And Then There Was Light
And Then There Was Light
My Journey through Mental Illness
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Author Christine Taylor was a young girl who grew up in what she initially thought was an ideal family in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Upon relocating to the city, her idealistic world began to crumble with the development of, and the need for, special reading classes. She overcame that disability only to emerge from a dysfunctional family.

Life got more traumatic after being physically abused by her father and emotionally and mentally mistreated by her "loving family." Added to the mix was the sexual abuse she endured and the need to be a perfectionist. As life unraveled, Taylor developed unrelenting mental illness. Although she received many psychoactive medications, ECT treatments, and years of counseling, God blessed her with a spiritual healing at the age of sixty-three. Since then, she has been in the light and is now working on her master's degree in counseling and therapy to give back to those who are dealing with mental illness.

In And Then There Was Light, Taylor shares her lifelong journey through mental illness, beginning with a happy childhood that grew dark. She narrates how she found healing through unconventional methods.

Realizing we couldn't keep up this financial outlay of money, I finally located a psychiatrist at well-known psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia which was closer to our home. Dr. S. was a psychiatrist at this Philadelphia institution and his fees were a lot less. He took care of me for about six months. He continued me on the same drugs and once again I began to have headaches. In May of 1990, since I was exhibiting signs of suicide again, he immediately placed me in the Philadelphia facility. I spoke with my therapist, Dr. Williams, who explained that sometimes patients are hospitalized for medication changes. Since I had been on just about every class of psychotropic drugs for depression, I was apprehensive about what change was going to be made. When hospitalized, Dr. S. advised me I needed Electroconvulsive Therapy, (Shock Treatments), and this idea frightened me. However, I finally consented, for I knew there were few options remaining open to me.

While a patient in this hospital, I attended two therapy groups-opting for the ones that included horticulture and dance. I especially loved working with plants in the hospital's greenhouse. Additionally, my sister, Rae, had given me a lot of silk flowers and materials to make floral arrangements. However, at the same time I became quite vocal about my suicidal thoughts and feelings, which understandably upset the other patients. So the staff approached me with a deal. I would still be permitted to work with the crafts my sister provided (which included refurbishing some of the hospital's own stale arrangements) if I would no longer verbalize my thoughts about suicide. Needless to say, I bought into the deal.

On the first day of my Electro-Shock Therapy, a nurse accompanied me to the outpatient ECT unit. For the treatment I was put to sleep with a short acting anesthetic and then the electrode and shock was applied to the left temporal area. I did not feel anything during the treatment in which a seizure was activated. After my treatment, I felt very tired and slept for a long time. However, after the second ECT, which was administered early in the morning, I was dancing with a lot of feeling and movement in my dance therapy class that afternoon. Everyone was impressed with how quickly I responded to the ECT. Actually the headaches and the depression subsided, and I felt much happier. Dr. S. wanted to continue with the treatments. I received six treatments while I was an inpatient, but they were prematurely stopped when my memory exhibited signs of significant loss. For example, after waking up from each treatment, I was asked an orientation question such as "Who is President of the United States?" When my answer was "Nixon," the team knew I was out in left field.

After the treatments were stopped and I was discharged, I continued to be seen by both my psychiatrist and my psychologist on an outpatient basis. I was thankful the treatments had been stopped, for I was experiencing great difficulty remembering how to drive to familiar locations whose routes I had previously negotiated with ease. (For instance, I had to call Dr. Williams three weeks in a row in order to get directions to his office. Since he was a gentle person, he graciously gave me directions each time, but not until after my third call did it occur to me to write them down.) Also, it seemed as though I was always searching for words, and I was aware that I had lost a lot of my nursing knowledge. My husband would say, "It's fun taking you places because you act like you've never been there before!" But it wasn't much fun for me! Research indicates that ECT may cause temporary memory loss, but this usually involves the recall of recent information. But some research admits to more severe memory loss in a very limited percentage of people who receive ECT. I apparently qualified for this distinction. In my case, however, not only did my recent memory suffer, but also my long-term memory. So, in retrospect, ECT worked for me, but to suffer the side effect of memory loss was unacceptable to me.

Furthermore, the ensuing happy state experienced after treatment didn't last-perhaps because I had not had enough ECT treatments. Nevertheless, Dr. S. again recommended it as therapy because the headaches and the sadness returned. So my husband would take me to the hospital's outpatient ECT Department in the morning and then pick me up after the recovery period from the treatment and take me to the home of Lauren, my very best friend. She, in turn, would remove the electrode glue from my scalp, prepare lunch for me and make me comfortable so I could rest, for it usually took most of the day to recover from these treatments. Not knowing there were new drugs available, I continued to undergo more ECT with the same post-treatment consequences of memory loss. Since this was very disturbing to me, the anxiety began to affect my sleep. I called Dr. S. leaving several messages during a two-week period concerning my inability to sleep. At the end of two weeks he finally returned my calls and recommended chloral hydrate for sleep, which had no beneficial effect.

Besides being upset with Dr. S.'s delay in returning my calls, I had begun to prefer dealing with his partner, Dr. Susan Ulhrich, who had helped in my care while I was in the hospital. I liked dealing with her as she was a straight shooter, compassionate and caring. Furthermore, she was well acquainted with my history and was aware that I often felt suicidal. After begging her not to administer any more ECT because of the consequential memory issues, she made a pact with me in the fall of 1990. She agreed to stop the treatments if I would promise to call her whenever I experienced suicidal impulses, adding that it was acceptable to think about suicide, but unacceptable to commit it. I clearly got the message and agreed to her deal.

Christine Taylor endured countless troubling events in a dysfunctional family. To cope, she immersed herself in education and school activities, then poured herself into her work, eventually becoming an oncology nurse. Despite many issues, she remained supportive of her mother as well as a loving wife and mother of three.


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