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ECT Desperation

In July 2017 I began electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. They took place multiple times per week until February 2018. ECT wasn’t prescribed lightly. It’s a serious course of treatment that my doctor wanted me to try because we were running out of options. My mind had betrayed me. I was hallucinating, battling bugs and demons. I was delusional, thinking I was literally in hell. I want to convey just how horrible this delusion was. As a devout, born-again Christian believer, I was devoted to God. I believed in a theology professing God as love and his sacrifice saved all sinners from damnation. This formed my entire belief system. It defined my actions, my goals, my hopes but, here’s the wrinkle, the idea that I was loved by God, and fully saved from my sins, was gone. I had lived a full life in the church ever since I was a baby. But my psychosis won out until I couldn’t feel God’s love, only damnation.

The descent into hell started with a black hole I fell into. I was lost and frightened. Reality was warped but the delusion grew. At first it was me and my experience but then it spread to the people around me. I was in hell, but were they? In the beginning, I believed it affected me, only. I had sinned so tremendously that even Jesus couldn’t save me. But then I began to question those around me. Were they also in hell with me? My thinking continued to distort. Were they part of the torment? And what was my future? Was I in eternal hell? How could I escape? Even suicide couldn’t rescue me. I was already in hell. Where was I to go from there?

I was unable to work, unable to think. I quit my job and gave up my ministry activities. I was DESPERATE! So, ECT offered a hope I desperately needed. It seemed to help at first. I had moments of clarity that made me want to continue and I did until February 2018 when the psychosis overcame me and drove me to the hospital psychiatric ward, wanting to escape, needing to be rescued.

Here's where it gets sticky. I had ECT treatments for 7 months. I know I was desperate and that’s why I started the treatments. When the ECT didn’t work I went on an old medication with nasty side effects but extremely effective at controlling my psychosis. Those 7 months could conceivably be described as an exercise in futility but, while futile, they took a nasty toll. I LOST those 7 months.

Memory loss is common with ECT. The medication I take now may exacerbate the memory loss as well. What I’m left with is emptiness and confusion. I had written a book. I forgot. I had a memory book to help me keep track of things. I forgot. Some memory loss was amusing: “The Big Bang Theory” was all new! I found out that, despite the local Thai restaurant being my favorite place to eat now, I don’t like Thai food. Some memory loss had mixed reviews. There were two loved ones in my life I had gotten into arguments with – to the point where we weren’t speaking. I forgot. One was able to let it go since I couldn’t remember why we were fighting but the other was left with hurt that couldn’t just be erased. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to mend a relationship that I have no memory of breaking.

People ask if they should undergo ECT. All I can say is tread carefully. It isn’t just memory loss. There’s also cognitive impairment. ECT isn’t supposed to cause brain damage but it caused something. One thing I’ve always known about myself is that I’m smart. I started college at 15. I have a master’s degree. Now I’m struggling to do basic math and simple tasks. I tried taking a class for church recently and had to drop out. I couldn’t do the exercises. I tried. I even did the whole read ahead for the answers sort of thing but even with guidance my brain wasn’t able to complete the tasks.

This is my reality now. ECT didn’t fix me but it bought me time. Mental instability can be so destructive you’ll do ANYTHING to fix it. The thing is, I don’t even know the extent of the damage. I don’t know what I don’t know. So much has been lost. The damage is done. I’m preparing to undergo neuropsych testing – trying to figure out the extent of the damage and hopefully find treatment options. I’m trying to rebuild damaged relationships. I’m learning the limitations of my TV watching. Storylines that continue through multiple episodes are challenging for me. Even if I just watched the episode the week or even day before, I don’t know what happened. Sometimes I get frustrated. Sometimes I get angry. Most of the time I’m sad, continuously trying to find memories that are gone.

I don’t know what this all means for my future. I don’t know how much healing is possible. My advice for those thinking about ECT is know the side effects are not trivial. You will lose part of yourself. Make sure when the doctors say this is the last option it really is. Try everything first. Even if the ECT works, you’ll pay the price.

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