Scott Braucht was in the prime of his career. A consulting practice partner at a Wisconsin public accounting firm, his work life was outwardly focused and driven. But inside, he was struggling with a dark secret. For five years, Scott lived with deepening depression, unresponsive to multiple medications. And then, a doctor suggested an extreme, dramatic treatment. A new book, Into the Light, chronicles Scott’s experience.
Originally published in the fall 2014 issue of VISIONS
Written by Carole Gieseke. Photo by Jim Heemstra.
Scott Braucht remembers what it was like to grow up with a mentally ill parent. His father was “deeply manic depressive,” he says. He smoked, he drank – he had a terrible marriage and family life. Scott’s parents divorced when he was in his late teens. His father never sought treatment for his illness. He committed suicide at age 42.
Scott’s grandmother and aunt also displayed signs of mental illness, taking “nerve pills” and tranquilizers.
He began to experience symptoms of his own in his late thirties, just when his career began to take off. Around his 40th birthday, his depression got worse. He became unfocused, lethargic, anxious, and fearful.
Scott checked in with his primary physician, who recommended low doses of an anti-anxiety medication. And he suggested that Scott make an appointment with a psychiatrist.
That doctor diagnosed Scott with clinical depression and put him on a daily dose of Prozac. It wasn’t what Scott wanted to hear. He returned home to tell his wife, Mary. “She just sat there and listened and then stared off into the distance,” Scott writes in the book. “But she knew. And I knew she knew. I think it seemed to her like something was always wrong with me.”
The next three years were a roller coaster of doctor appointments, crises at work and home, and a seemingly endless combination of medications. Nothing helped. He was missing his three sons’ high school years.
He took a leave of absence from his job – a workplace that for Scott had become toxic and unbearable. He spent most of his time off sleeping, walking his dogs, and seeing doctors.
His diagnosis had been changed to deep depression and anxiety. After four months, he returned to work, his condition unimproved.
Scott’s depression was dark and deep, and it was going nowhere. He sought out a new doctor, who gave him a different diagnosis: bipolar disorder. The doctor prescribed lithium, which immediately made Scott violently ill.
Mary and other members of Scott’s family staged an intervention. They persuaded him to go to the hospital. He was admitted to the psychiatric unit.
It was at this point, which Scott describes as one of the lowest points of his illness, that he first learned about ECT: electroconvulsive therapy.
“My psychiatrist decided that it was time to intervene more drastically,” Scott writes. “I was willing to try anything that had a good chance of making me feel better.”
In simple terms, an ECT treatment momentarily sends a jolt of electricity through a patient’s head. Most patients require multiple treatments – sometimes more than a dozen. Despite the public’s view that electroconvulsive therapy is an outdated and barbaric procedure, ECT is widely accepted by the mental community and has seen a resurgence at many medical centers around the country.
The Mayo Clinic calls the treatment, which has a reported success rate of 70 to 80 percent, the “gold standard” treatment for severe depression. The most common side effect, according to proponents, is temporary short-term memory loss.
Scott was eager to give the procedure a try. The first treatment failed, likely because he still had too much anti-depression medication in his system. Two weeks later, the doctors tried again. This time the procedure “worked” – it induced seizures in Scott’s body. After the treatment, he didn’t feel any different. Nine or 10 more treatments followed.
Finally, toward the end of the treatments, Scott’s darkness began to lift. “I wasn’t so foggy,” he writes. “I felt more aware of what was happening. It had been so long since I felt well that I wasn’t sure what ‘feeling well’ felt like. I was cautious.”
During this time, Scott and Mary visited the ISU campus for a special alumni event. At one point, he writes, he realized he was having fun. “I kept pinching myself, kind of in disbelief.” The dark days seemingly were over.
The worst of Scott’s illness lasted for five years, lost years he regrets that he will never get back. His family – his wife and sons, his mother and stepfather – stayed strong for him the whole time.
“The person who was behind me – holding me up, staying with me, putting up with it, carrying on with the children, running the household – was Mary,” Scott told me.
It had been 10 years since his last ECT treatment. Wewere visiting in his home in Verona, Wis., on a warm spring day in late May. Scott’s book had been published the previous fall.
Fifteen years ago, when Scott was first diagnosed with depression – and later with bipolar disorder – he says he looked for a book that would help him navigate the disease, but what he found was mostly books that were clinical in nature or focused on pharmaceuticals. He only found one – the book written by “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace – that was a first-person account written by a man. “Middle-aged men are very guarded,” Scott says.“We don’t discuss our weaknesses.”
During the worst of his symptoms, Scott had the idea to write his own book.
“I made a bet with God: ‘If you get me through this thing, I will write a book to help others get better,’” he says. “There was no other motivation behind it.”
In 2011, Scott says, he wrote the book in three months while he was recovering from a fall.
“People say it took courage to write the book,” he says. “Actually, it really didn’t.”
But, clearly, Scott took a risk by writing about his darkest moments. He admits that by writing the book, he’s completely “exposed.” Throughout his struggle with his illness, he says he was haunted with the notion that those in the professional community would find out. Around this disease, he says, people have a hard time knowing what to say. People especially have a hard time talking about ECT because there’s still fear about that process.
“But it’s not scary,” he insists. “The doctor said ECT rearranges the protons and neutrons in your brain. He told me if it works, we don’t know why. I just know it worked for me. I wish my health care providers had introduced ECT into the mix much earlier in my treatment plan.”
Scott says he’s now “10 years clean and well” and for that, he is grateful. He left his old company, and for a time he managed a capital campaign fundraising firm in Madison. But now he’s returned to the classroom. He teaches business classes part-time at Cardinal Stritch University and Edgewood College – mostly evening classes for returning adults.
Scott still takes medication for his disease, something he’s more than happy to do for the rest of his life if it means his illness is kept in balance. He’s had a positive reaction to the publication of his book – nothing but thoughtful and deliberate support, he says.
“People tell me they never knew [I had a mental illness],” he says softly. “I must have covered it well.”