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The First TMS Treatment

Today I finally had my first TMS treatment for the depression part of my bipolar disorder. I had the prep appointment the other day, but because we were waiting on insurance paperwork to come through, I didn’t have my first actual treatment until today. I was so tired and frustrated from waiting for insurance that I didn’t have any energy left to be nervous about the procedure. That ended up being fine because the procedure was not scary at all.

The technician, who I will become intimately acquainted with over the next seven weeks, walked me through the procedure before we started. She’s very friendly and thinks I’m funny. Every time I say something she thinks is funny she repeats it loudly instead of laughing at it, which is amusing. She told me she liked my shoes (shown in the photo above – I put on special shoes for my first day) and I said, “Thanks, I call them my David Bowie shoes.” She said, “YOU CALL THEM YOUR DAVID BOWIE SHOES!” I’m going to make this a project during my treatment, to see how many of my comments I can get her to repeat in a loud voice.

Anyway, the treatment. They put the cap back on my head and positioned a round instrument on the left side of my head according to the grid they made the other day, and they pressed it into my head. There was a series of zaps that lasted four seconds followed by a ten second rest. It felt like mild electrical waves tapping my head. It didn’t hurt, but it induced a headache behind my right eye that lasted four seconds. It was mild, but if I had a headache like that on a normal day it would be annoying but not painful.

The series of four seconds on, ten seconds off lasted 17 minutes and then I was done. The tech asked me questions about my mental health history, current diagnoses, and rating my moods on scales from one to ten. She said she would ask me those every day.

All in all it was very simple and easy. I have a bit of a headache afterward, and feel a little lightheaded and nauseated, but neither stopped me from getting tacos for lunch on the way home. I do feel mentally exhausted, maybe partly from the depression, but also partly from the brain “workout” I did today. The tech said that usually gets better after the first week. So I’ll have my second treatment tomorrow, then I’ll be in full swing starting next week.

Now I’m going to go stare at a wall for a few hours because that feels like my level of mental competence today. I hope some of this depression lifts soon.

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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.┬áIn 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!