Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

electroconvulsive shock therapy

If only our brains looked this cool So my previous entry contained more information about my current depressive episode and what I am doing to help kick its ass.  I mentioned ECT, and have gotten a lot of questions about it–so I decided to devote an entry to ECT.  Maybe dispel a couple of myths and incorrect assumptions.

ECT=Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy.  That’s right.  Shock Therapy.  The stuff of horror movies and psychological thrillers.  You know–where people are strapped down onto the table and then, while they’re awake, they go into massive convulsions, sometimes getting bruises or breaking bones and waking up all disoriented and lost. In the 1940s and 1950s, ECT was given without any type of muscle relaxer or anesthetic.

But guess what?  This is 2012, not 1940.  A lot has changed in terms of ECT and how it is administered and exactly what it entails.

First off, we still don’t know exactly how ECT works.  Doctors discovered way back in the 16th century that seizures helped people with severe depression.  Then, they used insulin shock therapy and  then camphor and metrazol therapy.  And yes, they did have to strap patients down in order to prevent severe injury from the convulsions.

Now they use electrode placement on the forehead to induce a seizure.  Over the previous forty years, scientists have done a lot of research and have made a lot of progress as to where to place the electrodes and how much voltage to use and for how long.  We are still unclear about the exact mechanism that makes ECT effective.  All we know is that it is effective, most usually for people with long term, severe, treatment resistant depression.

That description is perfect for me.  I was first diagnosed while I was in junior high.  It’s been a rocky road since then as I’ve seen different doctors (some not all that good) and tried different medications (some better off not taken by me).  Right now, I am more than happy with my treatment team–my therapist, my psychiatrists, my medical doctor, and my cardiologist all are in communication with each other and working together.  AND AND AND I am included in the decision process every step of the way.

Was I nervous going into ECT?  Of course.  I was scared shitless.  But I asked a lot of questions, and my doctors answered them.  They walked me through ECT step-by-step.  One important thing to note is that they use a muscle relaxer via an IV/heplock so that you do not have a seizure on the medical table.  They also give you an anesthetic so you sleep through the whole thing.  They put electrodes on your head, make sure they have them positioned correctly, and then you fall asleep and then all of a sudden you’re waking up in Recovery.

Sometimes I have a headache afterward, but rarely does it ever get to the point that ibuprofen won’t take care of it.  I’m tired that afternoon and often take a nap.  I can still read, write, watch television, play online, knit, and all that normal day-to-day stuff I do.

We don’t know why, but ECT works better for me than any other medical treatment.  I may be looking at long term maintenance ECT, which is fine with me.  This does not mean that I stop working with the rest of my treatment team.  It really is best when it is a concerted effort, with everyone in communication with each other, asking questions if need be.  I would not feel as comfortable with the future prospect of ECT if I didn’t have a team whom fields any type of question I have.  This is not the 1940s–the patient has the right to know what exactly is going to happen and when, regardless of the type of treatment being used.   Your voice is a powerful ally.


Again, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask them.  If you want to ask via Formspring, my page is:



January 28, 2012 - Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, ECT, feelings, health, heart, recovery, therapy | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’m glad you addressed this. More importantly, I’m glad you’ve found a treatment team that meets your needs so well and that you are an involved, important participant in your own care. That part gets lost far too often.

    Comment by chellespins | January 28, 2012 | Reply

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