Electroconvulsive therapy, ECT, is one way to treat severe depression and mania. The treatments are done under general anesthesia, allowing the doctor to induce a seizure by passing small electrical currents to the brain. ECT is known to be controversial because of how it was administered many years ago and the serious side effects it used to cause, but it is now much less dangerous.
I started ECT in February 2015 because no other treatments were working and I was desperate for something to help. In the beginning, I was doing the treatments 3 times a week for 4 weeks, then once a week for 4 weeks, then every other week for 8 weeks, and finally once a month. It has been a successful treatment for me. It has not solved all my problems or completely removed my depression, but it did get me out of a major depression when every other treatment failed. At this point, I want to stop the treatments, but I remind myself how beneficial they have been for me.
ECT is physically demanding the day of the treatments. I’m groggy (I assume from the anesthesia), I have confusion, my jaw hurts badly from the seizure clenching, and my body is overall exhausted. All of these symptoms go away within at least 24 hours. The only lasting effect I have is memory loss. Supposedly, the memory loss for most patients is temporary and only goes back a couple weeks or months at the most. Memories generally comes back shortly after treatment ends. However, my memory loss goes back years. I had even forgotten that my grandmother passed away, so I had to deal with her death all over again. Since I’m still doing monthly treatments, my memory does not improve. The cost is also a difficult aspect to handle, but all of the side effects and aspects are still easier to deal with than many months of a major depression with no relief.
Today was my 33rd treatment. It’s a lot on my body and mind. I don’t know how much longer I can handle these treatments. I know that my psychiatrist and my mother want me to continue with the therapy because they have been mostly successful. They are concerned about what will happen if and when I stop because of the success. This I understand, but I wish they would put themselves in my shoes. I feel that if ECT got rid of my depression and made me stable, then I would be happy to continue. However, I still take 7 different psych medications every day and an additional 2 medications as needed. In addition to all of that, we are going to be adding another psych medication within the next couple weeks. I also have to take 3 other medications for some medical conditions. I hope I get to stop ECT at some point, but I fear that if I do, I will regress to a horrible depression or mania.