TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a new, non-medication non-invasive depression and anxiety treatment that uses MRI waves to target and stimulate areas of the brain responsible for regulating neurotransmitters. Dysfunctional neurotransmitter communication is the closest known cause of depression and other mental illnesses, so TMS is a way to potentially treat the source of the problem without using medicated stimulation of the same neurotransmitters. TMS is performed without anesthetic and is reportedly pain free. Insurance will cover it if at least 5 other medications have failed to treat depression successfully. It’s a less invasive procedure than ECT, which is more intense treatment and is done under general anesthesia.

It does not appear to be a magic cure that Pharma’s been keeping a secret from us because the success rate is about 30%, the same as for medications. Supposedly if you have tried several medications without success TMS is less likely to work for you. In the last two years alone I have failed on at least 5 medications. I’m currently on six different medications that are helping marginally but creating serious side effect problems.

The weight gain that is common with some antidepressants and bipolar medications is causing more serious problems than just making me uncomfortable. The medications make me crave sweets and my appetite is through the roof. It’s bigger than self discipline. I’ve gained 30 pounds since starting two different medications, and because I am so hungry all the time my blood sugars are out of control. 400 – 600 mg/dL high. Daily. I should be able to just not eat so much, and I should be able to control myself since it’s actually making me face my own mortality, but I can’t.

I need something to clear itself up – the bipolar, the depression, the insatiable hunger, the grief, the foggy brain, the sleep problems, the kidney damage caused by not only the lithium I’m taking but now my extremely high blood sugars. Something! Help! I’m tired of watching myself die.

So I’m trying TMS. The success rate isn’t as close to 100% as I would like, but it’s not going to hurt me. It might be a little expensive, but insurance covers part of it. Incidentally I learned that TMS can treat anxiety too, but it’s not approved by the FDA. This means that insurance won’t cover it and it’s around $11k.

The treatments take 30 minutes a day, and you go every Monday through Friday for seven weeks. I’ll be awake, there will be scalp discomfort for the first few days and I might get a headache afterward for the first few days. That’s the worst of it. If this can help me get off even one of these meds I’m on I will be grateful. I’d like to get off most or all of them, but I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s something I’ve never tried, and I’m pretty damn close to having tried everything and still feeling very depressed. It’s my normal. What if it could be different?

I’m willing to venture an answer to that question by trying TMS. The answer might be “It can’t be different,” and I’m prepared for that. If it’s anything other than that I’ll be thrilled. I am so tired of trying the same things over and over and getting the same results. I do not want to accept that this will be the rest of my life.

I am going for a final consult with my doctor today. Assuming I go forward with the procedure I will report the progress and the things I learn along the way. Here’s to voluntary brain zaps!

8 thoughts on “TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

  1. Hi Allison. I thought I will share my experience with bipolar. I was diagnosed with depression in my early 30s. I didnt experience mania until my mid 40s. I have been on numerous meds through the years. The side effects to me such as brain fog and weight gain were not worth what little benefit I might recieve. I finally made the choice to go off all meds. I had stopped them before and restarted to determine if they were helping and really didnt get relief from them. For me I believe my biggest challenge is my habit of negative thinking, not so much a chemical imbalance, and replaying situations over and over in my head, in other words over thinking things. I used to attend alot of support groups for mental health and went to helpful classes all of the groups and classes were free, at a very nice location in downtown dallas called Mental Health America. There are various groups every weekday. Learned alot of great coping skills and heard first hand from a young lady there who had received ECT treatments. I joined a facebook group for people who are interested or have received or currently are receiving ECT and learned even more about it. I decided to try them myself. I had a series of 12 treatments at UT Southwest. They did help me. I had some short term memory loss but recovered it over time. The treatments were very easy for me. Not at all traumatic. The doctors recommended I stop after the 12 because I was better and I could start them back in the future if needed. My depression is less. The biggest improvement is when I do experience depression it is much less severe and doesnt last as long. I recently started a part time job which helps greatly because I had a hard time filling my days while most of my family and friends are working. Being active, having a schedule, being around other people at my job is really good for me. Its just at a fast food restaurant but Im not in it for prestige or to make big money. It makes me happier and I have an extra income. I am also involved in my local church and have a strong faith. Quickly redirecting my thoughts when they are leaning towards negative, being gentle with myself, focusing on an attitude of gratitude and believing that I am an important person in my own right have worked wonders for me. One of the groups I found most helpful was Recovery International. Anyway I have to go to work now so if you have anything you ever want to ask me about please feel free to call or text at any time. Much love!!!!

    1. Donna, thank you for sharing your story! Congratulations on all the hard work you’ve done! I’m also hoping to be able to keep a job soon even if it’s something part time and doesn’t pay much. I haven’t been able to work in a long time. Thanks again for sharing! We’ll talk soon.

  2. I hope this brings tons of relief! I know the side effects of the meds are frustrating, it would be great to at least take fewer or much lower doses. Very excited to follow your progress with this treatment.

    1. Thank you! Med side effects make my life harder in different ways from the bipolar. It’s a rough system.

Leave a Reply