Overcoming Depression and Anxiety
So, it’s time for some personal stuff. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but I have suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my life. It’s genetic and runs in the family. Thank goodness we have a psychology professor (my dad) and a psychiatrist (my little sis) in the mix.
If you don’t suffer from a mental illness or if you’re not close to someone who does, here’s what you need to know:
- Mental illness is not a character defect or laziness – it’s an illness – most often caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance.
- Each person with mental illness will have their own experiences – not everyone feels the same way. But, there are some universal symptoms.
- There are people in your life who suffer, but hide their symptoms well.
- If you’re a human, you’ve experienced sadness, temporary depression, fear, nervousness, possibly even grief. This is not the same as a mental illness – which is usually more severe and certainly longer lasting. It’s very hard to understand what major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (or akathisia) are like if you haven’t experienced them. When I’ve been on a good stretch, I can’t even remember how bad it was!
I have tried almost every medication known to man. They made me gain weight that I still haven’t been able to lose and caused all kinds of side effects, but sometimes they worked (I had a good 10 year run on one medicine combo). They worked until they didn’t. Suddenly they either didn’t work or increased my anxiety to a point where I was trading one debilitating illness for another. Having a mental illness and running out of possibilities is a very scary thing.
I was in a very dark place, with no options – then I heard about TMS. Trans-magnetic cranial stimulation (TMS) sounded like something from a science fiction movie. You sit in a what is more or less a dentist’s chair and watch TV while an MRI-strength magnet creates electric pulses that go off like a woodpecker in your head every few seconds. There’s science behind it of course (the electricity stimulates the areas in the brain that are less active and promotes neurotransmitter activity – it does basically the same thing a medication would do but without side effects), and it’s FDA approved, but still a new treatment option. (Many pregnant women use TMS as a non-medication depression therapy.)
I was in a place where any treatment needed to be explored. But not only that, I’ve had all kinds of uncomfortable beauty treatments – waxing, peels, laser hair removal, CoolSculpting, IPL, Pixel Laser, Ultherapy – and even plastic surgery. So, I was a little nervous, but I needed to fix my brain and I knew I could handle it.
So, after watching lots of testimonials and doctor discussions and lectures on TMS, I decided to go to Southern California TMS Center. The treatments are very expensive, but they take insurance (as do many TMS centers across the country). And no – they didn’t pay me or comp treatments for me to write this. This is me sharing my personal issues – purely in hopes that TMS can help someone else out there who needs help.
It turns out that TMS is uncomfortable yes, but not that bad, and you get used to it very quickly. It ‘s very loud and feels like a woodpecker tapping your head. It’s not something you need sedation for or anything like that. Totally reasonable. And there’s no down time.
The nurses and doctors become like family because you have to go often (every weekday for 2-3 months). The staff at SoCal TMS were SO nice – amazing really that they can deal with depressed patients every day and still be super positive. Shout out to Stephanie!
My progress was not exactly “normal” (there’s really no normal). I had a lot of ups and downs the entire time. I also felt the effects very early – some people don’t feel anything until the middle or end of the series. I felt a buzzy, floaty feeling after the second treatment. And then my moods seemed to go up and down A LOT during the course of treatment.
Depression was the main issue, but anxiety was a close second. So, the doctor treated my left prefrontal cortex for depression and my right prefrontal cortex for anxiety (it’s not as simple as all that, but that’s more or less the gist).
Neal Brennan (comedian – of Chappelle Show fame) also went to SoCal TMS Center (there are lots of celebrities and big shots, but not every one wants to talk about it), and he talked about his experience on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and online.
After 40+ treatments, I can say that my depression had lifted! I wasn’t at all sure it would work, but it totally did. I may need to go in for a treatment or two every now and then (probably months or even years from now), but I won’t need to complete a whole series of treatments. Amazing! If you want to try TMS, find out if your insurance will cover it and then look for a TMS center in your area. I highly recommend reading 3000 Pulses Later – Martha Rhodes’ story about her experience with TMS when it was still very new.
However, because of my “special ridiculously sensitive body”, my depression went away and my anxiety got worse. So, now I’m dealing with that. MOST people don’t have increased anxiety after TMS – if anything it helps with anxiety for most people.
Most of the anti-anxiety drugs are physically addictive and have a lot of crappy side effects. There are a few things that have worked for me or that I’m currently trying out. Here are my tricks:
- Distraction. They say you shouldn’t avoid your problems by distracting yourself. Well, if you’re getting help for a mental illness and doing everything you can to “fix” the problem, there are going to be times when you just have to wait out the storm.When that happens, I have to tell myself that “this too shall pass.” During these times, I watch a lot of TV/movies (or if I’m up for leaving the house – have my fiance take me to a movie). Especially comedy. Laughing and smiling really helps. And books can really help. Not self-help books, but books that make you laugh, or take you away from your troubles. I have read Jenny Lawson (AKA The Bloggess)’s books several times. DEFINITELY BUY HER BOOKS! (Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy) Seriously – I laughed out loud so many times when my poor fiance was trying to sleep!
- Meditation. Whether your mental illness is caused by wacky neurotransmitters or not, you can create new pathways in the brain by meditating or visualization (or even prayer if that’s your thing). It sounds ridiculous, but researchers now know that the brain is neuroplastic and can be changed. To learn more about this, I highly recommend this book by James H. Silberman. My latest test is to train my brain by meditating while wearing an essential oil blend from Healanah. It’s a “handmade healing spray” called “Enjoy” and to me, it really does smell like happiness. It smells like sugared lemons (petit-grain and grapefruit), which is uplifting (and reminds me of my time in London years ago). My goal is to associate positive thoughts with this scent. Even if it doesn’t work, I smell damn good.
- Sunshine. Sounds silly, but sunlight is necessary to create Vitamin D and serotonin. We spend a lot of time indoors staring at screens. And wearing too much sunscreen can actually be a bad thing when it comes to lack of sunlight.
- A good support system. My fiance (the most empathetic guy I’ve ever met) and my family and friends have been life savers for me. They are always there to listen, even when it seems like I’ve gone over the same issues a million times with them. If you don’t have caring, understanding people in your life, definitely seek out a good therapist. Even if you do have a great support system, a therapist can be helpful. I haven’t had much experience in this department, but I know a lot of people who swear by it. I plan to explore the wonderful world of therapy and see if it helps me.
- Exercise. Yeah…I’m still working on this one. When I’m feeling depressed or anxious, I often want to hide in bed – not run around town. I bought an exercise bike for my apartment – which has helped to get me moving. I think this will help if you can do it. If you can’t do it, don’t worry about it. Worrying about the things you SHOULD be doing when you’re depressed is one of the worst symptoms!
So now that I’ve bared my soul and hopefully did my part to end the (UTTERLY RIDICULOUS) stigma around mental illness, I hope to hear from you. Please share anything that has helped you through depression, anxiety or even just a rough life patch in the comments section below. Or if you have any questions about TMS, ask me! You never know who you might help. Thanks for reading!