Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"E.C.T. From Myths to My Reality" My personal journey with Mental Illness

pic courtesy of

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
                         memory loss.
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.


  1. Brave boy! So very proud of you!!!

  2. It takes courage to reveal this.
    Kudos to you. I'm glad that you've made it to the "other side" - one where you can smile again.

  3. Thank you,

    I am not sure it takes courage. For me the only way to start to remove the stigma on Mental Illness and Treatment is to write about it openly in a way that is not too preachy but allows others to understand by using my voice. Others who suffer as well may not be able, want or be comfortable discussing these things. For me it is important to my recovery and health to talk about it. The more I reveal the more the self stigma disapears

  4. i've often considered trying the ECT it has been suggested or has come up has been discussed what have you. i just don't think there is anything out there that will really help me, supportive friends are good, of course, but it is still very lonely up in here.

    great post. :)

  5. After his own (successful) cancer surgery in the early '70s, my dad went into a heavy depression and was treated with ECT. It worked very well for him, and he has only had one depressive episode in the almost 40 years since -- after I got diagnosed with cancer myself back in 2007. This time he treated it with medication, but had ECT been suggested as a better option, I'm sure he would have taken it again. As you've shown, it can work better than medication in many instances.

  6. Thanks for sharing that Derek.. ECT is something that few talk about openly.

  7. Severe depression can be a terminal illness - literally, so desperate measures are definitely worth a try if all else fails. One of my wife's friends had ECT some years ago, and it ended her horrible depression, with minimal side-effects.

    I have experienced "moderate to severe" depression myself, and it feels to me like a chemical thing, like being drugged. Too many people who have not experienced this think it is simply a matter of "pulling yourself together", or stopping "stinking thinking". It isn't.

    Thanks for this post Steven, it's interesting to hear that ECT has evolved into a more effective and less fear-evoking treatment.

  8. Thank you Paul,

    Yes I the more people talk and share about depression the better the understanding will be about it.

  9. I don't know you but I do know Airdrie and Derek. It takes a lot of courage to post where you are at in a non preachy way.

    Love and support from a stranger!

    (I carry that same bipolar label.....)

  10. Here's my dad's post about it from back in 2008, by the way.

  11. Having gone through 25 treatments several years ago, tapering off slowly over time, I can unequivocally say it saved my life. Having been treated for l1 years previously for a condition I didn't have, misdiagnosed and brought to the brinks of death with a toxic level of overmedication that resulted in neurological & kidney damage, I too was finally free. No meds, no more side effects, no more depression resulting from the prescription pad of an over zealous doctor on the wrong track. Chronic insomnia was cured. All has been good ever since. I have my life and health back. It may not be for all, but it’s a miracle for those of us who needed it. We had little to lose and so much to gain.