Women, ECT, and Memory

Bonnie Burstow, PhD
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As signaled in the title above, this article is about women, ECT, and memory. Despite the fact that the memory loss caused by ECT is greatly minimized by psychiatry to the point of downright denial, it is fairly common knowledge at this point, at least among people who have looked beyond the official ECT line, that one of the main and most devastating effects of ECT is the destruction of memory (for an example of a standard denial thereof, see, Abrams, 2002).  Innumerable shock survivors have testified to it (e.g., see https://coalitionagainstpsychiatricassault.wordpress.com/articles/); and it is conclusively established by credible research (see Sackeim et al., 2007 and Breggin, 1991). That noted, many of those who take in the reality of ECT-created memory loss are aware of it largely in an abstract manner.  As a statistic. As a fact supported by research. If our memory is relatively in tact, we can forget how very integral memory is to most every aspect of our daily lives. In this regard, I  am grateful to the many ECT survivors who have given testimony over the decades and whose words have made this destruction of memory real in the way that statistics never could. Note, in this regard, this sensitizing statement by survivor and author Linda Andre:

Imagine you wake up tomorrow with your past missing….You may not be able to recognize your home or know where your banks accounts are… You can’t remember your wedding or your college education. Eventually you realize that years of your life have been erased, never to return. Worse, you find that your daily memory and mental abilities aren’t what they were before. (Andre, 2009, p. 1)

Now generally the memory loss that besets ECT recipients is spoken of with little or no explicit reference made to gender. In this article as in certain of the literature (e.g., Burstow, 2006), on the other hand, gender is highlighted.  My intent in this article is to hone in on gender per se; more specifically to shed light on how ECT, memory loss, and women’s lives come together.

That noted, I am aware that some folk may be wondering: But why are you writing about women specifically?  Is not ECT, comparatively speaking, a gender-neutral issue? To address that quickly, while both men and women are unconscionable harmed by this procedure—and I in no way wish to minimize what happens to men—as shown in Burstow (2015a and 2006), ECT and the lived reality of it is not even close to gender- neutral. Throughout the history of ECT, two to three times as many women as men have received electroshock. And as research has established, they have generally received it because of a man signing for it, often for behaviour seen as “inappropriate” for a woman, and this despite the fact that the women themselves do not want it—hence feminists such as myself theorizing it as a form of violence against women (Burstow, 2006). What is up and above this, there is a gender-specific differential impact that needs to be factored in.

The point is, yes, women are men both suffer devastating memory impairment because of ECT—but not equally. A short story to introduce you to this topic: When I was part of an organization that held public hearings into shock in the 1980s, the fact that such a difference existed was painfully apparent albeit no one commented on it. The point is, while men survivors too were often horrendously affected, overwhelmingly, it was women survivors who made reference to chunks of their lives as big as 5 to 20 years being totally wiped out. By the same token, it was overwhelmingly women who would make statements like, “That was fifteen years ago, and I still have to take notes all day long just to get through the day.”  Which led me at the time to conjecture a gender-specific impact differential. Decades later, the difference was confirmed by Sackeim et al. (2007)—the largest study in ECT history. This study established at a level of statistical significance that women’s memory is more impacted than men’s—a reality possibly related to women’s lower seizure threshold. A particularly perverse statistic, I would add, when you consider that it is the precisely the sex that is most adversely affected by the procedure that is being singled out for it!

That noted, the difference with respect to memory does not end here. The point is that we are all of us social beings, that both men and women lead gendered lives. And so to understand the real meaning of the destruction of people’s memory, whether the survivor be male or female, we need to understand it in the context of those gendered lives. By way of example—and this is just one among many different identities that could be drawn on, for women are also lesbians, teachers, seniors in nursing homes—with women commonly being in the role of wife and mother, to understand the meaning of that destruction of memory, one very helpful lens through which to view ECT is precisely the role of housewife and mother. Questions that we might ask in this regard include: What happens between a mother and child when the mother cannot recall a good part of the early years of her own child’s life?  When she is impaired in her ability to figure out how to be a mother? What happens to a woman expected to be a housewife when she cannot remember any of the everyday operations which allow her to navigate the very particular world in which she finds herself?

With the intent of making this dimension more “real” for people, what follows is an excerpt from a novel of mine in-progress (currently under active consideration by a publisher) which delves into some of these issues, takes up a number of these questions, fleshes out a character whose post-ECT existence is deeply embedded in the social world of housewife and mother.  A few words by way of introduction: The novel is called “The Other Mrs. Smith” and it is the culmination of decades of research. The narrator is Naomi Smith (a totally fictional character). Once upon a time, Naomi was a budding young filmmaker but having fall prey to psychiatry shortly after giving birth, such avocations are no longer on her horizon. It is now late August of 1973—approximately five months since her last shock treatment. She is living with a husband named Earl (whom she has no memory of ever marrying him, nor any appreciable pre-ECT memory of) and a baby daughter named Ruth (of whom she has no pre-shock memory whatever). This is one and half years after the birth of her daughter.  For several years now, she has been estranged from her family of origin, though she has no idea why because she has no memory of the breakup. Her family of origin consists of her mother, her father, and her twin sister Rose. Naomi is now living in Toronto, has been ever since marrying, albeit she has no memory of ever having moved here and no pre-shock memory of Toronto. She is a Jew originally from Winnipeg (a city in Western Canada). Her husband Earl is an atheist Christian, originally from Newfoundland (one of Canada’s Atlantic provinces). St. Pukes, referred to in this excerpt, is the name the “patients” give to St. Patrick-St. Andrew’s Mental Health Center (the fictional psychiatric institution where Naomi received ECT). And Dominions is a local supermarket.

Excerpt From Novel “The Other Mrs. Smith”

Fear—that was the common thread that wove its way through my days, making them what they were.  I feared the growing frustration in Earl’s voice.  I feared that I would not be able to find my way into Ruthie’s heart.  I feared that my brain, my memory, my life were lying in tatters somewhere in a St. Puke’s garbage bin.  I feared that I would never again be in the loving arms of the sister and parents that I so adored.  I feared that all those years of hope and study had come to naught, for no celluloid world would ever issue forth from my shattered ship-wreck of a mind.  I feared the faces that I met—the ones that looked away embarrassed, the ones that snickered, the ones that whispered to their children as I walked by.  I feared myself for I knew not who I was nor what terrible thing I had done to deserve such a punishment.  But most of all, I feared existence itself—my very being in the world—for the unvarnished truth is, I did not have the wherewithal to be, to cope, to muddle through.

Poor Earl expected a wife and mother, the family, indeed, needed a wife and mother; and me, I simply could not function.  At night, I would tuck in my child and see her cringe and turn away, holding onto her doll for dear life.  Now if her daddy was not right there, she would scream blue murder.  And there I would stand—useless—knowing full well that a mother with her faculties in tact would have found a way in.  How come I am just fine with most vulnerable people on the ward and absolutely clueless when it comes to my baby daughter?, I would ask.  And Ruthie, if you are reading this, be assured that not a day went by when I did not ask, when I did not long to be the mother that you deserved.  Then, my heart heavy, I would crawl into bed with this stranger, even have sex with him, though neither of us were under any illusion about my feeling what he so desperately wanted me to feel.  The Mrs. Smith that I used to be, I would wonder, did she hunger for this man?  Was she able to lift the pain from his heart?

#

It was a weekday morning, not unlike the ones that came before, not unlike the ones to follow.

“Brnng…brnng,” went the alarm.

“Time to get up,” urged Earl, reaching over and turning it off.

I rose, quickly closed the child’s gate, praying that Earl had not noticed.  I rustled up breakfast, saw Earl hovering over me. Gotenyu!  Had I left a burner on?

“Darling, don’t forget to mail the letters,” he called out minutes later.  Then with a hurried peck on my cheek, he rushed out the front door.

Dreading the inevitable, I put off the chore a good half hour.  Then I gritted my teeth, lifted up Ruthie, started scouring the streets in search of the mail box.  Where could it have gone?  It was here yesterday.  At long last, I passed a little green house, a white picket fence at front. Shortly thereafter, I happened upon a rectangular box.  I dropped the letters into what appeared to be a slot.  Fine and good.  But how does one get home?  I whirled about, intent on retracing my steps.  Here was the little green house with the white picket fence on my right.  I passed it, scrupulously turned whenever the street turned—but back I find myself in front of the little green house.

“Sir,” I call out to an older man in Bermuda shorts ambling by, “could you give me directions to 532?”

“No 532 here.  You must be looking for Palmerston Avenue.  This’s Palmerston Square.”

“So there’s two Palmerstons?”

“Three,” he corrects, chuckling.  Then a curious look comes over him. “Excuse me, but aren’t you the young woman who asked me this yesterday?” he queries, eyeing me ever more keenly.  “If this is a joke, young lady, it isn’t funny.”

I apologize, back away mortified, eventually find my way home.  With Ruthie hollering that she is hungry again, and the word “vacuum” mysteriously coming to mind, I pull out what appears to be a Hoover.  Then suddenly, suddenly, I remember.  Groceries—God help me—I’m supposed to buy groceries.  Also, my daughter is hungry.

I instantly stash the vacuum in the hall closet, hoping that’s where it came from, then feed Ruthie.  Then once again the two of us set out into the wilderness that is Toronto.  And once again, I search and search.  I pass a Victorian house.  Vaguely familiar.  I come to a corner.  A tall burly man in a police uniform is positioned in the middle of the street directing traffic.  Now somehow, his hand signals—if that’s what they are—do not compute, but this time, I know better than to draw attention to myself.  I stand at the very edge of the sidewalk, doing absolutely nothing as the policeman gazes my way.  Who could get in trouble just by doing nothing?  Suddenly, a horn begins honking.  Then another, and another.  The policeman stares right at me, while waving his hands progressively quicker.  And now he approaches, his expression very like Earl’s.

“Lady, just whatchya expecting me to do?” he asks.  “Turn green?”

Eventually, I catch sight of the local Dominions, usher Ruthie safely through the door.  And while I cannot make head or tail of my grocery list, I recall that we are out of peas.  As luck will have it, I spot the right row, the right section of the right row.  With trepidation, I position myself smack in the middle of the peas section.  I reach out my hand.  Then I stand in front of those hundreds of tins of peas utterly stymied.  So many sizes, so many kinds—Libby’s, Aylmer’s—how is a person to choose?  Beads of perspiration forming on my brow, I take a deep breath, grab a tin at random, then hightail out of there as quickly as my legs will carry me.

Now I am half way out the door when it dawns on me that I have not paid.  Also, that there is one other item that I simply have to pick up.  Hoping that security is not on the way, I reenter, make my way to the meat counter—and brace myself.

You see, pig, that turned out to be a staple in the Smith household, and it utterly flummoxed me.  Pork chops, ham, sausages, bacon, Newfoundland steak—hell, being Jewish and electroshocked to boot—they all seemed the same to me.  Now Earl would answer all my questions, would keep rattling off the different types, but try to hold onto to them though I did, every name, every description would come leaking out of my brain.

“So lady, what’s it today?” asks the man in white behind the counter.

“A few pounds…a few pounds…a few pounds of…of…that,” I stammer, pointing at something reddish.

Meat in hand, I head over to the cashier, give the woman every ounce of lucre in my possession.  Her eyebrow raised, she hands me back most of my bills and several coins, together with what must be an itemized receipt.  I glance at it.  Another blur.  Then I pick up my daughter because she is clearly tiring, and scurry home.

“This’s just fine,” says Earl, hours later, gobbling up a poor imitation of a dinner.  But I can tell from his eyes that all of the meshugas is wearing him down.

8:30 p.m., I tuck in Ruthie, hear her scream for her father.  Then Earl and I sit and sit and sit in that living room.  He tells me about his day, and I pretend to be following.  I tell him about mine, and he pretends to be listening.  “Missus, it’s about that time again,” he eventually announces.  I breathe a sigh of relief, take the pills, observe him watching me.

At long last, the moment that I have been waiting for arrives—I get to crawl into bed—that nice, warm, comfortable bed—and call it a day.  I bury myself in the safety of the blankets, eager to fade into nothingness, eager to forget.  But now Earl, he’s crawling on top of me.  I instantly spread my legs.  Oh let him come quickly!, I pray.

Finally, finally, I close my eyes.  I drift off, glimpse a better place, a better time.  It is our fourth birthday, and attired in our new black tunics, Rose and I are blowing out the candles.  Now all four candles are out and the two of us are smiling at each other, nestling into the recesses of each other’s souls as only we can.  “Mazel tov,” chimes in my mother’s voice.  “Never mind with the mazel tov; Ida, give the girls cake,” pipes up dad.  Even as I savour the first tantalizing mouthful, a shrill sound shatters the stillness, and I awake with a start.  Frantic, I cast my eyes about.  I spot an alarm clock.  I see a bump in the covers next to me.  No!  No!  It can’t be!  Not here again!

And so the days went.  How can we possibly keep this up?, I wondered. (from novel-in-progress, Burstow, 2015b)

This particular passage, as you can see, focuses in on the abject terror of living in what is now an alien world. In the process, it probes Naomi’s inability to perform the everyday tasks integral to her life as housewife and mother, also the profound injury to Naomi’s relationship with her child and husband.

I will comment no further on the passage—for better the reader make their own discoveries. However, I cannot leave the topic of the novel per se without commenting on the experience of writing it: As author, putting myself in the head of an electroshocked narrator struggling to tell a story, so much of which she simply cannot remember was one of the most frustrating and humbling tasks that I have ever taken on. Many a time I vowed to abandon the project once and for all because the journey ahead felt just too daunting. Whenever I was on the brink of “throwing in the towel,” however, I remembered that I always had the luxury to put aside the double binds and frustrations related to ECT and return to a life where memory is in tact—while shock survivors have no such option.

Then I would take a deep breath, pick up my pen, and resume writing.

Closing Remarks

I hope that this article has helped the reader gain a deeper sense of the reality of ECT as lived. More particularly, I hope people walk away better able to appreciate how the memory loss shatters lives and how that shattering invariably, indeed, inevitably transpires on a gendered level. In ending, let me express an even more ardently held wish—that some day soon we will be able to rid the world of this atrocity. That said, as long as ECT is being unleashed on people and as long as women and men survivors continue to have to navigate a world which has in essence been stolen from them, I would invite readers to factor gender into their understanding—for however poignant and sophisticated it may be, our grasp of the ECT phenomenon is lacking otherwise.

(For this and related articles, see http://www.bizomadness.blogspot.ca/.)

* * * * *

References:

Abrams, R. (2002). Electroconvulsive therapy (4th. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Andre, L. (2009). Doctors of deception: What they don’t want you to know about shock treatment. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Breggin, P. (1991). Electroshock: Scientific, ethical, and political issues. International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 11, 5-40.

Burstow, B. (2006). Electroshock as a form of violence against women. Violence Against Women, 12 (4), 372-392.

Burstow, B. (2015a). Psychiatry and the business of madness: An ethical and epistemological accounting. New York: Palgrave.

Burstow, B. (2015b). The Other Mrs. Smith (a novel in progress).

Sackeim, H., Prudic, J., Fuller, R., Kielp, J., Lavori, P., & Olfson, M. (2007). The cognitive effects of electroconvulsive therapy in community settings. Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 244-255.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t wait to read this book! It’s wonderful to finally read an ACCURATE story of fiction about the Mad Experience. ECT was one bullet I managed to dodge before I gave “the finger” to psychiatry and fled its pseudoscience and path to utter destruction. For that, I will forever be grateful.

  2. I, too, am working on writing my story, after over a decade of medical / pharmacutical research, although I do not yet have a publisher. If you know of any that might be interested, Bonnie, I’d be grateful for an introduction. It’s an iatrogenic “bipolar” tale, what happened to me has happened to almost a million children. And it’s been confessed to me by an ethical pastor that I dealt with the “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” But if you can’t do that, I’d be extremely grateful if you’d consider critiquing my book and giving me suggestions and corrections prior to potential publication, Bonnie.

    I’m not certain how to classify my tale. It is, in it’s entirety “fictional,” according to those whose motives were / are covering up child abuse and easily recognized iatrogenesis. It is in part “legal fiction,” since the lawyers have an ironic definition of fiction. My husband was related to the Wests of West Law, the people who originally published the legalese. Essentially, legalese states anything assumed to be true in a court of law is legal fiction, thus the parts of my tale that include my medical records would be considered “legal fiction.” However, I personally consider it a non-fictional story of my life as an artist, active volunteer, and mom, which culminates in a drug induced awakening to my dreams. But dreams are also just fictional – although my dreams are also hopes and prayers for a better future for all of humanity some day. And my subconscious self (dreams) and conscious self combine together into an uninterrupted and coherent (hopefully in the end) story. In other words, many of the people I dream about are and were, people I knew and eventually met, in real life. So there really isn’t a disconnect between my subconscious self, and conscious self.

    And what’s quite unusual is I can tell almost my entire life’s story, relationships with others, and the story of my hopes, dreams, and prayers in the lyrics of music. It’s like a four dimensional puzzle, or a mosaic created over time. It’s also a tale about a connectivity between all of humanity, which the physicists are now claiming is likely.

    But I agree, it definately is difficult writing about how egregiously ill the psychiatric industry makes a person. It’s interesting finally going back and reading some of my journals that documented the end of my iatrogenic insanity. I was relieved to learn from reading them (after avoiding such for ten years) that I wasn’t personally too insane, but the anticholinergic intoxication induced psychotomimetic voices I experienced were quite insane, albeit somewhat comical in how truly disgusting and stupid they were.

    I wish I’d kept better journals during the ensuing drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic psychoses, but sitting and calming writing is not really possible during a manic episode. One must be dancing, biking, rehabbing, gardening, painting, or driving around contemplating reality and what has / is happening to themselves instead. I wish I’d recorded the whole thing, however, because it was truly amazing.

    It was a tale of how all the souls became a collective, and how all the wonderful people I’d known throughout my life tried to save me from the horrendous dismissal from humanity that psychiatric stigmatization does to all forced and coerced into dealing with that industry. A “Salvage One” story, my cousin had her wedding at a place named “Salvage One” during my 2009 drug withdrawal induced supersensitivity induced manic psychosis. But I believe it should be a story about salvaging all the decent. And it did culminate in a story of Jesus calling judgement day eventually.

    I live in a country that supposedly believes “all are created equal,” so I do not understand why the government of such a country advocates belief in psychiatric stigmatizations and tranquilizations, since such maltreatment of individuals has nothing to do with a belief all are created equal. But actually, I do now understand why they do so, and I also know only evil governments, historically, advocate belief in, and utilize psychiatric theology. This country’s been taken over by the evil bankers and corporations Thomas Jefferson warned us of, since our Federal Reserve bankers of the U.S. forgot that our money has printed right on it “In God we Trust,” and it in God the Federal Reserve bankers of the US were actully to trust.

    And I no longer seem alone in my concerns my government has gone off worshipping the wrong bankers. Of course, my father was arguably the number one MIS (management information specialist) of the U.S. banking system in his heyday, and a man who came in the actual name of the Lord. But it never occurred to me that if my brothers and I avoided working in this country’s banking system, that this country would be actually taken over by an evil we were not even informed existed in our educational system, but one in which our founding fathers actually warned us of. Although this seems to possibly have happened.

    I now medically comprehend the reality of the evil crimes committed by the male chavanistic religions, paranoid doctors, and psychiatric industry against my children and me. I hope and pray for justice, but not just for my little family, but all of humanity so harmed, which may now include all humans in the U.S. who thought our current banking system was currently controlled by people with their country’s best interest at heart.

  3. This is disturbing and a subject which I have never seen approached from a gender perspective. But then we can look at the drugging of depression and see the same types of incredible disparity. My great concern in all of this is that women are often victimized in numerous ways and that is overlooked with devastating results. It is this willful ignorance of the mental health industry and the failures in society to protect these people that continues to perpetuate a cycle of violence toward anyone unfortunate enough to have been in this position. How many women currently in abusive relationships are being drugged into submitting not only to the tyrant in their lives but the industry as well, too afraid to utter the truth? Then, when that doesn’t work, when the magic pills and endless combinations haven’t worked the last blow to any dignity left is delivered with the cruelty of ECT (which was first used on livestock and then applied to humans).
    There is little suffering in this world that is made any better by interventions by the mental health industry. I see the failed experiments of these snake oil salesmen everyday.

  4. This article is so moving and poignant. I already knew that women were much more likely than men to be shocked. But I had no idea that the damage is greater as well.

    And Bonnie, your novel excerpt is very powerful.

    Thank you for writing this, although it makes me feel more upset and powerless against the atrocity of psychiatry than ever.

    • Another stunning account of the damage ECT does is in the first chapter of Naomi Klein’s book “shock Doctrine” – it’s a great read as it links psychiatry, torture and neoliberal capitalism in explaining the doctrine of shock in society and individual lives. I highly recommend it to anyone who sees psychiatry as a part of a greater oppression system.

  5. Thank you Bonnie for writing THE book. Read to the end of this and you’ll see why I cross-posted to both you and Sean Blackwell.

    There is no place for psychiatry in spiritually transformative or exceptional experiences – perhaps no place for psychiatry anywhere. I had a spiritual ’emergency’ triggered by an encounter with a shaman. I exhibited no bizarre behaviour. I was not depressed. I was anxious and couldn’t sleep. When I did sleep, I had regular and highly accurate precognitive dreams. I took a benzodiazepine.

    When I stopped taking it, I started trembling and my sleep got worse. No one recognized benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome and I was diagnosed with agitated depression. I was treated aggressively with 35 different drugs in an eight-month period. I took them out of desperation – I would have done anything to stop the horrendous agitation I now know to be ‘akathisia’.

    Those who once took an oath to do no harm, were ignorant of drug effects/withdrawal effects/side-effects/adverse effects, recognized them as proof of escalating mental illness, medicated them, and expressed satisfaction at having ‘unmasked’ a long-hidden mental illness. I was described as an ‘excellent candidate for ECT’ and forced to have 25 rounds of bilateral ECT. The damage is profound. I have no memory of at least 25 years of my life, and live with neurological and cognitive problems – and clenched fists.

    An elderly clairvoyant’s words: “What the hell happened to you? You were a totally healthy person and doctors have turned you into a piece of shit. There are nine spaces in your energy field – all from pharmaceuticals. Your doctors should be jailed.” “You are in this mess because consciousness isn’t taught in schools. You are here to help people. You can help people by telling your story.”

    My book about consciousness, high sense perception, energy healing, and orthomolecular medicine is in the works. I will publish my medical records and the words doctors used to describe and ridicule me. I will tell the stories of the women who were hospitalized with me – some of whom were murdered by ECT. Most of them had no mental issues at all. Most of them had undiagnosed physical problems which had been treated with antidepressants, and the adverse effects of those antidepressants were then treated with ECT.

    Since when did thyroid problems, gluten intolerance, a kidney not filtering properly, an inner ear problem, an exposure to a toxic chemical , a vitamin B12 deficiency, adverse drug reactions …. become psychiatric disorders?

    I am anti-psychiatry – I have no choice. And yes, ECT does cause memory loss.
    Remember – energy sensitive people are exquisitely sensitive to pharmaceuticals.

    How about a website ‘Psychics Against Psychiatry’?

  6. Bonnie, thank you for this. When I was 12, my mother was hospitalized and shocked. When she returned to us, she kept a dairy and fought for her memory. She returned to teaching. At the end of her life, I disagreed years of dairies. The entries consisted of the weather and purchase prices and records of phone calls and letters from me and my brothers. At the end of the year she would total how much she spent on each of us. I searched in vain for some indication of the inner turmoil. I looked for a key to unlock the emotions.

    When she had hip surgery, the anesthesia induced psychosis. Her physician told me, “Your mother had a hard life.” The dairies never told me that. Your novel records what she could not. Thank you!

  7. Bonnie, thank you for this. When I was 12, my mother was hospitalized and shocked. When she returned to us, she kept a dairy and fought for her memory. She returned to teaching. At the end of her life, I disgarded years of dairies. The entries consisted of the weather and purchase prices and records of phone calls and letters from me and my brothers. At the end of the year she would total how much she spent on each of us. I searched in vain for some indication of the inner turmoil. I looked for a key to unlock the emotions.

    When she had hip surgery, the anesthesia induced psychosis. Her physician told me, “Your mother had a hard life.” The dairies never told me that. Your novel records what she could not. Thank you!

  8. Bonnie,
    I’ve been thinking about your post . It takes me back to a room where 6 of us men and women waited sitting upon 2 single beds which were about 3 feet apart where we sat facing each other sitting 3 across next to each other on each bed . We all sat quietly not speaking to each other all terrified like trapped animals with no options. We were all thinking of our selves in our own worlds waiting for the white coats to come and take us one at a time, there was no escape for any of us . We all breathed a sigh of relief except for the one of us they came in and chose to be next to receive for sure a bilateral shock treatment . And so it went until there was no one left in that room to breath a sigh of relief . When they choose me the butterflies dropped to my stomach , as I stood my knees weakened , I was terrified with no options . They could bring as many orderlies as it took to drag me to the electricity . This all happened 15 times that month when I was almost 18 years of age . I was totally inside myself I never thought or knew it was so much worse for the women until now reading your heartbreaking post. and what about the children ?
    I’ve written before about how on the 14th “treatment” I was shocked before anesthesia took effect .
    I lived in terror and fear for decades after that demonstration of how easily the could take and torture me with applied electricity against my will based on a label some psychiatrist branded me with when I was 16 years old because then I thought I was the Messiah.
    After, through the great fortune of meeting when I was around 27 years old, after having escaped from a mental institution for about the 5th time , Joseph Liss ND , he was a Traditional Naturopath and chiropractor who happened to be the go to guy on the north side of Chicago for those people into natural healing and healthy vegetarian diet . The sign on the door of his health food store read , “Enter not as a customer but as a friend and we will bestow health without end”. Doc gave consultations by appointment in the back. And so it was. He taught me Naturopathy, in return I bagged dried fruit and ran errands made deliveries waited on customers mopped floors stocked shelves but mostly I learned .
    Came a point in my learning where I came to believe with persistence and determination I could live and be healthy and discover a painless harmless alternative to electric shock treatment so no human being would ever have to undergo this barbaric treatment ever again. I experimented on myself with everything in that store according to the principals Doc taught me. By the way for him to guide a cancer patient to cure was a routine event back in those days . I’m 68 years old now and those pseudo science free principals I learned are as true today as they were then and as they will be in the future. Doc after 60 years of practice was like Albert Einstein in his understanding the real relativity of nutrition , lifestyle and heredity on a persons health and how to regain it if it has become lost . Of course following the principal of first do no harm.
    I succeeded in 1979 in an experiment on myself to discover in my estimation a harmless substitute for ECT. It consisted of a mixed mineral bath , hot, preceded by a dose of 1200 mg. of Niacin ,the bath entered once red blotches accompanied by itching occurred on the surface of the skin . A foot long Swedish loofa at the ready in the tub to rub the body with to sooth the itching which actually felt quite pleasurable. A photo taken of where the blood did not come to the surface could be used as a guide to where bodywork at another time might prove helpful . Upon signs of an extreme state which included inability to sleep and hearing voices , this type of a bath with total immersion included allowed me to fall asleep in the tub and awaken feeling rested with no anxiety and no voices for quite some time and I could resume my life without being forced within another day into a mental institution . And it was all done at home . Later I thought if others ever used this system it might be safer to wear an inflatable collar after full immersion just to avoid the remote possibility of drowning.
    Also there is a herbal combination of 9 herbs that made into an extract will stop voices and ease extreme states . Plus the addition of a customized diet and the drinking 32 oz. of freshly made raw mostly green vegetable juices a day to alkaline the system helps naturally to calm the mind. In my naivety I tried to convince the NIMH and even some psychiatrist during a conference call . The NIMH sent me a 30 page study and “proof” that niacin has in no way any usefulness in treating what they call mental illnesses . Total ignorant pseudo science. The psychiatrist at a 3 way conference call with the psychiatrist , a homeopath , and me presenting my findings Ended with the psychiatrist saying maybe it could work but I don’t believe there any money to be made with this method. I’ve written about it before here at MIA and have only got like one positive show of interest by one individual. I did learn of niacin from a book by Hoffer on ortho molecular vitamin approaches often saying to use nicinimide because of the itching . My innovation is to use the itching for a positive result with niacin combined with the mixed mineral bath I used the not original green version of a product called Batherapy as the mixed minerals for the bath . I’m sure I could find somewhat even better mixture . It is wonderful to have found that a hot mixed mineral bath preceded by the intake of niacin could produce such an enhanced beneficial effect for those that have need and choose to try it as they find themselves entering an extreme state fearful they might wind up in a mental hospital being able to avoid that outcome with a first do no harm strategy.
    It may be safe to use up to 3000mg of niacin a day as I have subsequently read that tortured Canadian prisoners of war that took this much niacin daily were able to overcome the trauma of being in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. Those former prisoners that did not take the niacin did not recover from the trauma to be able to live a full life . This was in a book about Niacin by more recent researchers . I moved recently and many of my books are still unpacked in boxes.
    It also saddens that people have trouble believing differently educated people especially survivors like me with officially only a high school education and yet able to come up with solutions better then a whole university or hospital full of so called academics. Such is the reality of life. I had to say all this as my real way to stop electric shock . But can you all pick up on it, and figure how to spread it free so people can have another option or tool to help themselves to avoid being force shocked . Men should be protecting women and children not torturing them . To hell with psychiatry.
    When I was home with my parents after they had signed me up while still in mental hospital without my knowledge or even consulting me ,for the shock treatments , soon after I saw an ad in the newspaper for a job setting up tents for a traveling carnival . I told my folks I was going to apply.I was hired . My dad asked me if there was anything he could do to make me decide not to go . I said yes one thing, fill in all the gaps in my memory from the electric shock . He hadn’t before but now agreed to try as best he could and it helped me recover some of my past. A couple years later still angry I took a hundred dollars in silver dollars my dad had stashed in a closet and used the money to finance an escape from Chicago and flew without telling my parents to California to try and start a new life . I landed in skid row in Los Angeles and worked for a while in the skid row ELRAY HOTEL as a hotel clerk . Things are much better now and before he died my dad apologized to me on his own for unjustly signing for me to get shock treatments which he now knew should never of happened. I’m able to help people if they believe me .

  9. Bonnie, the work you do is so valuable. You “get it”, having listened and read and researched and understood what “ECT” does to its victims in terms of fear, damage, trauma, and the negative impact it has on all relationships and career aspirations. It is a human rights violation, an assault aimed at our mothers, wives, and grandmothers.

    I was appalled to notice that the ONE DAY accreditation (with exam) course for ECT
    developed for psychiatrists, other physicians, and nurses involved in the administration of ECT took place on May 16, 2015, the day of the international protests against ECT. The literature stated that ECT has remained a “crucial part of the psychiatrist’s ‘armamentarium’ in the treatment of major mental illness”. Other statements spoke of the “refinements”in
    “treatment” techniques. And after 8 hours, presto bingo, including an EXAM, the participant is certified ( certifiable seems a better word since anyone promoting and administering this torture should be locked up). It was interesting to note that good old Richard D. Weiner, the same individual pitching ECT to the FDA in 2011, and the same fellow that designed shock machines and worked for Somatics and Mecta, spoke on “ECT Effects and their MANAGEMENT”. I wonder what methods hecsuggested” to “manage” amnesia, cognitive dysfunction, personality changes, blunted emotions, petichial hemorrhages, hematomas, status epilepticus, death , or brain damage. Am I looking at cognitive dissonance here?

    Interesting to note is the following statement about this accreditation : ” However, as a sponsor of the “course”, the Henry Ford Health Centre and the International Society for ECT and Neurostimulation do NOT certify the competency of any individual.” Big shock there…
    I continue to be morally outraged by the promotion of shock by David Healy, Eddie Shorter, and any other “doctor” who chooses to ignore the misery, suffering, and damage this barbaric bogus “medical” procedure
    inflicts on vulnerable individuals already suffering and often drug damaged and “misdiagnosed” with a lifetime “brain disease” by the ghouls who are “treating them”.
    Accreditation to “practice ECT “(aka TBI/ electrical lobotomy) should be granted only to those “doctors” who have undergone 10-12 “therapeutic” and “benign” ECT themselves. See, it’s SAFE! I know this from personal experience.

  10. Thank you Bonnie for this moving and very accurate account of what memory loss is actually like. The feminist literary world has been waiting for a book like this. I can’t wait to buy it when it is finished. I had ECT for two weeks in the 1980s and I forgot exactly where I was, which was an old Victorian psychiatric building, and I actually felt good for a few hours after each session. Then the horrors crept up on me and I realized I was in that institution far away from my son and my husband was with me too. He had the most horrific adverse reactions to the anesthetic and I watched in horror because I was allowed in the recovery room when he came round. There was also a woman who was crouching on all fours on her recovery bed. The nurses told our then psychiatrist that shock wasn’t helping my husband with his mania, brought about by a car accident, but he wouldn’t listen. I don’t know to what extent my memory has been affected or exactly how my husband’s memory was affected also. There are gaps in my memory.

    I love this book and will inform feminist groups here in the UK about it when it is published. Thank you so much!