The Valedictorian of Being Dead | Heather B. Armstrong

Summary of: The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live
By: Heather B. Armstrong


Dive into the riveting true story of Heather B. Armstrong, who undergoes a groundbreaking experimental treatment to overcome her severe depression in ‘The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live’. As a single mother grappling with the demands of raising two young daughters and battling her inner demons, Heather embarks on a journey that involves temporarily dying ten times to escape the clutches of mental illness. This book summary offers insights into Heather’s life, the significance of the treatment, and the impact of her experiences on her relationships and beliefs.

Overcoming Depression

Heather B. Armstrong’s struggle with depression began after divorcing her husband and dealing with the responsibilities of single motherhood. As a result, she spent 18 months in the grip of a severe depressive episode. Every day she woke up feeling anxious about accomplishing tasks and faced the tormenting voice of being a terrible mother. Her depression sapped all her energy, leaving her unable to take care of herself. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Bushnell, recognized that she needed a change and suggested something unexpected.

The Groundbreaking Cure

Heather, a mentally ill patient, agrees to participate in a new experimental treatment for depression. Ten temporary deaths, induced by an anesthetic, are used to reset brain activity in hopes of curing depression without the harmful side effects of electroconvulsive therapy.

Heather had been feeling utterly worthless for the past 18 months, making her the perfect candidate for a groundbreaking experimental treatment for depression. Dr. Bushnell and his colleagues were conducting research into a new cure for the illness, and Heather’s advanced condition made her an asset to the study. But this treatment was far from ordinary and required Heather to temporarily die ten times over several weeks by being put into a deep coma using an anesthetic called Propofol.

The doctors hoped that by suppressing her brain’s electrical activity almost to the point of brain-death, it would reset itself and cure her depression. This approach, similar to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), was proven to work but came with severe side effects such as migraines and irreversible loss of memory. Hence, the anesthesia was considered a better alternative as a relief method to ECT.

Despite initial hesitation, Heather agreed to the treatment and underwent it successfully. The treatment showed promising results and, without the harmful side effects of ECT, could be a groundbreaking cure for depression.

Heather’s Traumatic Anesthesia Experience

Heather, following instructions, fasted for 20 hours before her first anesthesia appointment. The anesthetic needle was larger than normal and inserted with difficulty, leaving severe bruising. Heather was given a deep coma-inducing anesthetic with additional monitoring of brain activity. However, Heather suffered terrifying hallucinations before eventually falling unconscious. Upon waking, she discovered that the Fentanyl drug wasn’t effective for her, causing a disturbing headache. Heather later found out that she is among just four percent of people for whom Fentanyl causes delusions.

Heather’s Struggle with Depression

Heather’s battle with depression began 18 months ago, but she had sporadic anxiety and sadness ever since childhood. Despite pushing herself to be the best and always aiming for perfection, Heather dropped out of college due to the overwhelming anxiety and pressure. Her strict Mormon upbringing may have contributed to her valedictorian urge, with high expectations and severe punishment for mistakes. Her father was an intimidating presence, and her brother also suffered from severe depression as an adult. Heather’s first treatment was horrific, but she pushed through and reflected on the roots of her depression. When depressed, her mind always went straight to the worst-case scenario.

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