It was fall 1968. I was 13 years old and very unhappy with my family life. The only way I knew how to get attention and help was take an overdose of my stepmother’s Valium. But, no one ever bothered to ask me what was going on or why I did it. I was just a kid. I ended up being referred to a psychiatrist by our family doctor. The psychiatrist wasn’t interested in talking to me or finding out what was really going on with me. Instead, he admitted me to the psychiatric ward and put me on high doses of antidepressants and antipsychotics.
I was unconscious during most of my time in the hospital—so drugged up that I was unable to think. I couldn’t even remember my therapy sessions. The drugs didn’t improve me in any way.
After a short while, the psychiatrist met with my parents because the drugs “weren’t working.” I waited outside the office while they talked. After a long time, they came out and my dad looked upset. The psychiatrist told me that my parents were going to explain to me what would happen next and he let us use his office.
My dad started to speak to me but he broke off, telling my step-mom to talk to me instead. She said that they had talked to the psychiatrist and he said the drugs weren’t really making a difference, so he wanted to try something a little more drastic.
I froze—scared of what could be more drastic than going through a semi-conscious period from the antidepressants and antipsychotics that didn’t do anything but knock me out.
My step-mom said that the psychiatrist wanted to give me electroshock treatment (also known as ECT) and said he had “cured depressed patients” with it.
I had seen the room where patients waited on gurneys outside a big door marked “ECT.” Some of them, frantic to get away, were attended by orderlies who prevented their escape. The atmosphere there was dark, the patients’ terror and anxiety making the room reek with urine and sour sweat.
I violently shook my head no and started to cry. My step-mom was surprised by my refusal. She said “but the psychiatrist feels this is the best thing for you and you aren’t getting better with drugs and therapy.” I looked at my dad and begged him to please not let them do that to me. He just looked at my step-mom, who had a firm look on her face and quietly said, “This is for the best. We want you to be able to come home and be able to go back to school and have a normal life.” I looked at them and pleaded, ”You can’t do this. I don’t want it. Please, please don’t make me do it!”
My step-mom called an orderly who manhandled me out the door as I screamed and cried. I went limp. The orderly forced me up from the ground and marched me to my room where a nurse was waiting with a needle.
A few days later the psychiatrist came to tell me that I’d be starting ECT soon. He then took my hand and looked into my drugged eyes and told me that he was a psychiatrist who has trained for many years and had many degrees and experience with ECT and “I would never do anything to hurt you. I have dedicated my life to helping people who are in trouble.”
I soon found myself on a gurney in line with five other people. I hid my face in my sheet and quietly cried. I heard two other patients yelling and screaming, “No!” and I moaned into my pillow. I was wheeled into the room. They put a mask on my face and told me to count backwards from ten. I got to five and blacked out.
When I came to, I was sitting drinking from a cup, spilling it all over me. I don’t even know how I got there.
At just age 13, I underwent a course of three ECT treatments a week for three weeks, I couldn’t remember why I was in the hospital or how I got there. I slightly remembered some of my family but nothing else—no earlier recollections of my childhood. The psychiatrist, who I only vaguely remembered, said that the memory loss was normal and that they were never sure how much memory would be affected. I felt like a robot with little feeling or memories.
All the above occurred over fifty years ago and only recently have my memories returned. I am writing this article because, even though this was long ago, the truth about the damaging effects of ECT must be made known because it is just as damaging today, if not worse because of the voltage and amperage in today’s ECT being actually higher than it used to be.
While my story might sound like something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it is only because that is the reality of this brain damaging practice that must be banned.
About the Author
L. J. Wilde has been a human rights activist since 1974, working with health care professionals who believe in natural and preventative care. She has worked in drug rehabilitation and volunteered in assisting those who were damaged through psychiatric abuse. She currently works as a legal researcher and Human Resources Manager.