I’ve spoken of the ECT procedure but have yet to write about the consequences and side effects of the treatment.
First, good news, the ECT treatments have kept me alive when I otherwise would have not made it through. Bad news, it cost me a lot of memories. Large swathes of my past have been lost. More in the recent years than the far distant, but it’s all relative when you’re accustomed to a rock-solid memory.
It’s mid-November, 2018, and as I write this I’ve just completed my 25th ECT treatment. The ‘index series’ I went through whilst in-hospital consisted of 12 treatments, three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday. For some, this is it, they then carry on their merry way (hopefully). For me, as mentioned, due to the recurrence of my illness, I continued onto ‘Erhaltung’ (maintenance) ECT, a series of treatments over the course of several months following the initial index series.
At this stage, I’ve grown used to lapses in memory and feelings of spatial disorientation. It’s just a thing that happens you can do nothing about, like a sneeze or, like an itch. Only it can be socially uncomfortable, awkward, and personally disappointing.
Early on in my ECT treatment, these feelings were much more severe. I couldn’t remember anything. Not just of the recent past but also in day-to-day things. The daily/weekly memory loss is/was definitely annoying but not as much as losing whole time periods and experiences with family and friends. Nor as odd and disturbing as getting lost in your own, extended, neighborhood.
Memory lapses have come to the fore in just regular, daily, chatting with my partner and friends. It’s not a matter of forgetting a grocery item but whole experiences. I’ve lost the memories to countless trips of travel, dining at restaurants, museum/gallery visits, and various random other things. It’s possible these memories will come back and I very much hope so. Sometimes, some visual or aural components can revive a memory, but not always.
The memory loss also comes into play geographically and procedurally. I can forget specific locations I’ve been to or lived in. Both at a larger, conceptual experience like, ‘How do I get the subway ticket’ to ‘Oh, I thought x was here or there’. Or, perhaps, I have a specific visual memory in mind but can’t put it on a map. Like a fantastic bookshop in Torino which sells both fiction and art books in English. (found it).
This memory loss also affects movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read. Ironically, I read the Elena Ferrante books whilst in hospital this time around and even recommended them to my best friend in the US. Don’t you know, the books will serve as HBO’s first foreign language series. No memory of the stories now. I will have to re-read them before watching. And so many others…
Given these side effects, It does seem like having my brain wiped clean. Like reformatting a hard drive. Or moving through an Ashtanga chaturanga. Cleaning the slate. In this regard, it’s incredibly good and, somehow chemically, needed.
At the end of the day it’s a tradeoff. I’ve hit the end of the road regarding medical treatment for Major Depression and Treatment-Resistant Depression. Until medicine catches up with research, this is it.
As Carrie Fisher stated about ECT, in her book ‘Wishful Drinking’, “Some of my memories will never return. They are lost – along with the crippling feeling of defeat and hopelessness. Not a tremendous price to pay.”
Images included are random sketches made during this time. All rights reserved.