Tag Archives: shock therapy

Defense gifts, shock therapy research, and end of school emotions

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Well, that’s it. Thesis is over. All that’s left of this degree is some annoying paperwork. The defense itself was overwhelming, and it was over so quickly. I got great feedback, and enthusiasm and support for my work. I have just a couple of typos to fix before final submission, and I have to finish writing an abstract. I am just getting over the high of being done and having people really engaged with my work–that felt amazing! It seems that people are interested in criticisms of shock therapy when you can show real evidence of some not-so-pleasant truths. And evidence of connections between  shock, gender, and liberal governance is there in first-hand accounts. It’s really fascinating, and to be able to tell people about that to some extent, and get their responses made me so appreciative of the opportunities grad school has given me. I don’t want it to end, but I know everything I’ve learned will continue to inspire me to keep searching and writing.

On top of having the best thesis committee EVER (this is not an exaggeration), I was fortunate to have a number of amazing friends also come to support me at the defense, and my parents. It is a great feeling to be able to share with them what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years as they helped keep my spirits up.

I have to show off awesome thesis gifts. My partner surprised me with an orchid, and my parents brought me a beautiful antique writing desk from my Mom’s side of the family (it’s what the gifts are sitting on!) I’m planning on using this desk for creative writing specifically; it will be a computer-free space.

Defense gifts!

Defense gifts!

Now time to get a job…

 

Troubling thoughts from the “grandfather” of electroconvulsive therapy

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The demographic features of the complainants are interesting. In the published reports and malpractice actions, the plaintiffs are well-educated women, often nurses, with histories of prolonged depressive illness marked by somatic features and suicidal episodes. ECT was the last resort, reluctantly advised and administered, that resulted in relief of depression, physical complaints, and suicide risk. The loss of personal memories is a new focus of illness that is described in painful terms, making return to work impossible. Remarkably, however, the plaintiffs function extremely well in new roles as critics of psychiatry.

-Max Fink, the “Grandfather” of American ECT

This is the quote that inspired me to look specifically at the doctor-patient relationships in first-hand accounts of shock therapy. It comes from an “Perspective” article (most of what Fink has written in the past couple of decades seem to be his opinion; he rarely makes the effort to even give the appearance of scientific evidence anymore). I’m sharing it since I’m getting so close to my thesis defense and I’m procrastinating again, plus we don’t hear a lot about shock (and certainly not criticisms of shock doctors). It’s interesting that in this quote he mentions the gender of the complainants, when he completely ignores gender differentials elsewhere in his writing. Women have consistently made up 70% of patients treated with shock (usually prescribed by male doctors), but Fink tries to bury this. It’s only when he’s positioning them as hysterical that he mentions they are women…

Max Fink seems like a cartoon character… or a politician. He frames ECT doctors as benevolent figures who are victims of increasing regulations into their practice when they just want to help! He gets away with constantly dismissing claims of negative side effects of ECT by former patients by saying they benefit from making these claims, eg:

We can ignore the few former patients who make a career in the antipsychiatry movement. Their complaints have been answered by sober assessments that find no evidence for brain damage in ECT.

Fink never acknowledges how much HE benefits from the perpetuation of electroshock. He’s built his legacy on this practice! He’s developed a film that was sold with shock machines (just one of many examples)!

There’s lots more where this came from, and I’ll probably write more about what Fink has said and done soon, I’ve been waiting to have my thesis done first. I’m excited to continue researching Max Fink, because I’m sure I will find so much that can be useful in criticisms of shock therapy.

Sources:

Fink, M. (2007). Complaints of loss of personal memories after electroconvulsive therapy:  Evidence of a somatoform disorder?  Psychosomatics, 48,4, 290-293. doi: 10.1176/appi.psy.48.4.290

Fink, M. (2002). Move On!. The Journal of Ect, 18, 1, 11.

It’s done! I feel like I just kicked a shitty psychiatrist.

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Just kidding, I would never resort to actual violence. But I do feel accomplished because

I JUST SUBMITTED MY THESIS FOR EXTERNAL REVIEW!

That’s right! All I have left is the defense, which is scheduled for one month from today (December 5th). Then I’m done my Master’s. But as of right now, I’m basically done all the writing! Soon I will be in existential crisis mode, wondering what I should do next since the one thing I’ve been working toward for years is complete, but the way I feel right at this moment is pretty great. I criticized shock therapy in a way that I never have before. What a delight!

I’m going to share the title, because I haven’t talked about my thesis findings on here, and I want to give some idea what it’s about, but please keep in mind that I am absolutely THE WORST at writing titles. It’s too bad, because I think I’m a pretty decent academic writer, but you’d never know from my crappy titles… Anyway, it’s called “Multiple truths and contested identities: Power, gender, and practices of governance in first-hand accounts of shock therapy”. I know, but the other options were worse. My brain just doesn’t work for title-writing, but at least it’s a pretty brief overview of what I did.

Annnnddd I bought wine to celebrate. Woooot!

 

Dedicated to Lou Reed

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All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they’d let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn’t get to page 17
‘Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn’t even read

Lou Reed, Kill Your Sons

Just wanted to put some love out into the world for Lou Reed, who died today. His songs have the ability to make me cry and dance. The year after my stint in the psych ward, and even before I had any idea that he had, like me, been treated with electroconvulsive therapy, I spent many stoned nights flailing around to the Transformer album.

After discovering the song where he discusses his shock treatment, I felt strangely connected to this man, though I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of either the Velvet Underground or his solo stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to listen to when I want to reflect on sadness or dance to some of the more upbeat classic stuff to relive youthful memories, but I’m not familiar with his entire discography or anything. We just both had ECT, (coincidentally, both when we were 17), and I get a surge of emotion listening to him sing about it and thinking about him dealing with the shit he had to go through. Also, the lyrics I included touch on the memory loss associated with ECT that is so often treated as rare nowadays. His shock therapy was prescribed in an attempt to cure what his parents and psychiatrists considered deviant sexuality :(. Ugh, psychiatry.

Thanks again to a fellow survivor and critic. ❤

How did shock therapy work out for me?

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This is what I remember from the shock procedure itself and the surrounding time period: a garlic taste, counting down from 10, floating in the clouds. A painful jaw and headache that I will never be able to describe now that I’m outside of the moment. Confusion over who the people were I was staying with and how people I was supposed to know so well could be so unfamiliar and vague. (I’m not sure when these memories are from besides “in the hospital”.)
 

I got the above question from a visitor to my blog (thank you by the way, as you can tell, I love talking about this subject!) Anyway, I wrote so much that I wanted to share it with anyone who might be interested in hearing my take on it. Spreading our stories is important! I still haven’t been able to really describe it in a coherent way, and I’m sure it will never be possible to provide as clear of an account as some others I’ve read. I remember very little.

My answer:

I personally wouldn’t recommend it. I lost about 3 years of memories almost completely (I retain basically nothing from high school), and I learn in a completely different way now. I lacked any ambition for a few years after, but I was on a lot of (psychiatric) drugs then, too, so I don’t know if I can blame ECT for that.

However, it’s not my place to speak for everyone’s experience, and a number of people have written positive accounts (though even the positive accounts usually describe various degrees of memory loss and other downsides).

What I think is most important is that if psychiatrists continue to offer this as a “choice” (I don’t think “informed consent” is an appropriate term here since it’s hard to make an informed decision about a treatment that can change something as personal and complicated as memory and brain function), they should be more open to the possibility of ongoing (perhaps indefinitely) negative side effects. One thing I left out of my response: out of the accounts I read, most people who reported a positive outcome had unilateral rather than bilateral electrode placement. A doctor should explain the difference when making treatment decisions.

ECT advocates admit that memory loss happens, but most claim that it is only temporary except on rare occasions, The number of people who talk about their negative experiences suggest that they should maybe clarify that there can be more long term consequences. They should also specify to patients what they think that shock will “improve”, because from my experience it can have the effect of getting you out of the hospital and back to (menial) work when you’re too confused to be depressed/suicidal. In my opinion, they use it to make people productive again rather than to help us in a more meaningful way.

I have talked to people who were in a position of choosing whether or not to have shock and my suggestion is that they read multiple accounts and remember that the psychiatrist suggesting this likely has only an academic, not personal understanding of it. A negative outcome from shock therapy is an abstract concept to them that can be ignored or obscured by pseudo-scientific studies that downplay ECT’s risks. At the same time, I know decision making is constrained by a number of factors (eg. what your family wants, a lack of other options, inability to concentrate on reading/ listening to different accounts), and that the choice to have ECT is not really free. I don’t really know that there’s a solution to this problem, but I think it’s important to make discussion about shock more public so people have access to multiple perspectives. Also to continuously work to develop different ‘treatment’ options (maybe a greater acceptance of a diversity of ways of living and knowing?) that don’t assume a biological basis for these things we call “mental illnesses” and their treatments.

It’s something!

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I began my research hoping to bring more attention to the topic of electroconvulsive therapy, especially aspects of the practice that are usually ignored and glossed over. I do not think of myself as an “expert” on shock therapy, but this is because there are too many ambiguities around how shock works, how memory works, and what counts as expertise, not because professionals know more about shock than me or any other person who has experienced it. I want to highlight what is troubling about shock: the unknown; the sheer quantity of experiences, good and bad; the contradictions and consistencies within and between discourses, institutions, and groups of people with different understandings of shock.
 

This is a paragraph I wrote during the free-writing part of my thesis writing today (I need to write something that’s not theory or methods.) It’s simple, but it’s something! Putting it here as a motivator (also because procrastination!)

Electroshock: shaping my life for over a decade

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Today I feel accomplished. A thesis proposal meeting doesn’t sound like something that could be very exciting, but after getting my research approved, I actually feel like I’m doing something. I feel pride (maybe a little too much, gotta keep that ego in check), and such a strong sense that I am where I belong. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my self-doubt and start to give myself more credit.

My thesis focuses on accounts of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Full disclosure: I have had shock, I think about it a lot, and I want to keep learning about it forever. I want to learn about so many other things, too, like neoliberalism, Foucault, feminist theory, politics, cross-stitch… the list is basically endless. But ECT is my thing, you know? It has shaped my life, and I can’t see that changing.

But I’ll write about my experience of shock and the fallout another time. I want to soon, but it takes a lot of preparation (emotional and intellectual) to talk about it, and I’m reading/writing about it so much as it is (again, it’s my Master’s thesis topic), and today is a day for celebration! I got such valuable feedback, and it seems like people are genuinely interested in my research. I have been working so hard and pouring my heart into it, that it’s a relief to see that people care!

Some advice for people writing a thesis: choose your advisors thoughtfully. I absolutely believe that I have the best thesis committee ever, and they, along with so much love from my friends and family, have made emotionally-tiring work possible and enjoyable.

I’m getting my wisdom teeth out tomorrow, so I won’t be able to ride this natural high where everything just feels right for very long, but I’m going to enjoy what’s left. I picked up these comics to celebrate, and so I have something to read while I’m in bed the next couple of days:

fairesty the last man

I hope everyone else had an equally excellent day!