The one thing I wanted to do, when it was all over, was to tell my story. I wasn’t sure what the story was, because I didn’t know, even when I put pen to paper, that ECT had caused the mysterious “illness” that had suddenly befallen me in 1996, when I was 39 years old. I had gone so far as to give the “illness” a name, “The Thing,” because I felt that by doing so the psychiatrists might finally listen, but even that didn’t work. I was told I was “attention-seeking.” My repeated pleas, “What is wrong with my brain?” they claimed were symptoms of a personality disorder. My complaints of confusion were called “dissociation” which were yet one more “symptom” of an “underlying mental illness.”
I remember the words of McLean’s famous psychiatrist, John Gunderson, who said, “You aren’t even capable of sitting in a room full of people!”
I had never experienced any of this before. I had been a music major and I had been a straight A student. What was going on? Perhaps I was never mentally ill in the past, but why, then, had they done the ECT? Maybe I was just fake mentally ill before, and now it was finally for real. Maybe before it was just very mild before, and now it had settled in somehow. I tried to make sense of it any way I could, but no version of the story made much sense to me.
I didn’t know why I couldn’t think straight. My boyfriend kept telling me the ECT had caused me to become confused, but I told him that wasn’t possible, because I had seen a video on ECT on the ward prior to receiving ECT. Would a video made by the ECT industry lie? Would the ECT psychiatrist lie? Would McLean Hospital lie? They had said nothing bad like this could possibly happen from ECT. After all, it was “treatment.” This was new and modern. It couldn’t permanently harm you like the old ECT we heard about in the movies. I refused to take what my boyfriend was saying seriously.
Joe had far more experience and education in the field of business than I did. He said, “Jules, you have to understand their reasons for withholding information from the public. Please, trust me. I think it’s a scam. You’ve been damaged by ECT!”
When I heard the word “scam” I began to fear that Joe was paranoid. I didn’t know what to do. Who was the crazy one? Whom should I believe? I didn’t want to believe Joe because I had chosen the ECT for myself, and I assumed I had chosen it voluntarily. I didn’t want to admit I had made a very bad choice.
I still couldn’t think straight. By the end of that year I was ready to give up. Even into the next spring I was struggling to function as I had before. McLean Hospital, represented by their psychiatrists threatened to put me in a state hospital. I responded by becoming suicidal. I was so afraid of being put away because to me that meant my life would be over. I would have to give up my housing and would not even be able to keep my dog!
I got away from McLean by a stroke of luck. I got by at home as best as I could. I continued to write down what had happened. I found that I loved writing so much that I decided to take writing classes. I did very well in the classes so I tried college classes and then, I enrolled in a degree program. I graduated with a 3.95 GPA when I was 45 years old. I also earned my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing. At 60 now I am healthy and fit. I have ended all mental health care, am fully employed and Social Security has written to me to tell me that I no longer qualify as “disabled.”
It is interesting that John Gunderson, McLean’s guru, claimed after their cure called ECT that I couldn’t sit in a room full of people. Now that I have gotten away from mental health care I have won several public speaking awards and I do not have “stage fright.”
If I could change one thing about ECT would be to ban it, but for those that have already endured it, these institutions should be more honest. I would demand that these psychiatrists admit their treatments have likely caused serious damages.They should admit that their “informed consent” was just a video full of propaganda that we watched while behind locked doors and under a lot of pressure to agree to the procedure. If damages have occurred the institutions need to own up to this instead of claiming the resulting damages are yet one more underlying condition. In some instances the psychiatrists and institutions should pay restitution to victims and instead of hiding the victims in state hospitals. The courts should allow the cases to be publicized as any other criminal malpractice case. HIPAA should not protect the perpetrators, either.
The public needs to be told the truth about ECT once and for all. Those considering ECT should be properly warned. For patients already damaged I would hope to see strengthening of networks and more legal support. The path to getting one’s mind back is slow and unpredictable but it can and does indeed happen. Please do not ever give up.
About the Author
Julie Greene received ECT when she was 39 year old. As soon as she saw the damage the mental health system had caused, she created a plan to escape it and all the harmful psychiatric diagnoses she had been given. In May, 2014, she left the U.S. and moved to Uruguay for the next two years. She is now back in the U.S. and is now fully employed and participates in antipsychiatry activism and running road races. She is currently finishing up a book called Life After Lithium.