Electroshock And My Life


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I had never been so terrified of something before; no prior surgery had made me feel so afraid, not even giving birth. The nurses calmly and gently reassured me while rubbing my arms. I was poked five times on both arms before the anesthesiologist was able to get the IV in.

Then I was wheeled into the actual area where the ECT is done and the crying continued. As my heart rate soared, I took some deep breaths so glad my outpatient psychiatrist taught me how to really take deep breaths.


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The last thing I remember was asking the anesthesiologist to tell me everything she was inserting into my IV. I woke up and felt a pain in my jaw, but no fear. The nurses were there and they were just as gentle and calm as before. I thanked them profusely for providing such incredible care to me. I was given Tylenol for my jaw pain and headache before going back up to my unit.

I could not believe I did it. My parents and my rabbi who is also a friend were waiting for me.

Electroconvulsive therapy: its dark past and hopeful future as a treatment for depression - Vox

I was talkative, animated, and thinking more clearly than I had in a while. When I was able to go outside after dinner, the sunlight felt like a gift, as if breathing the air and soaking in the sunlight was a new experience. When I showered that evening, even the water felt amazing on my skin. When I spoke to my husband on the phone, he could not believe it was me…I was coming back. Clarity can be an amazing thing when you are depressed. Perspective is simply a gift. Before my hospitalization, I knew I was depressed but I did not realize the extent, how much it took over my life.

Electroconvulsive therapy on the rise again in England

I kept pushing myself—go to work, be a wife, be a mommy, be a friend—push, push, push. It was too much. This depression ended up swallowing me whole and deepened its grip over time.


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When I gained perspective, it was time to give thanks. I was lucky that through all of this, I had tremendous support. I had so many visitors while in the hospital, whereas many of the other patients had none. My yearning to go home grew strong. Soon after I was discharged from the hospital, things started going downhill again.

I was honest with my outpatient psychiatrist, and told her about the dark places my mind started to inhabit once more.

Sherwin Nuland: How electroshock therapy changed me

ECT seizures should end without intervention, but my first two seizures lasted more than two minutes, and the doctor stopped them with additional pentobarbital. After the third treatment he seems to have arrived at the result he was seeking, and from then on most seizures were in the range of 45 to 65 seconds. Because I knew he would have been familiar with the treatment protocols of the mids, I consulted ECT expert Max Fink, who told me that notations on my treatment record indicate the use of a then recently introduced machine that delivered a brief-pulse current, as opposed to the sine-wave current of earlier machines.

Electroconvulsive Treatment

Since the early s, brief-pulse machines have replaced the earlier sine-wave ones. I had only been interested in dying, as quickly as possible. Young, too, noted my brighter mood. He raised my observation status so that I was no longer being watched 24 hours a day.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): How It Saved My Life But Destroyed My Memory

Side effects were troublesome. In the aftermath of anesthesia came headache, nausea, and vomiting, sometimes into the next day. It began as a reaction to the antidepressant imipramine, which gave me hives. Although that drug had been tapered quickly before the ECT began, a very itchy, angry rash was now spreading up my back and neck.

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I was taken to a medical clinic in another wing of the hospital, where a blood test indicated a strong allergic reaction. They discontinued the atropine, which can cause a rash in some people, and gave me Benadryl, which eventually solved the problem. Much of the physical discomfort I had with ECT treatment resulted from complications of drug sensitivity, and these diminished with adjustments in the first couple of weeks.

Immediately after each treatment I had some loss of memory, which cleared as the hours passed. As the number of treatments mounted, the amnesia increased. This aspect of the bilateral ECT I was receiving was very strange, since it separated me from the feelings that had brought me to the hospital.

On the day of the third session Dr. As yet this pseudo-dementia is transient though will become a more persistent feature with bilateral treatments. Patient showing some early improvement but unable to recognize this herself as her cognitive features of depression persist and are severe. Prolonged severe depression causes cognitive symptoms too, which result from a loss of neural connections in the brain. Confused after ECT and not really understanding what has happened to her or what she is doing here.

Whatever mild improvement Dr. Young had noticed then reversed itself, and I entered a state of true depressive psychosis. He put me back on hour surveillance. She feels suicide is inevitable and has no desire to live. He increased the dose of Haldol. How much more disastrous could things get? Jake was bringing books from the library and reading to me about patients having the same delusional thoughts I was having. But I continued to believe, he says, that I was evil, not depressed. Like so many people in the state of what used to be called madness, I believed in the truth of my delusions.

On the day of the eighth ECT treatment Dr. They had abandoned the antidepressant trial, and now they were considering abandoning ECT for a new medication trial combining an antipsychotic and an antidepressant. The ECT continued well beyond the half dozen sessions that had been proposed. It was spring and getting quite nice out. I wanted them to take you outside.

I had been indoors continuously for over three weeks. So many aspects of our life had become very strange, and to Jake my situation seemed too much like imprisonment. Over the next ten days or so my condition continued unchanged as the number of ECT treatments mounted. The cognitive side effects of the shock treatment were taking a toll. I had been writing occasionally in a notebook, and Dr. Young suggested that given the increasing short-term memory loss, I record what feeling better was like so that I could read it when I felt hopeless.

In my guilty frame of mind, the anxiety was overwhelming. I was tormented by the seeming inevitability of suicide. I was unable to reverse the mental process that had brought me so low, and now the experts, too, were stymied in their efforts to reverse it. I worried about how my suicide would affect Jake and my family.


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I felt responsible for the crime of not being able to carry the burden of my own life, and thereby transferring the burden of my death to the people who loved me. My trouble seemed to me unnatural and perverse: everyone should be able to stay alive, at the very least.

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