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Snoopy, an experimental drug and a minivan: How one mom dealt with her depression

"It makes people happy," Orange County mom Joey Halloway say of her Peanuts decorated 2007 Honda Odyssey. Her favorite character? Snoopy. "He's always doing his own thing," she says.
"It makes people happy," Orange County mom Joey Halloway say of her Peanuts decorated 2007 Honda Odyssey. Her favorite character? Snoopy. "He's always doing his own thing," she says.

Joey Halloway has four kids, two shaggy dogs and a husband.

So she appreciates the finer points of owning a minivan.

“When you’re sitting in it, it’s like the best thing ever,” she said. “There are 16 cup holders.”

But the Orange County mom is also a highly creative person who handcrafts 350 holiday cards each year in her home studio just north of Chapel Hill.

“Every time I walked up to it, I died a little death,” she said of the 2007 Honda Odyssey. “Like, I’m that mom. ... I drive a minivan.”

So because she’s creative, and because she sometimes has trouble remembering where she parks – “You try finding it in the parking lot of Target,” she said – she put some bright polka dots on the side panel.

That was almost 10 years ago. Since then she’s peeled and unpeeled farm animals, Disney’s Phineas and Ferb and, about a year and a half ago, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang.

Even Pig-Pen and his cloud of dust.

The giant vinyl stickers, which she gets online and sometimes makes herself, don’t hurt the paint.

And it’s not just Halloway who now easily spots the Honda minivan with 177,000 miles as it carries the kids, the dogs and the husband around town.

People leave notes; a napkin on her bulletin board thanks her for making a stranger’s day.

People pull alongside and take pictures. Or last year, on the way to a cross-country meet, stick their hands out a passing car’s window, thumbs up.

Still, with her oldest now in high school, Halloway wondered if it might be time to take the stickers off for good. So she asked her daughter about it.

“She was like, ‘Eh, Mom, you’re embarrassing no matter what you do.’”

A personal struggle

It wasn’t that long ago that cartoon car art was the least of Halloway’s concerns.

The Duke graduate – she designed her own major focusing on environmental policy for developing nations – has struggled since childhood with depression, at times so crippling she worried she might one day no longer be able to care for her kids.

“A year ago, somebody had to take care of me,” she said. “I thought I was going to die.”

She had undergone electroconvulsive therapy, in which small electric currents are run through the brain. It helped relieve her symptoms, but it also affected her memory, so she stopped.

“I was desperate,” she said. “I needed to do something.”

Halloway did online research and asked about ketamine, an anesthetic used by combat medics that had reduced some patients’ depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Slow ketamine infusions have been beneficial for some people with depression when other treatments have failed,” said Michael Hill, a professor of psychiatry and director of Inpatient Psychiatry Services at UNC. “It is not FDA approved (for treating depression) but is an off-label, legitimate use of ketamine.”

“When people respond to ketamine, they usually do it quickly, after a treatment or two,” Hill said. “How long the effect will last, even with occasional booster treatment, is unclear at this point. It is generally well-tolerated and seems safe, though data is limited.”

Halloway had nothing to lose and, when she could not find a local practitioner, traveled to Atlanta for treatment.

The infusions, which she now gets in Raleigh, worked so well that she became an advocate and now works as operations manager for Ketamine Treatment Centers, a network of private practices that provide the therapy.

Ketamine doesn’t work for everyone, she said, but it’s helped her. So she talks about it.

“There are a lot of people out there suffering,” she said. “They’ve run out of options.”

‘Totally a blast’

Stuart Halloway, a software developer and president of Durham-based Cognitect, said ketamine has had a “huge” impact on his wife’s mental health.

“To have found a medicine that was well-understood in other contexts, it was a slam dunk that we would try it,” he said.

The couple have talked with their children about Joey’s depression, and also about the prejudice that keeps some people with mental illness from speaking openly about it, he said.

The holiday cards, an annual Easter party and car stickers helped Joey find purpose when she felt little joy in her life, her husband said

Now, “they’re more a reflection of how fun my wife is.”

Stuart says he sometimes even forgot that Charlie Brown was on the door when he was driving the minivan.

And then someone would slow down and smile.

“It’s a blast,” he said. “It’s totally a blast.”

The Peanuts stickers, which were starting to peel, have come down as Halloway contemplates her next subject.

“We make suggestions, the kids and I,” Stuart said, smiling. “They’re mostly ignored.”

Halloway knows her family would like a say.

But it’s not gonna happen.

“I’m like, uh-uh,” she said. “My car – I get to pick.”

This story has been updated from a version that originally appeared in The Durham News.

Schultz: 919-829-8950; @HeraldSunEditor