In order to treat my mental health disorders, I underwent electroshock therapy. This is my story.
What Is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?
According to the Mayo Clinic, electroconvulsive therapy—commonly referred to as ECT or electroshock therapy—is a procedure used to treat major depression and other psychological disorders, such as severe mania resulting from bipolar disorder; catatonia, which involves erratic schizophrenia-induced movements; or agitation in people who have dementia.
Psychiatrists and patients consider ECT after other treatment options (i.e., psychotropic medications, psychological therapy, or both) have proven to be ineffective.
Practitioners currently use three different electrode placement types for patients:
- Bilateral, in which the doctor places an electrode on each temple, is the most common, the most potent, and results in the most side effects.
- Unilateral, in which the doctor positions one electrode on a temple and another on the crown of the head, is often used during the first session or two because it is less powerful and causes less side effects.
- Bifrontal, a newer placement type that psychiatrists hypothesize may be as effective as bilateral placement, with fewer side effects.
During an ECT treatment, a small electric current passes through the brain inducing what is known as a grand mal seizure.
Please note that this is not proven, but the psychiatrist explained to me that the induced seizure causes chemical changes in the brain that often quickly lift severe depression in patients.
A typical course of ECT includes two to three sessions per week for a total of six to eight sessions. Some patients receive more than the standard six to eight treatments. Nurses monitor patient response and side effects after every treatment and sometimes before a treatment via asking questions and giving written tests that focus on memory, mental clarity, and how the patient is feeling.
Have you ever seen the movie A Beautiful Mind? There is a scene when John Nash endures an insulin shock treatment. The scene is quite intense, as it depicts how the procedures proceeded before the invention of muscle relaxants. Furthermore, comas were induced using large doses of insulin.
ECT utilizes muscle relaxers and anesthesia to make the treatment less traumatic for the patient. Today, numerous doctors claim that electroshock treatments are more humane than the ones from the past.
We will take a brief look at insulin coma and focus on electroconvulsion.
I will share my personal experience and some information I found after completing all of them so that you may decide whether the treatment seems useful and less scary and more favorable these days.
I kindly recommend that you watch the four movies included in this article. They add high-value information about this treatment process that will help you understand the potential benefits, side effects, and after effects.
"A Beautiful Mind" Insulin Shock Therapy Scene
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Session in Recent Times
Why Did I Receive ECT?
I intended the first part of this article to be an objective description of electroconvulsive therapy as psychiatrists currently portray it.
Before I share my personal ECT experience with you, I will let you in on my mental health history. Everything I share is brutally honest and not embellished in any way. Here are the psychological disorders I have. I was first diagnosed right after college because I chose to get help for things that were distressing since early childhood.
My mental disorders are major recurrent atypical treatment-resistant depression (that is a mouthful!), attention deficit disorder (ADD), generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
On a positive note, after nearly twenty years of seeing different doctors and therapists, my diagnoses remain the same. Unfortunately, however, some have become more severe. It makes me feel beautiful every time I hear a therapist or pdoc say "you are a complicated case."
A couple of years ago, I listed all of the medications prescribed to me and their various side effects. If memory serves, it was well over thirty. Everything from all the SSRIs and SNRIs to tricyclics, and even MAOIs. I will not burden you with the numerous side effects.
The results of the best medication combinations were okay at best.
Dr. Sherwin Nuland
Dr. Peter Breggin
- ECT Resources Center by Peter R. Breggin M.D.
ECT-electroconvulsive therapy or shock treatment-The most comprehensive resources page about ECT including detailed scientific critical information
My ECT Experience has Been a Nightmare
I made a huge mistake. I researched the benefits of ECT and listened to three doctors that are on the current electroshock bandwagon that thinks it is the best psychiatric treatment available. For some patients, perhaps it is. For me, it was and continues to be an absolute horror story.
The psychiatrist, anesthesiologist, and nurses were all very friendly. I found everyone on the Treatment Team to be kind and compassionate. I even called them to let them know how caring they were.
As was mentioned earlier, the usual protocol is 6-8 treatments. I endured a full 17 treatments. Why? Because I am not one to give up and I hoped more sessions would improve results. Mistake #2 on my part, plus the above TED Talk by the renowned surgeon and author Sherwin Nuland motivated me to persevere.
There is a silver lining. As with most nightmares, you get to wake up from them. All of the pain, suffering, and confusion inflicted by 17 jolts through the head has humbled me tremendously. I slowly recognized how huge and fragile my ego (false mind-made self) was and have recently made a conscious decision to lead with my heart and disidentify from my mind as much as possible for the rest of my life.
My Positive ECT Effects
- Physical feelings of anxiety would vanish for a day after each treatment
- Appetite decreased slightly during electoconvulsive regimen
- After switching from bilateral to bifrontal placement, I felt euphoric for a day. However, I am very self-aware, and it felt like a pseudo-happiness. It was like being on laughing gas at the dentist.
My Negative ECT Effects
- Severe cognitive dysfunction, also known as delirium.
- Choosing to separate myself from the world
- Random agitation
- Sporadic anger
- Deep depression
- Moments of feeling I would be better off dead
- Loss of interest in everything
- Retrograde amnesia
- Anterograde amnesia
- I am athletic by nature, but during shock treatments and even today, my coordination and balance are dismal. For example, I randomly walk into walls or fall. Moreover, my primary care physician gave me a balance test one month after treatment. She had me stand still and close my eyes for 30 seconds. Then she asked me to walk a straight line heel-to-toe... I was falling during three out of the four steps; she needed to hold me up.
- Pain from oxygen tube removal from nose upon waking up after a session was nearly unbearable
- Chronic pain throughout my entire body. I often wake up feeling as if I ran full speed into a brick wall while sleeping.
- Slurred, slow speech
- After a few treatments, I developed a strange fear that they would shock my brain before the anesthesia took effect.
- Being turned and wheeled into the treatment room head first so I could see nothing caused me to feel like I was going into a morgue refrigerator
- Awakening after a treatment not realizing I had my treatment already
- Urinating myself during every electroshock treatment
- Nightmares every single night
- Feel stigmatized by many of the few friends with whom I confided about my treatment. They do not return my calls.
- As of this day, two months after treatment, my resulting difficulties are not improving.
- Unfortunately, the anxiety loss and appetite reduction mentioned earlier have not sustained after the shock treatments concluded.
- Starting physical therapy treatment on 7/7/17 in an attempt to regain balance and coordination - result: failed overall static balance and coordination tests given by physical therapist. After two months of physical therapy, my balance has improved somewhat, but my coordination is still not what it was before.
- Two weeks ago I randomly blacked out while driving and totaled my car. I had never blacked out in my life. Thankfully, no one was hurt. However, I now am not allowed to drive.
Ways to Deal With Apparent Severe Brain Trauma
- Be proactive: choosing how to live your life without letting others or a situation affect your feelings about yourself. Proactivity comes from the heart, not the mind.
- Meditate every morning: participating in a guided meditation to increase awareness and acceptance of something that is so hard to accept
- Read every day: to become the best person you can be
- Consciously breathe: slow and smooth breathing has recently been proven by scientists to increase your tranquility and well-being
- Attend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) sessions: to maintain some degree of structure and keep faith that your cognitive functions will improve over time
- Get physical therapy: in my case, time will tell on this one
In this article, I provided positive and negative information about electroconvulsive therapy. I highlighted how the procedure goes and that the usual protocol is 6 to 8 treatments, and the effects I felt during and after my 17 electroshock treatments—even to this day.
The fact is, most of the information you will find online, as well as the opinion of many psychiatrists, is that ECT is a miracle for most who choose to undergo it. This type of therapy was not my miracle but is rather my ongoing nightmare.
I regret not having dug deeper to find the negative information that exists before I agreed to such an aggressive practice that continues to be disabling to me.
However, many say that hope is the best antidepressant, so I believe I subconsciously focused on the enthusiastic opinions of my doctors and the positive information I viewed online.
I will tell you this: if during your treatments you ask questions of your doctor about what to expect, you will probably not get a substantive answer... because they honestly have no idea how you will react to a series electrical currents through the head, even after years of giving them to patients.
I have seen only one documented note regarding the outcome of my 17 shock treatments. I cry every time I read it.
"Ed has severe treatment-resistant depression and has failed ECT treatment."
Note how this evaluation puts everything on me. As far as the hospital is concerned, the procedure is excellent—it's just me that is the problem. Even though electroconvulsive therapy is intended for severe depression that does not respond to other treatments. Do you happen to find the psychiatrist's statement as confounding as I do?
Over two months have passed since I withdrew consent from further electroshock treatments.
My fear is that things will not improve and I will never be the same. Between the delirium and loss of coordination, most days are dreadful.
Although I have always had a high pain tolerance, if not for the 2400 mg per day of Ibuprofen my general practitioner has prescribed me and my trusted inversion table I have used for years to prevent, and now to deal with the acute back pain caused by ECT, I honestly believe I would spend every day in bed.
I Am Here to Help You
Suffering friend, I put my heart into this article so that you can make the right choice for you. Consequently, I also put my heart into writing it because my mind is currently of little use.
Whatever you decide, I pray it is the right choice, and you receive a miracle if you are in need of one. This may be the most important choice of your life.
If you have any questions about electroconvulsive therapy, please do not hesitate to comment or contact me. I will do my best to help you in any way possible.
Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to vote and/or comment.
Electroconvulsive Therapy Poll
- "Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)." Mayo Clinic.
- "Grand mal seizure." Mayo Clinic.
- "What is insulin shock therapy?" American Diabetes Association.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Edward Katerly
Edward Katerly (author) from Knoxville, TN on August 02, 2017:
I am saddened to hear about your father's situation, and yes, I experience the same symptoms as you describe him having.
Anything is possible, and I recommend you do as much digging as you can about what treatments he might have received at the VA. You have a right to know the facts.
Please post again if you find anything.
All the best,
John on August 01, 2017:
My father went to the VA due to his medications were not effective for several years. He returned home and he is nothing like he was before he was admitted. They are claiming it was his age that caused the sever downturn but he went from 80% normal to unable to think and looks to have battles within himself.
He has lost 40 pounds and grunts in frutstration and memory is lost.
I almost sounds he had ECT... My mother and i went down to discuss my father's treatment.
They discussed ECT but again this symptoms mirrors what you have experienced.
Edward Katerly (author) from Knoxville, TN on July 11, 2017:
Thank you for your kind words. I deeply empathize with your situation. I have faith you will make the right decision for you at your evaluation or have made the right choice if the evaluation already happened.
If it has not, please remember that whether or not you undergo treatment, it is your decision.
We are all the same, but we are all different, so there is no way to know if electroshock treatment would affect you in the same way it did me.
However, if you go to Dr. Breggin's site via the link under his video in this article, you will find information that I wish I had found before making my decision.
I work very hard at feeling better using techniques such as meditation and slow steady breathing to disidentify with my mind. The mind seeks happiness, which depends on external situations and is fleeting.
I have come to realize that we are not our thoughts, and if we learn to be present and aware, we break identification with the mind and develop inner peace.
Accept what is, and you may instead experience joy, which comes from within.
To learn more, I highly recommend reading "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle if you have not already. It may change your life.
Eckhart overcame severe suicidal depression by becoming present, also known as transcending from thinking to awareness.
He has written many books on becoming present, and in one of them he says that "acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest grace there is."
Again, thank you so much for your kind words, Olivia and I have faith that graceful moments are to come for us both.
Sincerely and Respectfully,
Olivia on July 10, 2017:
Thanks so much for writing this article. I have an ECT evaluation tomorrow and I'm scared to death. Like you my medications are not working and I have very similar diagnosis as you except for the panic disorder. I already know I'm not going to get it done but my doctor wanted me to explore the option. My medications alone affects my cognitive skills right now, I can just imagine after going through with this procedure. Thanks so much for clarifying and confirming the horrifying aftermath of this procedure.
I think you really wanted to get out of your depression so you could have a "normal" life. Unfortunately, psychiatrist's/doctor's act more like sales man and just look at you like a potential profit, they really could care less what happens to you. If it didn't work at 6-8 why on earth would they let it go on till 17. Even if you approved it, their the professionals. I promise you karma will get them and a higher being is looking after you and you will come through. Stay Strong!
Edward Katerly (author) from Knoxville, TN on July 02, 2017:
Thank you, Julie, you moved me to tears at the end of a rough day; good tears.
I am back on the EMSAM Patch 9 mg. Even with the Patch and the efforts I am making and described above, I feel like I am not even here most of the time.
As you know, however, I never, ever give up. I will continue to search my soul and persevere.
A mind is only a tool. Awareness - accepting all of life by choosing our responses to what happens does not come from our mind, but rather our heart and spirit.
Juliekat on July 01, 2017:
First off, I am very impressed by your writing skills! It was an extremely well-written article that gave a very good, knowledgeable explanation about ECT therapy.
I was however very saddened to hear all that you are going through. I know that it has been rough for you but honestly, I had no idea to this extent.
I know that there is nothing I can do or say to help in this situation but please just know that we are all here for you and love you very much. I do pray that the residual side effects will eventually go away and am very hopeful that your returning to the MAOI will help you to feel better.
I know that you feel like your brain isn't the same and isn't as capable after undergoing this treatment but this article is extraordinary, which leads me to believe that you've still got great brain potential in there and I am really hoping that these side effects will diminish with time!
Forever and always,