Saturday, April 1, 2017

Somhow Forward - ECT and Why I'm Still Here

Point In Fact

Let me cut to my truth, right off the bat... ECT saved my life. It brought back a desired to live that I had long lost. But that wasn't without some costs. It has a stigma. That is an understatement. In movies, people are strapped down, shocked against their will, and drool all over themselves in the end. From what I gather this used to be truth. These days it is not simple to have this done. If I hadn't been through years of troubles I would never have been recommended for this procedure.

My Timeline... with Notes
  • Major depression (actually bipolar depression, but that is another entry) threaded its fingers through my brain for years. And I mean YEARS. 
  • Summer 2014
    • I attempt suicide but am found and revived
    • Hospitalized again. I refuse to take my medications and tell the doctor that I know without them I will just continue to attempt until I succeed. My cycle of depression has worn me down. Every time I think I have found happiness, depression pulls me back towards hell.
    • The hospital doctor (which I had dealt with before and thought he was reasonable) asked if I would consider ECT or TMS. I told him I was not opposed to happiness, but that I thought it wasn't possible.
    • ECT and TMS are very different. ECT has a higher success rate with more side effects, and vice versa for TMS. I was desperate and decided to go with the more effective option
Insurance would NEVER have approved this if I hadn't been through the better part of 20 different psych medications. As it was, they approve me to go to a location 300 miles from where we lived. Not convenient in any sense.

I was an inpatient at their facility when I had my first treatment. My wife was unable to make it. Something about having a job and three kids. No good excuse. ;-) But I was scared. That is an understatement. I was scared as shit. I had the movie images in my head that I would wake up and not know my name or where I was. Holy, fucking, shit.

Ride the Lightning

I went through the treatment and woke up just fine. Amazing. The treatments continued. I cannot remember the regimen, as you shall shortly learn why. A couple of weeks after treatment began, the depression came back. They had started with unilateral/unitemporal treatment. That is standard. Less side effects but less effective. They ramped me up to bilateral/bitemporal. Which is more effective but has more side effects. But it was working. For a few months.

Most commonly, around winter/Christmas season, I dip. And slam into depression hard. I had been slowly decreasing my treatment frequency, but the doctor decided to do a short 'burst' of several treatments and then begin weaning again. I trusted my doctor. He was nothing but honest with me, so I went with it. As far as I am concerned, that is when the memory issues began, to a significant effect.

Back at home, in a place I had lived 95% of my life, I began to forget where I was. The doctor explained that the hippocampus contains the geospacial matrix and that the neurogenesis the electroconvulsive therapy induces disrupts this, but that it will subside over time. Fair enough. But I also began noticing other memory issues. (As a side note, the geospacial issues did mostly resolve.)

As far as I am concerned, I have spotty memory from 2011-2015. Someone described to me my memory as a filing system. She said someone opens the drawers and throws the folders on the ground. The memories are still there, but you don't know where to find them. This was somewhat true. If Lex reminded me of a memory, I could often remember it, but could not on my own.

What Was it Like?

I laid on a gurney and an anesthesiologist gave me an IV. The nurse put various electrodes on me to monitor my heart. I talked to the doctor about my feelings and thoughts, and anything else I thought pertinent. Then I went soundly asleep. I was in recovery for a while, waking up from the groginess of the anesthesia... I think. I really do not know if it was the anesthesia or treatment, or both, that made me so out of it and weak. Realistically, it was not that bad. The staff was great. And my wonderful wife drove me home ever time. All 300 miles.


Some of the odd effects that ECT brought on was an hyper-attachment to emotional stimuli. I cry easier to emotional moments. A sad scene in a movie, a treasured moment, or a moving action can easily tear me up. The doctor said it was good that I was learning to be in touch with my feelings, but it is rather annoying to me.

I can smell better than I could before. Who the hell knows why, but I can now smell things that I never could before. Before the treatment, I just could not tell you what I was smelling, because it just never registered. Odd.


I am still convinced that the treatment has or may have some long term effects on my memory or processing skills. This could truly just be all in my brain, pun intended, but who knows.

Despite the downsides, ECT truly saved my life. I have often (and still do), looked at other people and wonder how it is that they have an inate drive to survive and achieve. Our species, heck, every species has that but I lacked/lack it.

Where to Go From Here

Honestly, I think that I could benefit from more therapy. Whether it be a prescribed series of treatments or booster sessions. But being that I am in school, the potential memory loss of class information scares me. There may come a time it is needed. Many patients have annual booster session, and I am a likely candidate.

Near the End

I was supposed to continue a slow, weening regimen of treatments over two years, but I willingly cut it short. Near the end I switched from bilateral to bifrontal, which is supposed to be effective but have less memory issues. I only did this a couple of times and then stopped treatment. It was conveyed to me that this could cause a relapse. I was lucky that it did not.

And Then...

I specifically chose to not include my wife's recollections in this post, because I want people to know what I remember. She will occasionally remind me of things about my treatment that I do not remember, but I believe they are trivial. 

Questions are Welcome

I am an open book. If you are considering ECT or have input about it, please comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment