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Archive for the tag “Mental Health”


There’s a dimly lit room at the end of a dimly lit passage.  Shadows move along the walls of the room as two figures bend over a bed. A gagged woman lies tied there. Her straightjacket gleams white against the leather of the straps pinning her down. 

There is a big, monstrous machine next to the bed. Electrodes connect her brain to the beast.

( cue Chopin’s piano sonata nr 2 “funeral march” )

 A low,  gutteral inhuman sound comes from her throat  as the big black machine next to her is switched on. 

Someone quickly closes the door and the screen fades to black…but not before her body is seen lifting  off  the bed in one big convulsion…

OK PEOPLE. You can wake up now.

And breathe….slow….In……

…a …..n…….d……


What you just read is not the truth about ECT. It is a scene from a horror movie. Which modern-day “shock therapy” is NOT!

I received ECT as treatment for Post-Natal Depression two years ago. It literally saved my life.

At the time I was barely functioning. ( not eating, not getting dressed, unable to read or have a conversation, unwilling to get out of bed, unwilling and unable to take care of myself, much less my son who was 2 years old at the time. Also, I had almost no short-term memory.)

I had suffered from Major Depression all my life. I had been on different treatments on and off for the almost  20 years. ( starting at the age of 18 )

I had 4 unsuccessful suicide attempts behind me. I was “self medicating” with pain killers and alcohol right through my twenties and early 30’s.

And then my mom passed away suddenly in my 4th month of pregnancy. She would never meet her first grandchild.

All of these things caused chemical chaos in my brain.

“I couldn’t be with people and I didn’t want to be alone. Suddenly my perspective whooshed and I was far out in space, watching the world. I could see millions and millions of people, all slotted into their lives; then I could see me—I’d lost my place in the universe. It had closed up and there was nowhere for me to be. I was more lost than I had known it was possible for any human being to be.”
― Marian Keyes, Anybody Out There?

Marian Keyes

Incorrectly treated depression for such a long period of time causes the brain to eventually “shut down”. The nerve endings literally stop firing . 

Sylvia Plath

“It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next.

It made me tired just to think of it.”
― Sylvia PlathThe Bell Jar

Researchers have noted differences in the brains of people who are depressed as compared to people who are not. For instance, the hippocampus, a small part of the brain that is vital to the storage of memories, appears to be smaller in people with a history of depression than in those who’ve never been depressed. A smaller hippocampus has fewer serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a calming brain chemical known as a neurotransmitter that allows communication between nerves in the brain and the body.

And this is where ECT comes into the picture.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure in which electric currents are passed through the brain, deliberately triggering a brief seizure which “wakes up” the nerve endings. Electroconvulsive therapy seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. It often works when other treatments are unsuccessful.


I had 6 treatments over 15 days.

Electrodes were attached to certain areas on my scalp and I received just enough anesthetic to be “lights out”( ! ) for more or less 5 minutes.

I felt no pain and had no memory afterwards of the seizure induced.

When I woke up I my head felt “hot” and I was slightly nauseous. These feelings passed within minutes and I could go home straight afterwards.

No big deal.

Am I “cured”?

I will have to be on medication for the rest of my life.

I have to be careful with things like flu meds and especially with pain killers which affect my mood negatively.

But I’m happy, motivated, energized and completely in awe of my family and how far we’ve come.

I do have “down” times or rather “down moments”, but they don’t overwhelm me and they don’t keep me in bed!

I hope this post debunks some of the myths around ECT and mental disorders.

I finish off with this excellent observation by Andrew Solomon. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

“Since I am writing a book about depression, I am often asked in social situations to describe my own experiences, and I usually end by saying that I am on medication. 
“Still?” people ask. “But you seem fine!” To which I invariably reply that I seem fine because I am fine, and that I am fine in part because of medication. 
“So how long do you expect to go on taking this stuff?” people ask. When I say that I will be on medication indefinitely, people who have dealt calmly and sympathetically with the news of suicide attempts, catatonia, missed years of work, significant loss of body weight, and so on stare at me with alarm. 
“But it’s really bad to be on medicine that way,” they say. “Surely now you are strong enough to be able to phase out some of these drugs!” If you say to them that this is like phasing the carburetor out of your car or the buttresses out of Notre Dame, they laugh. 
“So maybe you’ll stay on a really low maintenance dose?” They ask. You explain that the level of medication you take was chosen because it normalizes the systems that can go haywire, and that a low dose of medication would be like removing half of your carburetor. You add that you have experienced almost no side effects from the medication you are taking, and that there is no evidence of negative effects of long-term medication. You say that you really don’t want to get sick again. But wellness is still, in this area, associated not with achieving control of your problem, but with discontinuation of medication. 
“Well, I sure hope you get off it sometime soon,” they say. ” 
― Andrew SolomonThe Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

Andrew Solomon




What I remember vividly is the sense of terror I felt 24 hours a day. It wouldn’t let me go. I had no control over it and couldn’t “think ” myself out of it. I lost the essence of “me”… sense of humor, my creativity, my drive. I was afraid of everything : putting my baby in his car seat , afraid of dropping him, afraid of bathing him, terrified of cot death and checking him constantly. I had nightmares of him screaming and being unable to get to him. “Forgetting” him in carparks, in lifts and in closed up buildings with thousands of stairs………

I didn’t feel up to getting dressed or brushing my teeth. I was permanently in tears. I lay awake with a pounding heart waiting for him to wake up again. I was scared of leaving the house.I couldn’t face anyone or anything…it felt like the worst failure of my life. Guilt, panic, irrational fear, a sense of utter hopelessness , a feeling of being trapped : that is Post Natal Depression.

I had wanted this baby more than anything. I couldn’t wait for that moment when our eyes would meet for the first time.I had faithfully read all those baby magazines and all the books I could lay my hands on. I thought I knew it all. But nothing turned out the way I had it planned. I had an emergency ceasar due to high blood pressure. I did not recognize this baby and felt no connection to him. I caught myself thinking : “I wonder where this child’s real mother is? Can’t she just come and take him now? “….

Having battled with depression since about age 18 , suicide was always my “trump card”. It was a way out if things got too tough. I had the power to end the hurt. I could end it all and the world would be better off without me. PND brought it all back. In triplicate. My son would be better off without me. I couldn’t be his mother. I had no idea how to do it. I had it all planned out : his grandmother and his father would raise him. I would not be part of the equation.

I took an overdose.

I survived.

I ( finally ) got help.

( what this “help” entailed is another post for another day…)

What contributed to my PND ?

– a history of incorrectly treated depression

– my mom’s death while I was 16 weeks pregnant with her first grandchild

– being a perfectionist

– unsuccessful breastfeeding. IF IT DOESN’T WORK, IT DOESN’T WORK. GIVE THE CHILD A BOTTLE AND GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE. I wish someone had said that to me.

– my MIL visited for 7 weeks after the birth and played ” Baby Baby ” as if he was her own. She took him when he cried and claimed his first smile as being ” just for grandma”. To me at the time it felt like the ultimate rejection. He didn’t want me. End of story.


My advice for caregivers :

  • just listen. Don’t question.
  • Understand that this a very real condition. And know that a history of depression is almost a guarantee for PND.

* don’t say “pull yourself together” . We just can’t.

* be aware of symptoms and GET HELP.

* Don’t take a suicide warning lightly. If suicide is threatened it will most definitely be attempted.




You and your baby deserve a wonderful life together. Go and get it.

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