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What Electroconvulsive Therapy is like :(

Electroconvulsive Therapy:
ECT is a rather controversial and ancient treatment for severe mental illness. ECT is used when absolutely nothing else is working for you, and that usually includes being through the rigmarole of being on different combinations of heavy duty antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, and antidepressants.

I was severely mentally ill for a few years, and that meant that I was being admitted to the psychiatric unit a few times. The worst time period that I was in there was early 2012. During that time, I was on a combination of antipsychotics, a mood stabiliser, an antidepressant, and mostly likely a couple of other drugs which I have forgotten about.

During this period, they tried to change my antipsychotics, and they were expecting me to get better. However, after being admitted to the ward for a period of four months straight, they decided that they were going to give me the last resort treatment.

In order to get this treatment (ECT), the doctors and psychiatrists evaluate you, and they are the ones who make you sign the dotted line for ECT.

Anyway, after they keep brainwashing you with all the success stories that this treatment has and so forth, I eventually signed up to ECT.

Firstly, they put you in a room full of weird looking doctors, including an anaesthetist. They put a couple of electro-things on your head, and they also insert a weird mouth-crunching instrument, so that you don’t bite through your jaw or anything during the procedure.

Once they do that, the doctor puts the happy gas on, and they count you down from 10 to 1.

When you are back out in the waiting room, you always feel the effects of the happy gas for about 20 minutes or so. Once, I actually vomited after one of my 12 rounds of ECT.

I guess you are wanting to know how my thoughts and such were like before and after ECT.

Well, before my ECT, my brain was working at a good rate, and it was going quite fast as well. However, with my antipsychotic meds that I was on, they caused my brain to slow down a lot. After the ECT treatments, it felt like my brain went from super fast, right to crashing down to a screaming halt. As well as my now super slow brain, it affected my short term and long term memory.

Suddenly, I could be talking to someone about something, and not remembering a damn thing that they were on about. I was previously bad with people’s names, but at that point in my life, I just ended up saying, ‘Hello mate’, or such things, instead of their forgotten name. Also, my short term memory was, and still is, very bad. For example, I can’t even remember the events of the day, or the day before that. I can’t even remember what I did – i.e. if I went to Maccas or met a friend or something. The worst habit that I have picked up, is that I keep continuously telling one person about the same subject again and sometimes several times, just to make sure that I remembered what I was talking about.

I also had other problems too. The speed of my brain went from a fast engineering student’s brain, to a withering, empty snail crawl. It was like my brain was so full of buzzing activity constantly, to the equivalent of staring at a line on a hospital monitor (flatline) continuously. It took me a few years to actually attempt to try brain activities such as crosswords and Sudoku. Even trying to play Texas Hold’em Poker is difficult for me. This is because my brain goes too slow, and also the fact that my multitasking skills were non-existent. It is weird though, because I am still able to drive, and I am an independent person. I can still cook dinner/food, shower, and all those things.

I guess you are asking me if it is worth anybody else going through this ancient treatment. I can only advise that if you are prepared to lose random bits of memory in your life, and to get your brain slowed down to a deadly crawl, then ECT is for you. What I really dislike is, ECT is still around and we are basically in the 2020’s now. There is no other treatment out there like it, and so that must be why the wards still give out this stuff.

1 REPLY 1

Re: What Electroconvulsive Therapy is like :(

Wow! What a difference to experiences we've had @soppykat !

While ECT was considered the last resort for me also (due to severe catatonia associated with depression), it ultimately saved my life at the time. I was scheduled under the mental health Act in my State as I wasn't able to give consent for the procedure, however I remembered (and still do) everything. I had bilateral ECT (meaning a shock was administered to both hemispheres of the brain) and had 16 rounds and remember every single thing right down to the anaesthetist's, attending psychiatrist and theatre nurse's names. I had no memory loss at all and it quickly brought me around from a catatonic state (it is weird remembering my catatonia, it was like being so depressed you couldn't speak, eat or do anything by yourself but the brain is still taking everything in but you cannot respond). 

I know I am a different person today due to multiple treatments I've had in psychiatric units across the country, some good and some bad. ECT, for me at least, was one of the better ones. The only side effect I had was some nausea from the anaesthetic and a headache afterwards (treated successfully with basic pain relief). 

Would I have ECT again? Absolutely. It was a life saver.

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