A seriously cool veteran was cruising Old Town today on his Harley with about fifty American flags affixed in mysterious ways to his bike and person. I cannot figure how, but those flags were not going anywhere he was not.
I had forgotten today is Veterans Day, even though my kids were all home, off from school, properly running amok. This man, in his leather skins and industrial number of stars and stripes, reminded me. As we approached each other from opposite sides of the street, I saw him nod to another biker passing him by. His nod was enough to say, “Hello. You are not alone. I am not alone. We connect by this brotherhood.” I watched him in my rearview mirror and immediately dialed my dad, of course. “Happy Verterans Day.”
Sometimes we do not wear our history as confidently as this cool vet. How messy that would be, right? Imagine a world where people used their hard-earned losses as a tool to empathize with themselves and others. Where people’s pain was used as a force to connect with their Me and with others. How tiring to receive nods, to accept judgments and applause, as it may be. Right? Company can be a burden.
This is my guess as to why not many of us speak up about what electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has done for us. We hear about the miracles of medication therapies from first person reports, heck, even second, third or tenth hand. We do not hear much about the miracles of ECT. Instead, we hear the sound of quiet or else hopeless barbarism.
I was talking with a patient, Carla, about ECT as an option for treatment, and we laughed that we are anesthetized for a colonoscopy for much longer amounts of time than we would if we had ECT. They seemed like such funny things to juxtapose. The convulsion lasts around thirty seconds and you are done. There are no broken bones. No tongues bitten through. There are no chickens sacrificed on anyone’s chest. Carla had never heard about the physician-patient who had undergone thirty-six ECT treatments as a patient, whose morbid melancholia resolved and who later returned to practicing medicine in full capacity. Why would the physician tell people about his history? What kind of nods do you think he would get? What patients would be willing to go to him for medical care? Carla had not heard about the gamers, computer programmers, the nurses or anyone from the functioning productive public who had the courage to fight for themselves by choosing ECT.
My patients with whom I discuss ECT have concerns. You have concerns. Much of the world is concerned. There are reasons. ECT has improved farther than Jack Nicholson’s report on One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, though many of us were alive when his movie was first viewed. The distance we have come in refining the practice of ECT is out of proportion to the distance in time from when ECT was not much more than sticking your finger in a socket and getting voltage in a continuous sine wave for therapy. Is it shameful being connected to that history? Is it too soon to say, “These are the ancestors I claim?” You know what to do with shame.
There are few medical specialties that gather as many opinions as psychiatry. Yes. Well there are even fewer medical treatments that are found in the company of so much frothing opinions than ECT. No wonder we are quiet. No wonder we are concerned.
So, although we veterans of ECT perhaps have not spoken up in our community, although we may not tear up at ceremonies for what our courageous self-care has done for our country or understand how we fit in, although we may not hang flags or tattoo it into our skin, we are courageous important citizens in company. We are heroes. Maybe not as cool in leather, but we are where we are because of those who have come before us and for what we have carried on. We have suffered and died and lived and we are connected. We have community and we are not alone.
Happy Veterans Day.
Self-Care Tip – Celebrate your courage.
Questions: How do you celebrate what others think is shameful but you know is not? What have you found in doing so? What has gaining your community done for your ability to celebrate? Please tell us your story.
Series on ECT:
- Consider the Barrier Stigma Plays in Your Ability to Take Care of Yourself 2011/11/10
- What We Will Do For Brain Health – Looking For Heroes 2011/11/06
- You are Valuable. Being With You Is A Privilege. Even for You. 2011/11/03
- Find Hope When You Otherwise Must Die – Depression 2011/10/31
- Mental health care probe (theage.com.au)
- Brain Fry: Tenth Treatment (11-10-11) (mindfuckery.wordpress.com)
- Ect (keysinthecar.wordpress.com)
- Brain Fry: Ninth Treatment (11-9-11) (mindfuckery.wordpress.com)
- Depression (bupa.com.au)
- Is a pill that causes suicidal thoughts really the best choice to give a suicidal person? (Psychotherapy 10-19-11 Dr. R) (mindfuckery.wordpress.com)
Probably 70% Miami foreign born and most of rest 1st generation. Not much knowledge about or interest in Veteran’s
Day and Memorial Day. Nothing much celebratory goes on either. Very discouraging and the VA hospital is a circus.
I always always enjoy your eloquent pictures honoring our troops, vets, people of courage Carl. Do u feel like a lone wolf where u r?
I know little about ECT apart from word of mouth, Doc: I didn’t know how much it was still in use. I must go away and get informed, come back and read again! Thanks for raising this.
Thx dear Kate. I am sure u r right in saying as much for many of us. We don’t know much bout ECT as an option for brain illness treatment. I always look forward to hearing from u – it will b no diff waiting to hear what u discover
Soon after my mother died, Sana, I got myself voluntarily hospitalised as I couldn’t cope. The doctor who saw me told my dad that I should probably have ECT. This ‘diagnosis’ was before anyone had talked to me or heard anything about what I was feeling or had been going through, what had been going on. And the thing was – what had been happening was I’d just lost my mother after having cared for her for months, I had become addicted to Valium – and the doctor at the hospital just took it all away from me, no slow withdrawal, nothing – and I was exhausted and emotionally drained. There was no counselling, no therapy, no help. I stayed for as long as I could – four days, I think it was, and then discharged myself. It took me a long time to recover, but I did, and I recovered as usually with my own self-help.
Over the years I’ve known a lot of people who’ve been damaged by ECT. I know a lot of doctors feel it’s a good thing, but I don’t. There is no way on earth I would ever have it.
what a rich life u hv. i’m glad u weren’t hurt coming off valium w/o taper. i’m glad u didn’t have ECT w/o consent. horrible to hv freedom challenged like that. thank u so much for speaking up about your relationship w the concept of ECT, even if your report isn’t hopeful re: ECT as a therapy. Your friends who were damaged, did it last a long time? were u following them closely, as in they were intimate friends of yours and u r around them? how many treatments did they receive? was it bilateral ECT – as in the electrodes are placed on both sides of the head vs. unilateral – electrodes stay on right side of head? bilateral ECT is so much riskier for side effects.
I’m not sure what sort, Sana. Yes, they were close friends (have pretty much lost touch with them now – xmas cards only really) and yes, it lasted. Affected memories, energy, self-esteem, more.
Sorry to hear that Val.
By the by, I went back on to the valium, but came off it properly three or four years ago. I was on it for 19 years.
that is exciting. especially knowing that it might have been part of what caused depression. benzodiazepines such as valium are depressants. what a woman u r to get through that.
While I can’t speak about ECT as I haven’t gone through it, there are other situations where people may look down on me. For example, they may look down on me for my faith in God, but I won’t change for them. I won’t hide my beliefs. I might even just shout them louder. People have no right to put others down, and we can’t allow them to do that. In the same way, people who have had ECT shouldn’t be ashamed, even if society wants them to be. We can all feel better about ourselves when we learn to not let society get us down for things that aren’t even bad.
Don’t. And thank u for not changing for us. We need u; unashamed, full up of the Spirit and knowing, but most especially we need u taking care of yourself because we will get better care from u when u do. Thank u friend. This thing u do, this is friendship. Keep on.