Coming Out of the Closet On ECT

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Last night I read a Facebook post from a sweet guy I hadn’t spoken to in over forty years. He was reaching out to ask for help or at least camaraderie in his battle with depression.  

 I thought, “Really”? Him? He always seemed so cheery and upbeat as a youngster.”

 But, so had I… until I didn’t.

Nine years ago depression hit me hard. I think (but I’m not sure) I made it out of bed everyday. In photographs, I sometimes look happy, even normal. I had wonderful friends who visited when I could only make it to the rocking chair in my bedroom. I cried… a lot!  I never wanted to end it all but, I would have been happy to have slipped away as long as it wouldn’t have scarred my husband and children. It was physically painful just to breathe, talk and, somehow go to the market, cook and eat as well.

Mercifully, I don’t remember it all that clearly. I don’t know exactly why my memory fails me but partly it’s because I still have minor memory loss from two rounds of ECT. Just to mention Electroconvulsive Therapy to folks seems to make them cringe. I think most of us dredge up memories of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, in addition, conflate ECT with a lobotomy. Neither association accurately portrays the real procedure.

Having ECT saved me from an unknown duration of deep clinical depression. Waking up after my first round (yes, you are completely sedated for the whole experience) I was instantly aware that...I FELT BETTER. I was able to leave the hospital and have my remaining treatments as an out-patient.  

Following my round of treatments, I continued as a day patient in a behavioral therapy program.  I learned I could use my intellect to examine my emotions and gain some control over how much I let them run the show. I met with a psychiatrist who introduced me to mega doses of Fish Oil as a dietary intervention for depression. I joined a gym and started losing the weight I had gained.  I met two of my dearest friends there.

 In short, I took an active role in regaining my mental health. I couldn’t just give in to the depression. I had to fight back, doing at least one thing a day that got me moving. No one could rescue me as much as they might have loved me and wanted to save me. No one could get in my head. I had to “row to shore”, toward help, with as much determination as I could muster on any particular day.

How I recovered from depression does not apply to everyone. But I am trying to have a conversation about an issue that remains “in the closet” for most of us. Right now we don’t have many effective treatments for depression and other mental illnesses including addiction. But it seems to me that SO many people struggle with these illnesses AND in isolation and it is just plain ridiculous.  We don’t expect those suffering from cancer or diabetes to do the same.

I told my friend not to give up and I told him something of my story. Not much of an offering to someone who is suffering but reaching out is at least a start to not having to suffer alone. Being able to tell your story and know you are not being judged makes all the difference in recovering.

 I am now seven years in recovery. I am so grateful for everyday of good mental health.  

Bryan Voliton