Janalynne Rogers shares her experience with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), often called “shock treatment”—but it’s far less crude and risky than you might think:
Note: The kind editors at The Atlantic gave me the option of posting this anonymously. I’ve decided to use my full name because there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to having a mental illness and seeking whatever treatment works for you.
With the tragic death of Carrie Fisher propelling mental illness back into the mainstream media spotlight, I’ve been fielding more questions than ever about living with bipolar disorder. As someone with bipolar I [characterized by at least one manic episode, compared to the lesser bipolar II], I experience manic episodes wherein I feel invincible. I also have episodes of crippling depression. The most dangerous episodes are mixed, presenting with unbearable sadness combined with intense anger, self-loathing, and frenetic energy. Not only do I desperately want to die, I have the motivation to make that happen.
One of the things people are most curious about is ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Carrie Fisher was candid about her experiences with it, yet for many people ECT remains a mysterious, frightening concept. But ECT saved my life.
In 2012, an overwhelming mixed episode had me fighting for my mind and my life, and I begged my psychiatrist for help. He admitted me to the psych ward. After I settled in, we discussed changing my medication. We’d been conducting this chemistry experiment for 15 years, but it wasn’t enough. I had run out of options. He recommended ECT. It was my best shot at taking back control of my bipolar brain.
Before I agreed, I did some research. I learned that ECT was still the recommended second line of treatment in the standard medical guide to mental illness (the first being the drugs that had failed me). I considered the list of side effects, including memory loss, impaired thinking, and headaches. When the other option was waiting until I finally snapped and took my own life, these seemed like minor inconveniences.
So, I signed up for voluntary brain electrocution. For those unfamiliar with ECT, it goes something like this: