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The pros and cons of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)--2
My experience with ECT
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"I cannot remember much about the two years leading up to my ECT treatments," said Ann Lewis, writing for The Washington Post in June 2000. "That period, along with much of the preceding years, is memory that I lost in exchange for the hoped-for benefits of ECT."
Lewis writes that, after her ECT, she didn't know which foods she liked or what movies she had seen. She didn't remember people who greeted her on the street. Her boyfriend was a stranger. Lewis lost her job as a result of her extended absence while recovering.
A year later, she is taking a new antidepressant, has a new job, and continues to struggle with memory loss. She says it was not a huge price for getting better, but she doesn't know if she would do it again.
Lynn D., of Denver, says her ECT was a terrible mistake. Her 17 ECT treatments followed an extended period of depression and a suicide attempt.
"For months I would dread running into people I knew, because I wouldn’t recognize them. It was embarrassing and upsetting, because I didn't want to divulge information about the procedure or the mental illness that led to it.”
Computer programs she had used daily on her former job were completely unfamiliar to her. It took months, using manuals and with great frustration, to relearn them. She constantly struggled to grasp a word or phrase that escaped her.
"Now, almost two years later, there are memories of my life and my children's lives that are lost to me. Short-term memory is also a problem. I repeat myself to people, and I’m embarrassed. My ability to work with numbers has been greatly impaired.
"Yet, it was only after two more years of medications and psychotherapy that my depression began to improve. Brain tests by a neurologist 18 months later confirmed memory loss, which he believed was the result of the ECT.
"Would I do it again? Never."
Others, however, believe that electroconvulsive therapy saved their lives.
"While I have memories that are completely erased from my mind,” says Chris Mudron of Parker, Colorado, “had it not been for ECT, I likely would not be here today. It really was a lifesaver and I’d use it again and again if I needed it."
Stories about people who have experienced electroconvulsive therapy can be found at ECT.org, published by Juli Lawrence, MA, BS, BA, a journalist specializing in health-related topics who has served on the Federal Task Force on ECT. She received bilateral ECT in 1994.
Page updated January 1, 2009