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.
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.”
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.