77 failed treatments left me feeling hopeless

Image source: http://www.smashinglists.com

My last ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) treatment was in 2002, I felt they did zilch, left me feeling hopeless, helpless and saddled with long-term memory loss. 

To this day, I’m unable to recollect beloved moments such as my wedding day, exciting or extraordinary moments while on vacations, visiting friends, enjoying our marriage and so much more. Bits and pieces have revisited but at a snail’s pace.  Had it not been for the psychiatrist transferring to another hospital, I would have been looking at possibly ECT #78?  She was pro-ECT.


Major depression found me in hospitals during the 1990’s, in fact, it appeared I spent more time meandering the halls of the mental health ward than at home with my husband. I was deemed medication resistant, not improving and ECT was recommended as the ‘ magical’ solution.


It was decided:  Wednesday would be the day. I’ve kept count; it will be #77 this time, one more nightmare procedure producing nil results and I’m once again pessimistic. I have to keep going, plodding along at a snail’s pace – ever so slowly to somehow reach the top of the mountain.

I’ve lost my trust in ECT (electro-convulsive therapy), including most of my long-term memory, but what else is there; what else to do? I should be rebellious, but frankly at times feel “what’s the point to it all”. I’ve been in the hospital this time for one week and told of more ECT’s.

I take a seat in the TV room alone, starting to drift into a point of peace. Strangely, I look forward to “going under” (IV) for these ECT’s, it’s almost indescribable; virtually letting go of your whole being and existing in serene, tranquil waters. That’s where I desire to stay – please let me stay – I don’t want to return – I hate coming back. But, they always wake me up. I begin to sob.

I’ve lost so much…my memory…my life. Why am I undertaking this, why am I going for #77? The doctors, could they have endured this many on themselves? I think not.

Image source: http://www.whiteswanfoundation.org


Tuesday: 10:00 p.m

I am once again reminded nothing to eat or drink after midnight before ECT tomorrow. This helps to prevent vomiting during the procedure. Also, I am to pee prior to the procedure as to prevent ‘accidents’.

Wednesday: 8:00 a.m.  A fitful sleep last night, awake at different intervals praying that I will not wake up from the anesthetic tomorrow.

Nurse Anne pops her head in my room, stating I will be patient #2 going for ECT on the ward, which means an additional one hour delay. I lay back on my unmade bed. I am a tad edgy even though I can recite this procedure in my sleep. Ironic how life is: I am worried about the procedure, yet hope for my life to terminate. Confusing and painful thoughts.

The time has come.

The gurney is waiting outside of my room and I hoist myself as gracefully as I am able to onto it. A pleasant porter arrives, introduces himself as Allan and ensures the top sheet is tucked in around me, also equipped with my med chart. My hands firmly grasp the metal rails of the gurney, and eyes take in the bright fluorescent hallway lights as we make our ride swiftly down the long corridor. I become confused and wonder if the lights are moving or am I? Into the elevator, floor number two is pressed, four floors to go down, a few people in the elevator, glancing down at me.

Floor number two, a long gurney ride to the procedure room; my pdoc is there, some technicians and nurses are also waiting for me. I feel at this point, yelling, “this is enough, I’ve had it”, but I don’t. An IV is started. Not an easy process, due to veins that do not cooperate and only the left arm seems to bring any sort of results. Ouch! This nurse is not gentle and insists on trying twice now on the backside of my hand. Finally, an IV is started – phew!

Next, comes the sensors for recording brain activity; they are positioned on my forehead; other sensors are placed on my chest for heart monitoring with the regular BP cuff around my arm. I’m all wrapped up in wires.

The general anesthesia is given and I am asked to count backward from 100. This is the part where I fall gently backward off a cliff in my mind, into the world where life is no longer filled with melancholy and despair. I would give anything to remain in this place, but aware knowing it’s not reality. Asking, is a life filled with depression a reality?

An electrical current is passed through the brain to cause a controlled seizure, which typically lasts for 20 to 90 seconds. I’m told I awoke in 5 to 10 minutes. The most common side effect is short-term memory loss, which resolves quickly or so they say. My long-term memory was deeply affected also. (ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. It often works when other treatments are unsuccessful.)

Eyes open. I am still alive. Mixed feelings of relief/sadness. This time, I am spared a headache, but at times, this has occurred about later in the day. I am wheeled back to my room and sleep until almost lunchtime. We’ll see if this ECT does the trick.

Hubby visits me and is taken aback, stating he is looking into black, vacant eyes. Discouraged, yet not surprised, #77 had no positive effect on my depression.

Much of the stigma attached to ECT is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones, and other serious side effects.

The ECT procedure itself is painless.

Image source: http://www.cchrint.org


People have often asked why I would have granted so many ECT’s. A logical question, and pretty much none of their business, however, unless you were existing in my shoes and continually being reassured by psychiatrists that this is the only treatment left for my medication resistant depression, then what option did I have?

An example I use is: If I were a cancer patient, who had experienced many chemo treatments, wasn’t showing any improvement but still encouraged by doctors to continue – would I carry on? In all probability, yes.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.  In retrospect, I could have fought more, stood up for myself – but I was just too ill. Depression claimed my thought processes, self-confidence, and self-esteem to stand up to doctors and ask questions. Family members should have probed also, however, in defense of them; they thought the doctors knew what was best.  I would have loved to have access to the internet to educate myself on ECT’s.


ECT has been beneficial to many people. Don’t be dissuaded by my experiences. Most people only undergo 6 to 10 treatments.

Image source: asserttrue.blogspot.com

Written & copyrighted by Deb McCarthy/2016 (originally posted on nuime.com https://niume.com/post/65423)

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I am a Mental Health Advocate for mental illness Stigma. In 2007, I created the "Living in Stigma" blog, with the purpose and anticipation of educating people about mental illness. Depression is part of this illness, which intertwines with those struggling with PTSD, chronic pain, and other invisible illnesses. I am a chronic migraine sufferer myself, and a sexual and emotional abuse survivor. My passions are writing, poetry, and art. All abuse Survivors are also Warriors.

7 thoughts on “77 failed treatments left me feeling hopeless”

  1. I’m amazed that you endured so MANY rounds of ECT. I totally understand why you’d go for this treatment, as depression, especially, when resistant to medication, is like you are not living, you just exist in a dark passage that leads to nowhere. So anything! we take.

    I have found that meditating to guided meditations on youtube help me a lot. When I start feeling depressed, ( I have Bipolar and Borderline), so I get depressed easily, but then I do my best to meditate, as it takes you to that place where you want to be (if your depression at the time isn’t too severe) – that place of nothingness, where the pain seems to go, even if only for a while. x x
    You are very brave to have continued this far!


  2. I’m sad and sorry you endured so much and haven’t experienced relief. Treatment resistant depression is a nightmare, I know. I’m currently in the process of backing off a high dose of Effexor, but I don’t know what will come next. I’m kind of interested in what I read about ketamine. Have you tried that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words. ECTs proved useless, and yes, I’ve been on Effexor along with many other cocktails of meds. I’ve never tried ketamine. Right now I’m finding that my main problem isn’t so much depression, but the chronic pain from migraines that lead to depression. Talk therapy will have to pull me through this. Keep strong, depression is the pits. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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