Easy as ECT

After a long absence from this blog, I came back to keep a record of the next chapter of my story: I’m starting ECT tomorrow.

ECT, which stands for electroconvulsive therapy, is the new branding of shock therapy. It is, however, much more targeted than the old days (as my doctor said, it’s now more of a scalpel than a sledgehammer). They use electrodes on your scalp to induce a single, controlled seizure per session. For many patients, doing this repeatedly over time relieves depressive (or manic) symptoms.

The weird part is that they have zero idea why this works. Personally, I like to think of it as the neurological equivalent of, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

I’ll be starting at three times/week for the first few weeks, then tapering off from there until it’s once/month, then once/six months.

As I’ve written about before, I am a notorious hypochondriac, so the idea of going under general anesthesia that many times is a little terrifying to me. I should mention, however, that the only other time I had general anesthesia I found it so restful- such a relief to be fully devoid of anxiety- that I wished I could do it all the time. So that gives me some hope.

But there are other fears I have as well. Part of me is worried that I’m not depressed enough to receive this treatment. After all, I am getting by. I can get out of bed. I can take a shower. I can brush my teeth. I don’t particularly want to do those things, but I feel very grateful that my depression is not so severe that I can’t. I know there are many people who can’t say the same.

And yet I’m just not myself anymore. Becoming a mother, receiving my diagnosis, the pandemic, all changed me, for sure. I know I can never go back to exactly who I was before, nor do I necessarily want to.

But there is a core piece of me, an essence of self, that has been lying dormant. It’s the part of me that holds the ability to feel things deeply – to really laugh at a joke, to miss people, to truly play pretend with Bailey. It’s the part of me with the ability to be fully present in a conversation, or feel the urgency and purpose behind my job, or speak in a voice that emotes.

This is what depression looks like for me, and though it could always be worse, I just have a feeling it can be better. I don’t know if ECT will be what makes it better, but if there’s a chance it is I have to try.

Which, of course, brings me to the last fear, which is that it won’t work. While there is strong research demonstrating its effectiveness (with 66-80% of patients responding to treatment), I know all too well that there’s no guarantee I’ll be in the lucky majority. It is entirely possible that I’ll go through five weeks of this with nothing to show for it.

But I guess I have to reframe that, and say that even if I end the treatments without relief of my symptoms, at least I can say that I tried. For the last year or so since it became clear that antidepressants were no longer an option, ECT has been hanging over my head as a feasible but intensive possibility. I heard such great things from so many people, but it seemed so scary, and like so much work.

Yet for every day I put it off, Bailey got a little bit older. I began to wonder if I was missing out on the opportunity to see her grow through new eyes- to be a better version of the mom she already loved.

So I stopped turning my head. I made direct eye contact. And while I’m still not sure exactly what I’ll see on this journey, for now, at least I can say that I’m looking.