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ECT Memory

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

About a year and a half ago we started to realize that my bipolar was medication resistant. We were trying all of the most research based combinations, I never missed a dose of my medicine, and yet I kept ending up in and out of the hospital. I was constantly on the edge of taking my life and we didn't know what to do. That's when the idea of ECT came up.

For those of you that don't know, ECT stands for electroconvulsive therapy (in the past it was referred to as shock therapy). It involves putting electrodes all over your head, putting you to sleep under anesthesia, putting your body to sleep so that it can't move and then sending electrocurrent into your brain to cause your brain to have a seizure without your body moving. I did this 1-3 times a week for many, many weeks. For some people it works incredibly well. For me, not so much.

I started to show a little bit of improvement, but the cost was incredible. One of the possible side effects of ECT is losing memories. That was an absolute understatement for me. I am a smart woman, but I forgot so much of my life. I ended up going to a residential program in Ohio, and when I came home for Christmas I didn't know how to get home or even know what my house looked like when we were right in front of it...

We stopped ECT a year ago, and some memories have come back, but many haven't. What doesn't make sense at all is which ones come back. For instance, I remember the words and movements to my 3-year-old dance recital piece (the penguin cha-cha) and I know how to sing O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin, but I don't remember any of my Thanksgivings the last 38 years. This was a huge part of the reason I was so nervous about Thanksgiving.

When we were leaving Disney a few weeks ago, my sister said, ok, probably the next time we'll see you is Thanksgiving. (It's a bit of a hike, and my mom works a lot of weekends). One of the kids was like, don't forget, Mexican Fiesta!! I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. My mom explained that a few years ago the kids were really picky and didn't eat Thanksgiving Food and it was going to be a lot of whining and meltdowns and I, being the amazing Aunt that I am, suggested we do a "Mexican Fiesta" instead because those were all foods that they ate. I guess it stuck and we've been doing it ever since. They were excited to share it with me because I was at the residential program last year so I missed it...yet nothing felt even a little familiar.

I prepared my self for an uncomfortable situation by making presents. When I arrived with two suitcases my sister was like,..you're staying for two days. I was like, I know, one is the present suitcase. She was like....it's Thanksgiving, there's no such thing as Thanksgiving presents. Well, presents are my love language. I'm even trying to figure out how I can make President's Day presents to get through January until a surgery I'm having in February.

I thought as we went through Thanksgiving, things would come back, but they didn't. I was surprised to discover we watch football, that there's a parade, that we use table cloths and china and that there was the most amazing pecan desert I have ever tasted....well, that I can remember. I kept referring to it as my first thanksgiving, which annoyed some people, but it really was. Everything was so new and unfamiliar. But I made it through, and next year will be a little easier.

If you have situations that give you high anxiety that no one else understands, and may even make fun of you for, I encourage you to do things that make you feel safe. For me it was making presents and being able to physically show my family how much I loved them. But for you if might be a safe smell, or bringing your own dish that you love, or just taking some breaks when you need them. We are stronger than we know, and each situation we make it through makes the next situation just a little bit easier. Great job making it through Thanksgiving 2022.


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