Tomorrow is my third session of ECT. I’m not going to lie and say it’s a treatment I feel particularly positive about or one I’m 100% dedicated to. But I’m doing it and that counts for something. I wanted to write a post about what it’s really like.
When I was told ECT was my next line of treatment I was terrified. In my head I had images and descriptions of the type found in The Bell Jar. Descriptions of a barbaric process which is painful and undertaken fully conscious.
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. I do not like ECT and I am terrified before every treatment. But it is now a clinical and controlled process only used where clinically indicated.
On ECT days I do not take any medications in the morning and am nil by mouth. A nurse or HCA takes me over to the ECT suite about 9-10amish with my thick ECT folder. We wait together in a pleasant sitting area watching TV until I am called through by one of the ECT nurses to the prep room. There I am settled into a trolley and all my observations taken. As always my pulse is high. My nurse/ HCA is with me throughout as memory tests are checked and then I am wheeled through to the ECT room. There a cannula is inserted and jelly and monitors stuck to my temples and forehead. An oxygen bag valve mask is placed over my mouth as the anaesthetic and muscle relaxant are injected. I quickly lose consciousness. The next thing I know I am waking up in recovery with a cracking headache feeling woozy. Because I am not drinking or eating I always awake to a bag of saline being pushed through. I am slowly re orientated and then taken through to the recovery sitting room where I have the option of a cuppa and something to eat. Whilst in the sitting room my obs are repeated multiple times before I’m taken back to the ward by my HCA / nurse to sleep and have my obs continued. And then that’s all repeated a few days later.
If I’m honest, I hate ECT. I do not trust that it will work and I hate being unconscious. Then there’s the side effects- memory loss, headaches, muscle pain, disorientation and fear. But neither is it the draconian torture method so frequently projected.
I’m sorry for the long absence in posting, being in hospital makes every day monotonous and I’m pretty sure none of you are interested in the days I manage to get in the shower.
I wanted to post some misconceptions about inpatient treatment. When I used to use Instagram I regularly saw people wishing the could me inpatient on a ‘nice safe ward’ away from the stresses of life. I’ve been in hospital four times, some have been excellent, some awful. None of them (perhaps with the exception of the Priory) were safe little retreats. There is nothing safe or comforting about being restrained and injected to calm you down. There is an escape from real life but the ward is a world of its own, often more chaotic than your own home. Psychiatric wards are last resort places, when all else has failed to help.
That said, neither are they places portrayed in films like Girl, Interrupted. Most have single rooms and staff monitor patients carefully. I’m on 1:1 and I can’t even sneak a hair band from the bathroom without questioning. The patients are not all obviously unwell, we all have our moments and there are some who are highly confused but most are quiet and reserved or sit in the living room watching TV and laughing, interrupted only by the call of ‘meds! ‘ yes one or two of us will be on one to one but even then you wouldn’t know we have life threatening mental illnesses.
The staff are not the draconian strict staff of 90s psych movies but instead do their best to run a ward whilst often understaffed. They make time for 1:1 sessions with their named patient.
I am a patient currently in my 12th week of stay, half of which on section 3. I have a 2:1 in microbiology and an offer for two masters courses. I have a loving family and friends. I wear clean fashionable clothes most days and jewellery. If you saw me on the street the only sign of my battle with MH is the scars that stripe my skin. All in all I look pretty normal. And yet I’m diagnosed with severe depression with psychosis and on heavy duty psychiatric medication and on Tuesday will be starting a course of ECT. A terrifying prospect but one that everyone agrees is the right decision.
So there you go, we may be on hospital but many of us, you wouldn’t look twice at in the street.
Last week I was transferred from the priory back to the local NHS unit as a bed had come available. I was terrified, my experience last year on an NHS ward has honestly left me scarred and I was terrified this ward would be the same. Thankfully I was wrong and this ward is much better than that last NHS ward but it’s still hard. I thought I’d share some positive writing from my last creative writing group at the priory, hopefully it’ll help me to re read it too as right now I feel anything but positive. The topic was ‘The Gift I Give Myself’.
My body is battle weary. For ten years it has been the canvas I painted my pain on, the battleground in the war against myself. For years I deprived it of sustenance, forcing my weight lower and lower, each pound a victory, each newly emerged bone a battle, I thought, won. But all I achieved was the bone deep aching cold of permenant winter, bones of a 70 year old at 21, the sharp pain of pressure sores where bone strikes seats and floor and mattress. For years more I have subjected my body to the harsh ravages of bulimia. The continuous filling and violent emptying which led to ulcers hands, a bleeding inflamed oesophagus and the risk of sudden death. And yet still I war with myself this way.
For years I have scored self hatred on my skin. Scars stripe once pure arms and legs, a visual map of my failings. For years I’ve counted my worth on the depth of a cut or the number of stitches required.
And yet ten years of battle and I find myself no further on. My body is tired and battle worn and scarred but it has surivived all I’ve thrown at it. It has survived bullying and rape and mental illness. So perhaps the greatest gift I can give to myself is a ceasefire. A time to end my war with myself and enter the uncharted we territory of recovery…