• The most famous depiction of ECT comes from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
When your arm is broken, it's easy to gain sympathy from others - it's not as easy when people can't physically see the pain you’re going through.
Asma Fahmi

28 Jun 2018 - 9:04 AM  UPDATED 25 Sep 2018 - 1:20 PM

Did I ever think I would undergo ECT one day?  That I’d be lying in a hospital bed, sharing photos of the bruises on my arms from the needle marks on Instagram, to the horror of my friends?  Hell no. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be in this situation. But here I am, typing this only two months after receiving the therapy.

If you’re wondering how I got to this point, it happened pretty quickly.

After a succession of deaths of some the most beloved people in my life and the guilt that accompanies it, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. The panic attacks would rear their ugly heads and I was physically unable to function as a productive human. It came to a head when I found myself lying down on the floor of the bathroom at work, gasping for air until a cleaner found me and didn’t know what to do with me. Heck, I didn’t know what to do with me either.

I was prescribed anti depression medication but the anti-depressants did not have the desired effect on me. I tried a couple of types of anti-depressants over a period of eight  months, most of them had the opposite effect on me and made me spiral out of control. Doctors advised I undertake ECT treatment instead. After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t hurt to try something else.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

The most famous depiction of ECT comes from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was one of my favourite films growing up. I loved watching Jack Nicholson’s portrayal as the recalcitrant R.P. McMurphy who fakes insanity to avoid hard labour in prison. He ends up in a mental institution and just like some of the other patients forced to undergo ECT as punishment for his snarky defiance.

Watching the intense shock therapy scenes in the film made me feel uncomfortable and squeamish. R.P. McMurphy’s pained expression as he underwent the procedure will forever be ingrained in my memory. The film ruined the overall mage of ECT and is credited with the procedure’s reputation being tarnished.

I’ll admit I am not 100% well. I am clinically depressed. I have a mental illness and that’s ok. I have my up days and my down days like everyone else and that’s ok. I’m not a hundred per cent ok and that’s ok.

But ECT has been found to be an effective short-term treatment for depression, and is probably more effective than drug therapy.

I am yet to decide whether the procedure has worked or not, but I do know I feel more driven and more ambitious than before. But I am still partial to bouts of depression. Also, it was bloody expensive so a part of me wants to believe it worked just so I can bask in the smugness that it was money well spent.

One of the side effects of ECT is short term memory loss. To be frank, it really sucks losing some of your most treasured memories. I feel like Dory from Finding Nemo half the time, constantly shocked - no pun intended - by what people are telling me and of the experiences regaled by others. For example, I remember telling a friend about a movie I wanted to watch only to be told I had already seen the film and found it mediocre. This was news to me. It’s like I’m an audience member in my own life.

I was hospitalised for nearly a month, I don’t remember much of my experience in hospital due to memory loss, but I distinctly remember having to open my mouth to show the nurses I’ve taken my medicine – just like in the movies! I had these little IV bags attached to me. I remember the nurses being unable to find my spaghetti veins and the bruises that emerged from their constant prodding. I also remember looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, cloaked in my hoodie and feeling very anti-social. I just desperately wanted to get out of there but I knew this was something I needed.

After coming out of hospital, I noticed a change in the way people behaved around me. There were a lot of pity glances and a general discomfort around the topic of mental health.

I may not be as cool as Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I know that asking for help was one of the best things I could do. 

I’ll admit I am not 100% well. I am clinically depressed. I have a mental illness and that’s ok. I have my up days and my down days like everyone else and that’s ok. I’m not a hundred per cent ok and that’s ok.

I don’t know why there is a stigma attached to the topic of mental illness. Many people within my community feel uncomfortable talking about it and the looks of discomfort only intensify when I speak about having to see both a psychiatrist and a therapist.

Apparently these are things I am meant to keep ‘hush-hush’ lest I bring shame to my family name. The horror! Truth be told, I am very lucky my family have been so supportive but I know plenty of people who have been told to hide their depression for fear of bringing shame to their families. 

Mental illness is not an easy topic to discuss. When your arm is broken, it's easy to see the swelling and to spot the cast gaining sympathy from others, but when the illness is in your head, it's not as easy to illicit sympathy when they can't physically see the pain you’re going through. 

I’m not sure what the answers are, but I am glad I acknowledged my pain. I’m glad I’m still receiving help and support from the professionals and I’m glad there are people talking openly about mental health. I may not be as cool as Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I know that asking for help was one of the best things I could do. Who knows, if I put in the right amount of effort, I may never have to fly over that nest again. 

Asma Fahmi is a writer. You can follow her on Instagram: @aztanbul.

Mental health support services:

Black Dog Institute

Lifeline - 13 11 14 

Carers Australia 1800 242 636 - Short-term counselling and emotional and psychological support services for carers and their families in each state and territory.

Headspace 1800 650 890 - a free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 and their families going through a tough time.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 - A free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.

Mindspot Clinic 1800 61 44 34 - An online and telephone clinic providing free assessment and treatment services for Australian adults with anxiety or depression.

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

QLife 1800 184 527 - QLife is Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. 

Relationships Australia  1300 364 277- A provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.

SANE Australia 1800 18 7263 - Information about mental illness, treatments, where to go for support and help carers.

Support after Suicide

Source: Beyond Blue 


The new SBS series 'How 'Mad' Are You?' takes a unique look at mental health. It will be broadcast on SBS on October 11 at 8:30pm on SBS.

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