I woke up from what seemed to be a vivid dream in a room that was foreign to me. I looked around and the only thing familiar were a few items of clothing on the nightstand. I slowly crawled out of bed and walked to the hallway to be greeted by a red haired man with a stethoscope. He knew my name and I assumed he must know what was going on. So, I asked him where I was. He explained that I was in Denver, Colorado (not the state I lived in), that I had entered a fugue state after my last treatment of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and driven my car to Denver, and now had frontal lobe brain damage from the ECT treatments. And the thing was, I could not remember any of this. In fact, the previous three years were pretty much gone.
From what I have been told, at the end of the Summer of 2005 I entered into a severe depressive episode. This episode escalated into a quasi-catatonic state. My husband had to help me dress, eat, and engage in basic daily life tasks. My treatment team found me to be medication resistant and ECT was suggested. After a consult with a psychiatrist that performs this procedure, he also agreed to this course of action. Next, I received eleven bilateral ECT treatments before my unplanned Denver trip.
But, there is one other issue with this treatment. The psychiatrist performing the ECT was concerned early on that my electrical shock induced seizures were not strong enough to be beneficial for my illness (Schizoaffective Disorder). He augmented my treatments by going beyond the recommended voltage for the bilateral shocks. Whether this contributed to my fugue state or my frontal lobe damage, I will never know. I do know we signed a waiver before the treatments started, so the issue is rather mute.
Furthermore, the ECT didn’t seem to help alleviate the depressive episode. When I was finally released from the Denver hospital and returned to my New Mexico home, I was re-hospitalized within two weeks for suicidal ideation and depression. Eventually, the episode cycled and medication began to assist me. But, I also have to state I have hospitalized since then, as well.
What the ECT did impact was my memory and also changed some aspects of my personality. The three years I mentioned earlier are still pretty much gone. I really only have a few moments recovered. And now that my Schizoaffective Disorder has led to a Cognitive Disorder, my memory is even shakier- including long term, short term, and working memory. Everything from spelling to daily tasks to conversations are impacted. I describe my long term memory as the “Nixon Tapes”… it goes along, then nothing. As far as my personality, some of my preferences in music were completely and abruptly altered. Also, certain behaviors developed, such as gum chewing. In addition, my “mental filter” is sometimes non-existent. Want to know my opinion? I may give it to you with some profanity for good measure.
Some have asked me if I regret agreeing to receive ECT. And I do not. I have no regrets. Schizoaffective Disorder is very difficult to treat. You have a blending of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. Sometimes, there are risks to take. And unfortunately, not all risks pay off. But, you do at the time what you think is going to help in your desperate situation.
I also have to look at the positive side. Yes, I have frontal lobe damage. Yes, my memory function is impaired. But, my frontal lobe damage is not so severe that I cannot be a wonderful mommy to my beautiful boy. It is not so severe that I cannot be a life partner to my dear husband. I’m still here… home with my family.