Friday, October 23, 2015

When Treatment Goes to the Extreme - Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

During my last hospitalization (there were three total) I was admitted to begin Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).

ECT was first recommended to me when I was still in the postpartum depression phase of my life (my son is now six years old). My psychiatrist was overwhelmed with my symptoms and the fact that just about every medication he prescribed to me, I was resistant to.

When he mentioned ECT I immediately envisioned old photographs and excerpts from articles I read in the past. There was no fucking way I was letting anyone hook me up to a machine to send electric currents through my body while I screamed at the top of my voice. It just wasn't going to happen.

Years and many psychiatrists later, I was at my breaking point (again). The time of my self inflicted death was upon me and so I stooped to my final option. ECT. I had an emergency session with my then doctor who agreed that the procedure could reset my brain and we could involve a medication switch much quicker than the usual weaning/crossing over process entails. It was a Friday and he immediately contacted the hospital to see if they had a bed for me. I was there once before, earlier in the year.

Once I arrived at the hospital and went through the usual frisking, removal of shoe laces and being searched for sharp objects, I learned that ECT approval required the recommendation of two doctors. It was the weekend at a mental health facility and seeing a doctor, unless it's an emergency, proves to be rather difficult, but I achieved my goal. I was actually pretty damn excited to get started.

The following Monday morning around 4am, I was bused to the facility for the procedure. It wasn't performed in house. The second psychiatrist who recommended me for the procedure was the doctor who was actually performing it.

The scene was a bit insane (unintended pun). The room was set up in a circle of beds with the ECT machine in the middle, pillows facing the machine. To me it was what I would think of as a lab. Everyone would be treated in under an hour and we'd be bused back to the hospital to recover. I can't remember how many of us there was. Four total from the hospital plus others who were outpatient, maybe.

I wasn't nervous until I was lying on that bed. The rocker chick nurse found my vein in a hurry and I was instantly on an IV drip. She inserted my mouth guard and the anesthesiologist administered the drugs. One to make me unconscious and the other a muscle relaxer. To this day, I feel like the medications could have been administered oppositely. I would rather have been under prior to the muscle relaxer injection. My veins felt like they were on fire and the feeling shot right up to my head. I don't know if the drugs have to be injected in that order or if that's just how they personally do it there. I never found out.

Next thing I knew I was in a wheelchair waking up. The first thing that came to mind was if I pissed myself during the procedure. I had goop on one side of my head (I received unilateral ECT), and my head ached like I spent the previous hour banging it against a brick wall.

Back at the hospital, I took a quick shower and spent the better part of the day in bed sleeping. My memory was shot to shit and I just wanted to fade to black. All of this was taking place on the day I was set to die, but didn't. I chose to get help instead.

I was only approved for six rounds of treatment if I remember correctly. My memory is still fucked. In fact, I cannot recall a single moment of my middle son's childhood prior to the age of six. Apparently it's one of the rare side effects. I should have followed up with maintenance treatments, but didn't. My insurance didn't approve it. From all the research I've done on the topic, ECT normally begins making the patient feel better after six rounds. Right when I stopped.

I bring this up because my current psychiatrist mentioned trying it again if my treatment doesn't go as planned. If you asked me four years ago, would you do it again? I would say hell no. But I trust Jack and am off the fence about it. I'm at the ready if necessary, but only as a maintenance ritual, outpatient. It'd be worth the try.

When I see a scene in a movie or TV show that involves electroconvulsive therapy, I get depressed and begin crying. The procedure has come a long way and helps so many. Back in the day, it was used for mostly the wrong reasons and in a barbaric fashion.

Don't give up on yourself. There are other avenues available. Many options. I know first hand how hard it is to believe that one day you'll get better and feel human again. It will happen if you stick to it. It takes patience (which I lack) and perseverance.

How far would you go to save your own life?


  1. I'm so happy you chose treatment, which ever was right for you then or now. And although we have never met face-to-face, I consider you a dear friend and I feel blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life.

  2. Um... Am I the only sane person that has the common sense to know that eclectricuting your brain is beyond stupid? Doesnt matter what the "diagnosis" - electricuting your brain? I mean... Come on lol. Really? I could go into much more detail on how utterly idotic that concept is but if someone can't figure that out for themselves at first glance then there's already something missing upstairs. People are a trip


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