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Thursday, December 23, 2004

I posted this on ETS yesterday, and I get the feeling I'll need a variation of it again someday, so I'm reproducing it here:

My mother has bipolar. Not pussified cyclothymia, but fullblown, breakdown-every-year, long-stays-in-psych-wards, extreme-mania bipolar. About 0.01% of manic depressives have her type of bipolar, which is almost exclusively manic and very recurrent.

She has had three courses of ECT so far. Honestly, I don't remember exactly which years they were, but they were in the late 80's and early 90's. ECT is not some outdated treatment discarded by modern medicine but is still practiced.

Many people think ECT is "barbaric," but it's no more barbaric than most other treatments that routinely occur in mental institutions. Restraints and solitary aren't a walk in the park. Neither is having to share your room with a couple of potentially dangerous schizophrenics, IMO. One time when she had an episode while we were on holiday in Singapore, she was literally tied naked to a bed (mind you, after seeing the inside of a Singapore psych ward, I think Singapore is a barbaric country). Psych drugs aren't exactly good for patients either, you know. Aside from the psychological effects, after 11 years of taking Lithium (she thankfully stopped lithium in 1998 and is now on Epilem), my mother has developed type II diabetes, and I'm sure more physiological ill-effects will manifest themselves in the years to come.

But let me tell you a story about ECT. In 1992, when I was 12 years old, my mother had an episode of bipolar. Normally during an episode, she has to stay in a psych ward for around four to six weeks. Her bipolar is almost always manic, so if she is not institutionalized during episodes, she tends to do things like running out into the street half naked, loudly screaming that she is Christ, and threatening people with knives (To the artfuck types who glorify bipolar: her mania was far too extreme to allow her to do anything creative. Imagine taking five hits of MDMA a day for three weeks until you are psychotic. That's about where she is when she is when having a manic episode.). Quite often, we had to call the police to help take her in. Episodes occurred up to three times a year between 1987 and 1998, and she has had two episodes since she changed her medication.

Back in 1992 (I think it was 1992 - it might have been 1993. You tend to lose track of the psych stays after a while), Mum was showing no signs whatsoever of coming out of her episode after the usual period of time. They doubled her Lithium prescription, gave her a slew of other drugs like Melleril, tried psychotherapy, everything. Every day after school, I would catch a bus to the mental hospital, meet my stepfather, and we would go in together to see how she was doing. She would usually recognize us, but it was never long before she started babbling, usually about religion, and it was clear that she wasn't herself. Sometimes we wouldn't be allowed to see her because she had flipped out and they had had to sedate her or lock her in the solitude room.

She stayed in the psych ward for three months without any improvement. To put it another way, my mother and I lost each other for a quarter of that year. Finally, her psychiatrist decided to give her ECT. This was the third and last course of ECT she has ever had. The previous times I was too young to really understand and observe the results. ECT is administered once a week for three weeks. They anaesthetize her during the shocks, so it's nothing like the sensationalized scenes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Requiem for a Dream.

The first time I saw her after the first shock, I couldn't believe it. She was lucid and completely normal. It still makes me tear up remembering it. I was talking with my mother for the first time in three months. You cannot have any idea how much I had missed her. The day before, she had been insane, but now my mother was right there in front of me, and we were having a normal conversation. She was tired, and her hands were shaking from the shock to her nerves, but she felt fine. I cried with happiness when I left the ward that day.

Over the course of the next week, the effects of the shock wore off. She lapsed back into her manic personality. After the second shock, she was normal again. And after the third, the normalcy hung around. She was home within a few days.

To everyone who thinks that ECT is a horrific treatment which should be banned, I understand where you're coming from, but I also think you have no idea what you're talking about. No one understands how it works, but it works. I know, because it gave me my mother back once.
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