So if you read here you already know that I deal with a host of mental issues and you can probably tell that it’s gotten a bit worse lately and that sucks. I go to sleep not knowing if I’ll wake up depressed or “normal” and when I do feel normal I’m so damn jealous of the rest of the world…people who can be around others without feeling exhausted or who can concentrate enough to finish basic projects or don’t spend thousands of dollars a year on medication that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. People who don’t deal with intrusive thoughts and anxiety and who don’t struggle in vain to stop their minds at night and restart them again in the morning.
In the last year I’ve done all the things. I did extensive blood work and took 32 pills a day to fix all the vitamin deficiencies and anemias and treatable disorders. I ate low carb and cut out gluten. I went 9 months without alcohol. I lost 50 pounds and started walking and swimming and I tried to write goals and make myself do normal things and honestly I do feel healthier than I felt a year ago. But I still feel fairly worthless at least 25% of the time. And if this is as good as it gets I’ll still consider myself lucky and I’ll just wait for the darkness and dread to pass on those bad weeks, but it’s really…not comfortable. That’s an extreme understatement but you get what I mean.
A few years ago my shrink told me that I’d be a good candidate for TMS and it sounded really scary so I ignored it like any sane person would because transcranial magnetic stimulation seems like diet electro-shock therapy. But turns out that I was totally wrong. I’m going to try to explain it and I’m super going to fuck it up so maybe look it up yourself but here’s the way I understand it:
So part of your brain sort of stops working properly when you’re depressed. And a different part of your brain goes nuts and works crazy overtime when you have anxiety. And your anxiety part of your brain can hijack the rest of your brain that already isn’t working and that’s how you get…me.
TMS sends electromagnetic impulses through your skull into small parts of your brain and it stimulates the part that isn’t working, like physical therapy for your brain tissue. There’s also a way to use it on the over-active part that can slow it down to normal. Supposedly it feels like a woodpecker tapping at your brain for 30-40 minutes a day for 6-8 weeks which sounds not fun but more than half of people with treatment-resistant depression (like me) see improvement, and around 30% go into full remission. I can’t even imagine what full remission would feel like but I suppose if I’m willing to have an invisible bird drill into my brain for months it’s a pretty good indication that I need help. I’ve spent the last month researching it and doing consults and last week after a million pages of paperwork and an interview a local psychiatric unit accepted me as a patient. I start treatment this month.
I’ve talked to others who’ve done it and some said it was a miracle and some said it didn’t work at all so I don’t know if this will be an enormous waste of time and money but I’m willing to do what it takes to try. And I feel lucky to live in a world where we are slowly – too, too slowly – figuring out how to treat these terrible things. I had a great grandmother I never met who had such terrible rheumatoid arthritis she was in a wheelchair at my age. Currently (knock on wood) my injections have me in remission from what was debilitating RA. I’m lucky.
This is my other great grandmother.
It seems like her terrible secret is that she has a horse head for an arm but that’s just a trick of the light. Her real secret was mental illness, and she spent the last part of her life in a mental institution where she died from a “heart attack related to psychosis and chronic brain syndrome” which is probably 50’s shorthand for “electroshock therapy” because that was one of the only treatments available for her. Again, I am lucky.
I keep Lillie’s picture on my desk top. It reminds me that it’s not my fault that my brain is sometimes broken. It reminds me that you can be broken and still love. It reminds me that some of us get better and some of us don’t…but we all leave a trace behind. Maybe it’s light and kindness and gentle touches. Maybe it’s dark and bitter and angry. For most of us, it’s both. But I’m fighting for more of the former…any crazy way I can.
I’ll keep you posted.
PS. Several people I know have had good results on electroconvulsive therapy now so no judgement if that worked for you. It’s a very different animal than it was in the 50’s. Anything that works is magic. 🙂