real life

'ECT saved my life. But I can't remember a single part of the last three years.'

Content warning: This post includes discussion of self-harm and suicidal thoughts that may be distressing to some readers.

Shock therapy. It sounds like something out of an old horror movie, someone strapped down to a table and pulsed with electricity. It sounds like torture, but what it really is, is a way for those who are severely depressed and with debilitating mental illness to move past their illness and into a productive life.

Let me explain. A lot of people are under the impression that Shock Therapy (or ECT, Electro Convulsive Therapy, as it’s known in the industry), isn’t used any more as a psychiatric treatment. They think that it sounds barbaric, having electrodes attached to your brain? The ECT procedure was first conducted in 1938, by Italiian psychiatrist Ugo Cereletti, and has been used since then, as a safe and effective treatment for major depressive disorder, mania and catatonia.

When you undertake ECT, you are given a short acting general anesthesia, then a psychiatrist trained in this treatment, will pass an electrical current through electrodes into your head and induce a generalised seizure. Nobody knows exactly how this works, but they do know that it works. Wikipedia says “the exact mechanism of action of ECT remains elusive”.

You don’t just roll up to a psychiatric hospital and get ECT. It’s kinda the “last resort” of psychiatric treatment, when all else has failed, and the patient is desperate for psychiatric help.

While you're here, watch the truth about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Story continues after video.


Video via TED-Ed.

For me, I had to endure almost six months of horrendous suffering before I was offered ECT. I have autism and ADHD, and the restrictions and constant change of COVID meant that I became bogged down by anxiety and depression. Foolishly, having had drug and alcohol problems in the past, I decided that a cure for this anxiety was to start smoking pot and drinking alcohol. It didn’t work. Something in my brain broke under the pressure of trying to be the perfect person, the perfect mother, follow the rules and do the right thing. I catapulted into suicidal feelings and a state of agitation where every second was unbearable. I had several suicide attempts, I lost custody of my children, I became totally nonfunctional as a human being. I just wanted to escape being alive and none of my “strategies” seemed to work.

After months of bouncing in and out of the public health care system and my suicide attempts getting more and more serious, and my behaviour more and more antisocial, I took out private health insurance and went to a Private Hospital in Melbourne, where ECT was finally put on the table. I cried during intake as I spoke about how hard I had tried to stay alive, how I wanted to get better, how I wanted to be a parent to my children, but my brain was actively trying to eliminate me. I was a shell of a human, I just wanted someone to put me out of my misery. Due to a diagnosis (which I don’t agree with) of Borderline Personality Disorder, the public hospitals had wiped their hands of me, had said I was just attention seeking, that I had to go home and practice meditation and mindfulness and take my medication as prescribed. It was like asking me to fly to the moon. I couldn’t do it. I needed help, but the public system is so overworked that there was no space for a case like me.


ECT was decided upon, three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

I had over 30 treatments before I started to feel like myself again, but feel like myself again, I did.

I remember coming home to Shepparton from hospital and taking in my house for the first time. It was a mess. Covered in kids’ potions of shaving cream and nail polish, things wiped on the walls, places where I had passed out and spilled drinks and drugs. It looked like nobody had cleaned up in years, yet I knew my friends and mother had been in my house and straightened things up when I had yet another suicide attempt and needed a bag of things taken to hospital. Friends fed my cats for months, they messaged me and cared for me and dropped cigarettes and other things off at hospital for me.

But, I was one of the people who have severe memory loss as a side effect of ECT. My mental health was so much better, but I couldn't remember much of the past three years. It was completely gone. It was like waking up and being told you’d done a bunch of horrendous things, and knowing in some way that you’d done them, but not remembering it at all.


As I tried to slot back into my life, and continue practicing staying clean and sober, and looking after myself after months of having food and shelter provided by a caring private hospital, I got a lot of information about what I’d been up to from my Facebook messages, my Instagram messages, and my phone. They were a seething mass of requests for drugs, complaints about the public system, notes from friends worrying about me....graphic posts on Facebook and Instagram detailing my mental state and suicide attempts, garbled messages to my ex about missing the kids, evidence of a massive drug overdose near Christmas, breaking in to my parents’ house to steal drugs and overdosing and ending up in a five-day coma.

It was a lot to take in. And it still is. I can’t remember anything much from the past three years, and it’s like I went to sleep one night when my kids were five and 12, and woke up to them eight and 15, having missed out on at least 18 months of their schooling and lives. I was always so involved in my kids' lives and was on a first name basis with their teachers and knew everything about them, what they liked to eat, who their friends were, what size shoe and clothes they took.

Now I knew nothing. I could comb my messages for information about of all of this, but more often than not, I had to ask my ex or my kids, and start learning about them all over again. I also had to undertake weekly and fortnightly therapy to help my kids start to trust me again. I had some custody of them over the time that I didn’t remember when I was really unwell, but as my 15 year old said in a message to me “you weren’t really you back then but now I think you’re getting better”.


I hate that my kids have had to see me so unwell. I lost custody of them in September as a result of overdosing while they were in my custody. I can’t believe, in my current state of mental wellness, that I would ever do that to my precious babies. But, do it I did, and I am committed to working on being a present parent and to being there for them now. I can’t stay in guilt or I will never be able to be there for them.

It's hard, as relationships have changed. There are people I would message every day and rely on, who became burnt out with my constant needs. I don’t remember any of that, so it’s hard to process. I shut down my Facebook page because I couldn’t deal with all the messages about getting and using drugs, or the reminders of fucked up status updates where I was barely legible.

Going shopping or doing anything is hard. Even though I am much better, I don’t remember people or events a lot of the time. Businessess have closed and moved, there’s no more masks in public places or swiping into paces. People will say “hi Deb”, in Coles and I have no idea who they are. Are they people from when I was married? Are they fellow psych patients? Are they someone I bought drugs from? I just say “hello” and try to have an investigative chat where I try to glean details of their relationship to me.


I found a blue gemstone on a necklace in my jewellery drawer. I asked my family and friends if they had any idea who gave it to me. Nobody knew. I felt uneasy having the necklace in my possession, like it was from a ghost of boyfriends past. I ended up giving it to the secondhand shop, so I wouldn’t have to look at it and wonder who it came from.

I got banned on Tinder when I was in hospital. I did some really out there stuff, and I only have friends’ anecdotes to remind me of my antics. I can’t remember what I did at all. Half the time I’m thinking “I know you think this amnesia stuff sounds made up”... After all, who wouldn’t want to forget a time where they were suicidal, drug addicted and acting out in immoral and illegal ways?

Slowly, I’m rebuilding my life and coming to terms with the years of lost memories. I don’t regret ECT, though. It stopped me from being suicidal, it helped me find myself again. I grieve over this time, but I try to stay in the present and look towards the future. I can’t change (or remember a lot of) the past, but I can be there for myself, for those who I love and who love me.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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