By Lisa Stadler
Ok, so….I’m not really 100% sure where to start, but I feel like it is going to be a good idea to blog about the experience I’m currently going through. I suppose I shall start this story from about a year ago. I was working from home, as per my usual, when my cellphone alerted me that my mom was calling. I picked up the phone to greet her, and the first words out of her mouth were *You can say no, if you want to…*
This phrase, *You can say no, if you want to..* is, I think, a genuine phrase my mom uses with me in the current stage of our relationship, when she knows what is coming next may cause some anxiety. It is probably wise on her part, because while I do have anxiety, I also can be a bit contrary, so by, basically warning me that I will most likely tell her no, she is setting me up to at least pause, and think about what she’s saying, in a more positive light…She’s diabolical and clever,the way she can flip the light switch in my brain. (Actually, she really does mean just what she is telling me, I just happen to be the villain of my own story and I think things down in to the ground, through the core of the planet, and out to the other side….out in to space and then into the universe, and on to new planets, where I then create other new planets for me to think in to the ground…and so on…..simply put (hahaha, nothing is simple with me), my mind…is exhausting….I mean, here we are and I still haven’t gotten to what it is I could say *no* to, if I wanted to).
“Well, Uncle Rick is part owner in a clinic that provides what’s called TMS treatment for depression, and he has offered to let you do it.”
“Cool, what’s that mean?”
“Welllllll, it means that you would come here (San Diego aka back home), for 6 weeks and go to a clinic every Monday through Friday for a period of time, and they would do this, like, magnetic therapy on your brain, in order to remap it, or something. If it works, then you will…well…not struggle as much with your depression…if it doesn’t, well…there are no known adverse side effects, so you would never be worse for the wear.”
Remember, I am already primed to say yes to this adventure, because basically, telling me *you can say no, if you want to*,is telling me that “no” is the expected answer from me, and to do what others expect…well that just won’t do. That said, the next split second was my brain screaming, something to the effect of: “UH, fuck no, six weeks with no work, in a house that is 1,500 miles from where you are now, away from your things, and there are pets and a child to worry about, plus you’d be removing yourself from your routine, and the idea of letting go of depression after it has been a loyal companion for the last 35 or so years,?1?!?!?! ALSO, what about school, and rent, and sleeping…what if they say I don’t even have depression or anxiety, or borderline Asperger’s. What if they say that there is a tumor the size of a golf ball in my brain and they can operate, but there is only a 20% chance that I’ll survive, and then what will happen to Zoe and the animals, and my apartment….” That’s about all I could fit in to a split second, I am no super hero, give me a break.
My next thought, was, *Wow, that’s a pretty generous gift, and it would be rude to turn it down*
“You can think about it if you want to”
“I think I can do it, to say ‘no’ would be like saying I don’t want to be well. I can’t do it until next summer, though.”
From this phone call, our adventure began. For about one year, we spent time thinking about the future.
I was already planning on moving, as I had met someone so extremely awesome, someone who accepts me and all of my crazy, and loves my daughter, but he lives in WA state and I lived in Tulsa, OK. So, the plan was, when Zoe graduated elementary school, I would move to WA if we still felt like we wanted to be together. This would give us over a year and a half to either decide we couldnt’t stand each other, or become besties, and decide that we would like to try this whole *death do you part thing*, (but no pressure). We have decided that we can, in fact, stand one another, and maybe even sort of like each other. (I fucking love that dude, but he already has a big head, so shhh). The stars were sort of aligning, if you will. I could go to treatment in California first, and then move to Washington.
Based on the shear amount of thoughts I was able to concoct in a split second, I am sure you can imagine what the next year was like, for me.
Fast forward. It is now June, 2017 and I have packed up my animals and my daughter. My mom has come to Tulsa to drive us back to California in a Nissan Quest. my belongings are little and my hope for the future is big.
What is TMS? Well, that’s a good question, here is a link to the company that is doing my treatment. https://achievetms.com/. There are explanations, videos, Doctor profiles (my doctor is Dr. Inamdar, and I already think she is pretty amazing). TMS is not only for depression, but also can help with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and various other brain disorders. It has been around for a couple of decades and is now becoming a mainstream form of treatment, to the point of insurance companies agreeing to pay for the cost.
Day one: we arrive at the TMS center around 7:30 as we have some pre-paper work to fill out before we get started. The waiting room is nice, comfortable with couches and chairs. Soothing art on the wall, a fountain. Coffee and mints on a counter. My mom and daughter sit on one couch and I sat in a chair, filling out forms as quickly as I can, while we wait to be called back. I feel like I should be nervous, but really, I just feel resigned to giving the next six weeks of my life over to this experience. If it works, awesome, if not..well I have allowed depression to separate me from my family for the better part of 14 years, so the next six or seven weeks with my mom and dad will make this whole experience worthwhile.
Michelle comes out to get me at some point, she takes me back to the non waiting area where she takes my weight and vitals. My blood pressure is ok, but my weight leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Back to the waiting room, in a few more minutes Lillian shows up and hands me more paper work. Most of the papers are a series of questions designed to get a handle on how broken my brain might be. I’m not a fan of these types of questionnaires because my mind doesn’t tend to think in a,b,c, or d’s. But, I start filling them out, as best I can.
Dr. Inamdar is a tiny woman, compared to me. It seems pretty clear that she has compassion and empathy but also is strong. I have ‘face timed’ with her before, and like her. I think she is a good match for me. We go in to the office together, with a new hire named Jennifer. Jennifer is a young blond woman from Minnesota, who is shadowing people for the day. She is working on her doctorate, but I can’t remember for what, exactly. She seems eager and is really very nice. I find myself feeling impressed with the people that they have hired for this office. I don’t feel like a number or a statistic. I am feeling human.
Dr. Inamdar asks me how I am, and introduces me to Jennifer as my uncle comes casually through the door, with his dog Charlie. Charlie is a character for another story, but he and my uncle make perfect sense together. He only stops in for a moment or two to check in on me and then he rushes off to his next thing. My uncle has a unique sort of energy. I don’t ever remember seeing him without a smile on his face. He has a great sense of humor and it’s pretty clear that he thinks highly of himself, but he is one of those rare people who truly and really can afford to be overtly self confident. I don’t think I can recall a time where I have seen him be bad at something. He lives in a world where successful is just something that he is. Actually much of my mom’s side of the family is like that. With few exceptions, they all always seemed to be so positively designed. I truly believe my depression comes from my paternal side, and sometimes I was a little envious at how optimistically designed most of my mom’s family was.
Anyway, as my uncle ducks in and out of the room I am still filling out forms. I joke about one of the questions because it’s about decision making and I can’t decide which answer to choose. Dr. Inamdar tells me to do the best I can, and then she says to set the paper work aside. She asks me “how long have you had depression?”
How do I answer this question? My mom says she remembers me being a relatively happy go lucky child. I am sure she might be right, but I don’t think I remember things quite exactly the same way as she does.
I remember having tremendous anxiety when family would come to visit. Saying hello, the anticipation of change…it would cause me to hide. I remember playing that game, when I was a kid, where you would pretend to find a genie lamp. I was young, maybe 6 or so. I would wish for infinite wishes right away, because this seemed like the most logical thing to do. From there, I would begin my journey into the land of wishes…always, without fail, I would, at some point, wish to be dead. I don’t think I was suicidal. I just wanted to know that there was someplace else and I wanted it to be better than “here”. It was always a fleeting wish and it never, ever occurred to me that it might not be the most normal of wishes.
Later, when I was a little older I would pray to God that he take my life. I was taught that suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do in their life. I was taught that it was against God. I’m not sure that I care too much about what God thinks of me, but I REALLY cared about what my mom thinks, and so I never entertained the thought of suicide for too too long, as being seen as the most selfish is truly worse than death.
I explained this to my doctor and we went on to decide that depression may have always been a very low hum in the fiber of my existence. I believe that dealing with my depression, for me, was impossible to do until it was identified because depression and being sad or angry about things that have happened in our lives often look and feel the same. But they aren’t the same. They affect each other, but they are not each other. I tend to believe that people who don’t suffer from depression, are able to let go of life events a bit easier, but life events most likely do not actually cause depression. Or, maybe they do…in much the same way as smoking can cause cancer.
The next chunk of time is spent talking about life events. Im not really writing this to talk about bad things that have happened to me, nor am I here to talk about bad things that I have done. Just know, that both have occurred and I think, sometimes, depression has been part of the problem. But, right now, we’re looking for solutions to depression, not life events. I have become pretty adept at dealing with life even within the confines of my depression. I am lucky on this front. I have the desire to function. I don’t always feel good…in fact, I often don’t feel good. My shoulders and neck ache constantly, I get headaches, I am exhausted 100% of the time. And so my hope going forward is three fold.
- I would like for it to be a little easier for my brain to get from point A to point B without analyzing every.single.f……..thing.
- I would like to have the metabolism of a regular person. I know what this feels like because I had a set of meds once that allowed me to be hungry several times per day, instead of once every day or two. I ate meals and snacks and shed weight as if it were being shaved off of me. I was tired when I was supposed to be tired and I had energy when I was supposed to have energy. It was glorious.
- I would like to be able to read a book or watch a movie and remember what it was I have experienced. I can remember things from when I was like 3 years old, but I can’t remember what my daughter said to me yesterday. I would like to have my memory back.
If I can only have two of those things then number 3 can be crossed off. If I can only have 1 of those things, then number 1 can also be crossed off.
As I write this, I am on day 3 of my experience. Day 1 was spent mapping my brain. What is this, you ask? Why, I will be happy to tell you. Mostly, my answer is…I don’t really know. But what they did was: I sat in a chair and they fitted me with a skull cap that looks much like a swimmer’s helmet. On this helmet, they velcro’d a measuring tape. From there Dr. Inamdar and Lillian would make the helmet tap my brain until they found the spot and the amount of pressure they want to use. After about 2o minutes, I am ready to go.
The next twenty minutes are spent under the TMS helmet. I am told that the treatment is basically like an MRI for the brain. I have never had an MRI, so I don’t exactly understand the reference. I do, however know what a jack hammer sounds like, when it rivets in to cement. This is exactly what the initial part of the treatment reminds me of, but it’s on my brain, not the street. It doesn’t hurt, but it does feel weird. It is a series of brain jack hammering, done every 30 seconds, 55 times. Once this is done there is another, much more uniform and lighter series of tapping that lasts for 7 minutes. This is designed to help with the anxiety.
Once I am done with the TMS, I am so unbelievably sleepy, but I am scheduled for hyperbaric oxygen treatment for an hour. I go in to a room where this sort of enclosed bob sled vessel thing is waiting for me. I am led in to the chamber and I lay there as it pressurizes and then does its thing. The idea behind this treatment is to help me with my sleep habits. I was explained the whys but I don’t really remember what it is that I should be expecting other than I should experience increased blood flow. Mostly it ends up being a very weird nap area.
Once home, I end up sleeping until dinner. I am in a good mood, just sleepy.
Day two goes quickly. I am still very sleepy but I realize, that I am just that….sleepy…I want to sleep. Normally, I feel tired…exhausted…fatigued…but not sleepy. Sleepy is light and normal, it’s not to the bone like the fatigue that is created from depression. This, somehow, feels different.
I also notice that towards the end of my TMS treatment, today, I feel like I want to cry. It isn’t overwhelming, but it’s vaguely cool to me.
I see depression sort of like an elevator, sometimes. When I’m at the basement level, I am nothing, numb. I can’t cry. It’s a dangerous place to be because anything can happen and I feel very little of anything. The next floor up is where I feel emotion but only vaguely, or if the emotions are strong. I spend a lot of time on this floor. It’s not my favorite, but at least I can feel.
The next floor up, is where I can feel general emotions, and I can feel them readily, and easily. I don’t need to draw from my resources to react to the world around me. I can naturally, and genuinely feel. It’s good. I think the TMS created the feeling to cry that typically resides on this floor. Also, good.
Day 3. I’m hungry. I wake up and eat breakfast. A bowl of granola a banana, and a cup of coffee. I find that I am enjoying my meal. I shower, pop a Flintstone vitamin with iron (the dr asked me to take pre-natal vitamins, but they make me sick, so we compromised). I pop a Deplin pill that I was told to take and we hit the road to treatment. Today I am not sleepy. I don’t even need to sleep in the chamber, I read instead. My mom says she can notice a change in my expressions and the tone of my voice. When I reprimand the dog, I’m not as loud. I haven’t snapped at Zoe in over 48 hours. We are cautiously optimistic. I did not nap today, it’s 10:35 pm and I am pretty worn out. I will let you know what happens tomorrow…tomorrow.
Next post coming on August 17.