This article describes my personal experience with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, better known by its initials, TMS. This is a treatment for mental health, primarily depression and anxiety and is only approved by FDA for depression. Before I endeavored to start this cycle of treatments (36 in all), I had been prescribed and tried nearly as many different antidepressant medications as possible and none of them worked. I also used talk therapy with mixed results having had some excellent therapists and some that I thought were terrible. With this long history, my psychiatrist suggested we try a more extreme measure and go for TMS. The story you will read below is one of success, I'm doing profoundly better than I have been in many years.
The story below, however, should not be taken as an endorsement of TMS treatments as I am a sample size of one and my results may not represent a population larger than myself. If you struggle with depression and medication and talk therapy have helped little or not at all, you might consider TMS but you should not do so without discussing it in depth with your psychiatrist. You should never take medical advice from a crackpot blogger like me, a podcaster like Joe Rogan, a television personality like Doctor Oz or anyone else who is not a real medical professional. If you want to do your own research into a medical intervention, try to read about it on PubMed. Mainstream media often gets science and medicine related stories very wrong as their journalists don't have a strong enough background in the subject and just more or less copy and paste press releases.
In August 2021, I published an article here called, "In My Room." It told my story about a lifelong struggle with mental illness, most notably depression and anxiety. That article touched a bit on substance abuse as well but I now believe this was my trying and failing to self medicate to relieve the other symptoms.
I had already tried virtually every antidepressant sold in America without any real success. I had tried talk therapy and that wasn't effective either. So, my psychiatrist and I discussed more extreme measures like ECT and TMS. I did a lot of research on these interventions and decided that TMS sounded like the better solution for me. You can read a lot about both TMS and ECT on PubMed, a truly reliable source for medical information online.
Our first step was to see if we could get the cost for the TMS paid for by my insurance. I was denied coverage because I once had a diagnosis of bi-polar and the FDA had only approved TMS for depression and my history with bi-polar led them to refuse my request. I asked how much it would cost to have 36 TMS treatments (a full cycle) if I paid out of pocket. It turned out that the cost was something we could afford so we went ahead and paid for the treatments ourselves.
The First Few Treatments
Once we figured out the financial side of things, I scheduled to have a treatment every business day for the next 36 days. We did take four days off for Thanksgiving but, otherwise, if it was a weekday, I was in the chair having a treatment.
At one's first appointment, the technician fits a cloth covering on the patient's head. She then fits it into a specific position and then puts the TMS machine on your head and straps it under your chin. It's not at all uncomfortable. The TMS machine looks like an old hair drier that used to be in beauty salons.
The treatment lasts for twenty minutes with your brain getting a jolt of magnetism every 20 seconds. I'm into mindful meditation and discovered that I could employ these techniques to make the time in the chair pass quickly.
The magnetic jolts feel like someone is strumming their fingers on your head pretty hard. It doesn't hurt in the slightest but you definitely notice that it's happening.
Early in the treatment cycle, I would go to the clinic, have the treatment and go home without noticing any difference in my mood or general attitude.
Treatment Number 10
Every day during my treatment cycle, we'd drive the forty-five minutes to the clinic, I'd be treated for 20 minutes and then we'd drive another forty-five minutes home. For the first week and a half, I didn't notice any changes in my mood, I still spent most of my time just listening to stuff on my iPad and I still felt the weight of the depression.
At home after my tenth treatment, though, I was sitting in my room and realized that I was experiencing a very unfamiliar feeling – I was feeling good. This feeling of well being didn't last very long that day but it did give me more confidence that the TMS would work for me.
While going through the treatment cycle, it's difficult to notice any improvement from one day to the next. I did, however, notice that each week that passed had me feeling better.
By the time I reached my twentieth treatment, I was in a relatively good mood most of the time It wasn't, all rainbows and unicorns constantly but the ever present barrage of depressing thoughts that had haunted my mind had all but disappeared entirely.
I started making plans again. I started writing again, first in long emails to friends in order to exercise my writing muscle and later on a creative writing project I'm working on about the early days of punk rock, CBGB and New York in the late seventies and early eighties. I had mental energy again and I was nearly bursting with ideas.
After All 36 Treatments
The final couple of weeks in which I was doing the TMS treatment cycle, I continued to feel better. I started making plans to write for publication and did the article "Blind Pride?" I also started Gonz Blinko's Blind News Digest which features stories about blindness and blind people from all over the world. I continued on my creative project, hated how it was coming out and started it over from scratch. I'm alert for most of the day and little things no longer cause me a burst of anxiety.
I am no longer depressed. I get up in the morning, have my coffee and breakfast, open up my laptop and handle my daily correspondence, I read my GoogleAlerts and copy stories into the news digest if I think they are a good fit, I write articles like this one for publication on the blog, I walk more than a mile every day and I'm talking to a lot more friends on the phone now than I have in years.
The Reaction Of Others
I talk to Mike Calvo on the phone pretty often and he knows me very well. A few weeks ago, Mike said, "You haven't sounded this good since 2002." He noticed the energy I have now and that I'm showing interest in life again.
The other day, I was talking to my mother on the phone. I was telling her a story when she interrupted me to say, "You sound downright chipper." I've been described in many ways but chipper is rarely a word used to describe me without being ironic.
My lovely wife Susan has noticed the changes more than anyone else. Instead of just hiding in my room, I'm having many more conversations with Susan than I have in a long time. I hope I'm not driving her crazy by talking so much.
TMS Side Effects
If you do the research and read the articles on PubMed, you will learn that TMS has very few negative side effects. Some people say they get a headache after a treatment but this never happened to me. The only side effect I noticed was that I felt a great deal of fatigue for about two hours after a treatment. I would take a nap and felt great afterward. There are some other side effects that I can't recall but this is a topic you should discuss with your psychiatrist before starting TMS treatments.
What About The Future
The future regarding my depression and mental health in general is an unknown. We've proven that TMS treatments work for me but we do not know for how long the effects will last. Some patients never need to return to have more treatments while others need to go in for a booster cycle every year or so. It's only been a month and a half since my treatment cycle concluded so it's impossible to make long term predictions.
I am delighted that I took the plunge and went ahead with the TMS treatments. Even if it only lasts a year before I need more treatments, I will say that it's the best four grand I've ever spent.