Electroshock aftermath: The victim compensates for unexplained, negative effects of “treatment” and coverup

A person with memory deficit due to TBI or dementia, if confronted (“Have you forgotten again?”) might feel embarrassed or threatened. Perhaps the victim has not done well at a particular task he or she once excelled at, or forgot to show up, or failed to follow instructions due to inability to properly retain information or had trouble filtering out what was unimportant.

I have witnessed elderly people become defensive regarding memory loss. They do this for a good reason. I have seen just how truly frightened they are. I have seen families of elderly people come pounding on their doors, accusing them over and over, “If you don’t clean this place, you’re going to a nursing home!” or, “If you can’t manage your own affairs, you can’t stay here!” Whatever they can threaten, they will. If they knew I was there and overheard them, they would not have said such things. Meanwhile, you can bet such families have already made sure that “insurance” pay for the nursing home. It won’t come out of their pockets.

These frightened elderly folk were well aware of this. They lived in fear. They may or may not have been experiencing any memory loss at all. The point was that they needed to make it look like everything was fine, and this meant patching up anything that could be used as a legal loophole. At the nearest opportunity, a son or daughter might find “evidence” that could hold up in court that would allow that offspring some way to take legal guardianship, whether the evidence truly represented anything substantial or not. One “wellness check” could lead to losing one’s independence. Police or EMT’s make extremely arbitrary and quick decisions, and tend to err on the cautious side. I know, since I myself have been subject to such decisions on the part of emergency personnel, which were either correctly done or not so correctly done. We all have read in the news about the rather quick decisions to “shoot” simply because a person who was profiled was “wasting their time.”

What I saw was this: Elderly people compensated. If they lost things, they invented ways to keep track of stuff so they would either not lose anything, or they would cover up the fact that they’d lost it.

When I was starving, I kept an insanely neat house. I always put stuff back in the exact same place. The reason for this was NOT obsessive compulsive disorder nor was it any sort of psychosis nor mood disorder. I did this because I was desperate to hide the fact that I couldn’t remember where I had put anything. I was fastidious about keeping things in certain spots because I knew that if I didn’t do this, I’d never remember where I’d left them.

That’s the state they saw me in at the hospital. I continued to do that, to put things in certain places rather obsessively, fearing that I would lose track of them. They claimed I had “odd behaviors” that required antipsychotic medication. I tried to explain the dementia-like state that I had been in before my arrival, but I always got cut off mid-sentence before I could explain.  They were out of the room already, shaking their heads and not understanding a thing.

After ECT, I was similarly embarrassed. I hated it whenever someone mentioned that I’d forgotten anything, or said that perhaps I was deficient or damaged  now, or stated that ECT was a stupid decision on my part. I think anyone might be insulted by this, wouldn’t you be insulted? I had chosen it, or thought I had. In fact, I asked for it.

The truth is that I wasn’t properly informed of the consequences. I wasn’t told that the effects are so unpredictable that it wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t told that if I was damaged, they’d lie about it and wouldn’t own up to what happened. I wasn’t told that I’d be talked into bilateral while lying down 30 seconds before anesthesia, in dehydrated state, without being told the differences nor risks, nor asked to sign papers regarding potential risks. At the time, all I wanted was a drink of water!

I weighed well under 90 pounds for much of the ECT, and I was close to 40 years old. Each time they gave me ECT I had to refrain from drinking fluids. I have diabetes insipidus, meaning that when I finally arrived at ECT, I was desperately thirsty, most likely medically dehydrated to the point of possible electrolyte imbalance. I repeatedly reported the severe thirst, and requested that if possible, they could have the ECT as early in the morning as possible. I said that late morning ECT was “like torture for me due to thirst.” (And still, they didn’t even think to test for diabetes insipidus!) Since I was dehydrated and at a low weight, I know now that they were administering anesthesia when it wasn’t even safe to do so. I was far more of an anesthesia danger risk than I was a danger to myself from potential suicide. Often, all I could think about was surviving the thirst in the waiting room, which was the biggest challenge.

ECT is never voluntary. The first treatment may or may not be. Consent may be voluntary, but is it informed consent? I begged for ECT but I wasn’t properly told what it was nor why it worked.

It works because it damages your brain. Brain injury causes a “high.” You don’t even know it. It feels like you have been miraculously snapped out of your depression. But really, you have been brain-damaged, similar to being delirious following a concussion. This is why you feel just the same a few weeks later, and need either another brain injury or get back on antidepressants and you are back at square one.

Proponents think this is great since it prevents suicide. But does it? If a person really wanted suicide, would they take the trouble to submit to ECT if they believed the ECT would save them? I kinda doubt it. If I wanted to do suicide, I’d kill myself first, and bypass putting money into the shock doc’s purse. Why bother? A person who wants to die that much doesn’t want to be saved nor rescued, not so much that they will voluntarily have an electric lobotomy to prove it.

After ECT, which I am sure I could have done without, I was confused intermittently. Sometimes I was okay, others not. There seemed to be no pattern to it. I didn’t want to be accused of “losing my mind” due to a stupid decision I  myself made. So I begged for some explanation. What was wrong with me?

They should have admitted fault. Later, they did, long after the fact, but didn’t admit their error upfront. This was done rather subtly. “Well, yes, we gave you too many in 1996, but we promise not to do that again.” They never owned up to the coverup. They didn’t own up to the fake diagnosis of borderline that was given to me to explain my confused demeanor. They lied, claiming I was “dissociating.” They lied to me, to those caregivers who had not known me prior to ECT, and to my family, claiming I had a “dangerous personality disorder.”

I tried to read up on dissociation. Everything I read about it didn’t seem to fit what I was going through. I felt that what was happening was cognitive, but I wasn’t sure. Thinking straight was hard. I wrote things down, because this made it easier for me to keep my thoughts straight. I had heard that the confusion from ECT wears off quickly, that no way could I be experiencing permanent effects. No one did. No one became a basket case from ECT, did they? That couldn’t possibly be true, could it? But it was indeed true.

Dr.Michael Henry, who practiced ECT at McLean, is fooling himself, even now, wherever the hell he is, if he thinks the thousands of patients he shocked came away undamaged.  What he should have done was to sit down with me and tell me the truth. I had nothing, no word from anyone that this had occurred. Instead, a make-believe lie about “dissociation” that had no basis in truth.

I made up my own name for the confusion. I called it “The Thing.” What else could I do? This name that sounded like it came out of a Stephen King novel didn’t help relationships with my doctors much. However, I didn’t want to say, “I’m dissociating,” since I knew I wasn’t. I knew this wasn’t some “personality disorder” that suddenly struck me out of the blue.

You bet they poked fun of me. The Thing gave them plenty of golf course and elevator jeering material. Late night drinks, I’m sure, included enough jokes about The Thing. Maybe, too, they felt a twinge of guilt, knowing that what was behind it all were a few too many zaps of electricity, a few too many destroyed brain cells.

People compensate. They don’t want to look bad. They don’t want embarrassment. Embarrassment is extremely uncomfortable. In my confusion, I compensated by reinventing The Thing, by fitting other parts of my life and working them into The Thing. I stated that these stories from earlier parts of my life were due to my present condition. This doesn’t make logical sense, however, I was not being treated with logic anyway. The doctors allowed me to conclude anything, as long as they were not being accused nor seen as at fault.

For instance, I saw the fact that I’d been fired from a job when I was a teen “due to The Thing.” This wasn’t true at all. Many college-bound teens had a hard time getting jobs in some geographical areas during that time. This may be true even today. Many bosses are hesitant to hire a teen only to see that teen leave for college in a few months. When I was fired, my boss’ reasons were vague. However, my mother pointed out that I had not once called in sick, and had not once been tardy. When I asked for more hours so that I could get properly trained, the manager had made excuses, week after week, then fired me. She said he never even gave me a chance, and that I should forget about that job. I did.

I didn’t want to admit that The Thing was from ECT. Above all, I didn’t want to face the truth. So without changing facts, I explained my past via The Thing. The Thing caused me to lose my job. However, I don’t at all recall being confused on the job. I didn’t like the job, it was not something I wanted to do all my life, but I didn’t have severe cognitive problems and that wasn’t why I was fired. I was an inconvenience to the boss, and I was probably too smart for the work that was required of me. It was a bit embarrassing wearing that Brigham’s uniform.  Scooping ice cream wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t the first nor last who was fired from food service. Life goes on.

Nonetheless, after ECT, I rationalized many past life events, and fit them into The Thing. I finally concluded, quite incorrectly, that I’d had The Thing all my life. By then, time had passed. Winter was approaching, 1996.

Bingo. Now was the time. McLean had to make their move to seal this. Get it into the girl’s head that she has had this condition all her life, that it is impairing and permanent, and that she will have to ACCEPT IT. What else could these criminals do? They’d fucked up badly. They didn’t want a lawsuit. Dr. Henry couldn’t do this himself, oh no, not admit fault directly. They needed a Deus Ex Machina.

What’s that, you ask….I will tell you. This is an Unknown Hero who comes in and saves the day. It’s a terrible plot move on the part of a writer. They say not to do it. Audiences end up dissatisfied. That doesn’t matter, there was no audience. Guess what McLean did? They had a new medical student doing a rotation in psychiatry at the rinky-dink program I was in. So he was the hero who took me aside one day. This was during late afternoon. I didn’t know him. I’d only met with him and the doctor together once or twice and he’d only been there as witness. This was carefully planned, trust me. I’m trying to recall his name right now. It’ll come back to me.

He had been briefed, Possibly only partially, I’m not sure. Did they tell him, “She was damaged by ECT and we need some good lying right now.” Probably not. I had the whole conversation written out somewhere. I had a tendency to do that, believe it or not.

He tried to reason with me, saying that since The Thing had been with me all my life (which was what I had finally concluded, and they were going along with it), and I had the “best possible treatment” for it there at McLean, he said….He stated, “The best possible doctors, the best possible technology, the best possible research….”

Do you hear me laughing now? Under such honest administration!

“Even the best treatment hasn’t been able to help you. You will have to accept that you will have to deal with this for the remainder of your life. Our object now is not to cure you, but to help you learn to cope with it.”

I repeat,

“Even the best treatment hasn’t been able to help you. You will have to accept that you will have to deal with this for the remainder of your life. Our object now is not to cure you, but to help you learn to cope with it.”

That statement was true to their perspective. He wasn’t referring to The Thing as I had rationalized it, nor to any sort of personality disorder they invented, but to ECT damage that they didn’t want to honestly admit. Their aim was to avoid a lawsuit, to keep me from associating the changes with the ECT, and to keep my friends and relatives (those that remained) from making this association. As far as they were concerned, my mind was a lost cause. I was a permanent basket case. I was best off put away for good.

None of that was ended up the case, eventually. The damage turned out not to be permanent. It was extremely long term, as it all lasted a year and a half, then went away.  Their lies outdid them. Now, what about this personality disorder lie? What about their claim that I couldn’t sit in a roomful of people? And yet I had functioned fine in the classroom. With my memory coming back, it seemed that this “personality disorder” hadn’t been present before, nor had this “dissociation,” and I hadn’t spent my whole life cutting, running from partner to partner, doing street drugs, and threatening suicide. My next therapist, without being asked, said to me that she’d never understood why “borderline” was on there, and told me that she’d had it taken off ages ago. I myself didn’t like it on record, since I knew that people with BPD diagnosis were treated terribly in medical and psych situations across the board. Some Boston area facilities still had it on record and some didn’t, but for the most part, it was eradicated.

I believe the most permanent damage was to the cohesiveness of my family. My family was outright lied to. They were told things about me to cover McLean’s ass that simply weren’t true.  This was done through my mother, after my father died. She was taken aside while she was still grieving, and told that her daughter had a dangerous personality disorder. She was told she’d better detach from me, and to instruct my brothers to do likewise.

Imagine that. You lose your beloved husband to this thing called cancer, now, your daughter. My poor mother. I know her. Do you know my mother? I know her darned well. This bit of information, which was a lie, went in one ear and out the other. Clear and pure, in one, out the other, untouched. My mom most likely kept up that smile of hers, nodding and acting like she heard and understood everything. She did, but knew it was meshugana.

DSM lies, sure, it’s all meshugana. My mom knew me, she had faith in me and so did my dad. I was me.  I wasn’t a diagnosis. She was an artist, my dad was a scientist, so we kids were half-breeds, were we not? They say mixing the genes is a good idea. The scientist part of people’s brains can wreak havoc. The DSM lie went through my mom untouched and unbelieved, but sadly, I suspect my brothers decided to heed the warning. I haven’t heard much from either of them since 1997.

For decades, I wondered why the heck I didn’t have family. It really wasn’t until recently that I was able to put two and two together. I was often accused by people who had never met me, never knew much about me, saying, “You must have done something horrible for them to barely speak to you….” However, I haven’t done a thing! I never did nor said anything, nor was an asshole, nor acted badly, nor did anything wrong, nor (I hope) embarrassed them so badly as to give them reason to excommunicate me in such a manner. My family consists of wonderful, well-intentioned people who only want good things. They are good boys I raised myself. I taught them to speak and to read and to play baseball. I taught them to say hello when they pick up the phone and to pay a penny for candy. I helped them with Halloween costumes and played pretend with them. We played all sorts of games. I defended them when we all got yelled at. I taught them how to get away with skipping school if they really thought they had to.

I know I didn’t do anything to warrant being given the cold shoulder, to explain away years of silence, coldness, and noncommunication. I hadn’t done anything! And yet a lot of the time, I was treated like “Julie the asshole,” or, “Julie who really should be kept at ta distance” and I didn’t know why. I hadn’t been irresponsible, hadn’t, say, gotten drunk and acted disrespectful in their presence. I hadn’t been verbally abusive. I hadn’t been violent. In fact, there had been no chance for any of that to occur, since there had been ZERO contact.  It’s like believing a rumor about someone that you have never met. I even asked, but received no response. I was never given a chance. I can only guess that the phony diagnosis was believed, and that to this day, they are keeping their distance, believing in this fabricated “dangerousness.”

This is how stories get twisted around. When you don’t know, when you are deprived of all the information, either because someone doesn’t want you to know, or the information isn’t available, what can you do but to compensate just to survive? Perhaps my brothers only wanted to protect themselves and their families from this perceived “danger.” It saddens me that they only deprived themselves and their kids. And me, too. I don’t believe they really wanted to believe the lie in the first place, and honestly, I doubt anyone did.