by Tom Pyle
Will I Ever Be The Same Again? Transforming the Face of ECT (Shock Therapy), by Carol Kivler. New Jersey: Three Gem Publishing/Kivler Communications, 2010. 126 pages.
As a student of psychiatric rehabilitation, I have been learning about the evolution of thinking about mental health care. The best-practices model is changing, if not fast enough, from a cynical, imperious, pessimistic “medical model” based on the management of symptoms of mental illness to a holistic, person-centered “recovery” approach. Individuals with serious mental illness are more than just their illnesses. They are multi-faceted friends, neighbors, and loved ones who can do many things while also working with, and through, their psychiatric disabilities.
A key facet of the new model is learning to understand the “lived experience” of individuals in recovery with such illnesses. As we know from regular everyday experience, we cannot really know another’s circumstance unless we have walked a mile in their moccasins. This is even truer for understanding and empathizing with individuals who encounter and endure the maelstrom of mental illness. We should always be interested to hear, see, and read such personal accounts.
We are lucky to have such a one in Will I Ever Be The Same Again, by Carol Kivler, a mother, wife, and instructor who has experienced severe treatment-resistant clinical depression. Suffering four serious bouts over several years, Ms. Kivler has survived her maelstrom. Her clinical depression–the “Beast”, as she calls it–besieged her later in life, derailing her purposeful, constructive, conscientious existence as a suburban mother and wife. Darkness so overwhelmed her until she only could contemplate her own demise. Finally, when nothing else worked, she reluctantly accepted a medical recommendation that she try electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, aka shock treatment. Unexpectedly, ECT turned out to be the “silver bullet” that helped her get beyond her maelstrom.
Ms. Kivler fearlessly tells us about her story, including one hospital stay of 38 days and her 50 ECT treatments. This is a bold and brave thing to share, when our societal stigma is still, unfortunately, a reality. Knowing better her kind of experience and her trial-to-triumph account will help combat this. It is also useful to learn from Kivler that ECT apparently has an 80% success rate, compared to the 50% or so effectiveness of traditional medications in treating her kind of depression.
Ms. Kivler’s short, self-published account may not win a Pulitzer for the quality of its journalistic crafting. But it deserves special recognition as an expeditious, upbeat, heartfelt account about a very difficult personal challenge–and her triumph over it. It performs a helpful service for all who acknowledge the importance of understanding the lived experience of those who actually must work through such illnesses and must make courageous decisions in support of their own recoveries.