Out of Darkness and Into the Light

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.

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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.”

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The wit & delight of Kate Arends

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Originally published in the fall 2014 issue of VISIONS
Written by Carole Gieseke. Photo by Jim Heemstra.

When Kate Arends (’06 graphic design) first learned that she had topped 1 million followers on Pinterest, she couldn’t believe it.

Her blog, Wit & Delight, had begun in 2009 and slowly built a following. Then, as an early adopter of Pinterest, she branched out.

“Out of the top hundred [Pinterest] pinners, there are a handful of us who are bloggers as well, so that’s been really powerful because we exist on multiple platforms instead of just one,” Arends said. “If you love Wit & Delight on Pinterest you can then discover the blog and then discover the Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter accounts.”

Arends now has more than 2.6 million followers on Pinterest – a feat that has not gone unnoticed. Her unique passion for art, fashion, and culture has been featured in the New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, Lucky Magazine, The Inside Source (eBay’s digital shopping style magazine), Elle Decor, Mashable, the Glitter Guide, and The Everygirl. She was recently profiled in the July/August 2014 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

When she launched her online presence, Arends said, “I found the things that I gravitate toward  he most always had an element of beauty, and there was always an element of humor in it. Those two things equaled a really interesting point of view; not a lot of people were looking at the world from that angle.”

A former communications and digital media director for The Daft Group and graphic designer for Cue, Inc., Arends is now running the Wit & Delight Studio full-time from her home in Minneapolis. And her brand is about to take another big leap: Last February, Target announced that Arends and two other top Pinterest tastemakers would have party collections featured in stores nationwide.

According to Pinterest, there are more than 700,000 party-planning-related items “pinned” on its  boards every day. The Wit & Delight party collection – in stores this fall – provides everything you’d need for a beer-tasting party. Arends said the collection was inspired by artisan food and  craft beer.

With her influence on her followers – mostly 25- to 40-year-old urban-dwelling females – Arends is
approached every day by companies pushing the latest décor, jewelry, footwear, and clothing.

“Someone like J. Crew will approach me and they’ll say, ‘We’ll pay you a fee for creating the  photography, writing, and doing your thing with our product and sharing it,’” she said. “I’m very, very choosy as to whom I accept sponsorships from. I say no to 80 percent of inquiries. But you get to put your creative stamp on it, and I think people appreciate the effort that goes into that.”

Arends admits her life isn’t as glamorous as it may come across online. Her husband, Joe Peters, has his own Twitter account (“Wit in Real Life”) that shows the behind-the-scenes life of a style  maven.

“He tweets about the mess I leave behind trying to Instagram a waffle,” she says.

Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:

1) Next week is Thanksgiving, so be sure to follow ISU Extension & Outreach Answerline’s tips when it comes to stuffing safety!

2) Last week the website OutSports.com ran a story about ISU’s national champion shot putter, Christina Hillman, who has her own unique story about femininity, relationships, and being part of the LGBT community. The senior from Dover, Del., is the defending national champ in both indoor and outdoor shot put and told Out Sports’ Cyd Zeigler she identifies as “pansexual,” which Zeigler writes is “another color in the LGBT rainbow.”

“I want to prove to myself and others that you can be physically strong, succeed in a masculine sport, and still identify as feminine,” Hillman said. “What if I could get really good and I could be this out pansexual Olympian, that it can just be normal? That’s one of the things that drives me, to be able to be a role model for others.” You can read the full story online here.

3) Iowa State has raced out to an 11-0 lead in the 2014-2015 Iowa Corn crosscountryCy-Hawk Series after taking down the Hawkeyes, along with scores of other teams, at Friday’s NCAA Midwest Regional Cross Country Championships in Peoria, Ill. The No. 5 ISU women’s team won the regional title for the fifth year in a row, qualifying for the NCAA championships this Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind. The men finished third, also ahead of Iowa. Follow the NCAA championships online at www.ncaa.com/liveschedule/2014/11/22 and the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series online at www.iowacorncyhawkseries.com.

4) ISU associate professor of history Amy Bix recently published the book Girls Coming to Tech!: A History of American Women in Engineering, and last week she talked to Iowa Public Radio’s Charity Nebbe about it. Listen to the interview and learn more about the book online.

5) And just because “what the heck,” here’s a sample of some social media snaps of last week’s SNOW in Ames, which started on Veterans Day and continued into the weekend:

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Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week.

cyclonecity1) The Leadership Ames Class XXVII has announced that it will auction off five of the 30 CyclONE City statues during the Ames Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours Dec. 4 at the ISU Alumni Center. The five statues are: eCy, Cy-House Rock!, Cyclone Classic, Farmer Cy, and Dia de los Ciclones. The auction, which will begin at 6:45 p.m., is open to the public. Find out more about the auction at http://cyclonecity.wordpress.com/auction/

CyclONE City, a “tour” of 30 life-sized Cy statues, is a fundraising project to support three local Ames charities and a scholarship for Iowa State University. The statues were publicly revealed on Saturday, Aug. 30 and are on display around Ames until Dec. 5

liasson2) NPR’s Mara Liasson is visiting campus this week as ISU’s 26th Mary Louise Smith Chair for Women and Politics. Her lecture, sponsored by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, is entitled “What Just Happened? The 2014 Elections and Beyond” and is, obviously, an analysis of the 2014 midterm elections and their potential future implications. The lecture is free and open to the public on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Memorial Union Sun Room.

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3) Do you Instagram? We at the ISU Alumni Association are just getting started. Follow us at @isualum to see some behind-the-scenes views of campus, ISUAA events and programs, and daily life at the ISU Alumni Center. Last week our Instagram followers got a look at the first-ever inflation of our new mini inflatable Cy (though he’s still bigger than real Cy).

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4) Tomorrow is Veterans Day, so ISU will carry out an annual tradition by honoring fallen soldiers at its Gold Star Hall Ceremony. Five Iowa Staters will be honored at tomorrow’s 3:15 p.m. ceremony, which is open to the public — including three new names that have been added to the Memorial Union tribute as part of the university’s ongoing efforts to identify all Iowa Staters who have perished in conflicts throughout history. Gold Star Hall was started in 1928, when 117 names of Iowa Staters who died in World War I were engraved into the walls of the MU’s north entrance. Names from other conflicts were added in 1984, and the hall is now an ongoing tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States.

banana-pudding5) November is national Banana Pudding Lovers Month, so here’s an ISU Extension banana pudding parfait recipe that’s quick and easy to make with your kids.