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. 

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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 :).