Electroconvulsive Treatment

Julian

Male
Age at interview: 47

Brief outline: Julian experienced a lot of stress when he was 40 during a marital breakdown and family illness. He felt no emotion and felt that antidepressant medication did nothing for him. Julian requested to have ECT as he felt increasingly desperate for something that might help. Initially he improved quickly, but then went downhill two weeks after his ECT had finished.

Background: Julian is medically retired having worked in defence electronics. He is divorced and has a son. He describes his ethnic background as White British.

Audio & video

When Julian was 40, he experienced two stressful events. He left his wife and his Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He remembered feeling angry about a lot of things. Julian became paranoid as a result of events in his marriage. He also experienced psychotic symptoms, for example, whilst on holiday to America he thought a member of the CIA was driving a taxi. He found it strange that in between the times when he was psychotic, he could be very coherent. Julian remembered getting messages from the television and from the news. He felt ‘no emotion’ and no longer felt human - as if his life was “on hold”. He started taking antidepressant medication which he felt did nothing for him. He experienced episodes of self-harm and “waves of terror” that seemingly came out of the blue. Julian was prescribed anti-psychotic medication (olanzapine) that stopped these extremes, although he felt it ‘stopped everything else as well’ as well as causing weight gain. He then took venlafaxine, another anti-depressant, which he also felt did nothing. Julian became increasingly desperate and thought of trying ECT although he had no idea how ECT worked. His life consisted of staying at his aunts, and going to his mum’s in the day. He wanted to go to hospital as he felt that there people would notice he was unwell, whereas when he was living at home he was just ‘pumped full of drugs’. 

Julian requested to have ECT and doesn’t think that anyone told him a lot about it. Julian said that having ECT wasn’t anything like he imagined. He found the most painful bit was the insertion of the cannula into his arm. People explained that because he was given a muscle relaxant he wasn’t ‘thrashing around’ during the treatment. He had about 6-7 treatments and remembered his friends coming to visit him. His mother and step dad visited every day and his son also visited him during this time. Julian remembered going from an almost vegetative state to ‘coming alive again’. Not only did he start to feel alive but he also felt happy to do things - like seeing friends and going dancing. Julian said that he felt completely cured for about a fortnight then he went downhill again and felt suicidal. He then took seroquel, lithium and an anti-psychotic.   

Julian has had a lot of problems with his memory but doesn’t know the precise cause of this. He has also experienced a cocktail of different side effects from the different drugs he has taken. Now Julian feels that having ECT is like ‘throw[ing] all the bits in the air and [hoping] they will come down in a better order’. He feels lucky that there are some treatments that reduce the severity of his condition and that he can function.

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