ECT and Bipolar Disorder
(Social Work student in WI)
I chose the topic of Bipolar Treatment with ECT because of the way my own treatments have changed my life. My views on life and the world have been radically changed forever by this form of treatment. I have had a dozen electroconvulsive therapy treatments. These treatments are used as a last resort, and I think it’s important to explain why this intensive therapy was used on such a young woman.
My life started to fall apart during my senior year of high school. My descent into manias and subsequent depression was frightening. For many years, my life was only pain. I had to live minute by minute to resist suicide. My goals of being in AmeriCorps NCCC, going to college and earning a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work all seemed like childish fantasies. Words like lazy, stupid, weak and worthless continually dominated my thoughts.
I spent two years hiding in my mother’s basement, save for going to therapy twice a week while taking a litany of medication. The side effects were horrendous. It seemed that whatever negative consequence was possible, I was bound to suffer it. It was then that I became dependant on the popular medication Xanax. It was the only thing in life that gave me any comfort. I remember the first time I tried it, and how I felt strong enough to walk upstairs and out the front door for the first time in weeks.
I gained fifty pounds in three months while taking another medication called Seroquel. Lithium was next, and it was so toxic to me that I described the pain as, “a cat-o-nine tails lashing in my stomach.” I was given more medication to assuage my pain, but it did nothing. I tried everything – anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, and so many others cocktails of drugs that I can’t even name them all. ECTs were my last and final hope for a future.
I don’t know how to express how utterly terrifying the procedures were. It took every ounce of my strength and courage to go through it time and time again. I had so many questions. Will I suffer retrograde amnesia? Will my mind ever be what it was? For a long time I was a living zombie, unable even to form simple sentences without struggle. I was always confused and frustrated because my brain didn’t function like it once did. I feared that I had lost the person that I was. I could no longer remember anything, from my childhood all the way up to the ECTs. I asked my friends and families to tell me stories because I had to re-learn who I was. They told me about things I had done and I listened as if I had never heard them before.
My saving grace was my journals. It was nice to hear about my senior prom from my date, but reading my experience in my own words helped me begin to remember. I began writing my first journal entries in the second grade, and now they are my only link to my past. They are my most precious possessions. If not for them, I would have lost my entire life.
I struggled remembering the names of family members or what year I graduated from high school. I couldn’t navigate through Menasha, the town I had lived in for the majority of my life. I constantly called my mother and cried when I got lost only a few miles from home. She helped me find my way.
When I was finished with the bulk of my ECTs, I was determined to enroll in school immediately, though I was still in miserable conditional. My mother would drive me to school because I was too afraid to drive myself. I could barely retain any knowledge because of my memory problems, so I studied harder than any of my peers. That first semester, I had to withdraw from two of my four classes, but with each subsequent semester my mind slowly recovered.
I’m a sophomore now and have a cumulative 3.0 GPA. I’m a senator in the Student Association and the Secretary of the Circle K club. This year I was awarded the Student Association scholarship because of my dedication to the campus, my positive attitude, and my success despite all of the obstacles that could have broken me.
Last semester, my grades were phenomenal. After I get my Associates Degree at UW-Fox Valley I am transferring to one of the best schools in the state, UW- Madison. I can’t believe how much I have changed. During my time in the basement, I would never in my wildest dreams have pictured myself where I am today. The words that used to haunt me; lazy, stupid, worthless are now replaced with hopeful sentiments. When I call my family I can tell them, “Mom, I got an A+ on my Lit exam!” “Grandma, I got a scholarship!” “Dad, I’m going to Madison” and finally feel like the person that I never thought I could be.
This year, I cried happy tears for the first time in my life. All the pain and suffering that I have endured has truly made me appreciate every little step forward so much more. My stubborn optimism had gotten me where I am today, and there is no end in sight.