If At First You Don't Succeed…
Sometimes it takes a few tries at getting better before things start to 'click,' but when they finally did for Betsy Gertz, she describes the experience as "a little epiphany," — one she continues to share through her music, teaching, and with a unique donation of an elliptical machine for Butler's patients.
In 2003 at the age of 44, Betsy endured a life-changing illness. She was diagnosed with spinal meningitis encephalopathy and underwent a procedure to relieve the pressure on her brain. The illness and surgery led to cognitive difficulties she never before had to face, and, like many major medical illnesses that are challenging to manage, it led to depression.
After being diagnosed with depression, Betsy had been treated at Butler, but it took a serious fall at home, a stay at Rhode Island Hospital, and another visit to Butler before she found herself with more initiative and desire than she'd felt in the past to actively participate in her care. "It finally hit me," she says, "The only way out was up. I couldn't believe what I was putting my family through." She credits Dr. Susan Kelly, a doctor on one of Butler's adult inpatient units, with "having the courage to work with me each time I was there and not giving up on me."
Another motivator was seeing a patient exercising on a stationery bike. It reminded her of the days she owned a business that specialized in paramedic training; the company logo—a brain running on a treadmill. She used to encourage her students to exercise on their lunch breaks in order to perform at their best for the rest of the day, reminding them exercise is important for every part of your body, even your mind.
With encouragement from staff on the adult inpatient unit, Betsy forced herself to get on the bike for up to an hour before the day's activities on the unit even began. "I was on it every chance I got, pedaling out my frustrations. It gave me a sense of accomplishment — that I was doing something good for myself." Betsy also found exercise was a great way to focus her thoughts. So much so that she felt having access to an elliptical machine would have provided a more challenging workout to channel the pent-up energy she felt inside. "With an elliptical, you have to be mindful of what you're doing in the moment. You have to focus on the movement of your arms and legs and balancing, and while you do that, there is just no room for all the uninvited thoughts in your head."
Before she left the inpatient unit, she told Dr. Kelly she would like to donate $2,000 for the unit to purchase an elliptical machine for patient use. The unit staff did some research over the next couple of months, finding a piece of equipment that was wireless and safe, and Betsy followed through on her promise to purchase the equipment. Now, others are benefiting from it. Dr. Kelly says, "We are very grateful for Betsy's generosity, which is consistent with the very caring/sharing nature we've come to know with her. Making more opportunities for others to benefit from exercise is important, as we know exercise can be very helpful in the treatment of depression." Betsy adds, "I will always have some challenges related to my cognitive issues, and if those ever land me back at Butler, the elliptical can be another tool I can use while I'm there to help heal."
Betsy continued her path to healing in Butler's Women's Partial Hospital day program where she says another tool — dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) — she was taught to use was invaluable. "Learning DBT was lifesaving for me. They teach you about what to do with emotions and how to bring about better behaviors, and the weekly DBT support group made the difference." In fact, Betsy spends the winter months at her home in Florida, and before she headed there this year, she made sure there was a place where she could continue to get the DBT support that helps her stay well.
Every minute she pushed herself to exercise, every dollar she spent investing in a piece of equipment others can use to get better, every moment participating in care, participating in life, is a testament to Betsy and all those who continue to…try, try again.