In July 2006, I wrote about Electroconvulsive Therapy and stated, “If I had the opportunity to have another series of treatments I would do it!” I had been compelled to believe the shocks had saved my life.
I obtained my high school diploma at age seventeen (I had skipped third grade). By that time I had already met the man I would marry for life. I would be the best wife, homemaker, and mother who ever existed. My role model was Lucy, of the I Love Lucy show, always well-groomed, well-dressed and wearing a pretty apron. The house was immaculate, and little Ricky was always clean when his daddy came home. I hope you can see where I am going with this. I worked very hard to obtain my goal.
A whole new set of rules applied to me, as a Christian, and I worked very hard to meet those expectations as well. My husband became a deacon in the church we attended so the responsibilities became even greater.
By the time I was 35; I had given birth to five children and had several surgeries, including a hysterectomy. By 1976, I was on a “little nerve pill” to help get me through the maze of motherhood and early menopause. I grew up trusting doctors because, after all, they had a degree in medicine. What I didn’t know at the time was that the “little nerve pill” would turn out to have side effects that caused my heart to race. When I would wake up with my heart racing and my blood running cold in my veins, panic would set in.
In June 1986, after my son decided to party on his 21st birthday (cardinal sin), I ended up in the hospital diagnosed as severely depressed and bipolar, along with numerous other diagnoses. By the end of that month the drug regimen had already begun to do a number on me. It became impossible to sit still, but never throughout the duration of being drugged was there any mention that the side effects could be the problem. More drugs were added to calm the anxiety along with drugs added to get me going in the morning. In other words, the psychiatrist was giving me uppers and downers at the same time. I would literally run out of the house and walk for miles unable to handle what was happening inside of me. My husband and family had no clue about what was really going on and neither did I, but I can tell you I did not go in search of a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came to me in my hospital room and promised that he would make everything better.
I grew up with the understanding that psychiatrists were shrinks and ranked among witches and warlocks. The Bible says we should not seek ungodly counsel, so I was at a great disadvantage when I realized I was on psych drugs and a psychiatrist was now in charge. The guilt, the shame, the stigma were overwhelming and people were not very understanding of the choices that were being made. Choices heavily influenced, tainted by the psych drugs and the doctors in charge.
By November 1993 the drugs had really taken their toll and I was now diagnosed as being “drug resistant.” The doctors said I needed electroconvulsive therapy. My husband said no, I said no and still I ended up having the first series of shock-induced grand mal seizures. I have been told that through the years I had overdosed on numerous occasions which would send me for another extended stay in the hospital. (I have relied on family, friends, and medical records for this part of my story, although there is no indication in my records that I downed a prescription in an attempt to kill myself. The record states that I exhibited ‘suicidal tendencies’, which were induced by side effects of the drugs. I truly have no memory of those events.)
Beginning with my hospital stays in 1986 through 2007, the drugging and over-drugging intensified. It wasn’t unusual for me to be on five psych drugs at the same time. Psychiatrists call that form of drugging a “drug cocktail.”
Life continued to move right along although I seemed suspended somewhere in outer space because of the drugs’ side effects. 1997 would bring with it more shock-induced seizures. In 1998 it would seem I was doing better but along the way I was developing more and more physical ailments. My doctors never indicated the drugs might be the cause.
In August 1998 my husband was involved in a one-vehicle accident on his way home from working third shift and died in that accident. Shock-induced grand mal seizures would pick up again and be continued through to September 11, 2000 (says my medical record) when I finally said “no more”. By that time I had experienced SIXTY documented shock induced grand mal seizures. The pain from the shocks was severe and I’m told I was zombie-like for days afterward. The life memories that were destroyed by the shocks are massive and include my graduation from high school and the six years leading up to it. My wedding is no where to be found! My children’s growing up years, graduations and weddings are not within my grasp. They’re gone! Since 2004 I have undergone 3 CT scans diagnosing brain atrophy, suggesting another side-effect of the shock treatments.
I awakened one day in mid-2007 with a clear mind (even though I was still being drugged) and was able to research the meds I was being prescribed and take a good look into all the side effects. THAT is when I insisted my doctor help me rid my body of the chemicals. That’s REALLY when I began to get healthy physically, but it took more than two years for me to finally experience life returning in living color once again. No more black and white!
In January 2011, I stood before the FDA Neurological Devices Advisory Panel in Gaithersburg, MD to present my case and explain why I believe the shock device should remain as Class III (dangerous). I expressed to the Advisory Panel that huge amounts of my memory had been castrated, no way to download the memories to a storage device prior to shock. My experienced opinion is that the shock device should be outlawed, not necessarily because the device itself is dangerous, but because the purpose for which it is used is barbaric, brutal, and damaging to the point of causing disability. I ended up on Social Security Disability in 1999, at the ripe old age of 58.
Since my doctors have said that I did the impossible, I say God performed a miracle in my life, for against all odds, I returned to the land of the living. Did electroconvulsive therapy save my life? The destructive nature of electroshock destroys much of what makes people who they are now and will become in the years ahead. No way, no how can electroshock be credited for saving one moment of my present existence! If I had continued to believe the doctors’ reports that said I would need maintenance ECT and psych drugs for the remainder of my life, I don’t believe I would still be here. Today, I am alive and well and I believe it is only because I said no to the shocks in 2000.
Because of the healing that took place between 2000 and 2007, I was able to say no to the drugs, as well. The shock-induced grand mal seizures had “dumbed me down”; as time passed after the last ECT, my comprehension gradually increased to the point at which I finally made the connection between the psych drugs, psych labels and a long list of physical ailments including diabetes. That’s when I mustered up enough courage to stand my ground and say no to the drugs. I had also regained enough smarts to know I couldn’t just stop taking the drugs; the taper down took better than two years. Today, I’m free to be me, the real me!
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.