ECT Round 7 went off without a hitch, which is not to say that I wasn’t filled with anxiety. But I did it anyway, thanks to the convincing assurances from the doctor in charge that the debacle of the previous week would never happen again. Apparently, the hospital even held back-to-back meetings about me and what had gone wrong. So, it was comforting to know that I hadn’t been over-exaggerating and that my fear was both validated and addressed.
Which brings me to the larger fear—letting people know about the ECT in the first place. Part of me has been hesitant to open up about it. I imagine that most generally think of ECT as the theory of last resort. That is, they must be thinking that I really am that crazy if this is what it’s come to—electricity and seizures, anesthesia and paralysis. The backbone of many a horror film. And add to that, that there is no absolute consensus as to how ECT works? Though as Dr. B. helpfully explained, “Basically what happens is a neuron dump. All neurons fire at once. A rebooting of the brain.” So not experimentation in Frankensteination. I am still me. Not tabula rasa, but a me that rests (even if temporarily) in mood stability.
And when I do open up about going through ECT? The intrepid adventurer speaks. “Oh,” I say, “it’s not really that big of a deal. You’re out and it’s over and then you wake up and feel shitty for a few hours. But it’s absolutely making a marked difference. No suicidal thoughts. No cuts on the arms.” But doubt creeps in. Placebo effect? I know I’m good at the happy-perky-me façade. Is that what the mood stability is about? Be better by seeming to be better? All the while I’m waiting for the sky to fall?
Then there’s the ECT doctor’s confidence that I am, must be getting better. After all, in ten days he takes me off all meds. That’s right. In four weeks, going from 7 meds to zero. It feels fast. Too fast, even. After all, I’ve been on some form of psychiatric medication since I was 24, almost 15 years of relying on the line up of pills to keep things (me) balanced. What if? I want to say to him. What if the effects of ECT don’t last? What if, two months from now, I spin out of control again, only this time without the safety net of mood stabilizers? He seems to suggest that a combination of ECT and Cognitive Behavioral techniques are all I need to climb my way out of my lifelong battle with IT. That sheer force of will and logic (assuming of course, that I can be logical, that I can assess what is illogical, that I won’t simply be caught up in the whirlwind of IT) can right what has for so long been wrong.
Maybe this is just ego talking. That is, IT (and the Bipolar Disorder and the Eating Disorder and the persistent living inside of depression) has made me feel like an outsider—hovering around those who are happy and content, around those who aren’t twisted by the agonies of living with IT, around those who are “normal.” Being an outsider to happiness and contentment, while full of misery, also sets me apart—I am not like you; somehow, fate and biology have made me, well "special." In its own twisted way, contending with psychiatric illness has provided me with a fallback identity, one that is set apart from the apparently “normal.”
And yet, it seems if I follow a clinical rubric, if I chart negative thoughts and locate distorted thinking and substitute positive thoughts, coupled with ECT, all that difference disappears. My suffering is not true suffering but just the consequence of an undisciplined mind. All I need to do is to submit to ECT and self-charting and I will be reassembled into a functional machine.
It doesn’t work like that. Case in point? The ECT and its attending Cognitive Behavioral workbooking haven’t made a dent in the Eating Disorder. If anything, that voice has only gotten louder, more devious, more determined. Maybe the Eating Disorder feels cornered now that suicide is off the table, now that the cuts on my arms have healed. Maybe the Eating Disorder feels exposed and alone, isolated off from the triumvirate. Like some rabid dog backed into a corner, snarling and lunging for whatever is in its way.
Maybe what I need to remember is to be grateful for this opportunity offered by ECT—that some of the crazy pressure has been lifted from me. That my horizon has widened. That I don’t presently feel like self-annihilating. That I’m being given the grace and space to tackle IT in the form of the Eating Disorder. That I have the chance to make a run for balance and stability. Even if it feels like a mad dash.