Its been a while since I have written on here, and the less I write the more I have trouble doing so. I guess it is a muscle in a way, it requires regular exercise in order to stay in shape. But even when I do regularly write, I always have trouble on how to begin talking writing out my thoughts especially on topics as loaded as this one. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to organize it or what sequence to put it in. I’m in an odd mood right now and there is a lot I want to cover in this post and I am not sure how to do it so bare with me. This post probably won’t be written well and may end up being just a barely coherent rambling about my experience with ECT. But I’ll just start here:
I never imagined that I would undergo ECT, or electro-convulsive therapy, also known as electric shock therapy. ECT is seen as a last resort treatment, reserved for those who are catatonic and who have exhausted all other options, at least in my opinion. I got my first impression of ECT, like many others, from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But when you go in for shock therapy, from what I remember, they specifically reference that scene and tell you that that isn’t how it is, that it is not this barbaric procedure that it is portrayed in the film.
In fact, you end up watching a video before you get ECT, and while it won’t show a person’s face while they are undergoing the procedure like it did in OFOTCN, you will see testimonials from people who have had ECT (that are, or course, all positive, the ECT people would never want to portray it in a negative light, more on that later).
I was a bit scared before getting it, and I did it as a last resort for my OCD and I guess, a little bit for my depression. My psychiatrist, who knew that I struggled mostly with OCD, recommended it, and I am not sure why. He said it was for depression, not for OCD, but yet he knew that OCD was my main issue. This psychiatrist ended up essentially dropping me as a patient when he said that we didn’t have good “rapport”. Not to go off on a tangent, but I think that this psych was tired of me and my issues and them not getting resolved and thus just sent me off to get shock therapy thinking that it would help me in some way.
I am sure you want to know how it affected me and if it helped and what not. Before I get to that I will tell you what actually goes into the procedure. Since ECT affects your memory, my memory is a bit foggy around the first time I had the procedure done. I don’t know if I remember going in for my first time, but I remember sleeping all day afterwards. What happens is, at least at the hospital where I got the procedure done, you all gather in a waiting room and they give you a nametag with a color on it and call you in based on your color. You go in with a group of people. You wouldn’t believe how many people are getting this procedure done considering it is still fairly marginalized and most people don’t know much about it save from that one scene in OFOTCN and what they might hear from someone who knows someone who did it.
You go back into a little section of the hospital where they have several beds lined up facing each other. Each little bed has curtains around it that are pulled closed when it is your turn. There are numerous people involved in the ECT process, the anesthesiologist, the nurse, the psychiatrist, and I believe the dude who runs the actual machine that technically gives you a seizure. I forget if other sessions are happening while yours is happening or how many doctors/staff there actually are as I always remember having a different anesthesiologist and a different nurse. I don’t remember seeing curtains pulled and other people getting the procedure done before me but it had to have been happening that way. I remember the nasty stuff they gave you to drink (I am not sure what for) and how the nurse had to start an IV and how the doctors crowd around you as you are nodding off from the anesthesia. You wake back up in the same place but maybe in a different room but in a bed, pretty groggy.
I didn’t like getting the anesthesia as there was always the possibility that you wouldn’t wake up, and I hate getting IV’s as my veins are hard to find. So that part wasn’t fun. And the actual part when the doctors are coming over to you with the machine is scary, but you aren’t awake for the actual procedure. From what I understand, they induce a seizure in your brain in attempts to literally shock you out of your depressed state. I spoke to the psychiatrist who was doing the procedures (who was a colleague of my psychiatrist at the time which is how I got referred to the procedure) and asked her if it would help my OCD and she told me that they were trying to stimulate the vagus nerve which would help with OCD. But sadly the ECT didn’t touch my OCD.
I had done some research about ECT and its affects on OCD and I read in a report that some people had gotten some relief from it. But after I had the ECT and I went back and re-read what I had originally read, what was actually written in the report was that the people with the certain types of obsessions had actually gotten worse; I had misread the report. While I didn’t feel that ECT made my OCD worse initially, in the long run it may have made it worse, I don’t know.
I know that I was hospitalized after one round of ECT and I am not sure why. I know that before I got this particular round of ECT done, I was feeling emotional. Perhaps I was feeling sorry for myself, that I had resulted to getting ECT done, I’m not sure. There was this odd excitement at getting the ECT done; you get lots of attention and there is this thrill of going under anesthesia and the prospect of feeling entirely different when you wake up. Maybe this is just me, as I have a problem with needing attention. Anyhow, I was emotional before I went under and when I woke up (I only half remember waking up and how I felt), I was crying and saying how my OCD and depression was worse and I think I mentioned something about suicide. I remember the doctor telling me I needed to be checked into the hospital. What is so stirring and freaky about this is that before this happened I had watched a movie where a woman accidentally signs herself into a psych ward. Which is exactly what happened to me next. After the procedure (I don’t remember what happened next 100%, my memory is hazy, a side effect of the ECT) I know that I was wheeled down to another floor and I remember signing a paper. I don’t know how exactly but somehow I got admitted to the psych ward. Because this was several months ago, the details evade me. My mom was with me, but for some reason she couldn’t or wasn’t able to prevent me from being signed in. Maybe the doctor had me signed in against my will. But either way this was a scary experience and I was upset that I had been signed in and didn’t want to stay. There was lots of confusion. But I ended up staying for a week. I’m kind of mad at the doctor for her part in it and to this day I don’t know exactly what happened, and because ECT messes with your memory I don’t know if I will. I had two or three more rounds of ECT while I was in the hospital. I’m not sure if being emotional before getting this one round of ECT done is what caused me to wake up so upset or if it was the ECT itself that made me wake up so emotional that a doctor felt I needed to check myself in. It could be a combination of both, but this was definitely a negative experience with ECT as you are supposed to wake up feeling better. And I woke up emotional and in a daze. I remember that much.
Besides that negative aspect of one round of ECT, (I think that was my second), at some point my mother told me that she felt I seemed “better”, and in the video they show you before you get the ECT, they state that relatives can often detect a change in the person getting ECT before the person getting ECT can detect one. Beyond what my mother said, I do know now that the ECT did affect me besides just the one where I woke up crying. At first I wasn’t sure, but I’m pretty certain now. I believe that I had both good and bad effects from the ECT. I don’t think my memory was damaged too much and for that I am really grateful as many people report lots of memory damage due to ECT. The time around when I got ECT is a little hazy, and there was me not remembering how I signed myself in to the psych ward, so I do think that it affected my memory a tad. But when it comes to long term memories I don’t think I was affected too much. I do know that after the ECT I felt what was a worsening of these feelings of shame that I get off and on. I’ve always had these weird times when I will become overwhelmed with shame. After the ECT, I would have these episodes, but more frequent and more intense. Maybe these weren’t shame episodes at all, but mini-depressive episodes. I don’t know. The emotion I experience when I have them is so hard to pin down. So the ECT did a number on me in that regard. But I’ve noticed recently that these episodes have gone away, perhaps because the ECT has now worn off, which it apparently does and which I wasn’t aware of. This is one reason why I question the whole procedure and if it is really affective or not- why do something so invasive that has risks like memory loss if it isn’t lasting? On a more positive note I did notice that the ECT had some effect on my depression- I stopped feeling sorry for myself and having pity parties. Or maybe these aren’t pity parties at all, and instead are just episodes of depression. I’m going to say that it is the latter, and that perhaps my depression just manifests itself as a pity party. So in a weird sense ECT caused one type of emotional episode- the shame episodes, while taking away another. Both types of episodes I have feel different and its hard to say what they really are in the first place. Either way this was something that I noticed. I also noticed that I stopped having hypo-manic episodes, and haven’t had one since the ECT. So I think that the ECT really had an impact on my bipolar disorder and PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder) because I didn’t have any depressive episodes while on my period up until recently- during my last menstrual period I had a major depressive episode as well as suicidal thoughts and even thought about checking myself into the hospital. I don’t remember having any suicidal thoughts before this time, so the ECT may have made them go away for some time along with the depressive episodes.
I’m quite scared about the fact that I had a bad depressive episode and suicidal thoughts because I’m worried it means that not only has the ECT worn off, but it has caused my pre-ECT symptoms to come back with a vengeance. I don’t really think I want to have anymore ECT as I already had five rounds and I don’t want to risk my memory getting damaged anymore and having more of the shame episodes. I hope that if the depressive episodes are back that I can work through them and that they aren’t worse than the pre-ECT ones. I’ll have to bide my time and see. If they are worse that means that the ECT has done damage and I won’t know what to do about that. I’m considering getting TMS done, which is supposed to help with depression.
If asked if I would recommend the ECT, I would lean towards not recommending it. I didn’t realize or feel that it had any positive effect until recently, and this was months after the treatments, and I only noticed the positive effects because of negative symptoms returning, as in the positive wasn’t that positive. The shame episodes were certainly a negative factor, and the fact that the more ECT rounds you have the more your memory is affected scares me, so I don’t want to have anymore. Who knows, maybe I should have had more rounds. I was supposed to have six, but I declined as I was worried about my memory, and going under anesthesia so many times scares me. I will get TMS before I do anymore ECT.
ECT is a controversial procedure and for good reason. Due to the shame episodes I had, and because I hadn’t noticed any positive affects, I joined an ECT survivors group on Facebook. The amount of horror stories on there that I came across were unreal. People who had five rounds, even one I believe, experienced side effects a lot worse than mine, like serious brain damage. I think the more you have the more you risk brain damage, so I am glad I stopped at five. I read on this group of people getting lawyers and trying to sue their doctors and get the practice banned. However, I really do think it comes down to each individual person too. I think that if you are catatonic and so depressed that you can barely get out of bed that ECT could help you. I hear that it is the best cure for catatonic depression. Two of the people that I was in the hospital with when I got checked in after that one round of ECT seemed to think that it helped them, yet they were also inpatients in the psych ward. It could impact your memory a lot worse than it did mine, it could do nothing, it could change your life. I only have my experience to draw from.
If you are considering getting ECT done, consider my story and do your own research. Check out Surviving Electroshock on Facebook. Or perhaps don’t, if you’ve exhausted all other options and nothing is working for your depression and it is so severe that you can’t do anything, maybe ECT will really help you. But there is the risk of memory loss and cognitive impairment. I don’t think I got damaged cognitively from ECT but you never know. My anxiety has been a lot worse lately. I’m also an individual and I don’t represent the whole population. I also know that it didn’t do a thing for my OCD which is why I am considering getting TMS done next. It supposedly helps with both OCD and depression and it doesn’t involve going under or IV’s and I don’t think that it impacts your memory although I have read that it can make anxiety and depression worse sometimes. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend ECT unless you are really desperate.
I hope this post helped you. I’m hoping that my next blog will be about how much TMS helped me with OCD. Fingers crossed.