JAKEB STEVENSON has spent years negotiating the highs and lows of WA’s mental health system and now runs the advocacy podcast Our Manic Mates. In this latest instalment in a series of articles from his insider’s perspective he looks at the controversial Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT).
WAKING up, when you’ve taken so much medication to fall asleep, is almost impossible.
Every second day at 3am a nurse wakes me up to stick electro-pads all over my body, which you get used to after a while.
In a semi-conscious state, I got use to pre-emptively moving my body to suggest the next limb and part of torso she needs to place the electro pad on.
I can still feel how awkward it was laying with all these electro-pads, being half asleep and in a drug-fuelled haze just trying so hard to get to sleep.
After they’ve given you an extra one and a half hours of ‘sleep’, you are dragged into the first room.
I may be a large man, but this was a small room.
It was filled with women, my fellow ‘participants’, who were probably my grandparents’ age.
The women signed forms and filled out questionnaires while half asleep and incoherent, they would murmur and talk to each other about how their ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) journey is going, and it always circled back to this being their last resort.
How nothing they have done has worked, how their kids won’t let them see their grandkids, and how their partners are long out of their life.
There is a lot of sobbing. Maybe even from me.
Next is the actual room, where it all happens.
The treating psychiatrist had this thick German accent, which I heard as they gassed me to sleep.
I always woke up with this disgusting taste in my mouth from the piece of rubber they shove in while I was being shocked.
After they shocked me, I would wake up slowly, fighting to gain a sense of reality.
They asked if I knew who I was, what day it it is, and who the prime minister is.
Answering who the current prime minister was in mid-2018 was not necessarily straightforward.
I remember a small, frail, kind lady not knowing where she is, lost and confused.
I still often think about the feeling of trying to comfort her, saying: “It’s ok, some people forget after treatments.”
The only reassurance I could offer.
ECT isn’t a new thing. It’s something that’s been used, mis-used and abused by psychiatrists for years.
Although there have been ‘bans’ on using it across the years, it is currently legal in Australia.
Prior to my ECT treatments, I had been diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression.
ECT felt like, and was presented as, my ‘last’ possible choice.
It has been well-documented that ECT doesn’t work on people diagnosed with bipolar, which I was later diagnosed with.
During my six-week period of stay, I was shocked 16 times in total (4 unilateral and 12 bi-lateral ‘treatment sessions’).
The next highest total I’ve seen or heard about is 14 sessions.
Although ECT has taken away a lot of memories, it has seemed to emphasise my trauma.
I still remember all the horrible experiences, but I’ve forgotten the key positive moments of my life.
One cliche I often use when it comes to my memory is “I miss something that I can’t remember”.
I have lost memories that I shouldn’t have lost, and I miss them.