What happens after electroconvulsive therapy?

Do you own a car? I own a car. A green Nissan Note. I call her Turtle. This is actually my daughter’s car because it was specifically procured to ferry her around.

Turtle has a couple of tiny dents on her bonnet, right above the Nissan logo. A small enough cluster that it adds character to her frame but not big enough a deal that I want to give her to my mechanic for a week to get that sorted out. It really wouldn’t take long by the way.

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A couple of hours, some panel beating and a little buffing. Maybe a paint job to be sure she’s at her best! But that tiny cluster of tiny dents is a small problem we can live with for some time. Turtle works just fine. However, a very loud lesson I have recently been reminded of is that, if you live with tiny problems long enough, they evolve into bigger problems. But the problem with buffing those problems out is that you lose the character they give. As idiotic as it sounds, especially coming from someone who has lived with longterm depression, Turtle without those dents, just isn’t Turtle. It may look like Turtle and function like Turtle. But, it’s just not Turtle. That’s a whole other problem on it’s own.

Electro-convulsive therapy is a form of treatment for depression that promises to solve a longterm problem quickly. A couple of sessions, a few zaps, some long naps and presto! And guess what!? It works!

This is a feel good video that encourages ECT. Don’t get me wrong, ECT worked for me. It took away all the sad stuff and left me with all the functional stuff. I’m admittedly much more emotionally centered. Only one problem. A few of the sad quirks were big chunks of my personality. So it’s interesting to watch people who’ve known me for a while try to figure the “new me” out.

Depressed has been my resting state for nearly 20 years now. There are very many things which this can be attributed to, but the main culprit, is a never ending desire to keep everyone around me happy with me. Even if it is fake happiness or happiness at my expense. Be warned, particularly parents who are training their children to “fit in”, that people pleasing is a habit which requires expensive and painful medical intervention once it becomes a personality trait.

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My therapist recently recommended I try a form of treatment called Electroconvulsive Therapy. This is the one in movies where a patient has the bad habits shocked out of them using electricity. But it is a lot more civilized than depicted on drama screens.

It’s kind of like this, but a lot more civilized… I think, I don’t know, I was unconscious. A little ECT humor for you…

First of all, an anesthetic is used to knock you out. I have never had any form of major surgery which required an anesthetic. So, as a first-timer, I can tell you it is the freakiest of Friday sensation to fall asleep in one place and wake up in another. But there is no residual pain. Just the consistent annoyance of being stuck in a hospital room for two weeks. Luckily, I had the latest season of Netflix’s Luke Cage to keep me busy… (I don’t remember most of it and will have to watch it again).

This is Lil Dicky and Chris Brown parodying the movie.

Turn Me On With Bioelectric Feels

While I was unconscious, my doctor used something that looks like a pair of 90s Casio earphones (only with electrodes where the earpieces are) to run a current through my head for a few seconds, triggering a brief seizure.

The seizure is the “convulsion” which rearranged my brain chemistry. Literally causing me to think differently because thoughts are nothing more than biochemical electrical impulses in the brain.

What do I mean by “think differently”, simply put, I am no longer at war with myself. I can actually feel that lack of self-battle. I like what I like and don’t feel the desire to think everything to death. Even more interesting to me is that I am lately unashamedly sharing my thinking processes, no matter how flawed. “That’s just how I think about it, nobody else has to see it that way.” My confidence has definitely increased. But I can also report that there have been some downsides. I have to note things down. My short term memory has been a joke for the last week or so. I recently bought power units and the next day completely spaced out and looked at my wife like she was accusing me of a crime when she asked me if I had loaded them.

The first couple of days are weird, but the depression definitely lifts and confidence returns. But I’m a very newly released patient. I can only say with certainty if this worked for me in the next two months or so.

Immediately after being released from the hospital, I found myself extremely “disoriented”. I had little to no control over what came out of my mouth. It was like the wall that usually exists between my brain and my mouth had been struck by lightening and the river of thoughts in my mind were spilling out of the dam. I was concerned that I was calling my therapist almost daily to complain that she had taken my ability to feel shame away.

But while on a holiday recently with my wife and some friends, my friend Tony said something that has had me being very cautions about how I interact with people since, “What if what you are calling disoriented is how normal people think?”. I went to the hospital to fix a problem that I had. But I was so used to living with the problem that living without it feels like an even bigger problem. This is one of those situations where the fixed version may be less desirable than the damaged one.

See, I have spent my life purposely packaging myself for the benefit of others. So much so that people have come to expect me to make myself smaller or to take a more disadvantaged position for their benefit. The reaction now that that isn’t happening is almost hostile in some instances.

This has put me in a unique position, to either now knowingly repeat the people pleasing that has led to me needing ECT to undo the depression it caused, or to lose some people. That’s a hard choice, because it is not that I don’t know how to perform the people pleasing behavior, rather that I no longer feel the impulse to.

Does ECT Work?

Short answer, yes. Quite efficiently!

Would I recommend ECT to other depressed people. Yes! But I cannot (and do not) guarantee its success. All I can tell you is that, so far, I am significantly less motivated by the desire to be liked and more driven to get things done efficiently. That is a huge difference from the dramatic shows I would be putting on for various people to see me as I want them to see me and not as I am (which I am starting to define as what depression is; the long-term failing struggle to control the perception of others).

Here are some of the things that have happened to me after ECT. But take what I am writing here with a kilogram of salt. I am less than a week post and still due for review by my doctor. But so far so good.

What’s The Point of Pretending!?

The number one thing that has been most noticeable, both to me and to close friends and family, is a dramatic increase in radical candor. Where usually I would tap-dance around questions and try and find “nice ways” to say things, I am now notably faster in how I answer questions.

This is a very important change because it forces me to admit that what I used to believe is respect (the tap-dancing) was actually fear. I was so frightened of altering my relationships with people or changing how people perceived me, that I came up with a unique Andrew for almost every person in my life.

I am now cognizant of the fact that most of what I was referring to as “depression” was pure exhaustion brought about by how hard I was working to be liked. Even more disturbing is how many more “disagreements” I seem to be getting into by not being a Yes-Man. “You are now an authentic version of yourself and people are looking for the version they had control over. A lot of people confuse fear and respect,” more from Tony.

Real talk; I hate the beach! But I grew up in the coast and that was the most appropriate place for me to be told that truth. While strolling on the beach in the morning, Tony told me to just ride the wave and see where it goes.

To be careful not to fold back into the thing I just spent two weeks and a tiny fortune in the hospital being unfolded out of. People are going to be unhappy with some of my decisions. Best I can hope for is enough people in my corner who like the genuine me that I don’t need the rest of the passengers on the train.

Shorter Short-term Memory

I have to write things down or prepare to sacrifice them. My doctor says it will go back to normal soon but my current short term memory is familiar of a certain Disney character.

 

I forget new things almost immediately unless I note them down. Noting things down at work is a normal affair for me at work but having to do it across all areas has been a bit of a nuisance.

But, perhaps due to the lightened load, my mind feels more open to new ideas. I feel more excited by the prospect of cognitive challenges to solve and move on from. I think this has a lot to do with being set free from a state where life itself is a cognitive challenge.

I honestly could not tell you what I used to spend most of my time thinking about. Most solutions are fairly obvious, it is the willingness to act on them honestly that is usually the problem. At least that is what I see when I compare pre-ECT thinking and post-ECT thinking. Most of the time in life we know exactly what we should do but spend hours, days and even months trying to figure out how to do what we want.

Systematic Thinking

I don’t know if I was always like this but lately I very aware of the fact that I think in steps. There is a first step or thing that happens that sets the ball in motion for the second and creates the circumstances for the third and so on and so forth.

If you are not aware of how you think, it can be all too easy to be convinced to follow bandwagons. There are people on this planet who are experts at reading people who are not aware of how they think in order to take advantage of them. Pay attention to yourself. You might just surprise yourself.

Perspective Shift

Anything is possible if you are willing to try. I know, not realistically but potentially. Prior to ECT, I used to spend days and months talking myself out of things. A mantra I had gotten used to repeating in my mind is that, “Those things happen to other people. Not me!” Perhaps true. Perhaps I have the empirical evidence to prove it too. But ECT is basically having a large chunk of beliefs deleted from the brain.

I am wholly aware that I have failed at various things throughout my life. But, for some reason, I am no longer emotionally attached to those failures. Maybe that’s the point. To know that the worst is possible but to stop consistently expecting it.

Brand New Eyes

I don’t know if its legit, but things look new. My daughter looks more beautiful, my tattoos look darker, my dad looks healthier and my wife looks sexier. Yes, I am aware that I was in the hospital for nearly two weeks and a lot of things changed while I was in there, but I genuinely feel like I am a new mind that has been inserted in an old body.

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Don’t let the polite smile fool you, this child is as dramatic as her father! But she also gives the best hugs… Also like her father!

Sure, I have all the experiences this body has had thus far, but I have renewed hope for what is possible to happen to and around this body going forward. I am less ruled and guided by fear of what has or could happen. I just find myself eager yo try things and see what happens. I find that my attachment to non-living things has almost diminished. I’ll make more money, I always do. I bought a new phone because I liked the practicality of the battery life and increased screen length and didn’t obsess about spending the money.

I even got a stylus since I’ve been trying to get my hand drawing game up for a while. I honestly couldn’t tell you what kept me from doing it for so long. A nagging belief that if I spend that money, I will never see it again. Can you see how I had become trapped by my finances? Rather, the mere threat of their nonexistence?

Maybe that is what freedom is. A return of hope in the knowledge that if I did something once, I can do it again. But like I said. Subject to review by my doctor and a few more weeks… Kilograms of salt!!!! This vehicle may still need panel beating!

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