Experiences on ECT

It’s been a while, I know! Life has thrown some big things in front of me, so I haven’t been able to concentrate on writing. Maybe I’ll write a post about these things later, but I just want to tell briefly that I bought a house for me and my family and we are moving next weekend.

But now, back to the topic…

Electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT, has become very familiar with me during the past twelve months. I definitely have some insight on this topic, so I wanted to share my experience with you. My experience has been 100% positive without any dramatics such as an old Hollywood movie One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest assumes.

What is electroconvulsive therapy?

Some people may wonder if ECT is still used today. It is an old treatment for sure but it really is used today as it still is one of the most effective treatments for several severe mental conditions. The ECT procedure was first conducted in 1938 and the procedure has evolved since then. ECT is used to treat major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, catatonia and schizophrenia. I have been treated with electroconvulsive therapy for my bipolar disorder, for medicine resistant depression and self-harm to be specific. The treatment is usually given 6-12 times, 2-3 times a week at first. ECT is usually started during hospitalization but it’s possible to attend treatment from home. I’ve done it both ways.

Mechanism of action of ECT still remains unknown today. It is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients to provide relief from mental disorders. Seizures affect neurotransmitters and the responce is immediate. A course of ECT is effective for about 50% of people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, whether it is unipolar or bipolar. ECT impacts positively on mood, sleep and appetite. I have noticed my mood to be much brighter and energy levels higher right after the treatment. And the most important things is that I am no more suicidal and I don’t have an urge to harm myself anymore.

How does it happen?

Technically it’s a very simple operation. ECT is administered under general anesthesia with a muscle relaxant. It’s conducted in hospital’s neuromodulation unit. Anesthesia happens very fast. First time I was horrified because I didn’t have any previous experience but soon I learned that there was nothing to fear for and that the anesthesia part was, in fact, very enjoyable.

After laying down on the bed my blood pressure was measured and electrodes were put in place. Anesthesiologist started to prepare me for anesthesia and it didn’t take longer than couple of minutes I was put to sleep. It usually takes 40-45 minutes for me to wake up so the whole thing doesn’t last long. When I was at the ward someone came to pick me up back to the ward but now that I come from home for the treatment, I call someone to pick me up (usually my father or my husband). There has been coffee and some breakfast in the waiting room because you can’t eat or drink before anesthesia but that’s just a habit of this particularly unit. It could be different elsewhere.

ECT does not lead to brain damage

Yeah, ECT is totally safe. Even though it has effect in brain it does not lead to brain damage. The general physical risks of ECT are similar to those of brief general anesthesia. Sure there are some side-effects like in any treatment. The most common effects right after the treatment are confusion and memory loss.

Sometimes I’ve had a headache after the treatment or some muscle pain but that happens very seldom. A bigger side-effect has been memory loss. I think the memory loss is severe but still I think benefits of the treatment are greater than side-effects. Me and my family have accepted that this is how it’s gonna be. For kids the memory loss is a joke but sometimes it bothers me and husband. I have to write everything down in order to remember. I basically forget almost everything. Things that have happened or things that will happen. I even forget how to drive to places I’ve driven many times.

Like I said I’ve had lots of experience on ECT during the last twelve months. Last year when I was first treated with electroconvulsive therapy, I was given ECT ten times. Next time I got six times in July and six times in August. Since August I’ve been given maintenance therapy which means ECT is given once a week or once a two weeks. I had rest of August and most of September given once a week but now it’s only every two weeks. At some point the treatment will be given once a month. I don’t know what happens when it ends. I am slightly worried that I can’t do without ECT, that it is an only working medicine for me, but I try not to worry too much and concentrate on my new medicines.

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