The days, weeks and months following my release from Payne Whitney are even more of a blur to me than the time I spent in the hospital is. I remember very little about that time period. I was still on anti-psychotics, I was still a zombie and I was still miserable.
Years after I was released from Payne Whitney I expressed interest in volunteering at a local preschool for disadvantaged children. My mother told me I might not be welcome there. Shortly after I was released from Payne Whitney she had sent me to volunteer there in an effort to get me out of the terrible funk I was in. I was asked not to come back because I was behaving inappropriately and ignoring the children. I had no memory of this. I’m sure it’s one of many things that occurred during that time period that I have no memory of.
In the years that followed Payne Whitney I underwent many different treatments for my depression. There were the conventional medication and therapy treatments as well as some more unconventional treatments. There was the Ketamine nasal spray that sent me on a cool ( and totally legal) drug trip but left a very unpleasant taste in my throat and did nothing to alleviate my depression. There was the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation which filled my ears and head with very unpleasant noises and vibrations without alleviating my depression and without even giving me the benefit of a psychedelic trip. There was the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that may have had some value but put me in a group situation that I just wasn’t ready for or comfortable with at the time and that gave me a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder that was about as accurate as my Schizoafffective disorder diagnosis.
A few months after I was released from Payne Whitney I saw a new psychiatrist named Dr. Deerberry. Dr. Deerberry was an elderly man and in all honesty he was at a point in his life when he should probably be considering retirement. He was rather scatterbrained, frequently forgetting scheduled appointments and my name. Yet in many respects Dr. Deerberry still had his wits about him and was a very good psychiatrist. Ultimately he ended up being very helpful to me. You might even say he saved my life.
Dr. Deerberry was skeptical of my Schizoaffective Disorder diagnosis. He said “If this is Schizoaffective Disorder, it’s much more affective than it is schizo.” He took me off the antipsychotic medications and he recommended an alternative treatment called electronconvulsive therapy (ECT, also known as shock therapy.)
You may recall my mention of ECT in Episode 2 of this mental illness saga but since it’s been a while let me refresh your memory. ECT is a procedure done under anesthesia in which electric currents are sent in to the brain in order to trigger a seizure. It has a history of being used abusively and without the patient’s consent. It potentially has some serious negative side effects including memory loss.
If that sounds scary to you, you’re not alone in feeling that way. ECT is a widely feared, highly controversial procedure with a heavy stigma attached to it. Dangerous, barbaric and inhumane are words that are frequently used to describe it. There are groups of people who advocate to have it banned. Its portrayal in fiction and in the media is overwhelmingly negative.
It was first suggested as a treatment for me when I was put in a mental hospital in New Jersey after I withdrew from school in Florida. My mother did not want it done to me then because she was afraid and I wasn’t interested in it either. When it was suggested again by Dr. Deerberry my mom still had her hesitations but we were running out of other options. I was in a very bad state and none of the treatments were helping. We were assured that despite the bad rap ECT has, for the most part it is safe and it is often effective in alleviating treatment resistant depression. We had reached a point where the risks associated with me remaining in the state that I was in seemed greater than the risks associated with ECT. My mom said she wanted me to try it.
As for me, I’d seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Requiem For a Dream, which depict ECT in a very scary and negative light but I knew that fiction doesn’t always reflect reality and that ECT has come a long way since the days of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When I was in high school a classmate of mine underwent ECT. I hadn’t thought that what was being done to her was cruel or barbaric but I had thought that it was sad that she was in such a bad state that doctors were resorting to such drastic measures to help her. I never imagined that some day I would be in such a state.
Clearly I was in such a state now though and had been for some time. I had little hope that ECT would work for me because I didn’t believe anything could help me at that point but it seemed worth giving a try. The potential negative side effects didn’t bother me because at that point I didn’t care much about my memory or my health and it seemed unlikely that it would produce side effects that were any worse than the things I’d experienced in the last year or so. I agreed to it.