A few weeks ago I took part in an ABC radio national interview about my experience with ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). A psychiatrist and two other people who had had ECT were also interviewed. I am very happy I got to contribute to such a balanced, informative, digestible piece about a psychiatric treatment that is shrouded in stigma and false information. Highly recommend a listen when you get a moment.
I never considered my mental health as part of the decision to have a baby, because when I first fell pregnant within a month of trying, I had never experienced mental illness.
The pregnancy was uneventful.
Then I went into a thirty-three hour labour on two hours sleep. This severe sleep deprivation and the swirling hormone levels woke a slumbering monster, a genetic predisposition, which ensured that by the time my baby was one week old, psychosis had wrenched me away from reality. I found myself in the Special Care Unit of a private psychiatric hospital trying to explain my way out of my delusions, while my husband and mother cared for my daughter at home.
‘My daughter never visits me in hospital. She doesn’t like this place.’
An elderly woman told me this in a private psychiatric hospital several years ago. Sadness dripped from her words.
The thought of visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital (especially for the first time) can leave people feeling: Awkward. Uncomfortable. Fearful. Repulsed. Guilty. Ashamed. Misinformed. Unsure. To name a few.
I just read an article that described one of singer Guy Sebastian’s friends as having:
‘lost his life to his battle with mental health’
Tragic. Another young man has become a statistic that should be at least partially preventable. Sadly, we can’t bring him back.
But there is something we can do to inch our way towards better describing why this happens. We can use accurate language when we write and talk about these tragedies. Language that doesn’t mislead. On the surface it may not look like there’s much wrong with the above quote.
We went roller blading over the school holidays. It was my first time. We arrived to loud music, children shrieking, the clank of skates hitting each other, and the thump of bodies crashing into the barriers. Roaming skate instructors, gave snippets of advice to the inept among us:
‘Lean forward and put your hands on your knees. Don’t look at the ground.’
With each instruction the tension in my body ramped up.
Where were we? That’s right. We’d left me in a state of catatonic depression. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post, which dropped yesterday, I suggest doing so now.
The first time I slid into catatonic depression, my psychiatrist tried anti-depressant after anti-depressant while I was hospitalised. Nothing worked. I was still brand new to mental illness. Two months before, I’d suffered my first psychotic episode after the birth of my first child. My First Time
I had gone from mentally healthy for thirty-two years, to experiencing some of the worst psychiatric symptoms in existence. I felt as though I had entered a parallel universe. When ECT was recommended I had a sense of being at the end of the line. I didn’t know much about it.
(Please note – this post contains vivid descriptions of severe clinical and catatonic depression)
Let’s play a quick game of word associations: If I say Electroconvulsive Therapy or Electroshock Therapy, you think…What?
‘They still do that?’ is a common response. A half jokey reference to ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is another. If you thought there was stigma surrounding psychiatric medications (and there is), ECT takes the stigma, myths, misinformation, and at times insults to a new level.
How do you make your decisions? Gut feeling or logic?
I am rational over emotional. Give me scientific data or a good pro/con list over intuition any day. I have no problem with risk, but I prefer it to be calculated rather than a leap into nothing with my fingers crossed. But not all questions can be answered with logic. Ten years ago, I wrestled with one that had no right or wrong answer: To have or not to have a second baby. Continue reading “Decisions”