Tuesday, 10 January 2017

When The Drugs Didn't Work: A Look at My Experience with "Shock" Therapy

This picture looks real sweet, doesn't it? I catch myself thinking that too, then I remember the day it was taken.

I remember how Adelyn didn't sleep soundly like babies are "supposed" to do during these photo shoots (you can see on her face in the photo actually, this was in between cries!), and I remember being so anxious that I could have jumped out of my own skin at any minute.

While my husband was trying to calm our screaming baby, so that we could capture these MAGICAL moments on camera (insert sarcasm), I was in the bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror.

I had no idea what was wrong with me, and perhaps staring into my own eyes will help me find the answer.

Little did I know on that day, that I wouldn't find the answer for a very, very long time.
A few weeks after this photo was taken, I was admitted to the psychiatric ward for severe postpartum depression.
And that was only the beginning of the journey.

After approximately 6 months of debilitating depression, and going on a total of 3.5 months spent in hospital, the doctors suggested something I hadn't even considered;
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), or "Shock treatments".

This kind of treatment is reserved for the worst cases of medication-resistant depression. And considering I was taking a cocktail of anywhere from 5 to 7 medications per day, with little relief, I was a prime candidate.

I was so sick at the time, that I didn't really care what worked, as long as something worked. As a family we discussed the options and decided to go ahead with it, as one of our last hopes for me to get my life back.

I had a total of 12 medical-induced seizures.
The longer my seizure would last, the better the expected outcome. Typically the seizure would be 60 to 90 seconds in length.

So how do they go about doing this?
Very early in the morning, twice a week, I would have to be driven to Hamilton for these treatments. I had to be in the hospital and ready to go by 6:30 am .
I was given a gown and asked to remove all clothing and jewelry.
Once changed, I was shown to my stretcher, which would be lined in in the hallway, in a row of 6. There were usually 6 patients given ECT during these treatment sessions, and we all had our position in the line.

I believe it was 7am when everyone was wheeled down to the floor where they performed their ECT treatments. There were 6 bays set up, and you were placed according to your number. If you were last, you were waiting there for quite some time, as the team would work through each patient in order. I was thankful to usually be in slot 1 or 2!

The doctors and nurses would all huddle around you, and worked in a swarm to prep you for your induced seizure. I don't know the correct terms, put those conductive pads were stuck all over me, and lots and lots of wires hooked up. I wore something of an electrode filled cap, that ensured the electric current would reach the right places in my brain.

When this was all in place, the anaesthesiologist would lean over and ask if I was ready to go to sleep. I would say yes, and he would inject the medicine into my IV, which had been placed in my hand earlier in the morning.
That was actually the most painful part, that medicine going in...just as I wanted to screech out in pain, I would drift off to sleep.

Of course, I would remember nothing after that, except that I would sleep the whole rest of the day after coming home.

About the 4th session, the doctor in charge leaned over me before I was put to sleep, and said "and how are you doing today?"
I smiled up at him.
(I smile a lot now, but that was a HUGE deal at the time!)
He smiled back, looked at his nurses and said, "We've cured another one!".

I know that was an oversimplified statement, and I was not actually "cured", but my deepest darkest depression had started to lift. When once I couldn't even bring myself to curve up the corners of my lips, there I was smiling at him in response. That was a day that I will always remember.

Now would I say that ECT "works"? I can tell you that it did something for me (as noted above), but this was in no means the end of my depression and/or treatment. But it did help (me). It doesn't work for everyone, however.

My biggest side effect of the ECT was memory loss. I was told that this would happen, especially surrounding the days and weeks of my ECT treatments. What I did not expect, was such long lasting effects.
I have actually all but lost my memory from that year of my life. We went on a big trip to Jamaica in the months following, and I actually couldn't tell you one memory from that trip. I don't even recognize places when shown photos, or recognize in my own mind that I had in fact been there.
It is an extremely eerie feeling.

And what persists even now, is my lessened capacity for short term memory, and directions especially. I could no longer handle my responsibilities in my professional career because of this. I had become what I always hated: disorganized!

That's not necessarily a downside though, because if I was able to return to work doing what I did, then I most definitely wouldn't be where I am today. So I like to look at it as a blessing in disguise.

And even though my memory issues and disorganization can lead to many a misunderstanding with my family members, I can say that I wouldn't have changed a thing about my course of treatment. Everything that I did, every medication that I took, helped in some way to get me to this place that I am today, and for that I am thankful.

 Thanks for reading!


  1. Wow, what a remarkable story of survival. They say things happen for a reason but my oh my what an extreme thing for you to have gone through. This has obviously changed your path in life. I admire your openness to tell your story. I hope it will help someone that is or has suffered with this illness. I am 56 years old, suffering with "clinical depression" most of my adult life. I take one pill a day and have been for so many years I have loss count. I love your work and admire the talent this has unleashed in you. Many continued blessings for you.

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