A-Z

Helen

Age at interview: 60
Brief Outline: Helen had ECT in 1970 aged 17.. She had an unwanted pregnancy and was admitted to an old Victorian hospital where she had ECT. In retrospect she realised she had had puerperal psychosis (severe mental illness after childbirth). Helen suffered for many years with the side effects of ECT, psychiatric medication and mental ill health. She has now recovered her sanity and has improved physical health.
Background: Helen is a retired civil servant, is divorced, lives by herself and has two children aged 43 and 20. She describes her ethnic background as White British.

More about me...

Helen had ECT in 1970 when she was seventeen. She had had an unwanted baby who was adopted. After this she said she had been ‘married off’ and had been advised by a doctor to have another baby because she was not coping with the loss. It was only in retrospect that she was suffering from puerperal psychosis, an extreme form of postnatal depression. In total Helen has had three pregnancies and suffered in a similar way with each one. She felt the support in 1970s wasn’t as good as it is now. As Helen had had an illegitimate child she felt she had lost everything - her family, her home, her school and so she went ‘on the run’. She spent some time living rough and described herself as severely mentally ill from the age of sixteen for seven years. Helen’s second baby was taken into care and her husband and in laws helped admit her to a famous country mental hospital. When she was admitted she was stripped naked and they injected her with a tranquiliser. The conditions in the ward were extremely harsh and she was doped up with largactil – an older anti-psychotic medication.  Helen remembers being bussed to another block and given an anaesthetic before she had ECT. She didn’t realise this is what was going to happen. She said her mind was like a ‘black universe’, and she struggled to remember her name. She recalls only having two ECT treatments which were traumatic. Helen remembers feeling acutely suicidal, which she said she hadn’t been the case until after the ECT. 

Later Helen left hospital and her mum helped get her baby back. However, she took an overdose which left her sight badly damaged. She was also given medication that she says ‘very badly messed [her] up’. However she has got on with her life, had three marriages and was able to care for her son. However one of her husbands had Asperger’s that she found difficult to cope with. He was also violent and cruel towards her and she had to flee to a refuge. Later she became involved in specialist teaching and her son grew up, became a Naval officer and was awarded for highest achievement. It is only now in retrospect that she thinks the ECT gave her epileptic fits, a form of cerebral palsy and spastic breathing. She has suffering with dramatic flash backs but managed to maintain a family. She has experienced severe and long-term side effects that she attributes to ECT. She used to be terrified of people yet at the same time desperately wanted company. Now she feels she has her sanity back but experiences pain and a constant ringing in her head. Helen had lots of counselling that has helped her figure out what was real and what wasn’t over the years. She swam for half a mile every week and feels that she is able to cope with the pain she experienced.
 

Helen describes her schizophrenia as like having a different personality every other day. At the beginning it was “just dark horrors” but now she works through it.

Helen describes her schizophrenia as like having a different personality every other day. At the beginning it was “just dark horrors” but now she works through it.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
A lot of it is that the pain is a constant ringing and thudding in my head and my brain satellites and constantly the thought pattern is going from one side of my brain to the other and it’s a sort of schizophrenia, every other day I’ve got a different personality it flips from one to the other. And it’s a twilight world, you’re terrified of people, I used to go and sit in a field just to be away, terrified of people and yet desperately wanting people and wanting company. But all I knew over the years, at the beginning it was just dark horrors, but over the years I’ve gradually come to terms and worked it through.
 

When Helen was in an “asylum” many years ago, she found the hospital staff were not sympathetic towards her after she had taken an overdose.

When Helen was in an “asylum” many years ago, she found the hospital staff were not sympathetic towards her after she had taken an overdose.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And also from that point on I was acutely suicidal which I hadn’t been until I actually had the shock treatment. It’s a bit like hospital, you’re not on tablets when you go in but when you come out of hospital you sure as hell are on tablets. And it was the blackness that you were really in outer space and just I can remember walking along the motorway in the dark and phoning the Samaritans who have also been very good over the last years because they’re an impartial body. I overdosed quite badly and that left me blind and they weren’t very kind either the doctors, they’d shove tubes down your throat and in post war Britain it was cowardice and they made it clear that I was wasting their time and they needed to be spending their time on people who were ill. 
 

Helen relied on the support of the Samaritans. She could talk to them in confidence without worrying that her son would be taken into care.

Helen relied on the support of the Samaritans. She could talk to them in confidence without worrying that her son would be taken into care.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And that’s another thing. I’ve had quite a few bad falls because it’s like a stroke. That side of, the right side of my body, the foot curves under and then I fall, which again is frightening, mainly because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep my son. I didn’t, I could never say I was suicidal, only ever to the Samaritans, because that would be the get-out clause, they’d take your babies away, they’d say you’re suicidal and mentally ill and take your babies away. Although I’d never been a bad parent, it was just what they’d done to me. And so you c-, I could never admit to being suicidal. I did at times want to take my son’s life and my life, because it was pretty terrible and because of my sick mind because of what had happened. But the Samaritans were really good and I’d just get through each day really. And I’m very proud really, very pleased with myself. I’ve just come through.
 

Helen found the church and her faith taught her “how to balance things out”.

Helen found the church and her faith taught her “how to balance things out”.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
But for all people, if you’ve survived something like that you, you’re looking for answers. You know that spiritually and psychologically you need answers, you need to come to terms somehow and find a way of coming to terms with what had happened to you. And so I turned to religion, which a lot of people do. And it did work, r-, yes, it did really. I found that with dyslectic, for example, I’d read my Bible, I’d study my Bible and I’d read commentaries that taught you how to balance things out with extremes and going down the middle road all the time. And I learnt you had to keep learning to forgive and you had to, And I found of course people who would give me time and be helpful. They loved a sinner that they could sort of, you know [laugh]. They didn’t want sick, normal people. They loved, the sicker and the more mentally ill you were the more they liked it really. And so, yes, for about twenty-odd years I did turn to religion. And I can see now that was quite extreme and quite cranky in lots of ways. But it did work, it did work. It did teach me lots of valuable lessons like forgiveness is a reaction, it’s a muscle that you’ve got to keep exercising and learn to do. Even if it’s only skin deep, you’ve still got to go back to those fundamental issues. And a lot of the Bible teaching is, its fundamental good psychology really. So there was that. 
 

Helen had ECT in 1970 when she was 17 and describes it as a “horrific memory”. She can remember herself and others being “herded” into ambulances and taken to another hospital where they were given the treatment.

Helen had ECT in 1970 when she was 17 and describes it as a “horrific memory”. She can remember herself and others being “herded” into ambulances and taken to another hospital where they were given the treatment.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
But during that time we were herded into a reception area and we were herded into ambulances that bussed us from the ward we were in to another really big Victorian block and then the ambulances dropped us off and we went into this huge ward and there were red blankets on the bed and they were systematically laying us out in the beds as we went in and we were then given an aesthetic and then I had electric shock treatment but I didn’t know. And I woke up in the deep sleep in this bed and I didn’t, my mind was just black like you’re in a different universe, I had no name, no nothing. And eventually I managed to bring to mind my name and I hung onto that and fought for that. And I was very lucky because I only had two lots of electric shock treatment but they took me, again herded us into the foyer and into ambulances and drove us to the other ward where they gave us anaesthetics and electric shock treatment. But on that occasion I was fighting for my name, fighting to remember my name and you survived because of those who were already insane because they’d shout out to warn you and there was a woman in the ambulance and she was going ten, nine, eight, seven, six and I knew that I had to fight the anaesthetic to stay conscious and I believe that what I owe my sanity to now and so I stayed conscious down to three and down to two which might I got the maximum pain and I’ve suffered from the maximum pain since but I came out and in the end I recalled my name again. And then I was put onto the day ward.
 

Helen was diagnosed with manic depression and kept “going high” on antidepressants. However, quetiapine was “brilliant” because it allowed her to wind down and sleep at night.

Helen was diagnosed with manic depression and kept “going high” on antidepressants. However, quetiapine was “brilliant” because it allowed her to wind down and sleep at night.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And then, so, and at the moment I’ve been on this quetiapine. It’s similar to olanzapine, I think, which is a slight antidepressant. Only slight because obviously it’s a danger, I kept going high all the time with antidepressants. And that’s the trouble with diagnosing manic depression. You don’t go to the doctor when you’re high and happy. And, but this quetiapine dopes you up big time, which is brilliant. You take it at 8 o’clock at night so you can begin to wind down and knock yourself out for the night. And at, in the beginning I was knocked out till about 11. I couldn’t drive till 9 or 11. I had to learn to do everything in the afternoon. But that’s two or three years on now and the effects have lessened. 
 

It was only after her mum died that Helen could acknowledge what had happened and begin to forgive her mum. Psychotherapy helped her to do this.

It was only after her mum died that Helen could acknowledge what had happened and begin to forgive her mum. Psychotherapy helped her to do this.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
It’s so good talking to you because it’s gone now. I’ve been, I’ve talked to you. Six months ago I’d have still been, a year or so. And it’s all gone, it’s all gone. Yes, I’ve been healed really. It, it is all gone. Yes, that was, that was the biggest problem in lots of ways. Even I was made to feel that my dad’s suicide was my fault, my brother’s brain tumour was my fault, that me having an illegitimate child was my fault. And it’s only been through counselling and working through these things in my head, I thought, “None of it was. I was a kid, you know” [laugh]. And I’ve let go of it all now, I’ve apportioned it all. And, no, I wasn’t responsible for any of it really. But that was the only way my mother could survive was by putting that horrible stuff on me, you know. If someone gets left, their husband committed suicide, it was all going to be on her. And she was obviously a damaged person and there was no help in those days, no help at all. And her way of surviving psychologically was to put it all on to me and on to my sister. And the healing has been that she’s been dead for two years really. Once she’s died, once she’s died, you, at first I was making excuses still and being sugary and sentimental about the good points and hanging on to that. And I had made my point, peace with her, and that was good. But as I’ve worked through that with a counsellor, yes, I’ve come out with the fact, I realised she was just really evil, really wicked and really terrible. But also it’s all gone. You know, forgive her because like myself she was just human. But you’ve got to, you can’t forgive people and you can’t deal with them till you acknowledge what’s happened. That’s the problem a lot of the time. You have to acknowledge this happened, this was done to me, and that’s real and that’s wrong, and then you can forgive it. But you can’t forgive I... a lot of that, with all the Christian stuff we, and you can’t, not until you’ve actually acknowledged something and felt it and got it out. 
Previous Page
Next Page