The next time you hear about the Psychiatric Establishment and their supposed abuse of electroconvulsive therapy, bear this in mind: nobody in his right mind would do this casually. Of course, not being in your right mind is the reason a person would even consider it, but the point I am making here is that ECT is not fun. Really not fun.
Having noted that, I must also note that I think it's helping me.
I wasn't sure I was a candidate for it. I wasn't positive I had exhausted all my phamacological options. I wasn't sure my depression was severe enough (though if feeling like shit for the past four or five months counts in terms of duration, I would certainly qualify). My own psychiatrist was not enthusiastic. The people who were enthusiastic were a) people who had suffered from mental illness much more serious than mine, who had found it helpful, and b) the doctors my own shrink refers to as "shock jocks," who are true believers anyway. My first two experiences were not the type that would sell it as a relaxation therapy, by any means: there was the head-banging headache I woke up with, the short-term confusion and memory loss (extremely disconcerting, especially for a writer for whom memory is my stock in trade) and just the godawful feeling of the anesthesia--that sense of being slammed underwater. It didn't help that in my second round I was under-anesthetized, with a faint muscle memory of the whole procedure, and also woke up with the mother of all anxiety attacks. (I have always required higher doses of anesthesia and painkillers than is considered "normal" for someone of my height and build--just another way in which I am Medically Unusual). In short, to go back for Round Three, which I did today, required considerable psyching up. I almost didn't go.
But the doctors and nurses listened to me when I told them about being under-anesthetized; they increased my dose, and also gave me some anti-anxiety meds in the recovery room, and, on the whole, it wasn't nearly so bad. What's more important, though, is that I find myself enjoying things again. Not big things--just simple things, like sitting by the fire reading with my husband, like putting my six-year-old to bed, like the sight of a brilliant red sunset, the glitter of ice on the branches after the storm this week. My God, I had almost forgotten what pleasure there was to be had in such things.
Don't get me wrong: ECT is not to be casually undertaken. I don't intend to keep it up one minute past the time I think I've gotten the maximum benefit. My brain is important to me--it's my only marketable skill--and messing around with it scares me to death. But then, so does the living death that is depression--a state of affairs I had become so used to that I had begun to forget what feeling good felt like. I am starting to remember. And for that, I got down on my knees tonight and thanked God.
And thanks, also, to the many people who have been in touch by e-mail and phone over the past week or so. Your support means more than you can possibly imagine.