Updated: Jun 21
Okay, how do we get to your house?
Um….I don’t know. I know my address, can we use your GPS?
*twenty minutes later*
Okay, is this your house?
Um…I’m not sure. Nothing looks familiar. Can we just check the address?
I had been away from home for a few months, but I had lived there for three years prior to that, you’d think it would look familiar. This is just one of the many things that ECT stole from me.
ECT or Electroconvulsive Therapy is considered a last resort treatment for several mental illnesses. We had been trying different combinations of medicines for about 15 years, as well as all different types of therapies, but I just kept ending up in the hospital in an effort to keep me alive. We didn’t know what else to do.
ECT is a scary thought. They put you to sleep and paralyze your body, then put electrodes on your head and shoot electricity (a shock) through your brain. It causes your brain to have a sort of seizure with out the rest of your body seizing. A couple of hours later you wake up and you don’t remember any of it. It’s not uncommon to get a really bad headache, but it goes away by the next day. I’m not going to lie, there were many days that when they injected the medicine into my IV I prayed they would accidentally put in too much and I just wouldn’t wake up, but they know definitely knew what they were doing.
At first it looked like it was going to be really helpful. I started to actually feel good on the days of ECT, at least for an hour so. Then the periods of feeling good started getting longer and longer. We really felt like this was the answer. I was living in the hospital for a lot of it, but for some of it I got to go home and we just came in three times a week. I was incredibly blessed that I got financial aid for all of it, otherwise I can’t even imagine how much we would have owed at the end, at least $40,000
This was starting to give us some hope…but then, a little at a time, we started to discover that it was affecting my memory. I remember bits and pieces, but so much of my life was disappearing. No one really knew why it affected me so much more than everyone else, but we’re guessing that part of it was because I am left handed. If you are right handed, they do the shock on the right side of the brain, but for some reason, if you are left handed they have to do BOTH sides of the brain – bilateral ECT, and that can sometimes cause more memory loss.
I ended up losing at least twenty years worth of memories. I don’t really remember life before my dad died, school, college, my early jobs, my master’s, etc. I recently went to my best friend’s house and wanted to help her clean for the holidays, but I had to keep asking for directions for the room to put things in. Finally, I told her, this house doesn’t look familiar to me at all. She said, not even from when you lived here? Nope…she showed me the room I lived in, still nothing.
You’ll notice that a lot of these stories are about very recent events. That’s because those are the ones I remember. Stories from earlier in my life are most likely ones that my loved ones have told me and that I’ve tried so hard to get back into my brain. I remember some random things, like all the songs from Vacation Bible School, School House Rock and Sesame Street, but mostly it’s a bunch of holes.
ECT is tough, I’m not going to lie, It’s scary, it’s painful, and it cost me a lot more than I gained – I ended up still having to go to a residential program after months of ECT. For some people it works wonderfully, and for them I am so grateful. But for me it feels barbaric, and I would give anything to have those memories back. I do know how to get home to my house now, and every once and a while a memory pops up, but it just wasn’t worth it for me. If ever we run into each other and I don’t know you or don’t remember how we were connected, please don’t be offended. I do the best I can, and if you tell me stories about our time together, sometimes it will come back.
Thanks for understanding, Liz