My Experience With Electroconvulsive Therapy for Depression


This post was controversial even before posted; clearly underscoring how much people need to talk about ECT. The Bipolar Burble welcomes Steven Schwartz, the BiPolar Badger, and his experiences with electroconvulsive therapy.

Myths, Realities and Journey Through ECT – by the BiPolar Badger

I was 9-years-old in 1975 when One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out. I remember watching it on our floral, pleather sofa, late one night on TV. It scared the crap out of me; this was the first time in my life I saw E.C.T. (electroconvulsive therapy, previously electroshock therapy or shock therapy) and little could I imagine that one day I would find myself in McMurphy’s position.

After Third ECT Treatment – How Do I Feel? Less Depressed.

It’s one day after my third of six ECT treatments; so how do I feel? Well to be honest very good, my mood is improved. I am not longer in the depth of a major depression which was growing quickly and was headed to a place that was not so manageable.

Sure, all my depression has not lifted, but I am in a place that would have taken months on medication only.

This is the beautiful thing about my experiences with ECT. A week ago I was hopeless and thinking about hospitalization again to protect myself. Five days and three treatments later I am in a good space.

Electroconvulsive Therapy and Side Effects

In my case there have been no side effects of memory loss or confusion. My muscles do not hurt, but my neck is a little stiff, which could be my resistance to the muscle relaxants or just my pillow. What I do know is that once again ECT has saved my life from my illness.

I’ve Had Electroconvulsive Therapy Three Times

Since 2009 I have now had three courses of ECT. My first was 9 treatments and I was well for a year. In the summer of 2010 I had a shorter course of 6 treatments and again and I was quickly back to a happier and more stable mood. This course will end next week, and if my current experiences hold it will bring me to a healthier place, a life where I can function and be stable.

Memory of My First ECT Treatment

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In the morning I was dressed in an assless hospital gown and wheeled to the recovery room of the surgical suites. I laid down on a gurney a nurse put on some heart monitors, blood pressure, pulse, O2 and an I.V. in my arm. So far this was different than my image from the film, but I was still scared. Then my psychiatrists arrived and in his usual, kind way talked me through everything, showed me the equipment and explained how this would work. Then the anesthesiologist arrived and explained to me how he would be giving me three medications: two to put me to sleep and one to paralyze my muscles so they would not react to the seizures. They pulled curtain and put some gel on my head. (I was getting unilateral ECT, which means one electrode on top of my head, and the other on my temple. This type has fewer cognitive side effects.) They then pushed the drugs, and for five seconds before I was out cold, I was very, very happy.

Soon I woke up, it seemed like hours but was only 5 to 10 minutes and I felt groggy from the meds but OK. After an hour in recovery to make sure I was OK, I returned to the ward.

The Day of My First ECT Treatment, I Felt Less Depressed

Later that day, I noticed my mood had lifted a bit; I was a little less depressed and not sore or a vegetable. Maybe there was something to this ECT, which held such a social stigma. I finished my course of 9 treatments and after each one, my depression lifted even more. I left the Burnaby Psychiatric Ward missing the dark companion who was always with me for over a half a year.

ECT Stigma Prevents Positive ECT Stories from Being Told

There is still a huge stigma around ECT, fueled by media, stories (which are now a kind of urban legend) and lots of anti-ECT writing on the internet. Not everyone has had a great experience with this treatment and they tend to be very vocal, while the stigma of ECT keeps people like me who have had good ECT outcomes quiet; why talk about it?

ECT is a Personal Choice and Needs to Remain a Choice

ECT is a personal choice, which all mental healthcare should be, and not to be taken lightly, but also the same is true of medication. I was made part of my own treatment and was given options openly and frankly. ECT can be a good option and for many it can change life for the better. It is not torture or cruel. It is treated like any medical procedure in a safe controlled environment.

By taking options off our own treatment plate based on fear or stigma we are doing ourselves, as people living with mental illnesses, a disservice. We have the right to access all options and work to be well.

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BiPolar Badger’s Bio

Steven Schwartz is a former journalist living with BiPolar disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Writing about his personal experiences of life with Mental Illness to reduce its stigma, shame and misconceptions. Steven writes in a open, frank, humorous and sometimes brutally honest style as a way of showing the human side of living with Mental Illness.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting my thoughts on the Badger’s experiences in the next couple of days. Until then, everyone be nice.


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