Electroconvulsive Therapy – “ECT” for short, often called “shock therapy” – the stuff of horror movies. Some demented doctor has his helpless patient dragged off to be cruelly shocked. It sounds terrible. In the movies it’s seen as torture; in my experience, it brought relief.
First, we (that would be me and my treatment team) didn’t just casually decided one day to try ECT. That decision came only after years of ineffective treatment with therapy and increasingly dangerous medications. This treatment team consisted of the therapist and psychiatrist who had been working with me over the past two years, as well as the in-patient team at the hospital. There was a consensus that ECT was a reasonable option.
I was desperate enough to try almost anything. I probably felt the same as anyone would – terrified. I didn’t know how it would be. All I knew was that if something didn’t help me soon, I would kill myself. I was running out of options.
I was given a physical exam to ensure I could tolerate the anesthetic used during the procedure. The shock isn’t considered a serious risk, but anesthesia can be. Once I had the OK, I began the course of treatments.
I received a series of treatments, spaced a day apart to allow me time to recover from the effects. I had treatments on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, resting on Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekend.
The procedure is undramatic. You’re wheeled to the treatment area. Electrodes are placed on your chest to monitor your heart, and on your skull to deliver the current.
You’re given a shot to paralyze your muscles and put you to sleep. The muscles are paralyzed to keep you from having violent convulsions. Despite its name, ECT doesn’t require physical convulsions – just a storm going through the brain.
The shot puts you to sleep immediately. You awaken a while later feeling pleasantly rested and relaxed, as though nothing had happened. You might have a mild headache. You’re wheeled back to your floor to sleep it off.
ECT has one prominent side effect, a loss of memory. This is largely temporary, though it can be extreme. I forgot the names of well-known people, of my cats, forgot why I was in the hospital. I forgot how to type. This came back after a couple of weeks.
I consider ECT well worth it. It worked. After all the years of ineffective treatments that slowly robbed me of hope, I found something that can quickly and effectively end the agony. When you’re hurting enough to consider suicide, the thought of forgetting what you named your cats holds no terror.