My Shock Survivor Story

Corinna West
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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.”

7 COMMENTS

  1. Corinna,

    Thanks for your story. I know it’s painful for you to retell it, but please don’t stop, especially around people who’ve never heard one like it. It was because of people like you that I managed to dodge the bullet of “treatment” years ago. Like you, I innocently thought I should be able trust educated psychiatrists to know what was best for me and give me some good advice. Fortunately it took only one consult for me to realize the guy really didn’t have any idea what my problem was, and just wanted to shut me up — which reminded me of stories I’d read like yours. So I thanked him politely and left, and my family and I toughed it out by ourselves with love, patience and a little common sense. Keep up your good work. Thanks to the Internet, the word about psychiatric “treatment” is really getting around these days, and you’re helping!

    Best regards,
    Mary Newton

  2. Corinna,

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    When I was in the psych hospital the doctor recommended me to get ECT, and luckily I already knew everything there is to know about it, so it was easy to refuse. My father on the other hand was not so lucky; he got a full course of ECT treatments that severe damaged his memory and ability to think clearly.

    What you say about the money in ECT is totally right. A nurse at the hospital I was at admitted to me that the doctors tried to push ECT on everyone possible because they could make so much money off insurers by giving it. It’s crime writ large; and the psychiatrists pushing it in this way should be imprisoned.

  3. Thank-you for sharing your story, seeking to inform and warn others, even when you still experience trauma in just talking about this brutal experience.
    What happened to you is so frightening bc it reflects the very common experience of people (usually women) with stressors and life issues and reasons for their emotional distress being ignorantly prescribed drugs that worsen their state, which spirals into more drugs and a label of so-called treatment resistance, which justifies shock, which is misrepresented and lied about, not presented as “brain injury as treatment for what bothers you or psych drugs have created”.
    You, like so many, vulnerable, desperate, made the mistake of “trusting” these quacks/lunatics/idiots/
    psychopaths and the medical industry. And it continues- misinformation and outright lies straight to you on the Q and A with NIHM and Sarah Lisanby. Only there were no answers or responses in relation to those victims addressing their brain damage and shattered lives.

    You are so lucky your mom intervened to save you and help you move to a place of recovery. Many people were not so fortunate.

    Someone needs to stand outside shock hospitals and clinics handing out the leaflets from Dr. Breggin’s website, “truly” informing people what Shock is and does to people.
    The fact “well-respected” medical “doctors” like David Healy advocate for this “procedure” and administer it to living, breathing human beings given the thousands of stories of injury, despair, ruined lives, and suicide caused by ECT is beyond belief.

  4. So good that your mum stepped in and protected you.

    Thanks for coming in on this issue when so many seem to be staying away from it.

    ECT is barbaric – while in hospital and forcibly “medicated” [read drugged with psycho-active substances that had horrible effects on me] I was terrified that they’d force me into ECT if I didn’t get better quick.

    I saw the others who’d had this torture, they were passive, had no memory and were totally zombified. So sad that this could be done to human beings. I complied with the drugs despite the side effects and eventually escaped. I wonder whether I would have been able to had ECT been forced on me.

    Seeing the apparent resurgence of ECT in the US is alarming and I am hoping it is not because of the example Australia has set – we do seem to be a world leader in forced ECT.

    The victims I have seen here have been women until the recent case of GD (?) in Melbourne who at last count had been tortured with ECT against his and his father’s wishes more than 60 times and had been declared to be dangerous!! Psychiatry!!! Horrendous.

    How do we stop these shocking events?

    (…and it is so great to hear your mum stood by you. Hugs to you both)

    • Thanks, “Kim”! The man in Australia is Garth Daniels. His case was getting some media attention recently. One online source had links to the Australian Health Ministry – whatever it’s called – and I wrote an email protesting this gross human rights violation. There was a video posted of Garth and his Father talking, and I just can’t see Garth being “dangerous”. I think we need to understand that the “Shock Docs” themselves are in fact very mentally unwell, and dishonest persons. Their “transference” – to borrow a favorite psych expression – causes them to label people so they can justify the Electro-Cution Torture (“ECT”) This is a form of scapegoating, and “gaslighting”. And, the Electrocution Torture is not the 1/2 of it, in Garth Daniels case. He’s also been strapped to a bed for weeks at a time. There does seem to be some sort of soul sickness in many humans. Coming out of an Easter weekend, I want to acknowledge the Saving Grace that we psychiatric survivors can be for each other. Considering how long this barbaric practice has been going on, you have to wonder how long the cognitive dissonance of shrinks will continue? Reading Corinna’s story here helps support us all, and it’s part of our healing process. Thanks again….

  5. Thank-you, Corinna! There’s several points in your story that I want to address. First, you say that it’s still very traumatic to talk about some aspects of your story. I can certainly understand THAT! It’s helped me to read about so-called “PTSD”. (I also like thinking about PTSD as both “People That Suffer Distress”, and “Personal Touch Sensory Disorder”.) The harm that was done to you by the ECT is very real, and it’s in your memory. When it comes up, the best way I’ve found is to just let it – to accept it. Acceptance can go a long way towards making the healing easier. So, respecting your experience, AND talking about it here is part of your (and OUR) healing.
    I agree, that those pesky “psychiatric labels” do more harm than good. They are anti-therapeutic, and a source and cause of that dreaded STIGMA that the mental health folks like to jabber about.
    As for the ECT itself, a close friend of mine also was subjected to Electro-Cution Torture. In her case, her Mother was pushing for it, out of her own brainwashed ignorance. The damage is subtle, but it is damage, nevertheless. But, our brains are amazing structures, and healing IS possible. Of course, that flies in the face of the lies of the pseudoscience of biopsychiatry. Thanks to your story here, and the links you provided, I have learned a lot. You’ve helped me. And, when you speak about the “$120,000 that Blue Cross paid…”, you have to wonder, *WHO* can earn a paycheck torturing people!? It’s a strange, messed-up, crazy world we live in, but it’s good to know there are FRIENDS here, who are also
    madinamerica!….LOL Laughter is good medicine!