This is NOT going to be another rainbow, unicorns and bunnies post on using some natural substance, or some new form of yoga or meditation or voodoo acupuncture.

This post is about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). I will not bore you by droning about how it works and the successes it has had treating major depressive disorder (and migraines). You can do that here, an update here (this is a Medscape article – it may require signing in, but I’m sure that anyone reading this blog would have the sense and chutzpah to already be a free Medscape member! – or, here’s one last link from the company that made the machine used during my treatment course.

My depression is pretty much just the usual chemical state of my brain – BUT – this baseline depression has been grossly intensified by some exogenous events of late. My depression over the past year feels as if I was trapped inside of an F5 tornado.

An F5 tornado (photo source unknown)

An F5 tornado (photo source unknown)

Imagine that for just a moment. Try NOT to pay attention to all those things whipping around your head at impossibly high rates of speed – the heavy, black debris that keeps you from seeing anything but what is swirling around you – and try NOT to feel the fear, anxiety and despair about your precarious situation.

Now imagine someone trying to “snap you out if it” with platitudes, CBT, affirmations – or telling you to meditate to feel better. (I’ll bet you’d like to imagine crashing into them with that F5 tornado, huh???)

[Just a hint, people – never tell a depressed person to “snap out of it,” “grow up,” etc. It is a thoughtless, selfish act of cruelty to do so. See this link from psychcentral.com for a more complete list of things NOT to say to a depressed person.]

I have tried at least 19 different antidepressants over the past 30 years. I have tried every alternative therapy. Nothing has worked, or, I had horrid side effects  to many medications, or, how my body processes them (due to several genetic mutations I have known as “MDR” – multiple drug resistance). Hey, I didn’t choose my genetic makeup. My apologies to the medical community.

So, when it became obvious that I had to do SOMETHING about how depressed I had become over the past year, I was given 2 treatment choices (covered by insurance): TMS or ECT (electroconvulsive shock therapy). Of course, I chose TMS after much research into its origin, efficacy and safety. (And, I have never met a person that went through ECT that came out of the treatment course with their personality and intelligence intact. Nope- not the treatment for me.)

Bottom line: the TMS worked!!! I was a new person in about 4 weeks. Seriously, I can’t EVER remember feeling as good and as “normal” as I did – and it was awesome!!! My sleep and appetite improved. I wanted to do things and go places. I was even able to tolerate my chronic pain a bit better as well. And, I had much fewer migraines!

What is the treatment like???
It’s 36 sessions – 30 of them consecutive (5 days a week for 5 weeks), then 3 per week for the next 2 weeks.
I sat in a reclining chair, a cross between a big dental office chair and one of those used in blood-donor labs. I had to put those squishy ear plugs in my ears since the decibel level of the treatments can be loud. White paper tape was placed on my forehead to mark the positioning of the contacts. The portion of the machine carefully placed against my head was relatively small, and had 2 contact points, one on the left side of my head, the other a bit towards the right side.. A chime sounds to let me know the magnetic pulses were about to begin. (I liked that – with my startle response I would have jumped out of my seat if the pulses just started up sans warning!)  I will be honest. The treatments  – 4 second “trains” of magnetic pulses, followed by a 32 second respite in-between – were quite “uncomfortable” at first. It was not a “tapping” sensation as described in the research literature. It felt more like a repetitive bee sting – or a woodpecker with a large, sharp beak pecking at my head for those 4 seconds. As the treatments progressed, I grew accustomed to the feeling. Each session lasted about 50 minutes. Watching TV or chatting with the nurse during the treatments helped me acclimate to the weird feeling. I am grateful I had such kind, engaging nurses to monitor the treatments.

The issue with this treatment is this: the effects don’t “stick” with everyone. After less than one month of being without treatments, I already feel that tornado approaching again.

Twice weekly maintenance treatments are recommended by advocates of the therapy – and I now can completely understand why now that I feel the effects wearing off – but insurance doesn’t cover them. Of course not.

Each 50-minute treatment is $350 w/o insurance coverage. There is no way we can even consider maintenance.

Well, at least I got to know what it was like to feel “normal” for about a month. And, my husband had a happy, fun wife for a brief moment in time.

I’m grateful for that time, and to my TMS doctor for helping me decide to try the treatment, and helping to get the treatment approved by the insurance company

I honestly think the insurance company would just rather see me dead. There really is no alternative for someone like me. I CANNOT take any drugs. 30 yrs (off and on) of talk therapy hasn’t done much more than give me something to do on a regular basis.

As the tornado envelops me once again, I will try to remember what “normal” felt like. I imagine I will be way  too busy dodging self-hatred and anger at myself for being this “in-valid” person, like before. And – mustering the strength to “put on the mask” so others can’t see my pain.

If insurance companies would cover maintenance treatments, think of how much money they would save, not having to pay for the traditional care of someone like me…all that useless talk therapy/group therapy, etc….and all those medications that were useless or caused more problems… I think about how much better my life would be. And how much better my husband’s life would be. And it makes me even more depressed knowing that I make my husband miserable because of my health conditions.

Based on what I have read about others’ experiences with trying to get coverage for TMS maintenance treatments, the insurance companies pretty much stop short of saying they hope we will just off ourselves, as that will save them money.

If I can’t fight that tornado anymore, I hope that Harvard Pilgrim health insurance throws a party so they can celebrate how they selfishly helped one more person leave the planet. I want them to know that if they weren’t so ignorant about people with conditions like mine (just another zebra), I would be alive, and be a happy person with a happy family. But thanks to the judicial-esque decisions of their “death panels” (just an affectionate term for their grievance boards) – they will decide that I’m simply not worth it. My demise will be their fault. They left me with no other option. Oh, and thanks to the US healthcare system as well for supporting their ignorance.

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