By Chris Dubey

Counterpoint Winter 2018 • Commentary • Page 18

This is a true story of self-harm and psychiatric torture.

I choose to have my story reprinted not only for its original value of sharing the truth about “electroconvulsive therapy,” especially forced ECT, but also because I have been in contact earlier this year with some Connecticut politicians in order to have a new bill introduced. I hope republishing this article will further help with getting forced ECT abolished in my state in the coming year.

* * *

During ECT, also called electroshock or electroshock therapy, the patient is anesthetized and then an electric current is transmitted through the brain, causing a seizure that some psychiatrists believe to be therapeutic for depression and other illnesses.

Nevertheless, the treatment is extremely controversial. Many patients report cognitive deficits, memory loss, and emotional trauma. I personally have communicated with many “electroshock survivors” who feel harmed by the treatment.

In early November 2005, I was extremely depressed and agitated. Following a previous suicide attempt, I attempted suicide by jumping off an overpass in Middletown. I was taken to Hartford Hospital and treated for my broken legs.

After recovering enough to use a wheelchair, I was transferred from the main hospital to the psychiatric facility, the Institute of Living. My stay lasted until February 17, 2006. It was the most traumatic experience of my life.

While I was there, the staff obtained a legal order from a probate judge enabling them to legally electroshock me against my will, which they did 16 times, according to memory.

The process started with the urging of my first psychiatrist at the institute that ECT was my best treatment option, as I had tried a few psychotropics that did not work adequately. I remember one day when it seemed he was trying to provoke a response out of me. I continue to believe that some of his motivations were corrupt.

Eventually, my first psychiatrist’s idea gained traction with my psychologist, the head of the institute, and the second psychiatrist. A hearing was held before a probate judge, during which I argued against allowing the staff to involuntarily electroshock me. My brother, mother, father, and a long-time friend argued on my behalf. In the end, the judge sided with the hospital staff, apparently assuming their expertise.

The treatment was abuse and torture. Each day of the treatment, I was wheeled to the ECT room and forced to get up on the shock table, and to allow the staff to prepare the machine and the procedure, including attaching equipment to my temples.

After maybe only the first treatment, I had aches in my jaw and a headache. But emotionally, I felt extremely violated. When asked by my psychologist and the group therapy staff how the treatment felt, I remember stating, “It feels like being raped.” Some people to whom I later told that statement said it is an offensive statement, but it was my feeling at the time.

I had nightmares, including one in which I was helplessly arguing against the judge. I had memory lapses, forgetting names of staff and patients. One day I screamed wildly in fear while being wheeled to the ECT room.

Another day, I actually became so disoriented after getting back in my chair after treatment that I leaned forward and fell on the floor. Later, I developed pneumonia, which I had not had since childhood.

I became so desperate for a way to escape the torture that, one day, in front of the nurse at the medication dispensary window, I swallowed part of a paper napkin. I knew eating before the treatment was forbidden because of the risk of choking later. After the treatment that day, I was taken to the emergency room for abnormal breathing.

In the end, I realized that I had only two options: continue my honest opposition and fighting the staff – while my memory and body seemed to get worse – or start lying about how the treatment was slowly making me feel better.

I chose option two, exaggerating whatever positive effect the treatment might have had on my mood, doing it slowly to make it more believable. I lied not only to the staff but also to friends and family who visited.

It felt horrible, but that was how fearful I was. But it worked, and on February 17, I was released, keeping my dissident opinions and continuing suicidal fantasies to myself.

***

Eventually, about a year later, I told the truth to my family. Much later, I told my outpatient therapists the truth. I started to become active in antipsychiatry, a movement to question and analyze the dogma of psychiatry and its dangerous side.

I took many actions. I gave a presentation at Wesleyan University about psychiatry’s darker side, during which a psychiatrist in the audience mentioned that ECT was performed at the Institute of Living “about 50 times a week.”

I worked with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights to send a letter to the probate judges of our state. (For the record, CCHR is affiliated with Scientology, although I am not.)

 I was among probably hundreds of consumers and other people who replied to an FDA panel’s request for input about a proposed reclassification of ECT machines to a lower risk status. The machines previously had been grandfathered in without the need for scientific proof of efficacy and safety. The panel, receiving overwhelming opposition, chose not to reclassify the machines.

To this day, I continue to have excruciating memories of the legally sanctioned abuse done to me at the Institute of Living. Rarely a day goes by without the trauma passing through my mind. I have learned effectual coping strategies and I use different medication, but the trauma remains a constant memory.

It may be true that the treatment kept me alive, but the means to that end was torture. I believe somewhere there was a better alternative.

I believe in the maxim of autonomy in medical ethics, which states, “The will of the patient is supreme.” I believe psychiatric patients should never be forced to undergo electroshock against their will.

Christopher James Dubey is the author of the technothriller Assignment Yggdrasil. He possesses a B.A. in English and philosophy and an A.S. in biotechnology. He won many academic awards in college, including awards in creative writing and philosophy. He was the sole winner of his school’s 2009 Annual Award for Academic Excellence in Biotechnology. He has written biology articles and book reviews for Examiner.com and book reviews for IndieReader.com.

Editor’s note: Under Vermont law, a probate court has the authority to allow a guardian to consent to involuntary ECT if the person under guardianship is found to lack capacity to make a medical decision. Vermont does not track data on whether or how often such orders are issued.

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