Regarding recovery from ECT (electroshock “therapy”)

This blog entry is about ECT, otherwise known as electroshock “therapy, or, “shock treatments.” Shock treatments are still done to people. They are not a thing of the past. They are done in mental institutions all around the world. You may have seen in the media that this procedure has somehow been “updated” or “modernized.” This is totally false. In fact, the same machines are still used today that were used in the original electroshock procedure. The fact that people are anesthetized and even doped up does not make it “safer.”

That we know of, most people experience severe harm from this procedure. Deaths are under-reported. Suicides following this procedure are also under-reported. We have no evidence that ECT prevents suicide. In fact, quite the opposite.

One person who comes to my mind who committed suicide following ECT was Ernest Hemingway. The reason why I mention Hemingway is because he was said to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century. ECT stripped Hemingway of his ability to write. His family later verified that Hemingway was indeed distraught over his discovery that the brain damage he endured had caused this inability. He had thrived on his writing. Now, he had lost that ability. He shot himself in 1961. Popular texts state he was “depressed,” but in reality, he had been damaged by the ECT!

Now all this is background info on what I wanted to say (for those “out of the blue” readers who happen to drop in).

I am asking myself what sorts of things I would want to emphasize if I were speaking to a group of people who were survivors of the ECT procedure.

I think first of all, ECT recovery is not a moral issue. I would never tell a person, “I did it, so you can, too!” I think there are an awful lot of do-gooders out there, maybe very well-intentioned ones, who have the idea that if they say this, they’ll instill confidence in people. The problem is, this doesn’t always work. In fact, often, the opposite results.

If I stood up in front of a group of people and rah-rahed my way through an overly positive speech, saying “I did it, so you can, too…” that would be obnoxious and unrealistic. I cannot predict anyone else’s outcome.

The amount of effort, energy, and resources, including financial resources, required for one person’s recovery may be vastly greater than those required for another. Some people are just plain lucky and hit upon the right idea the first time they try. Others try ten times before something they try clicks. This is not a moral issue, but an issue of pure chance. The roll of the dice.

I do not have the knowledge to state, “It is God’s will.” I do not read God’s mind. You do not read God’s mind. Assuming there IS a god, and assuming that this god does indeed have a mind and has a will, which is seriously a huge assumption here, I do not have any clue what God has in store for you, for me, or for the world, if anything at all. To claim that I do would certainly be grandiose of me.

Looking back, I know I did certain things that MAY have helped me heal my brain. However, these were not a moral issue. I don’t feel that I “worked hard” to heal my brain. I know what I did, I had to do simply because I was under the gun at the time. I was very scared of being put into the state hospital. So everything I was doing then, things that healed my brain, I did only to survive, to get my butt as far away from State as I could.

Much of it was pure luck. Stumbling on the right pieces of the puzzle. But even putting it that way is a little bit on a high horse, because that, too, isn’t quite how it happened. It truly more “happened” to me than anything else.

And with that, the only thing I can say is to let it happen.

I remember I let myself write. They saw it as child’s play, a girlish thing. A diary. Only silliness. Play time. But I can tell you that writing is the most powerful thing you can do. From my dialogue with Bonnie Burstow, who has observed and recorded survivors of shock, and is the daughter of a shock survivor, she has stated that people who undergo this horrific “treatment” then use writing as a fantastic tool to keep track of their lives.

However it is that you write, whether you type, write by hand, dictate, or use any other means of recording your words, your words are incredibly important. Your words are copyrighted the minute you write them down. Legally copyrighted. They are yours and yours only. Your words are an historic record of a unique and special life. Yours. And your life is not the same as any other life.

What you write today is not the same as what you write tomorrow, much as our thoughts change from day to day, hour to hour. If we record our thoughts, we have a record of them. They will not be lost, even if our memory cannot store them for now. Writing acts as storage. Our writing acts as the vital missing link.

Of course, my doctors, back then, didn’t know that. Good thing they didn’t stop me.

I suspect that for some, other forms of communication or ways to record one’s thinking might work better because we humans have vastly different styles of thinking. Possibly these include various art forms or other things I have not even thought of.

I have no clue why I got better from shock. I have no answers. I cannot fully say, “I got better because I did x, y, and z.” No way. Not definitely. Why? Because sadly, I have seen others who have made immense effort, even for much longer periods and have had much slower results. I know that writing helps. But I cannot say it helps in all instances. Nor can I say one method is better than another.

I can share this, though. I really did not expect to get better from shock. I didn’t see it coming! It happened very suddenly. I “woke up.” Poof! One day, spacey as usual. The next, better. I have anecdotal evidence that it’s similar with others. That one day you’re suddenly immensely improved. And that, too, seems to come out of the blue.

I didn’t even know that the spaciness was from the shock. I didn’t know it even after I got better! It took a long time. I really wondered why I had been so messed up, and why, for so long.

It might just happen for you like that, out of the blue, when you are least expecting it. When you have given up. Or nearly so. When you aren’t holding the door waiting for it to come waltzing in.  It doesn’t send advance notice.

Think of it as someone who comes knocking, a hungry traveler who has been wandering in the desert and has had no food for days. You do not know him. He knocks.

You don’t know him, but he means no harm. You didn’t do anything that caused this traveler to choose your door over the thousands he could have chosen. Open your heart. Open the door. Why?

Because he is there. Nothing more.

And that is about how it happens. Or, maybe, how it was for me. After that, I was able to resume my life. Not that it was easy, but I had my mind back at least.

Feedback and comments welcome!