When I was 14, my mom took me to the family doctor because I was sleeping excessively and, she eventually discovered, self-harming. As a result of that appointment, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition that can cause lethargy and depression. It’s treated with a prescription medication, which I started, and life went on.
Fast Forward Three Years
When I was 17, I landed in the hospital due to deteriorating mental health. Since my thyroid no longer was to blame, I received my first diagnosis of major depressive disorder and, subsequently, my first prescription anti-depressant.
That first anti-depressant didn’t work.
It made me feel numb, like a zombie. Sure, I stopped feeling sadness, but I also stopped feeling anything, including joy, excitement or contentment. I have come to expect failed medications in treating depression. Doctors will simply prescribe something else and see what happens.
Fast Forward to Present Day
I’ve now been on the medication treadmill for 15 years. For me, and so many others with severe chronic depression, not receiving treatment simply isn’t an option. Without the support of medication, I am essentially non-functional. As an only parent, I can’t afford to spend months on end not able to get out of bed or cook a meal.
I’ve tried no fewer than 10 different medications in countless doses, combinations and configurations. I’ve spent all these years believing this was the normal treatment process and the only non-invasive option.
But the truth is, depression medications are invasive. I’ve dealt with side effects ranging from emotional deadening to digestive issues and weight gain to sexual dysfunction, and more. I spent my entire 20s fighting with medications and trying to make impossible decisions about where I would be willing to sacrifice quality of life in order to achieve mental health.
About four years ago, I finally tried a medication that seemed to work really well for me. Significant improvements in my depression symptoms and minimal side effects. Joy of joys! That medication continued to work for me for all these years until recently, it just stopped.
I didn’t know this was a thing that happened, but apparently it’s a well-known phenomenon called tachyphylaxis.
Electro Convulsive Therapy
Depressed and faced with the prospect of getting back on the medication treadmill, I felt extremely hopeless. I began researching the only other treatment for depression that I was aware of: Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT). Now, ECT is not as scary as it sounds, and it is nothing like how the media portrays it (think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). It is, however, pretty invasive. It amounts to the equivalent of a surgery, complete with general anesthesia and a lengthy recovery period.
ECT appears to be a highly effective treatment for depression and can produce long-lasting results. I’m at the point in my life and with my depression and I am no opposed to having a more intensive procedure if it means serious relief from the illness.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Imagine my surprise when I discovered Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which seems to be a best-of-all-worlds, dream-come-true, damn near miracle treatment, that I had literally never heard of.
What’s up with that, doctors?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that research shows patients with difficult-to-treat depression can get well after trying several treatment strategies, but the odds of beating the depression diminish with every additional treatment strategy needed. This means that the chances I was going to see an improvement 10 medications later, is very, very small.
TMS, on the other hand, has a 70% chance of relieving me of depression for at least a year, if not more, and I can stop taking medication. There are no side effects, no medications and it’s effective in six weeks. I’ve never called a doctor’s office so fast.
What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?
So what is TMS anyway? Well, it’s complicated, and I’m not a neurologist, but I can point you to a good YouTube video, if you’re interested in learning the science behind it. This is an over-simplified metaphor, but think of TMS as a process to “reboot” the brain, leading to effective response to neurotransmitters.
There’s a lot more to know about TMS and the process of getting it. As of now, I have completed the intake process at a reputable TMS Center and am only two weeks away from starting treatment. I’m feeling much more hopeful with this on the horizon. It’s helping to keep the dark cloud at bay. I feel like this could be one of the most meaningful journeys of my life, and I’m excited to bring you along with me.
I’ll blog at least once more about my experience with TMS, so stay tuned!