In Her Own Words
A Shock Therapy Survivor
By Colin Taufer
In my last article I compared the brain damage caused by shock therapy and the brutal helmet to helmet collisions of American football. Both the patient and the player are left with short and long term symptoms such as memory loss, confusions and progressive dementia. Unfortunately, in the case of the shock patients, these detrimental symptoms are seen as the “cures” for whatever ails them. The patient’s fogged memory and impaired reasoning are seen by the psychiatrist as improvements. Dull the patient’s cognitive reasoning and emotional life force with enough shocks and convulsions and that which ailed them can no longer be felt, contemplated or pondered. The side-effect of this “cure” is that life itself is no longer felt, contemplated or pondered.
I received a lot of great feedback from readers about this article. One of those who wrote in offered a unique perspective to shock therapy, also known as ECT (electroconvulsive “therapy”). Her name is Julie Greene. She is an ECT survivor and an avid blogger on human rights. Her mission, in her own words, is to joyfully expose psychiatry.
Julie was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about her personal experience with ECT. What she had to say was frank, articulate and insightful.
Hi Colin, First of all, thanks for sending these questions. I am always amazed at the questions that journalists ask me because they seem to reflect much inquisitive curiosity that I find delightful. Journalists ask witty questions that indicate their level of insight into the topic. The psychiatrists never asked me very intelligent or interesting questions. Instead, their questions were loaded, seeming to lead me to some dead end, or they reflected some agenda on their part. Often they attempted to trick me into admitting things. It felt like a cruel game.
Years after receiving ECT, you are advocating against the practice. Why?
I’d say after my ECT in 1996 I had no clue that the aftereffect, specifically long term, persistent intermittent confusion was a result of the ECT. I may, in the back of my mind, have known it, but since I was in so much denial and they were not admitting it to me, I never put two and two together for a very long time. Add to that the fact that the confusion itself blurred my thinking ability and in effect, clouded my memory of the ECT itself. It was akin to the spellbinding effect of drugs as described by Dr. Peter Breggin. This is why hindsight is so important.
Now I know that the ECT was severely disabling to me. Prior to ECT I had a job. I stopped working because of unfair working conditions. At the time, many of the other workers were also quitting. I was discouraged and took a break. I know now that the choice to give me ECT was not because I was a “difficult to treat” case of severe depression. I was depressed, true, but the severity was not the depression I had, but the case of Revolving Door Syndrome. I believe that’s what they were, in effect, treating. I cannot say electroshock ever has a positive effect on Revolving Door Syndrome unless it kills the patient dead. That would have gotten me out of their hair. Almost all patients who are electroshocked either never recover, or the effects cripple the patients and the rehab is far more lengthy than anyone wants to admit.
How would you describe the experience of receiving ECT?
I think each patient remembers it differently. I remember many of the details. If you read my document you can see I recall the words of the anesthesiologist, the colors of the rug in the waiting room, the words of the nurse afterward, the orange juice, and being wheeled out of there back to the unit. I also remember washing the “goo” out of my hair.
How did you feel physically after receiving ECT?
I had a terrible headache. After a few times I had that headache consistently, so from what I recall, they had me swallow two Tylenol with a tiny spoonful of water just prior to the electroshock to prevent the headache. I remember that helped. I also recall wanting that drink of water very badly, since I had not had any water since midnight before. I have documented that they were often running so far behind that I had to wait for hours feeling extremely thirsty. I had undiagnosed diabetes insipidus (DI) from lithium carbonate, which meant I need to drink water all the time, much more than the average person. I focused intensely on the “reward” of the liquids afterward because the thirst was overwhelming by mid-morning. They also withheld food, but that didn’t bother me at all. Food and water were withheld because of the anesthesia. A few times I also felt nauseous and once I had the dry heaves from the anesthesia. Once I involuntarily wet myself during the shock. Apparently that is common. I don’t recall saying much afterward. I also wanted them to put my glasses back on me so I could see. It was much like waking up after surgery. They didn’t want me to get up or do anything.
Did you give consent to receive ECT?
Good question! My very first electroshock was late in 1995, late in fall. I only had four “treatments,” these every other day and then I was released from the hospital. I objected to it when it was first suggested. Then they showed me the video and I consented. After the very first “treatment” I felt a high. Looking back undoubtedly I felt that way from the anesthesia, or possibly because they had stopped a couple of my usual drugs. I remember feeling instantly high, almost euphoric. I assumed the electroshock was the cause. I figured, “Wow, these are amazing, everyone should have them!” I didn’t feel like I needed more, but they said I needed more to get them to “stick.” After a few weeks of course I felt back to the way I was before since the “high” was not from the ECT at all.
The next spring I requested ECT. The doc didn’t want to give it to me, but finally agreed. I wanted the “high” again. I figured the same thing would happen and this was the great cure.
At this point, though, here “consent” is iffy since after I became confused I was no longer able to say “I agree to continue” or “please stop” with any cohesiveness. I could barely put a sentence together at times. I was easily coerced into most anything. They say not to sign important documents after ECT, so how can one give consent to further electroshock after or during these disabling “treatments”?
In my documentation I have stated and re-stated that the switch to bilateral was not done with proper consent. I was asked for my verbal consent while I lay on the table about to be put under. I signed no papers and by all means I was not warned of the risks.
In my article, I described the effects of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) on American football players. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, anxiety and progressive dementia. Have you experienced any of these effects? If so, which ones?
Not currently. By all means I have an excellent memory, far better than most my age. I don’t think this has anything to do with psychiatry at all. I am positive that my memory is sharp because I am a prolific writer. I write several thousand words per day and never suffer writer’s block. I earned my master’s degree in creative writing in 2009. I also have continued academic pursuit throughout these years. I do not vegetate in front of the TV. I enjoy reading and I do not smoke nor drink alcohol, and I stay physically active. Another reason my mind is sharp is because I have a pet dog. I believe impulsivity is a normal trait of youth that gradually fades as we age unless there is interference such as psychiatry. As a kid I tended to lean on the cautious side anyway. My mother told me that she had fewer worries about me when I was learning to drive, for instance, than she had about my younger brothers, especially the youngest who tended to be a daredevil. Later in college I was the level-headed student who got her assignments done on time. I have made my share of stupid decisions, though. I’d say the dumbest was to go to a shrink. When I stopped going to the shrinks a few years back I felt much, much better. I do have insomnia, though. It has been persistent but very gradually has improved. I am still experiencing so much daytime exhaustion that am sure I can’t work full time.
If you had a chance to speak before the American Psychiatric Association, what would your message be?
I’d love to speak to them, if they’d have me. I’m studying how to improve my oral presentation and public speaking. I have been a lover of hamming it up in front of an audience ever since my days as a music major, or perhaps even before that when I acted in plays as a kid. I love reading my writings aloud for audiences and I’m a trained standup comic.
Really, those psychiatrists could learn a few lessons from journalists like you, Colin Taufer. As I said in the beginning, their questions rarely reflect intelligence nor insight. All adult humans have preconceived notions to start with. It’s unavoidable. Psychiatrists are so bias-heavy I doubt that any of them can properly assess anyone. They are handed a patient and told, “This one has schiz,” or whatever, and from then on, the psychiatrist sees psychosis no matter what the unfortunate victim says. The patient might be acting completely straight-laced but the psychiatrist will say the patient is “faking normalcy momentarily to avoid hospitalization.” We just can’t win if they have deemed us “lacking insight.” It’s designed to be a cruel double-edged sword that will ensnare anyone they deem inconvenient or a troublemaker.
Psychiatrists evaluate in the moment, rarely seeing the larger picture. So a patient might be “feeling suicidal” for ten minutes and then, end up hospitalized for the next six weeks. So many times I hear that people go to emergency rooms hoping for someone to listen to them. What happens is that they may feel bad when they go in, but by the time they are seen, they feel reasonably okay, yet they are often held while their goal of being heard is of course completely forgotten.
The Mental Health System missed the boat for three decades. I laugh now remembering that I explicitly told all of them I had an eating disorder from the beginning, and that this was why I had originally gone to them. Almost always, my very basic eating difficulties, which were the core of my problems, were so overlooked that most of those so-called professionals didn’t even recall I had an eating disorder. The only way I could get better was to stop seeing them entirely, and to work it all out on my own. Leaving the System was the answer, and afterward, I didn’t suffer like before. Not only that, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out how to remedy most problems, even tough ones. I wish I had known all that much sooner.
Julie has written in much greater detail about her ECT experiences here. I recommend reading it.
Welcome to my monthly column. I am a career educator, writer and lifelong advocate for human rights. With each article, I hope to shine a light into the dark world of psychiatry to make stronger champions of human rights, to stir into action, to enlighten. As always, I appreciate feedback from readers. I can be reached at Colin@PsychSearch.net