doctor. Then I went to bed.

I awoke in the middle of the night with a feeling I had never experienced before and don’t really know how to explain in words. My body somehow knew to expel much of the pills, so I had thrown up a large quantity of them during the night. But the rest had caused all the muscles below the waist to stop working completely. I wanted to use the restroom, so I dragged my body across the floor. It seemed like it took hours just to climb up to the toilet. But because none of the muscles were working, there was no way for me to relieve myself. I somehow dragged my body back to the bed and went back to sleep. (More I talk about this attempt, more I realize that this could have ‘succeeded’ or have caused some irreparable damage to parts of my body.) It never occurred to me then to call an ambulance, or anyone.

I woke up that next day and began to realize what I had just done. I remember holding that phone in my hand trying to decide whether to call Dr. A. I called her. By this point, my legs were in semi-working order, so I drove to her office to meet her. She sensed that I wasn’t emotionally ready to check into the psych hospital, so she allowed me to stay one night with some friends. By the time I woke up at my friends the next morning, I still could not get rid of the suicidal urge. I met Dr. A again at her office to tell her that I needed to go to the hospital. Dr. A made arrangements for me at Parthenon Pavilion that morning, and I went home to pack.

I packed my belongings in a rolling suitcase, and I drove myself to the hospital. I entered the hospital to check in as if I were checking in at some fancy hotel. They led me into through those locked doors, and they first asked me a series of questions before taking me to the area I would be staying. This was the first time someone mentioned to me the possibility of having ECT. When they took me to the adult ward, the nurses first checked my bags for any objects I’m not allowed to have in the ward, such as rope or a belt. Then, there’s the strip search. Though the place is not cozy, it’s not unpleasant. I was allowed to keep a pen and some paper, so I proceeded to write a 6+ page journal entry about the situation. When the psychiatrist, Dr. J,  met me the next morning, I handed him the stack of papers all covered in pink ink. After skimming through it, I remember him telling me just how lucid my writing was. The next day he told me that I had bipolar disorder. What? I can deal with being just depressed, but how can I be bipolar? I struggled to get a grip on this new diagnosis.(What’s it like inside a psychiatric hospital? In the interest of time, I’ll save that story for later.)

In spite of my apprehension to get back into the real world, I was released a few days later. Just as I drove in on my own to the hospital, I rolled along my suitcase back to my car and headed back home. When I got out, it was September. And now, five years have passed by.

August 27, 2009

Study: Asian-American women most likely to think about, attempt suicide

My friend Tom sent me a fascinating blog post from According to a new research by University of Washington (published in the Archives of Suicide Research), the study found that  “15.93 percent of U.S.-born Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetime, exceeding national estimates of 13.5 percent for all Americans.  Lifetime estimates of suicide attempts also were higher among U.S-born Asian-American women than the general population, 6.29 percent vs. 4.6 percent.”

The blog post gives some insight into growing up an Asian-American girl:

“Growing up, there was no such thing as ‘depression.’…. If you really think you have problems, could you please keep quiet about them? Better not to advertise your own failure. Best to keep silent, lock up those feelings in shame, and, while you’re at it, lose a few pounds, your moonface is starting to look fat.”

It’s really quite disturbing to think that so many Asian-American women are able to relate to this above excerpt and the rest of that post. What’s going on here? I had written about these ‘Asian family secrets‘ in the past that echos the sentiments expressed in the post. And what about the illustration? It’s probably not a good thing that I see a part of myself in that little girl.

(more to come on this topic. I can’t quite get my head together to write my perspective on this matter…)

August 25, 2009

Creativity and madness | PRI.ORG

“Are highly creative people more likely to be mentally ill? “Studio 360’s” Tamar Brott tried to separate the truth from the myth in this report:”

Creativity and madness | Public Radio International

We’ve probably read a similar article before, but here’s another one…

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August 25, 2009

ECT #20 (my fifth maintenance treatment)

Prior to coming to the treatment, there’s a ‘ECT caregiver report’ that someone has to fill out regarding how I’ve been doing. It asks questions like “Does the patient seem depressed?” among other 16  similar questions. I personally didn’t feel that the last two weeks went over too well, but to those questions, my sister answered no to all of them, as usual.  So, when Dr. F looked at those answers on the questionnaire then heard me speak about how horrible I felt this past week, he gave me a confused look and asked me why there’s such a discrepancy between what my sister observed and what I was telling him.  All I could tell him was how no one, not even family members, can really tell from my exterior when I’m sad and that I tend to come across as constantly in a good mood. I don’t know if my answer made any sense to Dr. F, but as he walked to the ECT machine, Dr. H injected me with Brevital. I’m out within seconds.

I did not feel well after the last treatment, but this time around, I felt amazingly clear-headed and okay (just a little headache, but what can you expect after a seizure’s been induced via your brain?). However, I kept thinking about that conversation with Dr. F right before the ECT. Do I present a different self to other people on purpose, or do I just naturally look happy? I think my general demeanor just strikes people as pleasant, and honestly, I’m not trying to fool people on purpose. Perhaps I’ve masked how I feel for so long that I can’t even tell if I’m putting on some sort of an act. The thing is, I used to not even be able to tell a doctor exactly how I felt. It’s not obvious, but I’ve actually come quite far in terms of expressing how I feel to others.

The one place where my true self seems to be on display pretty consistently is through my writing. Somehow I find it much easier to arrange words on the paper rather than having to speak them. This journal is probably a very good example of my inner-thought process.  I guess the problem with only revealing myself in writing is that I can decide who sees my writing so these feelings are still contained to just me and the journal (or other written material). But would my life become any better if I chose to reveal more about my insides through my exterior? Must I work to match my outer shell with my inner feelings?

Maybe my real self is what people see on the outside. It’s my inner self that needs to work to get to who I really am.

August 24, 2009

Study: online chatting is good for depression

Who knew that what sometimes seems like a waste of time could actually be a cure for depression?

A study conducted in England used instant messaging to chat one-to-one with a trained therapist. During the study, about 4 in 10 people who had online therapy improved to the point where they were no longer depressed. Only 2 in 10 people recovered with the usual care from a GP. The benefits of therapy lasted at least eight months.

One reason for the effectiveness may be that some people find it easier to write about their problems than talk about them. Also, unlike talk therapy, online chats can be saved on the computer, so patients can go back and reread their discussion with their therapist if they need to do so.

People seemed to get more benefit from chatting online with a therapist if they were more severely depressed to start with.

August 23, 2009

underinsured and overwhelmed

I walked to the post box to retrieve my mail. Among the junk mail and some magazines, there was an envelope from my insurance company. Nothing unusual about getting mail from them, and perhaps I should have expected what would be written on those pages. I opened the envelope to find several Explanation of Benefit (EOB) statements for different aspects of the ECT treatment (e.g. psychiatrist and anesthesiologist bill separately), and they read that neither of those parts will be covered because “the maximum amount for this condition has already been paid.”

My ECT treatments are no longer covered by my insurance.

My heart sank, or more accurately, plummeted to some dark place in my stomach, or maybe even to the ground. I cried. Having one treatment is like paying for a monthly mortgage payment, or months of therapy. Thankfully, I have my parents’ financial support for these treatments (among other things), but how can I ask them to pay this much amount of money per treatment? Here I am, in my late 20s, having to contemplate whether this lifesaving procedure is worth having to pay completely out-of-pocket (it’s kind of like a ‘death panel’ of sorts). This is when I realized that not only is there no mental health parity at all, but that I don’t have a way to mitigate these circumstances. What am I going to do? But more importantly and broadly, what do people do when they’re placed in more dire situations?

I watch on the television with those people ravenously shouting against health care reform, and I wonder if they know why they’re carrying signs about socialism and Hitlerism. What’s frightening is that the health-care bill debate has ceased discussing how it will affect living human beings. Beyond those -isms are the faces of the 40+ million uninsured, the underinsured, and countless others who don’t even know they’re underinsured because they haven’t had to put their insurance to test. Though I would not wish this experience upon anyone (and I know it could be much, much worse), I wish some people knew what it’s like when insurance companies deny your application because of your pre-existing condition and even when insured, you’re left to pay for the costs when an illness strikes you. Then, they can ask themselves if our health care system is really working.

It’s a day before another ECT. My twentieth. I ask myself, is this treatment really necessary?

August 20, 2009

Nicotine: the key to a new antidepressant?

Well, nicotine-like compounds, to be exact.

A New Grant To Study Depression Treatments has been awarded to the University of Illinois at Chicago by the National Institute of Mental Health. Prior research had indicated that nicotine itself had antidepressant properties, so “nicotinic compounds that have been modified to reduce their addictive potential while retaining the ability to balance mood could provide a new family of antidepressant drugs, ” said Alan Kozikowski, the grant’s principal investigator. The team hopes that this nicotinic drug will work faster and have fewer side effects than those currently on the market.

August 19, 2009

Weights and Measures

I need new dress pants. Okay, maybe I don’t need a new pair of those ankle-length, gray Express Editor pants, but if I were to buy new ones, they now do need to be at least a size smaller. I browsed by Anthropologie one day and decided to try on a skirt. The salesperson looked at the fit and said, “you need a smaller size.”

Since the start of ECT in January, I think I’ve lost at least 10 lbs., maybe 15. The weight came off thanks to Mom. Our family was on a very healthy, nutritious meal schedule the whole time she was here this winter, and my sister and I have kept that habit going.

I should be a little happier to have lost this weight. After all, I really needed to trim down for health reasons (I had put on weight that’s not appropriate for someone of this height). And it’s kind of nice to just slip right into some of my old dresses or not worry that a button is going to pop when I wear a blouse. But there is a sort of discomfort when I have to think about my weight. Of course, people are always looking to lose a few pounds at all times, but for me, that pressure is oftentimes from the past. Since I was in kindergarten, I can remember others commenting on the way I looked. “If only you lost some weight, you’d be so pretty,” parents, teachers, coaches and even strangers would tell me. The comments never got me to lose any extra body weight. Instead, those words have stacked heavily on my heart and mind and as much as I try to leave that baggage behind, I seemed to have carried much of it with me as I’ve gotten older.

Even today when my parents see me, I believe they see my body weight before they notice anything else. I only think that because the first comments they’ll make is usually about whether I’ve lost or gained a few pounds. So, when I noticed that my pants fit a bit looser the other day, I couldn’t tell if I was glad because I had lost the weight, or glad that my parents will notice that I had lost the weight.

My psychiatrist told me once that instead of seeing it as a weight loss, I should see it as a sign that I’m getting healthier. So, as I look at myself in the mirror, my temptation is to wonder what others will think. However,  I now try to tell my reflection that I am okay and am making way to becoming healthier each day.

August 17, 2009

early rise (in caution)

I am not an early morning person. But today I woke up around 4:30 am, without the aid of my cat’s meow. Instead of going back to sleep, I prepped for the upcoming fantasy football draft (more on that later-who knew there could be so much reading involved!), did my makeup, cleaned the bathroom counter, visited my sister for breakfast (why are you up already?, she asked), and handwrote some notes. One could see this as a reason why I should get up early. But this unusual productivity, one that even involved cleaning, sometimes indicates a beginning of something else for me: hypomania.

It’s way too early to tell, but this is how it always starts out. I once started waking up around 2:30am and showed up at work around 5am. Because I didn’t have a key to the office, I just sat in front of the door and did work on the floor. This behavior later snowballed into a much bigger issue. Today, I am not at that state, but am feeling anxious and a bit agitated. Perhaps I’m just concerned  that prozac could swing my mood a little too high. One good thing is I have yet to do something that has been my good indicator for hypomania.

So, what’s my biggest sign that would tell me if I am indeed hypomanic? If I start baking in the middle of the night. I have yet to start lining up my flour and sugar, so I think I’m okay. Now I should go clean my house while I still have this frenetic energy.

August 16, 2009

Depression Treatment Breakthroughs, Beyond ECT-

I found this article Beyond Prozac – Depression Treatment Breakthroughs, written by Tim Jarvis, on It highlights the newest treatments coming to possible availability, such as magnetic seizure therapy (MST), where a seizure is induced by a magnetic field rather than by electricity. The article  also discusses DBS, “brain implants that work like pacemakers to keep a lagging neural area up to speed.” Apparently, ketamine, the anesthetic, is being investigated as another viable treatment for depression (It’s noted that a small dose snapped people out of depression almost instantly).

And people think ECT is the only “radical” treatment out there.

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August 14, 2009

FDA OKs New Schizophrenia, Bipolar Drug

There’s a new drug in town. Saphris (asenaphine), an atypical antipsychotic made by Schering-Plough has been approved for treatment of schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. Like most mental-health drugs, Saphris comes with all the potential side effects, such as weight gain. But it’s a new option!

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