My brother called me last night from the hospital where he is getting electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to treat his severe bipolar brain disease. ECT is not a cure, but it can significantly improve his depression.
I can hear the fatigue, fear and hunger in his voice. Today he is getting his second round of treatment, which felt like a car wreck the first time, like whiplash and body trauma…head to toe. Next time they’ll use a stronger dosage of muscle relaxers.
It’s what used to be called shock therapy and it’s been around for a long time. I could Google it and know more, but the truth is that right now I don’t want to know more. It is enough to know that my brother is somewhere faraway getting his brain electrocuted. I’m sure it’s not as barbaric as it sounds.
I don’t need Google to tell me how uncertain he feels, how tired and uncomfortable he is in this early stage of treatment. There are therapeutic support groups available in the hospital, but for an extra charge. He can’t afford to get the emotional support, so instead he sits in his hospital room alone.
I don’t need Google to tell me that the mental health care system seems broken and in need of shock therapy itself. How can people fully recover from mental illness if the very methods of treatment are out of reach, whether financially or physically? It seems cruel to have a patient like my brother endure ECT without full support in-between the daily sessions of treatment.
So as is my custom with my family and mental illness, I pray and I write and I worry and I wonder. And I invite whoever will listen to do these things with me.
How can we do this better?
What does hope look like for my brother and millions like him?
Why does the path towards healing involve suffering?