Don’t Call It a Comeback…

My family, my dad in particular, loves to tell the story of how I fell asleep when my mom was in active labor with me. She was pushing and, apparently, everything stopped, my heart rate dropped and after the obvious ensuing panic, the doctor said I was in a REM cycle. I like my sleep, what can I say? As one who has had two babies but never felt a contraction, who am I to argue with the family lore of how I came to be? The moral of the story here is that I don’t like to be rushed and I showed very early on in life that I was most likely going to want to do things in my way. (For the record, sorry Mom! Nobody should get a nap when Mama’s in labor!) 

I am an introvert wrapped in extrovert’s clothing and facial expressions. It often appears that I’ve never met a stranger and I can carry on pretty good in groups when I need to. BUT being on the go and having something planned for everyday with other people is definitely not what I would want to be my norm. Since having Luke and Leia, this has become even more true as I often feel poured out at the end of each day. Everything I have feels like it’s poured into two tiny humans who slobber on me and hit me in head for no apparent reason. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. The last month and a half has been such an interesting mix of finding new levels of energy and yet having so many things to deplete it. 

Friday felt like the best day of my life. It was a blessed day with a full calendar but lots of clear thinking, planning, and joy in the living of it. Yesterday (Monday) felt like I was going uphill, all stinking day. I felt drained, sluggish, and so very irritable. Every event felt like it took crazy levels of energy and motivation that I just couldn’t find anywhere inside me. At one point, I was crying on the phone with our electric company in a parking garage over a misunderstanding on our bill. It wasn’t a pretty day. And for probably the 16th time, I worried that TMS wasn’t working and that I will never truly be free of depression and anxiety. It’s a fear that bounces around a lot. I’ve had a couple of times during the course of my treatment where I’ve gone 3 days instead of 2 without a treatment and each time, I breathe easier once I see my technician and feel the magnet “tap” on my head. Yesterday, I had to admit that I am very scared that this last month is just a brief respite from what is still going to be a long battle with mental health. That isn’t how TMS works, by the way. It’s just how my fear works. I’m scared that everyday will feel like Monday and my babies and my family will only know that side of me and not the one who laughs and lives without a weight pulling her down. 

I’m scared that once the magnet isn’t pulsing my frontal cortex anymore, I’ll revert back into old thought patterns and I will feel as if everyday is an exhausting, uphill battle. What if I am a weird case and it only works when I am getting active treatment? For the love, I fell asleep during my own birth, surely something is different about me! I realized yesterday how quickly the fear takes hold when I open the blinds but still have a hard time seeing things in a new light. 

I was certain that I would wake up today and feel the same as yesterday. I went through our morning routine of bottles and breakfast and did feel weariness. I haven’t napped during the babies naps since about week one of treatment. It was something that I used to do everyday. Everything in me was saying that I had pushed too hard yesterday and I needed to rest today. To be the kind of mom and wife and friend I want to be, I needed to find some way to recharge. Taking a nap this morning felt like a failure. I kept telling myself that it felt like defeat, like I was taking steps backward. And somewhere in this process of just beating myself up emotionally, I texted Chad at work and let him know what I was thinking. He pointed out that sometimes he naps when the babies nap because keeping up with two toddlers is tiring. I felt free to do what my body was trying so hard to tell me to do. I took a nap and woke up feeling better able to handle what lay ahead of me. And a bit of perspective for what (hopefully) the rest of my life will look like. 

The hardest part of this treatment for me has been having to be downtown for an appointment five times a week. I don’t like having too much on our calendar. I start to feel too constrained and rigid when we do. So, an appointment everyday for two months has been hard for me to swallow. I am a homebody. I like to keep our kids on a schedule. And I love to get a lot done when they are napping. All of this has been slightly changed with daily treatments and after five weeks, it has worn me pretty thin. So, I now understand that TMS isn’t going to make me different in this area. Just because I might have the energy for a daily outing or a daily playdate, I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean I need to make those things happen. I’ve learned that TMS isn’t going to take away my irritability or my short fuse. Those are things that still have to be restrained and contained. TMS isn’t going to make me an extrovert. (You obviously can’t see me but I literally cringed a bit). Extroversion is no longer my goal. I’m getting quite comfortable in my introverted state. And TMS isn’t going to erase the negative thoughts and neural pathways in my brain. That’s work for me to do on a minute by minute basis. I might feel better equipped than ever to manage those but it won’t get rid of decades of “programming”. 

I used to tell my clients the following statement all the time. “Your mind will lie to you all day long but your body is going to tell you the truth”. My mind tells me that I’m invincible and that I can just keep going and going. Especially because my neurons are firing. My mind tells me I’m weak if I can’t keep up the pace. The truth of it all is this: TMS isn’t going to remove all the fatigue from my current life and schedule. My body is tired because I spend my days chasing and caring for two kids. And my weekends on house projects. Just as I tried to ignore the signs of anxiety and depression that my body was telling me before I sought treatment, I can’t do the same after 26 sessions. While yesterday felt like a setback, I’m happy with where I’ve landed. It feels real. It feels true. And it still, honest to God, feels like progress. 

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Aside

“Whoooah, we’re halfway there….whooooah, livin’ on a prayer”

I have my 21st TMS treatment today. I am over halfway through the course of treatment. Before I started, I was hoping for the 75% reduction in symptoms that most people report when getting transcranial magnetic stimulation. The word that my tech used today was remission. My Beck Depression inventory and the Anxiety Scale were showing numbers that more aligned with remission. REMISSION. For people who have been chronically ill, that’s incomprehensible. I didn’t think it belonged in the same sentence as anxiety and depression, and certainly not when it came to my own anxiety and depression. 

The great news that I’m so happy to report is this: I feel in remission. I feel energy and strength coursing through me. I feel the ability to handle stress and fatigue when they arise. I feel the motivation to push through frustrations that would have previously derailed me for hours if not days. I feel able to catch negative thoughts that would have spiraled out of control. I feel able to actually pause and take a deep breath and try to find a bit of perspective when flustered. It feels great. It feels like a different life. 

I was scared going into TMS because I worried that maybe I didn’t really have depression and anxiety, I just thought I did. There’s no blood test or lab that will tell you that you have these illnesses. And when you are fighting these things daily, it’s hard to be objective enough to sometimes know how you are really feeling. I thought I’d go to the consultation and they would kindly tell me to suck it up. Instead, I learned that my symptoms can border on the severe but I have learned how to function with them. 

What I realize halfway through treatment is that I, for sure, had anxiety and depression and they sapped the little bit of energy I had that wasn’t taken up by my toddler twins. To put it another way: if I had a client who presented as I did 20 sessions ago and was presenting how I am now, I would think they were either in a manic phase or they were on amphetamines. The change is that drastic. 

Everyday isn’t roses now that things are working better in my brain. I still have a lot to do and most days, I still feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. I still have two bright children who are learning to push limits and have “tantrums” that beg for my attention. Without going into too much detail, I learned a couple weeks ago that TMS doesn’t eliminate PMS (sorry Chad!). I find that things can still irritate me pretty quickly. I can feel the anger well up in me when something goes sideways or Luke hits me in the head for the 15th time because he thinks head hitting is somehow part of a hug. I am sad that my first impulse is anger but also counting it a victory that I don’t act on that anger. I am managing to wait and calm down before I lose my temper and that’s a pretty new phenomenon for me. 

The metaphor of the blinds being open remains my biggest word picture for how I am feeling. And just like when you physically open the blinds, the extra light allows you to see all the messy areas. The areas that were best kept shaded. I am finding and tripping over those areas in my heart since I have been thinking more clearly. I am realizing the negative self-image and the mean thoughts that I have allowed to chip away at me for years. I see more clearly how people might want things from me that though I feel better, I am still not willing to give. I am doing my best to challenge some long-held beliefs about myself that I have formed or have been put on me by others and seeing if they hold truth when put up to the light. And also, quite literally, I’m cleaning my house because though I thought I was a super clean person, open blinds show everything. Why does Oreo shed so much? He’s almost 14 and I still marvel at the amount of shedding every Spring. 

I”m trying to use this time to work on other areas in my life as well. I’m reconnecting with my faith in a deeper way. I’m creating a daily routine for myself that has time spent in my Bible. I’m working more on my marriage and our communication, both of which took a hit with having two kids at the same time. I’m trying hard to simplify areas of life so that there is room for opportunities of joy. And like I did with my children when life felt unmanageable at this time last year, I’m creating a schedule for myself. I’ve become a bit of an Emily Ley groupie. In her books “Grace not Perfection” and “A Simplified Life”, she talks about the structure that is in place for our everyday life that helps us de-clutter our lives and hearts so that real joy has a place to come and stay. “A Simplified Life isn’t a perfect life. It’s a life that is messy, full, and well lived. It’s both crazy and calm. It’s real, flawed, and rich with love. It’s organized to make inroads for joy. It’s simple to make room for play. And it’s rhythmic so when life gets out of cadence, which it will do, we have a foundational beat to get back to.” Before TMS, before debt payoffs for our family, before so many decisions made in 2018, this was a quote I wanted to be a guidepost. This is the light I wanted to shine on 2018. Organized and prepared because when a kid throws a curveball or life shifts quickly, we know how to get back to a place where we are all safe and happy. I didn’t know that God had TMS in store for the spring of 2018. I certainly didn’t see how 36 treatments fit into an already packed life in the midst of trying to simplify. But halfway through, I can tell you with certainty, I hear the foundational beat better than I ever have and most days, I have the energy to pick up a baby or two and dance. It’s more than I ever hoped for. 

For the many of you who have told me you’re interested in TMS, I’m telling you to RUN not walk to your nearest treatment center. (Go to www.neurostar.com and the “find a doctor” tab). I only wish I had done it sooner. 

Aside

The Miracle Magnet?

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 :).