I have mixed feelings about ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), that get even more mixed when fuelled by controversy. Emotions and thoughts become confused; I believe one thing, then another.
For me, it seems to have helped. I have been extremely depressed, and that is a place that I would not want to stay. ECT seems to have lifted me from it. The experience of having ECT has always been frightening for me, though – going through that door – repeatedly – to a place I can never really remember. Feeling blamed and inadequate. The memory gaps from around the time of the course of treatment, and before, may improve, but they never go. It’s not that I want to remember, but it adds fear and uncertainty to a time already tainted by this. I can no longer feel sure of myself, or of what happened.
I don’t think I am damaged by treatment, but I accept that this may happen, and has happened, to others. Any medical intervention carries risk and fear, and ECT is imbued with the latter. This hasn’t been helped by media images.
But I am one of those who has said I would have it again, and I would, though I hope it won’t come to this. The balance of risks and benefits works for me. I know it is no long-term cure, but sometimes things are very bad, and you have to get better.
But I think for a treatment like this there should be more support available for everyone, particularly in the months following it. Reorientation, explanation, reassurance. Consent reviewed throughout. Cognitive testing, and appropriate rehabilitation for those who need it. For me, I would like to visit the ECT suite. I still don’t know what it looks like beyond that door in the wall.
This is a poem I wrote a while back, about ECT, specifically about the experience of having it. It is permeated by forgetting, and never being able to find something. The shrieking noise is heard as the anaesthetic grips, until it becomes blankness. And when I wake I am better, but I am also forgotten.
In remembrance El-ec-tri-ci-ty Say it! Say it so you won’t forget but I will. White and gentle care and cotton hold my hand all forgotten. Which am I? Giver or Receiver? I never knew or cared. Counting back I never got there shrieking noise was all I heard. What matter was it? Grey transcended all my thoughts too late. Currents passed blankness stared I couldn’t see or know where I was then. Was this the place where I had been before? And where were you? You went because you knew I would forget. I am now as I was then better but forgotten.