…and I have my electroconvulsive therapy doctors to thank for that.
I know ECT is controversial. However, there’s no denying its effectiveness, regardless of whether you think it’s morally alright to purposefully induce seizures in a person repeatedly. (For a rundown of what ECT is, check out the post I wrote about it here.)
There are many drawbacks to doing ECT, none of which I will be sorry to bid farewell to when I complete my course of treatment. The headaches, the indigestion, the whole days spent waking up from anesthetic; not to mention my flaky memory, and the boredom of being stuck at home because I can’t drive.
In short, the point I want to make is that ECT is a major inconvenience. I won’t miss fasting three nights a week, or driving 45 minutes one way to the hospital.
That being said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I have been depressed since I was 12 years old. That means I’ve been dealing with a mood disorder every damn day for ten years, which, as you might imagine, is exhausting. It’s easy, in that period of time, to begin to believe that you’ll never recover. That belief is perpetuated by a relentless, bombarding depression that attacks day in and day out for years. A person in that scenario, which I have been for the past decade, begins to naturally adapt to their mood-disordered lifestyle. For example, the oldest music I can remember listening to is goth rock because it matched my gloomy outlook on life. I still know all the words to all those songs, and I listen to them when I need to hear something familiar. They bring me a certain comfort that cheerful music has never been able to produce for me.
So, given my history of doom-and-gloom, imagine what must have gone through my mind the first time someone told me about electroconvulsive therapy. Here was this seemingly miraculous treatment that worked on even the most stubborn cases of medicine-resistant depression. When I heard about ECT, I wasn’t thinking about any reluctance to submit myself to general anesthetic, or whether I wanted to go through multiple seizures.
I wasn’t thinking “Oh, I hope I don’t have to do that.” I was thinking, “Thank God, there’s a last resort I can try if all else fails.”
The worst thing that could possibly happen is if I had to go through more of the same. The same depression, the same hopelessness, the same constant melancholia. From the moment I realized that drugs weren’t working very well on my mood disorder, I was acutely aware of the possibility that nothing might ever fix me. Suicide was the only option left in that horrible eventuality, and I’ve been preparing myself to take it for ten years.
And then, a scientific miracle happened: ECT.
Granted, it is a last resort treatment. There aren’t many options that exist for treating a patient who’s ECT resistant. And it’s so inconvenient that patients are strongly encouraged to try other alternatives before resorting to ECT, like pharmaceuticals and talk therapy.
But, in a case like mine where those first-line treatments have already proven themselves to be ineffective, ECT is an obvious option, and I will fight tooth and claw to defend its place in the medical repertoire. When practiced correctly, it’s perfectly safe. While there is a risk of complications happening any time anesthesia is involved, I would argue that not performing ECT dooms a person to an even worse, much more certain fate: perpetual depression.
One more time, for the people in the back: I would rather die on the operating table than face an entire lifetime with a diseased brain.
And so, while I won’t miss the electroconvulsive treatments once they’re done, I will always be extremely grateful that they existed as a treatment option for me. I never realized until this past healthy month what life could really be like without depression. Staying awake every day, feeling like a whole person, not feeling tempted to hurt myself – these are the trademarks of a healthy existence. These are the reasons why people are motivated to stay alive. I understand that now.
I understand that now.