I don’t usually talk about this much because it’s still somewhat traumatizing. I don’t really do advocacy around shock treatment because it still triggers too much stuff for me. But this is a modern day advanced story of medical harms and misinformation, and you should comment on the FDA ruling.
When I was in grad school I had an existential crisis related to my career choice, a bad marriage, drug use, and a spiritual emergency. Of course this earned me a mental health label because that’s the way it works, right? No one ever talked to me about those four root causes, just the “symptoms.” So I got on all kind of psych drugs that made it hard to work and then I started losing jobs and failing out of grad school. I felt hopeless and useless. I made a few suicide attempts and then ended up in the shock jock hospital in town.
I had good insurance so they offered me shock treatment. I googled it and found some NAMI blob about “safe and effective,” and I didn’t research further because I trusted the medical industry in those days. They said, “You’ve tried everything else, right?”
And I had tried at least one of each med category, and that’s everything they had to offer, so I agreed. I didn’t know about peer support and wellness stuff or recovery at that point. I thought I was sick for life and I’d never work again. That really sucked in my opinion which was why I was so bummed out.
So the hospital starting giving me these treatments and I lost the ability to speak. My mom talked to a lawyer and he told her to tell me to withdraw my consent for the treatments. I could still write so she had me scrawl out a note saying I didn’t want any more shock. Then she took me – against medical advice – out of the hospital and out to her farm. She hooked with up with some ladies to do peer support, which turned out to be really neat. And I connected with a warm line, found a dog-grooming apprenticeship, and started dreaming again eventually. See Taking back my dreams. (My poems have gotten better since then…)
But in the meantime I had memory problems, trouble sleeping. problems with confusion, fatigue, and anger issues. All symptoms of a brain injury. I had an IQ test in this time frame and my IQ had gone from 142 to 99.
Eventually I recovered more, got off more meds, and healed up from that ECT-induced brain injury. I started working, building friends, losing weight, getting active, becoming social. When I later got my IQ tested again it was back to my normal. I built my life up again. I don’t think shock permanently damaged me, but it does many people. And it did make my recovery process a lot harder for a long time. The $120,000 that Blue Cross spent sure could have paid for a lot of peer support. I also keep wondering if it has made recovery from my current bike wreck injury a lot harder.
So why did someone feel that going through two years of brain injury “treatment” would help my mental health? Years later I met a mental health tech who used to work at that hospital. She said, “They shocked everyone there. Anyone at all who had good insurance. I don’t think it helped anyone at all. But it sure made a lot of money for doctor.”