Girl Gone Smart: ECT = Electroconvulsive Therapy
It’s a bit like being in a sci-fi flick. Huge whirring machine to your right, bright lights, doctors all around, pictures of puppies and kitties on the wall (what?), a needle in your arm, and BOOM! You’re back in your bed feeling strangely hungover and wishing you could have a drink. Except, obviously, no alcohol is allowed in the mental hospital.
Okay, okay, so you can totally get ECT outpatient, too. I did, a week after the last time I got out. I say the last time because I’ve been in the hospital for depression/bipolar disorder/suicidal ideation six times in the past ten years. That’s sort of a lot, right? Not really. I met people who’d been in there twice as frequently as me. I was a rookie.
It was a pretty standard procedure. Usually, the doctors and staff would ply me with medication changes and awkward group therapy and very nice therapists who never quite got to the heart of things. I’d stumble on through, emerge back into the real world, and somehow keep the monsters at bay for a year or two.
Visit #5 was different. Nothing was even remotely working, and I was desperate. Actually, no. Desperate would involve me feeling something. I was just numb. Almost comatose. I’d sit and stare at the wall for hours. My brain was trapped in a thick mist; if I moved an inch, those creatures would devour me. How the hell do you pull somewhat out of that?
Zap the shit out of them, of course.
“I think we should give ECT a go,” said my doctor delicately at a morning meeting in the Activity Room. I tore my eyes from the wall and stared at her. Electroconvulsive Therapy? That was for the lowest of the low, the nearly-lost causes. ECT was the absolute last resort. As frightening as the thought was at first, a calm soon stole over me. Finally, a real, hardline ultimatum: if this didn’t work, that would be it. I would find a way to end things myself- there was no alternative- and no one could begrudge me that. We’d all tried our best.
My mom met with the doctor two or three times to belabor over the possible memory loss. Eh. They kept giving me useless pills. Whatever. I just waited for my first appointment like Beckett waited for God. If it came, it came. Life was grey, cold, and nothing mattered. I wasn’t afraid until I walked into the room and saw the machinery: a giant monolith covered in knobs, buttons and dials, and a small box with wires on a table next to a plain white bed. The FUCK? What was I doing to myself? But what else could I do to myself?
A bulletin board showed photos of puppies and cats on the wall. Classical music was playing, which was nice, except it lent an uneasy Clockwork Orange feel to the proceedings. A sweet female doctor with dark hair moved briskly through the process: check the big machine, check the little machine, apply gel, affix the electrode. We would only be using one, unless I proved a real tough nut to crack and they had to go bilateral. An older gentleman anesthesiologist prepped the IV as the doctor called out the voltage. “Now, pick out a pleasant dream,” he said kindly. The taste and smell of the anesthesia filled my mouth and nose before I was back in my bed, a glass of apple juice waiting for me on the side table.
Wait. That was it?
Yeah. That was it.
Mind you, it took another five weeks or so for the bi-weekly sessions to do their work on me. I went home for a week in-between and almost pulled a knife on myself. Patience is paramount. But by my last session, I felt…lighter. Clearer. The neural pathways had shifted (or whatever they do), and I could see a way forward. Life was worth living and loving again. And to this day, I will always say that ECT saved me, I will recommend it to anyone struggling with the same demons, and I will fight the anti-psychiatry wave that says it’s evil (nicely, of course).
For those to whom the second statement may speak: I know it seems scary, but it’s not. I came out on the other side and I’m “normal” (but never boring). Email me at email@example.com if you want to know more. You’ll be shocked at how feasible it all is.
YES, I PROUDLY INTENDED THAT PUN.