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What Electroconvulsive Therapy Was Really Like

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Since electroconvulsion therapy (ECT) has been controversial in the past, I thought I would write about it as a possible solution to severe bipolar symptoms. I want people to know that it’s not as barbaric as you may have heard.

In 2008, I was diagnosed with bipolar I with psychotic features. It was a huge struggle to manage this disorder and I wasn’t able to get my life back together until 2012 when I finally found a medication and health plan that worked. I was stable on the same medication for six years with few episodes. I was able to work a full-time job and live a fairly “normal” life. Unfortunately, I recently had to change my medication for health reasons and everything began to snowball. I relapsed, which led to mania with psychosis.

I thought I was possessed. I didn’t fully understand what was going on besides the fact that this wasn’t me and that I had tried everything to get back to me: medication, sleep, writing, going back on the medication that once worked and anxiety medication. Nothing helped and I had to take time off of work because my symptoms were so severe. I felt like ECT was an option I had to pursue to get my life back.

The first step was to meet with a psychiatrist to make sure this was the right option for me. I talked to him and he agreed that this would be the best course of action. The next step was to get an electrocardiogram and bloodwork to make sure I was healthy enough to undergo ECT. All those tests came back normal and I was finally able to set up an appointment for ECT.

On the day of the appointment, I wasn’t allowed to use lotion, eat or drink anything, or chew gum. They treat ECT much like going in for surgery because they put you under. My mom drove me to the hospital because you’re not allowed to drive for 24 hours after the treatment. We got to the hospital and checked into the outpatient surgery center. They called me back right away and checked my weight, height and vitals. They confirmed my medical history and medications, then they put in an IV. The doctor performing the ECT came in not too long after and explained the whole process. All of the hospital staff was very friendly and made sure I knew everything that was going on.

They took me back and put me to sleep. I woke up a half an hour later in the recovery room. I had a headache, nausea and my legs hurt. They made sure I was awake, then my mom took me home. I couldn’t eat anything right away because of the nausea but my fear, paranoia and anxiety had lessened significantly. I already felt better than I had in months. The headache and nausea lasted until the next day and then it went away. I continued to go in for ECT until I felt functional again. That took about four more treatments. After that, I felt good enough to go back to work. Between then and now (which has been approximately three months), I’ve had three more treatments just to maintain my functionality. I’m now just taking one bipolar medication and an occasional anxiety pill as my anxiety has greatly minimized. The time between ECT treatments has become longer and one day, I won’t have to have them at all. Some people talk about memory loss but I didn’t really notice too much of that. I still have a good memory and remember my childhood as well as important events.

ECT was a lifesaver for me. 

ECT was definitely a tough decision to make, but I’m glad I did. ECT isn’t for everyone, so please make sure you make an informed decision.

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Originally published: February 16, 2018
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