Today I have the Debbie from Sad Mum, Happy Mum talking about her experiences with Electroconvulsive Therapy. Please make her feel welcome!
Electroconvulsive Therapy – Its Impact on Me.
I had not heard of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) until two years ago when I tried to take my own life and since my treatment with it those I have mentioned it to have all said ‘I thought that happened back in the dark ages’. In the deep dark world of psychiatry there is a select few qualified to conduct ECT and to receive it you must be extremely sick. I guess anything that involves electrocuting someone until they convulse has to be barbaric doesn’t it, something that the founders of psychiatry used to experiment on the mentally ill? Well no, today it still occurs, not to many but for those extremely sick with depression it is a lingering hope that wellness will come.
ECT occurs when an individual is under anesthetic, electrodes are placed on the right side of the skull and electrical currents are transmitted into the brain causing the individual to convulse with the aim that this will stimulate the chemicals in the brain to improve the patient’s mood.
The time that I had my first session of ECT is a bit of a blur due to the amount of medications I was on and the amnesia that occurred later on. If they talked to me about ECT, what it was about, benefits and risks, I don’t remember. I am sure the soul mate and I agreed to have it as it was pretty much a last resort in trying to get better.
So began the first of what would end up being 18 sessions of ECT. After each session I didn’t feel any different, there were no side effects, and my mood remained pretty much the same. After the first nine sessions I was discharged from the psych ward because it was Christmas Eve 2012 and they said they needed my bed for those affected by drug and alcohol over the festive season. I was told to go home even though I wasn’t well and I didn’t feel safe. I guess that all the medications I was on were a blessing, causing me to sleep most of the time which was better than feeling so depressed that you can’t see any hope.
Christmas came and went in pretty much a blur which I have no memory of. At the start of February I was entitled to a bed in a private psychiatric hospital that came with the health insurance my soul mate organised for me even though we couldn’t afford it. I was admitted and started a course of nine more ECT sessions, one every second day. I didn’t seem to notice the change that gradually occurred in me but those around me did. They saw how confused I was and how forgetful I was getting. By the last session two weeks later I couldn’t work out what day it was, where I was, couldn’t remember what I did the day before, and was agitated by my own confusion and memory loss. I kept begging the staff, my psychiatrist and my soul mate to let me go home so that I wasn’t as confused but they all said no as I needed to be constantly monitored.
The staff and my psychiatrist kept saying that it was a temporary side effect which would pass and my memory would return. I eventually wasn’t confused anymore, but I am still waiting a year later for my memory to return, but it won’t now. I read up on memory and ECT, retrograde amnesia and the loss of past memories was mentioned as a side effect of ECT. However I am unsure why they kept saying my memory would return when retrograde amnesia is caused by damage to the brain that can’t be healed.
I eventually came home minus six months to three years worth of memories and I started a journey filled with big black holes. The last six months were completely gone. I couldn’t remember my little boys birthday, Christmas and New Years, my little boys first day at high school, didn’t remember who had visited me, didn’t remember that I smoked, didn’t remember we had moved house, and didn’t remember how to drive the car. It was just a black hole. As much as people around me tell me things that have happened it still doesn’t trigger any recollection, there is absolutely nothing there to remember. Memories as far back as three years have black spots and it was tough trying to get on with life when there are black holes in my past. I didn’t mind losing memories about how sick I was and how I ended up in hospital in the first place, but I did want to remember the good times, the special times that I had in those last three years, but they were mostly all gone.
My soul mate, psychiatrist, and I didn’t notice an improvement in my mood after ECT but whether it was from ECT or the medications I was on I am unsure. I can’t have ECT again due to the amnesia and confusion it caused and if I get to that point of sickness again it is recommended that I undertake Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which is the new black if you like involving the use of magnets to stimulate the chemicals in the brain.
Despite the memory loss caused by ECT, yes it’s a big thing to lose, I don’t object to ECT as a treatment because I do meet people whose lives had changed considerably from ongoing ECT.
About Sad Mum Happy Mum…
Debbie is the author of Sad Mum Happy Mum, which is the story of a Mum living with depression, and her journey to recovery and happiness. Debbie is a single Mum of a 13 year old son, a keen photographer, reader, camper and academic, and has lived with depression since her early teenage years. Debbie’s experience with depression has inspired her to write a blog about her experiences, and learning’s in the hope of helping others’ with depression, as well as increasing the awareness of depression and mental illness, and breaking down the stigma attached to depression. A strong advocate, mentor, and living example Debbie is determined to provide a safe environment for other Mums to talk about their experiences with depression, and is working towards establishing a support group that assists Mum’s living with depression.
You can read more about Sad Mum Happy Mum here where you can also become a fan of Sad Mum Happy Mum on her Facebook page.
Really interesting read. Felt like I have learnt alot about ECT from this post that I didn’t know before. I suppose sometimes you have to take a risk to get the rewards
Debbie, I’m really sorry you’ve had such a hard time with depression and that ECT wasn’t as effective as you’d hoped. Thank you for sharing your story. It must have been a really tough thing to go through.
I’ve been hospitalised in psych wards many times but luckily haven’t required ECT. My uncle, unfortunately is currently going through it at the moment and my fingers are crossed that it is successful for him.
On a positive note to anyone who might be reading this and has been given the option of ECT, I’ve met many, many people who have benefited greatly from ECT and who have not experienced the extensive memory loss that you have.
The brain is still such a mystery that every treatment that the doctors try are still done on a “trial and error” basis when it comes to psychiatry. Just like when trying to find the right cocktail of medications to keep a patient’s mood steady. That is a nightmare I have experienced too many times.
I look forward to a time when we know more and treatments become a little more reliable.
Good luck with everything and thanks to Tegan to introducing you. I didn’t previously know your blog.
I have thought about this procedure and have friends who have also. Did it do anything to help you at all?
You do not have your memories, but thankfully are not confused anymore.
Is your amnesia and confusion a common side affect?
What are your next steps?
It is hard to share your story, but very helpful to those of us (or friends of theirs) who are seeking answers. So, we thank you….and Tegan for sharing your story 🙂
Thank you for sharing such a painful story with us. During a very bad time in 2012, I was considering this, but thankfully started to pull out of things before I had to go down that road. I am so sorry it wasn’t helpful for you and so sorry to hear about your lost memories.
Thank you for sharing your story. So sorry you have had such a battle. So glad you can write and share. x
I read your post with great interest Debbie, and am glad to hear that you’re feeling better post treatment, although the memory loss is sad.
It’s a very controversial treatment – it used to be called “Shock” treatment when my auntie had it. It ‘saved’ her when she had a breakdown. Following the treatment, she went from horribly depressed and unable to cope to leading a normal life. I say “normal” a bit ironically because what is ‘normal’ after all? But she wasn’t debilitated by the terrible suffering she’d endured and functioned without and future treatments.
There was an Insight episode on SBS devoted to this treatment last year – really interesting. Lots of people discussing the pros and cons – some holding forth about it in a negative way (who’d never experienced a day of depression) and others extolling its virtues.
Thanks for posting this, Tegan, it’s great to raise awareness. 🙂
Tegan, thank you for posting this unbiased and thoughtful post.
Like others I am so sorry you didn’t have a better experience with ECT. For my wife it has been amazing. She has had around 80 individual treatments over many years. Yes, she does have some memory issues but we have managed a way between us to “recover” a lot of them but it does take a lot of work, perseverance and possibly a little luck.
The Interesting and unusual thing about my wife’s case is that ECT was initially used to “break” a really nasty psychotic episode she was having not to treat depression or bipolar
I’m glad I found your blog and have book marked it to visit regularly.
Thank You once again