Stigma Fighters: Risa Sugarman

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Stigma Fighters: Risa Sugarman

Finding Myself

Adolescence. Not the most fun time in life, in general, but for me, it was rather miserable. I was not happy, did not like school and hated all of the girl drama. College was a savior for me as I met wonderful friends and was able to befriend New York City as my new home. After my freshman year of college, I had a difficult summer. I did not know what was happening to me, but I was sad, nervous and felt out of control. I ended up in therapy which ran its course for the next seven years. I don’t think I spoke much that first year as I did not know what I was doing in my therapist’s office. I knew I felt sad and learned that my feeling “nervous” was actually anxiety, but I did not know what I was supposed to talk about during those bi-weekly 45 minute sessions. After that first year I did get the hang of it. I also began my relationship with anti-depressant medications.

I ended up taking one of the tricyclics and found myself unsure if it was helping or not. By the summer, I was feeling physically ill and my mother brought me for a second opinion while I was home on break. One of the first things the psychiatrist asked was, “what is your blood level?” I asked her what she was talking about and learned in her response that I was supposed to have my blood level checked. My psychiatrist at my college health services never ordered this. It turned out that I was toxic. We stopped the medication immediately and started another.

By my junior year in college, I fell into a good groove. My grades were improving and I was feeling better. That did not continue though and in February of that year, I was hospitalized for eleven days. I had been cutting myself and was having trouble stopping. My arm had little scratches/cuts on it and I simply did not care enough about myself to stop. After the hospitalization, I continued my therapy and was seeing a new psychiatrist. I graduated college (which was a huge milestone) and went to graduate school for social work.

After a lot of work on myself in therapy, I made the decision to move back to Boston, where I grew up. This was a big change for me as I loved New York and had built a base for myself over the years I lived there. I had my master’s degree and a year of working as a social worker and was able to find a job in the Boston area. I was able to create a new base, in Boston. I made friends and enjoyed my work. I took time off from therapy as I felt I was doing well and needed to live my life on my own. After some time, though, I realized my relationships with guys were not going well and I needed help to figure out why. I ended up calling that psychiatrist who gave that second opinion back in college. I liked her style and felt she could help me. We worked together and I was able to have some meaningful relationships as a result. We concluded and I moved on in my life. I would check in sporadically, which felt comfortable.

I met the love of my life and we were engaged six months later. We married and then had to deal with fertility difficulties (mine, not him). We endured 12 months of treatments and in month 13 we had IVF which resulted in a healthy pregnancy with our daughter. We gave lots of thanks. When she turned 3 we decided to try again with one of the frozen embryos we had from the IVF. Another year of tests, forced hormones and then heartache as none of the embryos worked. Quickly following that I noticed my mood was changing. My husband also noticed it and repeatedly told me to call my psychiatrist. I put him off and told him I was okay. By the time I saw her (I saw her on and off over the past 20 years), I was fully depressed. Months of therapy and medication trials went by but my symptoms only worsened. By this past summer, I was severely depressed and was simply not present. I had a medication consultation with another psychiatrist where his recommendations were, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) or try the class of medication that I had never tried before. I looked into TMS but my insurance would not cover it. While my husband said not to worry about the cost, I knew we did not have the money for it and was too scared of ECT. Before I could make a decision though, I was hospitalized. I was beyond hopeless and needed an acute intervention. The first day on the unit, the attending psychiatrist gave me the same options I had received the week before. He advocated for ECT and my husband and I met with him and his team of doctors to learn more about it. As a social worker who had specialized in working with people with psychiatric illnesses, I knew about ECT but I had also seen those movies that portray it as a form of torture. I was told how it is done now and also the high rate of recovery. I needed my pain to end and I needed to return to my husband and daughter and really be with them.

I started ECT and it helped save my life. I am still in the maintenance phase of treatment but will finish in the Spring. My therapy continues and it is bringing me to places of emotion I never knew existed. My medications are helping and I am me again.

I continue to live my life and will continue to fight the biology in my brain.

RisaSugarmanpic

Risa is mommy to a fabulous daughter and wife to an amazing husband. She has lived in Boston, New York City, and now lives in Central CT. She has an MSW from Fordham University and a BA from Columbia University. She is passionate about fighting mental health stigma and is very open about her experiences with depression. She can be followed on her own blog, www.sillyillymama.blogspot.com and has been published on kveller.com and huffingtonpost.com. She enjoys suburbia as a working mom and loves pajama dinners in front of the fireplace.

By | 2015-02-17T11:43:37+00:00 January 7th, 2015|Categories: Brave People, Uncategorized|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Terry Gibson January 9, 2015 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Congratulations on your amazing accomplishments, Risa. I’m impressed because I know how hard it is. You are an inspiration!

    • Risa Finkelstein Sugarman January 10, 2015 at 2:30 am - Reply

      Thanks so much!

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