Are You Shocked That I Got Shocked?


I’m still shocked…

that I had the guts to request ECT, otherwise known as electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock.  (Yeah, I like the term “electroshock” best…NOT!)  There was nothing other than pure desperation that drove me to do something so frightening and controversial.

It was January of 2009.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years earlier, and I was teetering on the edge of sanity.  Then my father died.  If you read the previous post “Stigma – Part Two” you know that my relationship with my father was a close one, and I loved him unreservedly.  His health had been failing for several years before he passed away, but each time it seemed that when he reached his end, he’d make a miraculous recovery.  No matter how many remarkable recoveries Dad made, I knew that it was inevitable that I’d lose him forever.  I had been dreading his death every day since he became frail in his seventies.

Dad never liked to talk about death, unlike me.  I enjoyed discussing death, generally speaking, that is, and especially the afterlife.  I considered Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a pioneer in near-death studies (On Death and Dying) and Dr. Raymond Moody (Life After Life which has sold 12 million copies to date) to be among my favorite authors.  Dad, an avid reader, wouldn’t allow me to discuss either of those books in his presence.

When I got the phone call that Dad died exactly the way he had feared: alone in a mediocre assisted living center, I became catatonic.  My depression plummeted into depths it had never reached before.

Before Dad died and before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I faced the death of another very close relative, my Granny. I fell into a clinical depression after she died, but I was able to function more or less.  Not so with my father.  When he died I asked to go to C.H.O.M.P., the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. C.H.O.M.P. had a locked-down mental health unit euphemistically called the “Garden Pavilion”.  When I was hospitalized there, my depression was so severe that I experienced suicidal ideations – I had no specific plan, but I felt utterly devoid of hope.

Prior to this hospitalization, I demonstrated that I was medication-resistant, meaning I tried a plethora of mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants and none of those medications helped lift my depression.

At C.H.O.M.P. I was given the option which psychiatrists offer to their medication-resistant patients: electroconvulsive treatments, a.k.a. E.C.T., in which seizures are electrically induced in patients who are given anesthesia and a muscle relaxant.

My first association with E.C.T., along with many in our society, was a photo of Jack Nicholson’s character receiving it in the Academy Award-winning film “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  I never read Ken Kesey’s book or saw Milos Forman’s entire movie, but I had a very negative impression from viewing that disturbing image of Nicholson’s grimace while undergoing E.C.T.

In my late twenties after Granny died and I suffered clinical depression, I found a beautifully written book titled Undercurrents in which the author, psychologist Dr. Martha Manning, fell into a depression so deep that she opted for E.C.T.  The treatments helped her enormously, and while she struggled after the procedures with fatigue and short-term memory loss, she made it clear that it was the right, lifesaving choice for her.

I was affected profoundly by Undercurrents and when I began my freelance writing career, I contacted Dr. Manning for an interview.  I included her quote in my article “Shades of Gray” which examined the connection between depression, women and exercise for Fit magazine.  It was an honor to interview her. I kept our topics to exercise and depression only, for at that point I never imagined I would need, let alone demand, E.C.T.

When E.C.T. was presented to me as a viable way to recover, I vaguely remembered Dr. Manning’s book. Without any hesitation I told the psychiatrist on duty, “Do it.”  I didn’t care about its risks; I didn’t care about anything. To say I felt desperate was a massive understatement.  I was told by my psychiatrist Dr. C. that I would have unilateral rather than bilateral E.C.T., which meant that the electrodes used to stimulate my brain would be placed on one side of my head instead of both sides (bilateral).  This meant fewer side effects, most notably less memory loss.

The E.C.T. treatments started promptly at the grisly hour of 6:00 a.m. in the Short Stay Unit which used for outpatient procedures and E.C.T.  I was rolled up to the floor above the Garden Pavilion in a padded gurney by B., a compassionate longtime hospital aide.  If I had to be taken up to E.C.T. by anyone, B. had the perfect kind of personality for the job.

After B. dropped me off in a small, curtained room, I was prepped by a friendly nurse who immediately saw how down and scared I was and she did her best to set me at ease.  She started the I.V. line that would be used to inject me with general anesthesia.  I’ve never had a problem with needles or injections, so that didn’t faze me one bit.  I was looking forward to oblivion very much, thank you.

At 6:10 a.m. in walked Dr. C. holding a big coffee mug, accompanied by an extremely handsome anesthesiologist.  (Even though I was in a depression-induced stupor, I was able to notice physical beauty.)  Dr. C. gently placed several electrodes on my scalp and temple….it was no big deal.  A small, clear gas mask was placed over my nose and I remember finally being able to relax.

I wasn’t scared at that point; I felt like I was being taken care of and because I genuinely liked the staff surrounding me that went a long way in diminishing my anxiety.  The anesthesiologist said “Okay, Dyane. I want you to count backwards from 10”, which I started to do and when I reached “5”, boom!  I was fast-asleep.  I didn’t feel a thing. There was no pain.  Not during, and not afterwards.

When I woke up within the hour, I was a little groggy, but then I was completely coherent within about ten minutes. That surprised me. I was fed a hot breakfast I had selected beforehand, and I had the appetite to eat most of it. My short-term memory loss was minimal. While I was still heartbroken over the loss of my father, I definitely felt better than I had before I went under, and with each treatment I felt a little better.  After my week at the hospital I had additional treatments as an outpatient.

I firmly believe that E.C.T. saved my life, and it was completely worth it.  I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would also recommend it to others who feel suicidal, who have been medication-resistant, and who need to function as quickly as possible, i.e. a mother with young children or the breadwinner of the family.  My health insurance covered most of the procedures’ cost, and I was able to arrange an extended payment plan for the remaining balance.

Since I had the treatments in 2009, I have learned of another procedure used to treat major depression called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or T.M.S. Wikipedia defines T.M.S. as a “noninvasive method to cause depolarization in the neurons of the brain. T.M.S. uses electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents” and no anesthesia is required.  Last month I read an entire book about a woman experience with T.M.S. healing her depression after she had made a suicide attempt, been hospitalized and tried many medications to no avail.  (3000 Pulses Later by Martha Rhodes); I’ll be reviewing this book soon. I liked her memoir very much, but I disagreed with the one-sided depiction of E.C.T.

One important distinction between T.M.S. and E.C.T. (which have comparable success rates) is that with T.M.S. one must commit to almost daily procedures for up to six weeks.  The good news  is that the patient can drive back and forth to treatment unlike with E.C.T., in which a ride must be arranged due to the anesthesia  However, T.M.S. does not usually start working until midway through the four-to-six-week series.  E.C.T. can cause the depression to remit much sooner than that timeframe,  like it did with me.

Depending on one’s situation, it would be most worthwhile to closely examine both E.C.T. and T.M.S. pros and cons before undertaking either treatment.  E.C.T. is an enormous commitment and it requires a major leap of faith.  It’s expensive, even with health insurance.  (T.M.S. can be costly as well.) Moreover, there are risks when undergoing any kind of anesthesia, or when subjecting oneself to potential memory loss.  But if it’s between life or death, I can unequivocally state that doing E.C.T. was the best decision I ever made.


36 thoughts on “Are You Shocked That I Got Shocked?

  1. I am in the middle of ECT and appreciate reading your experience. I don’t feel like it’s working for me. We’ve gone back and forth between unilateral and bilateral. The side effects have been bad. I am very disappointed not to see better results.

  2. Hey bipolaronfire…I am so sorry. I was just reading yourblog and will email you tonight – I have some thoughts for you. I am on my elliptical right now… will check out more of your blot.

  3. Thank you for this post, I have treatment resistant bipolar disorder and have been considering ECT as a treatment option, should I become depressed severely enough to warrant hospitalization again (for the 4th time). I am always looking for personal stories related to ECT to give me a better understanding and perspective. Thanks again!

  4. Sarah, thank you so much for your comment. Have you ever tried an MAOI? I will try emailing you offlist – I hope it works as I am new to WordPress!!!! Please let me know if you don’t hear from me…thanks again, Dyane

  5. Pingback: Bipolar Books I Recommend – I Mean Books About Bipolar! ;) Part One | Birth of a New Brain

  6. Really great post – think it’s important to hear what it’s like for real people having had the treatment for anyone considering if they would want it or not. Helps me get a better understanding as a student nurse too.

    • Thanks a million for your kind comment, Originalribernababy. I am impressed you are a student nurse, and that makes me feel great that your reading this post gives you an idea of what ECT can be like. I am thankful every day that I had a positive experience. Good luck with your training, and once again, thanks from the bottom of my heart (and top of my brain 😉 for taking time to write.

  7. Hi Dyane,

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience as it relates to your ECT treatments.

    I came upon your post by way of your commentary on Doc Sana’s blog site.

    I am extremely happy for you knowing that you’ve not only found a therapy that’s proven efficacious for you but the fact that you did not encounter any potential serious side-effects.

    I, as a support person of some 5 decades, and as you already know from your other trials that there simply are no guarantees as to who will or will not respond to any given treatment and/or encounter potential serious side-effects. Many years ago I coined a phrase applicable to patients suffering from chronic and acute depression, “The Trial and Error Approach to Wellness.” While this phrase is still applicable at the moment, advances both in treatment options and understanding (scanning) of the brain for electro-chemical and circuit changes are advancing.

    I might debate with you your definition of success rates which are not important at this moment as is the fact that ECT is an available treatment option covered by most all health insurance companies whereas rTMS is spotty at best. This fact is a major deterrent to most patients and hindrance to my advocacy to consider the least invasive therapies first along with the least potential of serious side-effects.

    I also compliment the realities of your presentation especially as to the procedures thereby hopefully educating and overcoming the disturbing and theatrical presentation of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” although early on the procedure and scene were somewhat accurate.

    I wish you continued wellness and all the good you’d wish for yourself.


    Joyce and Herbert Stein
    1008 Trailmore Lane
    Weston, FL 33326-2816
    (954) 349-8733

    • Dear Herb, forgive me for not responding to your kind and encouraging comment earlier than now. I really appreciate your taking the time to write a comprehensive reply. I hope you don’t mind that I posted all your contact information here – if you wish for me to remove anything, please let me know. I’m new to WordPress so it might take me a bit to figure it out. I commend you for being a support person for over 50 years! You are an angel in my book! I’m not great with citing success rate statistics (statistics of any kind have never have been my strong point) so I appreciate your pointing out that my stats could be off. If you come across anything of interest in that area, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I’ll check out your blog when I get a chance as well! Take care and I send you my warmest wishes. Dyane

      • Dear Dyane,

        No need to delete our personal information. I list that information for several specific reasons, one of which is to share information and assist anyone as it relates to a specific treatment option of which I’ve garnered significant experiences, research, information and collaborations from the perspective of a support person through these many years. Another reason is the fact my fingers no longer type as well as they once did and it certainly is easier for me to chat by telephone. Lastly, I’ve been a long-time participant to various message forums and along the way I’ve tended to gather a cadre of miscreants (trolls) who rather than debate issues would choose to denigrate and name call my efforts and advocacy by way of their anonymity and/or subterfuge by impersonation. In this way anyone questioning my contributions can more easily contact me in terms of validation and/or authenticity.

        While on the subject of rTMS you might find the following article of interest as I also point out to you that I have at one time or another collaborated with any number of these researchers:

        And thank you for the reply.

        Lastly, there is another young woman writer who I have followed for a number years knowledgeably writing about her bipolar issues. You might want to peek at her offering:



        Joyce and Herbert Stein

        1008 Trailmore Lane

        Weston, FL 33326-2816

        (954) 349-8733

  8. Pingback: Our Brains Are Tougher Than We Think | Birth of a New Brain

  9. Pingback: ECT: Are You Shocked That She Got Shocked? - black dog pie: a magazine on depression and bipolar

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so frankly–I find it really amazing that you are willing to share this–very brave! Thanks again. So many people struggle with some of the issues you mention or have loved ones who do. By the by, if you’re interested, I nominated you for a Liebster award on

    • Hi Emily! (“Emily” one of my favorite names. Have you read L.M. Montgomery’s “Emily” series?)

      You are so kind in your reply – thank you for what you wrote. You made my day both with your comment and the nomination! While I’m super-honored, I’ve been given two of them to date. I feel satisfied (more than satisfied!)) with that amount, so please pass my “liebe” along if you like. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in any way. Believe me, I like getting nominated for awards, hee hee!

      Once again, thanks from the bottom of my heart, and have a great day, Emily! :))))

  11. Wow that is an amazing story. So glad that it worked well for you Dy. Before I was prescribed seroquel, when I was on antidepressants and dexamphetamine and I was living with the daily suicidal thoughts, i often wondered about ECT. I never discussed it with the psychs. But once on seroquel, with the suicidal thoughts abated, I no longer needed to consider ECT. I can understand why you chose the quicker route of ECT when meds failed. Thanks for sharing your amazing story.
    cheers, Glenn

    • Thank you Glenn!!!! Once again I am so thankful to our tiny pills of quetiapine for helping us stay firmly entrenched in the land of the living!!! Your kind, thoughtful comment brought me smiles as usual! xoxo Dy

    • Thank you so much for reblogging this, dear Amy! Thinking of you today and sending you a big hug! I miss seeing your posts and hope you are doing okay. Something kind of weird has been in the air for me and some of my fellow blogging friends; we’re having tough weeks. I hope that is *not* the case for you. Take care and looking forward to reading your next blog post with bated (and of course fresh & minty!) breath! 🙂 ((hugs))) from your fan, Dyane

      • I love that: “A break from my bipolar self” – love it. Can I take a permanent break from mine! 😉 Seriously! you know how I feel about it! No pressure….just be back when the time is right. I too have been up & down lately, just wanting a happy medium. And with that beautiful, talented Amy, I’m gonna go work out on my elliptical! I know you’ll be proud of me!

  12. Amy,
    Like you, I choose ECT when I reached the bottom with nothing left inside me. I’ve had over 20 treatments in the last 13 years, ECT works so quickly to give you some light at end of tunnel. As the treatments continue, usually around the 6th treatment I’m smiling again, seeing pieces my old self. I know I can walk on my own feet. I had many Bilateral treatments and no doubt is causes more short term memory loss. The key difference is Unilateral does not give the punch that Bilateral does. It may require more treatments. I didn’t mind because the memory loss was minimal. I would recommend ECT to anyone who is at the end of the dark road. Where you have the treatment can make a huge difference in your experience. The first hospital was like a crank them out kind of place. I had two treatments and left. It’s important to feel comfortable with the staff and the treatment. I’ve done both in-house and out-patient. I like out-patient however the risk suicide is high in the beginning, I stay in-house for at least the first week. Everyone’s brain is different and so is the amount of time it takes to notice a difference. I can usually see some light around 6 treatments. This last time I had Unilateral treatments. There was a noticeable difference in the lack memory loss. I would like to emphasis when I talk about memory loss, its short term memory loss. An example you may not remember what you did the morning of treatment or the afternoon of the treatment. I’ll be very honest, the more treatments you have over time the more memory loss however is not like Dementia. I had an opportunity to participate in a trial for the Trans Cranial, the time comment turned me off and it was not approved by FDA. I have participated in many studies but when you’re suicidal it’s not the time to jump into a trial of an unproven treatment. I have not keep up with the Trans Cranial to see when/if has received FDA approval.

    Knowing I have a life long disease there are times I’ve had to make tough decisions, like ECT and the Vagus Nerve Stimulator implanted in my chest. I have to dig very deep and know that I want life not death. In 2013 I had a break,I was seeing people, scary people in the wallpaper, the walls were talking to me, I thought people were around the corner waiting for me to look away so they could grab be. I am responsible for part of the severity, I went off my Xanax cold turkey. You cannot do that. By the second day I was on the worst acid trip. I called my doctor who was in Vietnam and said I’m fucked up on acid like many soldiers, I’m tripping good. He has been my doctor for 16 years so there is no holding back, What the fuck are you doing. Don’t make the mistake I’ve made in playing doctor. Amy is right on point, going to the GYN or Dentist is worse than ECT. If your at the end or find yourself spiraling to the end, you have to decide you want life. If you do ECT is the quickest way to see the light at the end of tunnel. It’s not a one stop shop, it does not cure, it provides relief from the Black Dog.
    Thank you Amy for the post, I’ve had a draft for weeks on the subject. If anyone has questions, Amy is a wonderful person, she gives of herself in an honest no BS way. I also hold my hand out to anyone who needs support or someone to listen.

    • Thank you, Looking for the Light, for such an insightful comment!

      Unilateral ECT, what I had done the first time, did (to my surprise) have that “punch” you speak of. I think I was just lucky in that case. And yes, bilateral definitely caused more short-term memory loss and while it sucked, the results were more than worth it.

      Ah. So much we’ve been through….how much we’ve suffered, eh? No one deserves it.

      Anyway… you know by now, Amy gave me the honor of reblogging this post I wrote about my experience getting ECT. You brought up some excellent points, including how it’s not a cure but it’s the “quickest way to see the light” and I really like how you phrased that. It’s true!

      So thanks again for stopping by, and I send you my absolute best! Take care!!!
      Dyane 🙂

      P.S. Have you read the news about this new depression treatment? I’m curious about it, but I am also wondering how available it is and how costly it is! :0 It’s good to know it exists, and if you read the article they mention bipolar disorder in addition to depression.

      New treatment for depression shows immediate results | Harvard Gazette

      • The treatment is still in the study phase, no telling how long they will study before going to the FDA for approval. I don’t pay that much attention new drugs on the market since I’m as stable as I get. It’s when the overwhelming stress and lack of sleep cause me to fall off the tracks. Just like now, I received a Lyme diagnosis last week and seeing two other doctors and tons of test. That get’s me stressed. If it becomes to much I take an extra Xanax to calm me down. Have a great day.

      • ***So*** sorry to hear about the lyme diagnosis, Looking for the Light! Do what you need to do to calm down when things get too intense. Xanax helped me a great deal (until I allowed myself to get addicted to it! :() Please take extra good care of yourself while you are under all this additional stress with the doctors, etc.!

  13. I had 16 shock treatments over a 6 month period of time. My depression did lift but it was a grueling 6 months. Every time I had a shock treatment I would experience memory loss and I was also falling asleep at work because of the treatment. Luckily, I had a door to my office. I would find myself zonked out on my desk from time to time and unable to remember what I had been working on. Nobody every mentioned it, so I’m thinking nobody ever walked in when that happened. Also, I have experienced some permanent memory loss and I had to relearn certain things such as how to drive to places I had forgotten to get to and how to cook some of my favorite dishes that I cooked without using recipes before I had ECT.

    • Hi Andrea! I am so sorry it has been such a tough time for you over the 6 months. Re: memory loss – I was very doubtful that memory loss would be restored, but my psychiatrist told me adamantly that memory loss will be restored, usually within 6 months. So please, if possible, don’t give up all hope!

      I also heard that same statistic from a prominent psychiatrist on a webcast called “The Bipolar Panel Project” which is on YouTube; viewers were able to ask him questions and my question was about memory loss & the six-month timeframe. He said the same thing as my doctor.

      I hope with all my heart that you recall how to cook your favorite dishes without the recipes soon! Obviously one size does not fit all with ECT – I have heard horror stories, mixed experiences, and only positive experiences. In any case, I am glad that your depression lifted.

      I did just learn about an interesting new method to help with depression that I want to share with you – I don’t know how readily available it is and/or will be, but just in case here’s the link below, which I believe you will have to cut and paste into your browser. It’s definitely worth a look. I was notified about this modality by the International Bipolar Foundation’s Facebook newsfeed.

      I send you my very best! Take care, Andrea!

      New treatment for depression shows immediate results | Harvard Gazette

  14. Dear Dy, not only am I not shocked that you were shocked, but I am grateful that the shock got you well enough to so share that experience with us 🙂
    All the best then, light and love, Marie

    • Hello Marie & thanks so much for your kind comment and for the follow – I am honored! Your comment made me smile. I’ll check out your blog more closely over the weekend as I’ll have time to chill out. I am so thankful to have followers like you who take a moment to say hi, give encouragement, compassion and love. It is good medicine!!! :))))

      take care and have a wonderful weekend – happy August! xo, Dy

    • I want you to have a ginormous heap of hope. I am SO GLAD you found the post worthwhile; I’m honored!!! “Edison’s Medicine” (I first heard that term used in a Woody Allen movie of all things: “Blue Jasmine”) can do wonders.

      I want you to feel better!!!! I think it’s really good you’re going to try other meds first, & just know that you could consider ECT if those don’t work the way you want them to – there’s also transcranial magnetic stimulation. Have you read anything abut that?

      • Keep us posted, eh? “Fryane” is truly the perfect name for me, isn’t it? I’m forever grateful to your noggin for cooking up my moniker for a Stephen Fry & ECT fan rolled into one electrified, chocolately Tootsie Roll of goodness!

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