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As many of you know I have spent a life battling Mental Illness in the form of BiPolar Disorder a mood disorder characterized by extreme highs and extreme depression. After years of struggling and taking so many pills and combinations of pills to treat it seemed that I could not find a good balance between health and having any personality that was non-medicated I reached a turning point.
Over a year ago I once again slipped into the black shroud of major depression, a depression that became or always was resistant to medications. I was in a hopeless place not wanting to live, yet unwilling to give up I sought out help. One of the benefits of my life long battle is that I am self aware of my illness, especially when I am depressed, so I went to hospital on my request and with the guidance of my Dr..
Soon I feared the same medication merry go round which would only offer me temporary refuge from mind.......
E.C.T. ( Electroconvulsive Therapy ) which was first introduced in the 1930s and became used widespread in the 50's is a treatment in which they use electricity passed through the brain to induce a seizure. Even from the beginnings it was apparent that ECT worked quicker, longer and more effeciently than medication for treating resistant or severe depression and bipolar disorder.
But in the early days of ECT like very early surgery they did not use anesthesia the patient was awake, it was painful and caused severe memory loss. Most of us connect ECT with Jack Nicholson's character in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" a scene of barbaric torture ending in a mercy killing. In 1978 after much controversy ECT was for the most part stopped.
In recent years ECT has made a comeback, now done in a operating room under anesthesia ECT is now seen as a good treatment for resistant depression.
This brings me again to the beginning of my post. I am in hospital with a unyielding depression. The Dr. in the hospital during a meeting with me brought up ECT. My head spun and out of my mouth came, "No FUCKING way are you shocking my brain!" This Dr. whom I now can say saved my life both physically and in a amazing quality of life kind of way explained how modern ECT worked.
He asked me to watch a video that showed the treatment. He explained the possible side effects, like short term memory loss. He also informed me of the difference between bi-lateral and uni-lateral ECT.
Bi-Lateral ECT: electrodes are placed on both sides of the head and the electric
charge is sent across the brain. this type of ECT causes the most
Unilateral ECT: One electrode is placed on the side of your head and the other
on top of your head. Much less or no memory loss.
I spent two days stressing over my decision, do I risk loosing memories or worse, my mind was reeling at thoughts of being the BC Provincial vegetable. But i knew what my other option was. Meds lots of meds and the fear that soon I would be back where I was at the moment, wearing a set of green hospital PJs and paper slippers.
I agreed to ECT, was I scared? Hell yes for the days leading up to my first treatment I was crazed with images of me sitting forever in a corner drooling only speaking of cheese and not knowing who I was. The night before my first ECT i could not sleep, afraid I would die or worse loose who I was. Morning arrived, and they took me to the recovery room of the hospital, placing me on a stretcher they put in a IV line, the Dr. but jelly on my temple and the top of my head and i met the Anesthesiologist. He explained that they would be injecting a strong muscle relaxer so my body would not move when they induced a seizure and a general to put me to sleep. Soon I felt the warm fuzz of the meds and I was out cold.
I woke up in what to me seemed like minutes but was really 5 to 6 minutes of being under. Surprised that I felt no pain, knew who I was and what i talked about with the nurse before ECT i was relieved.
They scheduled me for 9 treatments over a couple of weeks. It was around the third ECT treatment that I began to notice a difference in my mood. I was able to smile a bit again and the thoughts of dying left me. By the end of my 9 course meal of electricity by depression was gone, I suffered no memory loss and i felt great. My meds were reduced to a third of what I was on prior and to this day I have not had a depression or mania relapse.
ECT is still a controversial treatment, surrounded by fear and for some people i know memory side effects. What I do know is that it worked for me and my quality of life since has been great. I do not think without it I could be going through what I am in my life at the moment without sinking back into depression. I am grateful for my care I received in a involved, collaborative respectful manner by my healthcare professionals.
Mental Health carries a stigma, people are scared or just do not understand it. I write about it to share with others that living with it can be ok. That it is like any other chronic illness and just needs light and compassion shined on it. If you do suffer from depression or know someone who does seek help because it is there. Also be open to treatment options. Yes ECT may not be for everyone but it is another tool in the battle to regain life in the darkness of depression and bipolar disorder.