Liss Murphy of Boston was one of the first people in the world to be successfully treated for severe depression with Deep Brain Stimulation, an electrical device implanted deep inside her brain. Now, researchers funded by the Department of Defense are trying to bring that technology to the next level, and use it to treat depression and PTSD. Here, she describes her own experience before and after the operation that changed — perhaps saved — her life.
By Liss Murphy
What is depression? After all this time, I should know. I don’t.
I know some things about depression, though. Depression is the ultimate subtractor, a thief. It erodes just about everything you are, you were, you have, you want. It takes the promise out of your existence. It destroys any semblance of hope or potential or desire or goodwill. Gone, it just is gone. It is utterly corrosive in a way that I still cannot understand.
Liss Murphy (Courtesy)
Depression stripped my life of many things, of everything I knew at the time. It took away the promise of a normal day; the ability to enjoy and progress in my career and interests and relationships; the ability to think.
What follows is an attempt to make sense of the unknowns, of which there are many. But also, what follows is a story of sickness, recovery, healing and acceptance.
What was it about August 13, 2004 that made the day what it was?
I have been told that I’d had depression before. Sure, I’d felt lousy, hopeless, tormented. But I was able to function. I could and did go on, as I needed to. It was not a roadblock.
This 2004 episode was different in every possible way. It descended on me overnight, it seems. Yes, I had been tearful and unhappy for a few weeks leading up to my crash, upset that my husband and I had separated. But so what?
It was the beginning of a complete system meltdown — a mental, physical, psychological, physiological meltdown. A total shutdown.
The details are foggy, though some of it seems so clear and vivid. It was a Tuesday, a gorgeous sunny August day. My office had a view of Lake Michigan. I walked out of the office mid-morning and never returned. My computer was on, my running clothes, sneakers, other personal belongings in my office – waiting for me to return. But I never went back.
One important detail I cannot recall is whether I drove to work or took the subway. I think I drove but … I am hung up on those details now. Because that day I did not just have a mental meltdown; it was the beginning of a complete system meltdown — a mental, physical, psychological, physiological meltdown. A total shutdown.
I can still see each room in my Chicago apartment as it was back then, as confused as I was. Each day, the rooms got more confusing, more messy, until it all blended into a universal squalor. I see images of brown rice boxes on the kitchen counter, dull steak knives, the tips of burning cigarettes against the hue of a bluish-purple sky just before nightfall. I slept on the couch. I stopped running, started smoking. After that day in August, I only left to see my psychiatrist, three or four times a week, until I came home to Boston.
It wasn’t feeling sad. It was feeling nothing. It was a total void of feeling. For two years, I was basically mute — totally withdrawn from everything. Continue reading