I am 24 years old, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar II when I was 19 after years of struggling with mental health.
A little over a year ago was the first time I learned about ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). ECT is a kind of treatment that you only consider as a last resort. I had been getting sick and sicker for some time, but I was about to graduate college for three reasons: by the grace of God, my mother’s support, and my truest ally, Diet Coke. I was engaged and wanted to live to see my wedding day. I had to tell my parents, my doctors, and my fiance that I knew the voices in my head were winning; I knew there was almost a sure chance I would kill myself and soon. ECT sounded crazy–having to go under anesthesia to have my brain be given an deliberate induced seizure. It was by far the scariest thing I had ever considered doing. And the side effects sounded scary too, the most notable being the high chance of memory loss.
Last summer was one of the hardest times of my life. ECT wasn’t working yet, despite going three times a week, and I was experiences extreme physical pain and memory loss, as well as still hearing voices and having constant thoughts of suicide. There were many days I wanted to give up, but my doctors told me to be patient, and I wanted to seem strong–telling people it wasn’t as bad as it sounded (when really, things were far worse).
But with time things did start to change. The pains of my bipolar lessened, and I was able to cut back on treatments, only being electrocuted once a week. I continued taking medicine and going to counseling weekly, and slowly, things were getting better. I felt something new– hope. Hope that maybe there was a chance for a different outcome for my life.
My memory was still shit; my loved ones had to retell me stories about events I had been at over and over again. On two occasions I forgot whole concerts I had attended, of bands I loved. Everyone in my life learned exactly what patience means. It meant having the same phone call with me 3 times in 1 day. It meant reminding me repeatedly that we had hung out that weekend. I can never express how grateful I am to have those sort of people in my life. My now husband would substitute fun nights out with friends for nights in with me after a treatment, me laying on the couch–too weak to get up and shower or eat, re-watching shows we’ve seen several times that still seemed new to me.
When people asked me about ECT, I would preface that it is not for the faint of heart, and not a decision you make quickly. For me, ECT was a last resort, and I am so lucky it worked. I was able to plan and have the most beautiful wedding, by that time I had cut back to only one ECT appointment every three weeks. Cutting back on ECT meant I could actually remember my wedding day, something I will forever be thankful for.
In late April of this year, after talks with my family, counselor, and psychiatrist, I made an appointment with my ECT doctor. I told him how my life was completely different from the year before, how I believed it was because of major help from ECT. We agreed I had made great progress and that I could stop treatment. After the decision I was so happy, so grateful. My mom and husband were confused when I burst into tears on the ride home, and I guess I was too. I think it was the first time I truly allowed myself to comprehend how hard it was, and how much of me did not think it would work.
A few months have passed since then. I’ve been married for 5 months am the happiest and healthiest I have been in 8 years. But a small portion of me is still apprehensive, always waiting for signs of heading downhill again. But I am trying to take it day by day, doing everything I can to take care of my mental health, calling this my “Self Care Summer.”
Things are by no means happy-go-lucky bliss all the time, but that’s for the best with bipolar. And we are aware that I could get sick again, but for now we are grateful for the the good days. A good day ends with a talking to my husband, reviewing our days over a game of catch or a long walk, and it helps that nowadays I can actually remember what happened that day.
Katie is a wife, friend, college graduate, ECT graduate, Diet Coke drinker.