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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!

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Plan B

How many people are really living out their Plan A in life? How many people are doing what they always planned to do, living life the way they want to, haven’t had to rebuild themselves, maybe a few times, in their life? If those people are out there, just give them time. Their Plan B is coming. Personally, I ran out of letters for the amount of backup plans I’ve had to scramble together in my life. Even if I prepare for something, it often proves to be a wasted effort.

I recently got back from a vacation that involved a two day road trip. On the way back I stayed in a hotel after about 13 hours of driving, and around 3am my insulin pump alarm woke me up saying that the pump was dead and needed a new battery. If I don’t have insulin within a couple hours, my organs will start shutting down. So I guess it was important that I change the battery, or whatever.

I had packed batteries for just such an emergency, but it turned out I had AAA when I needed AA. I was going to have to come up with Plan B. I drove through the Virginia/Tennessee border in the middle of the night by myself without a bra. To my intense relief there was a gas station down the street from the hotel and I went in.

“I’m sorry, I can’t take any customers right now, I’m doing my nightly close,” said the gas station attendant. But what if I might literally die? Sorry, won’t have registers for another 20 minutes. Oh, I am sooo going to write a blog post about this, I thought as I grudgingly started forming Plan C.

There was a Wal Mart down the street from the gas station, and while driving there I chickened out and didn’t go in. I had nothing to defend myself with, and I felt there was a distinct possibility I would need to. To keep the anxiety at bay, I did, however, speculate about what kind of people would be in a Virginia Walmart at 3am. 400lb men in motorized carts and long, unwashed hair. Shift workers buying bulk Cup O Soup, being neither terribly happy or terribly unhappy with their lives. Groups of twenty year olds with neck tattoos glistening in the methamphetamine sweat, wearing wife beaters and dirty black jeans. I get really specific with my speculations.

I asked my GPS where the next gas station was, and it said Sure I will save you! Let’s go four miles! But after 12 miles of driving through unlit woods with sketchy looking streets, I ended up on a highway and recognized my exit for the hotel. In other words, back to exactly where I started. There was the gas station I just left.

I figured I might as well go back in and see if she could unconstipate her customer service. Fortunately she could take my money that I gave her in exchange for saving my life. She went from Plan A to Plan D in a matter of 30 minutes. I went back to the hotel and changed my pump battery and got a shaky 45 minutes of sleep before I had to get up and hit the road again to come home.

The thing about losing your Plan A is that while it’s a surprise and it’s jarring, life doesn’t stop there. I don’t know how long I started at that gas station attendant with my mouth open when she told me she couldn’t help me, but also there was that thing about how I would die without making a new plan. I considered shoplifting, but I’m not that graceful and didn’t want to get arrested while not wearing a bra. So Plan B makes itself. Same with Plan C and etc.

I was anxious but didn’t panic because batteries existed somewhere, I’d find them one way or another. Another thing I have learned is that I will be okay, no matter what happens.*  I’m not dead yet, and until I am I will be okay. I’ve faced my greatest fears, more than once, and I am still here. Being out of batteries in the middle of nowhere can’t scare me anymore.

*Unless it’s the zombie apocalypse, in which case I’m screwed.