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Recovery from Alcoholism and Depression-My Story-Part 3.Time for the Shock Treatment (ECT).

Posted Sep 26 2008 5:16pm
A Collage of my journey through Alcoholisn and Depression
"This is the third part of an article published in the South African YOU magazine. It caused quite a stir. It has been some time since I posted it on the blog. Have a read and it will give you an idea of my motivation in writing this blog. Not pretty but true."

At the End of the Road

After hospitalisation for Alcoholism in March 2000 ( See June issue of Men’s Health ) I returned home to face yet another test of my strength and spirit. I gradually slipped into the very dark world of depression, anxiety and phobias. As the months passed the hope of a return to a normal life was shattered as a black cloud once again hovered above my head. Without the crutch of the drink I turned to the twilight world of prescription and non-prescription pills. My loved ones had to stand by yet again and see me reduced to a babbling shell of a man. Weakened by my fight to control my drinking I crumbled in the face of this new enemy. It stripped me of my dignity, respect and hope for a return to the land of the living. By Xmas 2000 I was in every way, dead man walking. Every day seemed an endless hell on earth and as with all depressants I retreated into my own private world of psychotic hallucinations, voices and fantasies. Suicide started to be a very real option, the last classic act of desperation. Visits to a number of psychiatrists and psychologists had not helped. Anti-depressants, sleeping pills, sedatives and tranquilizers had only bought me some time, but I was now ready to crack wide open. On a sunny summer’s day in March 2001 in my home town of Margate, Natal I somehow found the strength to sit in front of my G.P. I cried like a baby as I poured out my heart to him. He stood up and came around to me and put his hand on my shoulder. "Alan, I think it is time for you to try Shock Treatment." My head dropped onto my knees as I tried to take this in. I really had reached the end of the road.
This is my account of my experience of the fear inspiring treatment of E.C.T. ( Electric Convulsive Therapy ), commonly known as Shock Treatment.



It was almost a perfect summers day in Margate but my time of reckoning was here. It would soon be time to set off on the journey to Entabeni Hospital in Durban . As I ran my Estate Agency from home I plonked myself at my desk in the office, closed my eyes and listened to the sound of my own heart beating rapidly. My ‘better half’, Mary and my parents were talking in the background and getting ready to drive me through. I took a guess that it was about mid-morning and in normal circumstances the thought of the 120 kms. expedition would be no big deal. But today was far from normal circumstances. I was trying to come to terms with the horrifying position that I now faced. Having started to pop the pills since the early hours I drifted in and out of reality but there was no mistaking the awful anxiety that I was feeling. A journey to a mental institution and Shock Treatment awaited me today. No amount of pills could get me away from that fact. I raised my head to see Mary standing in front of me. She said it was time to go. As she turned away I closed my eyes again and prayed. I would need his help today.
So we began our mission. I had a pocketful of pills and a desperate hope that maybe today could end my pain. My father manouvered the car into the traffic and with me in the front passenger seat we were off. Part of me was in that car and another part of me was in a very secret and dark place that nobody could enter. Familiar landmarks passed us by I was only vaguely aware of Mary’s hand on my shoulder. I sensed the despair around me and yet I could feel the hope in the air. But I had no room for any more emotions now.
Only a smell of fear and dread. I fumbled in my pocket and gulped down another palmful of pills. There was not enough strength in me to go through this alone. The months of despair, confusion and gut-wrenching fear all seemed to come in to focus now. I had never felt so lonely and isolated in my whole life. I slumped forward in the seat and reveled in the grateful thanks that the pills were kicking in big time. The trip to Durban was normally only about one and a half hours but for me time was distorted. Maybe I had passed out but in no time at all I was aware of my father asking me to get out of the car. We were in the middle of a large carpark and I was only vaguely aware of the sights and sounds all around me. As I got out of my seat and stood up my legs seemed to be on their own mission and my father put his arms around my waist and we started to walk. I felt as though I was walking in slow motion and I could not make out the words coming out of Mary’s mouth. I was only aware of the pain in her eyes.
The reception area was busy and I leaned against a counter as I presumed that I was being processed into the hospital. Depression had also introduced me to the world of paranoia and everybody was staring at me. I had made a supreme effort to clean myself up for this ordeal but it had obviously not worked. The relentless attention of everybody forced me to bow my head and I walked with my eyes focused on the ground. There seemed to be endless steps to negotiate and I knew that I was weakening fast. We finally reached the so-called Annexe at Entabeni Hospital. A polite version of saying the ‘madhouse’. It was quiet and very bright. More like a large surburban home than a mental institution. But there was no mistaking the atmosphere. My stomach knotted in fear and horror as I realised that this where THEY would do it to me. I had finally reached the end of the road.
Much like the last year or so of my life nothing was simple. My room was not ready yet so off we returned to the main section of the hospital. Finally my mind started to close down and it retreated to the very special and private places that I had created for myself. I awoke in a private ward with a small balcony overlooking Durban city. There was a T.V. on the wall opposite my bed and a bathroom to my right. Mary and my parents were gone and I could feel that the pills were starting to wear off. It felt good to be in a clean bed and I noticed that I was wearing the new T shirt and shorts that I had bought. In a strange way my mood was O.K. and I could feel that I needed to sleep and I did just that. It was dark outside when I was awakened by a young nurse asking me if I was feeling better and that it was time to eat. She wheeled in a bed trolley with my food and I sat up to take the pills that she handed to me. " They’ll help you to relax." She wrote something on the chart at the end of my bed and then turned and closed the door behind her. With some difficulty I ate some of the food on the tray and as I finished there was a knock on the door and a tall well-dressed man, probably in his forties entered the room. He immediately introduced himself as my Anethetist for tomorrow. He went about his business of checking me out but his very presence had sent my mind into overdrive. So it begins and I was overwhelmed by a terrible dread of what was going to happen to me tomorrow.
My Psychiatrist had taken a great deal of trouble to explain to me how the whole procedure worked but I could not remember his words. My classic panic attack kicked into action and I pulled my arm away from the Doctor. My brain was revolting at the new turn of events. I felt physically sick at the thought of what was happening to me. He must have sensed my uncertainty and unable to help myself the tears streamed down my face. I blurted out my thoughts to him uncontrollably. " Doc, is it going to hurt tomorrow?" He was a kind and compassionate man and he placed his hand on my shoulder. " Alan, don’t worry, I’ll be there with you and I promise you will not feel a thing." As I had done many times over the last year I now felt humiliated by my outburst and I put my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes. His voice echoed in the background. " I’ll see you in the morning. Try and get some sleep. You’ll be O.K."
With that he was gone and I was alone again. He had switched the light off and I lay in the darkness of my room. The pills that I had taken were beginning to work and as I drifted off to my version of sleep I realised that after all the medical advice and help as well as the love and caring of Mary and my family it all was up to me. I would have to find the inner strength and courage to face my own demons. Nothing had helped so far so what had I to lose. Depression had stolen my very soul from me. It had forced me to the very point of suicide. What worse could a couple of electric shocks do to my miserable life. Thankfully my twisted thoughts were interrupted by the luxury of sleep and I managed a short prayer before the darkness overcame me.
Whatever they had given me had worked like a charm and I was awoken by a different nurse telling me that it was time to get ready. She handed two of those green hospital gowns and said that she would be back in 5 minutes. I sat up on the side of the bed and gathered my thoughts. It was now time for the real deal. I would be fine. I had led a colourful life with many dramatic ups and downs so this should be a walk in the park. But my deepest instincts told me otherwise. I was frightened. I could my heart beating rapidly. They were going to pass electric shocks through my brain and try and bring me back to the real world. It was bizarre but true. A lot of people had suffered terribly due to my illness and I owed it to them to go through with this. But they were not here at this very minute.
Fortunately my thoughts were once again stopped by the return of the nurse. She asked me to follow her to the Annexe. We walked slowly as my legs once again felt heavy and unco-operative. I could feel her watching my every move. Was she expecting me to make a run for it and if so, why? It was before 7 o’clock but the corridors were full of people and staff going about their business. Each step was bringing me closer to my fate and I could feel my resolve weakening. Was I out of my mind? The Annexe was right at the rear of the Hospital grounds and we had to walk out in the open to reach it. It was a lovely summers day in Durban with a clear blue sky. I almost felt like one of those men in the American movies who is taking his last walk to the execution chamber. As we reached the entrance to the Annexe she opened the door for me and took me through to a sort of waiting lounge, then she disappeared. I was alone again. I sat with my head on my knees and started to pray out loud. I needed his help now more than ever. To my left was one of those flipcharts that you see at seminars. Some other demented soul had obviously tried to pour out his own demons. The words were the ramblings of another broken and sad person and only reinforced my own misgivings of this place at the end of the road.
This time I was snapped out of my spiral downwards by the sound of another nurse at the lounge entrance. "We’re ready for you Mr. Butterworth." I forced myself to stand up and walked towards her. She too seemed to be watching my every move and as I reached her she took my hand and said softly, "You’ll be fine." Tears flowed down my cheeks as I took a few steps right behind her as she walked down the corridor and stopped at an open door entrance. For a moment I peered into her eyes and wondered what she thought of me. Maybe sorrow. Maybe just another sick and warped mind to be fixed. I froze in the doorway. I had to say something. I needed to hear my own voice. I stammered out the only thing that I could think of. " Lethal injection time." She smiled and moved aside to let me pass and enter the room.
The so-called ‘chamber’ was smaller and darker than I expected. No bigger than a small family home bedroom. My mind was speeding as I tried to take in the sight before me. It absolutely resembled the death chamber that we’ve all seen in the movies. Right in the middle was a long chair, similar to what you see in a dentists surgery. The type that you can recline the backrest. I was sure that there was straps hanging down. Around the walls were small medical type machines on trolleys. There seemed to be at least 6 people standing around, both male and female. Out of the corner of my eye I recognised the Anesthetist who had seen me the previous night. I was only a couple of steps away from the chair but I could not move. I could sense the occupants of the room waiting for my next move. Even I was uncertain about that. Here was my last chance to give this whole fucking scene a total miss. What right had these people to put me through this agony. I wanted to scream at the top of my voice that I was a person, just like they were. I had feelings , hopes and dreams. I was scared. More scared than I had ever been in my life. I was not suffering from depression. They were all wrong. I was just confused and needed to rest. If only they would give me a chance to explain. This was all a huge misunderstanding. My hesitation was obviously the cue for the "Shock Team" to swing into action.


"The final part of this story will continue with my next Posting."

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