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The One Good Thing About My Memory Loss From Electroconvulsive Therapy

I have retrograde amnesia, caused by the many electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments I’ve had to do in order to obtain relief from my depression. For the record, I must have these treatments — my depression is treatment-resistant, meaning that most medications can’t help alleviate my symptoms. Not much does except the ECT treatments, which I started in 2019. During a treatment, I’m anesthetized and electric currents are sent through electrodes placed on my brain, inducing a seizure. It’s not known exactly how the treatments help; I’ve always looked at it as a “hard reset” of my very stubborn brain.

I would be lying if I said I don’t mind the treatments — I actually hate them because over time I’ve developed a phobia of anesthesia. And it’s definitely bothersome that I can’t remember things. My memory loss goes back years, decades even, and it’s very hard to retain information even now. It’s also pretty embarrassing. I’ve forgotten who some people are, their names and how I know them. And when I say I have amnesia, I’m met with blank stares. And then I have to explain ECT, which sounds unbelievable if you’re not used to it.

When I do try to recall something, I see only a gray wall where once the memory resided. Things aren’t just fuzzy — they’re just not there most of the time. This must sound awful, but there is one good thing about my memory loss: the memory loss. That’s not a typo. I’ve struggled for decades with major depressive disorder (MDD), an anxiety disorder and a personality disorder and it’s unbelievably painful. But, just like I can’t remember who I ran into at the grocery store last week, I also can’t remember the most painful, darkest moments of my depression. I only know about it from my husband’s or best friend’s account. Or previous blogs.

Even with the ECT treatments, I still struggle with depression, just on a much lighter scale. But I’m glad I can’t remember every time I couldn’t get out of bed or every time the pain was so deep that I wanted to end my life. Because if I sit and dwell on just how bad it was or can be, then I might forget that I do want to live — and live happily. I don’t know if that makes much sense, but I do know that I (likely) will be struggling with depression and anxiety for the rest of my life. That thought alone makes me depressed, and I can see how that thought can make me — and others — lose their faith in life and just put their suffering to an end.

Mental illness can be so lonely when you’re in such pain all the time. And people still don’t understand it; the stigma of having a mental disorder is still there, too. So, if you do know someone who struggles, please be more understanding and empathetic. I can’t stress it enough — it’s just so lonely. Even if I have to go under anesthesia and have electric currents sent through my brain every eight weeks, it’s not so bad. Not compared to the reality I was living without the treatments.

I just have to remember to take notes any time I’m awake.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash