Catatonia sounds so enticing: It has the word cat in it. It might be an island. It is kind of exotic, I guess.
When I became catatonic, I had been circling the drain for six months or a year. Slowly things went away. I talked less, talked more softly, and finally stopped communicating altogether. I bathed less and less often, and that stopped, too. Exhaustion crept into every corner until I couldn’t get out of bed. I stopped eating and drinking. Consciousness ceased, and I stared into space. If you lifted up my arm, I would just hold it there indefinitely.
Ben cleaned me up as best he could and took me to the best hospital. Two weeks of observation. They observed me sitting in my stench until Ben threatened them or pleaded with them to clean me and change my clothes. They observed me not eat for days. My Ben was only allowed a one hour visit per day since it was a psych ward. Dr. M changed my meds, changed my meds, changed my meds. Ben was overwhelmed, and my family would not help.
Then electro-convulsive therapy: ECT, shock therapy, zap. I woke up thrashing around, being tied to the bed. Consciousness! That’s an improvement, right?
I had shock therapy a few times more over the next couple years between meds that never seemed to work. I had it a lot less often than he would have liked because I still held onto my dream of continuing my career as a professor. He laughed a big old barrel laugh over that. I have met few men besides him who saw women as just less-than-human creatures.
There were hitches with shock therapy. I am conscious; that is true, but the person who came to strapped to a bed is not the same person who melted into catatonia. This whole insanity thing has been a series of changes to my essential personhood. To stay married, Ben and I had to renegotiate this New Person into the equation. After each of the sanity wars, the experts have said, “you’re better now — the same as ever”. Do they also say that when what you lose is a leg or breast, or only when you lose your personality?