ECT and My Secret Setback
By Kurt Sass
The Hidden Side Effect of Shock Treatment
During the years of 1999 to 2000 I had a total of 22 ECT (electro convulsive therapy) treatments—also known as “shock” treatments. These treatments literally saved my life. At the time I started the treatments, I had been in such a deep depression for the previous 11 months I could not even eat or get to the bathroom without assistance, and suicide was a constant thought.
While these treatments did indeed give me my life back, unfortunately they have caused a severe side effect which I have not revealed to a single person (except for my doctors) for all these many years until this article. This side effect is one of an acute short term memory loss.
Fortunately, I do not have the type of severe long-term memory loss suffered by about 10% of ECT users in which one can permanently forget family members, friends and events. With my memory loss, if you tell me something in the present, there is a somewhat decent chance I might forget it, at least for a brief time. I might remember it the next day, but not 10 minutes after you told me.
To be honest, at first I wasn’t even aware of the memory loss. In fact, when I went back to work a few months after the ECT treatments, my employers would constantly praise me for always being on top of things and never forgetting. My secret was that I had developed a skill of writing everything down on index cards, even the smallest of tasks. I also incorporated this system into my home life. I now had lists for everything. For the longest of time, I just thought I had become a very, very organized person. Slowly, however, it started to dawn on me that since I had never kept lists before in my previous 43 years of existence, so maybe there was a reason behind it.
When I finally did become cognizant than I suffered from short-term memory loss, I was devastated. To prove to myself that I did indeed suffer from it, I tried to go through my daily routine without writing notes. I didn’t make it to the afternoon. For example, I went to the store, which was only 4 blocks away, to purchase a number of items, but by the time I got there, I could only remember one. I know for a fact I had intended to buy many more items, because I had over one hundred dollars in my wallet.
Unfortunately, this memory loss is permanent. I have learned to cope in many ways. I still have my lists, of course. When an assignment is given to me at work, I usually send a confirmation e-mail to make sure all the details are covered. If the assignment is given over the phone or in person, I will no doubt ask a second time so I can write it down. Even the smallest of items has to go on my list. People will sometimes question me as to why I write everything down, but a quick joke about my “getting on in years” satisfies their curiosity.
The reason I haven’t told anyone about the memory loss before is that I didn’t want them to treat me differently because of it. I am certainly not ashamed of it, just as I am certainly not ashamed of my mental illness. I just don’t want people to feel that they must speak slowly or have to remind me of things, because there really isn’t any need. I have developed the skills and mechanisms to cope and overcome.
As to the reason why I have decided to finally open up about my memory loss? Well, just like with any other secret, the longer you keep it inside you, the more it festers inside you until you set it free. I learned this many years ago when I decided to tell people about my mental illness, so it is only natural that it should carry over with my memory loss.
Well, that’s it for now. Time to write a note to remind myself to edit this story tomorrow.