My first memory of having a panic attack dates back to the 4th grade. I went on anti-depressants at 13. And for the last 21 years, I have lived life with depression and anxiety. I believed that I would live the next 21 years with them as well. In August, I saw a new psychiatrist, my 4th since moving to Charlotte. After reviewing my chart, I figured he would do what most doctors did and prescribe a new medication to try and say “I’ll see you in 3 months.” Instead, he introduced me to a type of treatment that I a.) knew nothing about and b.) caused me to hope as I had scarcely hoped that I might live life without mental illness.
My life, both personally and professionally, is skewed to be me much more in tune with mental health. I saw a counselors 5 because I was afraid of the dark. I spent my summers at marriage conferences with my parents. I know a whole lot of about mental health and I’ve lived with a lot of symptoms nearly everyday for over two decades. I also realize that the idea of putting a hormonal 13 year old girl on an SSRI might not have been the best treatment and I have often wondered if we could have chosen a different treatment route. But we didn’t and it was the 90’s and people were wanting to dump Prozac into city’s water supplies in hopes of creating happier communities.
Depression runs ragged into my family as far back as we can trace. It has caused a lot of damage and left nasty scars. Anxiety seems to be a newer mental illness that I have been the one to introduce our family to and it has been a bigger beast for me to deal with, if I am perfectly honest. My anxiety hit a fever pitch about three months into living in North Carolina again as a married woman. I dealt with it too long without help and went on medication in January of 2013. That began a long list of med trials and doctors visits and adjusting. Feeling a bit like a freak and a bit like a guinea pig. And also feeling like I should be stronger than some shaking hands and rapid thoughts and shortness of breath. Crowds shouldn’t make me nervous. Surprises shouldn’t ruin my day. And I should be able to live my life with grace and joy as a counselor, and even more so, a child of God. I spent a long time feeling ashamed of it which became a huge deterrent to actually treating it.
On Thursday, March 8, I started 36 treatments of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Two weeks ago, I met with the medical director who will oversee my treatment and I felt so validated and maybe for the first time ever, proud of how I have tried my best to handle my illnesses. I was able to acknowledge the journey thus far and name why I so desperately want to be well. And their names are Luke and Leia Beach. I have never desired to be so healthy and so stable as I have for those two little humans that I get to call my own. Tears ran down my face as Dr. Ifell-Taylor told me that most people who have had TMS report a 76-83% reduction in symptoms of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. As someone who fights both those things daily, I felt like someone just issued me a pardon. I was sinking and I got a life preserver.
I also realized that I don’t quite know who I am without depression and anxiety. Meaning, I’m not sure what’s my neurotic personality and what is my illness. What will remain when my brain actually works how it’s meant to? Will I still be pensive and swim in the deep end of thinking? Will I finally get to demonstrate the joy I feel as a mother and a Child of God who is highly favored without this weight on my shoulders? And most importantly, will I be able to love my family even better because my energy isn’t being pulled down by two constant if unwanted companions? Will I laugh more? Will I do more? I think of all the modifications I have made in battling depression for two decades and I just kind of don’t know what life will look like.
Then the questions surface of what if it doesn’t work? What if we pay all these copays (TMS is a covered benefit under our insurance with Chad’s work, thank you Apple!) and joy still feels hard to come by. What if I rearrange my entire life for 7 weeks and most days still struggle to find the energy and motivation to do the tasks that my life demands? What if certain things make my heart rate jump into my throat and a lump immediately form. There’s a whole lot of what ifs but I am 100% all in. If there are lifestyle changes that have to be made (limiting caffeine, RIP Diet Mountain Dew) and other suggestions that I have to take on the path to be a healthier and more whole Mom and wife and friend and daughter, I’m all in. I’d be lying if I said it was all of for Luke and Leia and my other family too. Guys, it’s for me.. I owe it to myself. For all the panic attacks and all the dark nights. For every tear shed and every shallow breath. If you’re telling me I have a way to not feel those as hugely or as often, strap a magnet to my head and let’s go. I’ve lived enough of my life limping under the weight of these illnesses, I don’t want to do it another day.
I’ll be blogging about it throughout and hopefully sharing with you all that I’m learning and feeling. I’m excited and nervous. And I am absolutely grateful to be able to try this new treatment. For science, for Chad, for tax refunds, for babies so we actually get a tax refund, and for new life, both my babies and my own. If anyone wants to know more about TMS or the symptoms of anxiety and depression, please ask. It’ll be free of charge :).