One of the most stressful things about electro-convulsive therapy is the memory loss. Predominantly this is short term memory but some long term memories are also lost. During my most recent set of electro-convulsive treatments, I suffered quite dramatic memory loss that adversely affected my life in a number of ways. A few examples:
- Before my treatment began I had arranged with a few close friends of mine to get together while we had the opportunity because I was going to be in Brisbane. My treatment started before the date came around and I forgot entirely about our arrangements. One of my friends was understanding of my predicament but the other, who probably does not know about the memory loss experienced by ECT patients was quite upset with me. I felt terrible and was very apologetic, yet there was nothing I could do as the memory had been lost beyond my control. Part of the reason I am writing this blog is to once again apologise to them and reiterate that they are important to me and I would have loved to have seen them, I was just unwell.
- When I woke up from my third or fourth treatment I honestly believed that it was some time in June. My brain was so confused that for a few hours I had lost a few months of my life. The majority of that memory was restored quite quickly but I did lose whole sections, including almost all of our recent (September) holiday to Vanuatu. Even to this date I only have snippets of that holiday in my memory and much of it is born out of the photos I have seen that have somewhat jogged my memory.
- When I woke up from each treatment I experienced immediate anxiety and fear, born out of the fact that I didn’t know where I was or what was happening. Going under a general anaesthetic and having ECT means that you wake up very disoriented, a little scared and very anxious. The nurses help orient you very quickly though and by the time you leave to go home, a little over an hour after you wake up, you understand that you have had an ECT treatment and you feel far more secure although I always had a migraine as well.
I should mention that it is hard to say what you have forgotten because unless it comes up in conversation you do not realise that you have lost it. I should also explain that when I think back on the last six months I find it hard to remember much, but if I have a conversation about it with my husband I often remember things when he describes them, so I would say that many of the memories are blocked somehow but most of them are there if you take the time to bring them back to the surface.
So while it is very scary and stressful to lose blocks of your memory this side effect of electro-convulsive therapy is well and truly worth it when you consider the benefits of the treatment. And if you relax into it you can make a game out of filling in the blanks and find the positive in the situation, and hey if you’re lucky you might lose some memories you would rather not have had anyway!