As far as I am concerned , electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most controversial treatment I have received. In 1991, I was hospitalized for six months. I am a very compliant patient suffering from rapid cycling bipolar disorder. If recommended by a doctor I am open to a treatment plan. All I knew about ECT was that my brother received treatment in the sixties for his bipolar disorder. At that time they were called shock treatments. I knew , from his experience that they were somewhat painful and affected his memory. I was given a tape to watch and told that the treatments had progressed a long way from those which my brother received.. I was assured no long term memory loss would occur and any problems there would clear up in six months. Success rate was deemed phenomenal when compared to medication. I was to be given the maximum 11 treatments. I went under general anesthetic every second day and received treatments for a 22 day period. I slept a lot and had splitting headaches on the off periods of time. I was taken off my meds. There was no improvement. I was put back on my meds and I repeated the same 11 treatment plan with the same side effects and no tangible results. After 22 treatments I was removed form the program. In the short period the doctor told me the nurses noticed a quieting of my manic symptoms. To that I commented that for the day and a half between treatments I had blinding headaches when I was not sleeping for long hours at a time. I am a little surprised today to hear and read of people having 6 treatments in total for their plan. 22 seems out of proportion to today’s norm.
I feel that ECT did not help. But I can’t say for sure. I know that, if my medication varies for some reason, I will feel my moods escalating in as little as a day. I wouldn’t know how it affects rapid cycling as the only research I have seen is limited in scope and population tested. The tests claim positive results for rapid cycling though
Other than memory loss there were no physical side effects. “No harm no foul”. But the memory loss is a pain. It is short term and long term in nature. Normal memory loss usually occurs when something is “just on the tip of your tongue” but out of reach. My ECT memory loss is just a gap, a black hole, in the mind where that memory doesn’t exist. It is sporadic in nature and is event oriented. I can remember in general terms but have no awareness of a lot of specific events people mention. Often they can’t understand my not remembering because my presence was central to the occurrence. In the short term I am constantly making lists. I forget where I put my wallet or my coffee cup. I forget appointments and forget to check for appointments on the calendar. I have to write my cell phone number on the back of my cell phone. I forgot where I put the new dog tag. The list goes on and on. Much more frequent than the usual memory loss that comes with normal aging.
Every doctor I have talked to rejects the memory loss effect and refers to many studies that say a six month memory problem, max. Maybe, probably, I am wrong. Most claim ECT works. Oops, it seems I forgot the dog outside and have to leave now.