My brother Scott completed his third of 10 electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sessions today as part of his treatment for bipolar brain disease. He is inpatient at a hospital in Minnesota with the finest brain specialists in the world. This is a great opportunity for him on his journey of healing.
The thing is, it sucks. The first ECT felt like a car crash, aching body and headache in the aftermath. The second treatment was more of the same. Yet after my brother continued to report pain, the nurses gave him some new medication that seems to be helping.
Today my brother told me that he was really nervous anticipating his third treatment. As he waited for his turn for the ECT, he noticed the patient ahead of him was a woman “older than Grandma.” Now, our spunky Grandma just turned 94 on Monday. So this woman, in her 90s, was getting her dosage of ECT. Think about that.
Scott said seeing her gave him courage. If Grandma can handle ECT, then he could too, he reasoned. Without even knowing it, this woman represented determination and hope.
Along with the side effects such as muscle ache and headache, Scott is also coming to terms with the fact that even though he’s “shocking his brain” (an extreme treatment for depression) he is not, in his words, “waking up happy.” ECT is no easy or quick fix. Even after his 10 treatments, he may not “wake up happy.”
How many of us can say that we regularly wake up happy?
What does it mean to wake up happy?
A key part of my daily happiness is having something to look forward to. I wake up looking forward to seeing people I love, talking with a good friend, visiting a new park, or reading a good book. If I were in my brother’s shoes, I don’t think I would wake up happy, either. It would not make me happy to wake up to seven more ECT treatments.
So what if mental hospitals did something to change the dynamics of the day? What if in addition to the ECT treatments, there was something else. This is where outside organizations like scouting, churches, and volunteer organizations could make a positive impact. These groups, with some basic prior mental health education, could be the ones to bring “happy” to the mental hospital in moments of welcomed distraction, helping patients to feel connected to the outside world. Why is the mental hospital often overlooked by volunteer organizations?
I’m grateful to that Grandma getting her ECT. I’m grateful that my brother is feeling more hopeful about his treatment. And I’m grateful for you, for this community we have created together. Thank you for being on this journey of breaking the silence about mental illness with me and my family.