Last week, my friend Alice completed her first round of TMS and feels hopeful. The first day was scary for her, but most things are, if they are unknown. 

Alice’s mental health issues started in the mid 1970s. Because mental health was not widely discussed during this time, Alice’s family was unable to get her the help she needed and any problems were merely “swept under the table.”

On the surface, Alice’s childhood and home life appeared normal. Her family attended church regularly, went on vacations, and attended community events. But when Alice was 14, her parents sat her down and told her that they would be getting divorced. 

This critical turning point in Alice’s life would be the origin of her battle with mental illness. After the shock of her parents’ divorce, she started counting calories and exercising excessively and lost weight quickly. Her parents took notice of Alice’s weight loss, and she thought maybe they would stand together to fight for her, and maybe, it would even get them to stay together. 

When this didn’t happen, Alice began eating less and less until one day, she stepped on the scale and she was only 85 pounds. Though it ebbed and flowed, her struggles with Anorexia Nervosa (an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight) and body dysmorphia (a distorted perception of body appearance) continued well into her 30s.

She was only a teenager, but her battle with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression and anxiety had woven its way into every aspect of her life.

Alice’s behaviors exhausted her mother, and when Alice moved away at only 16 years old after passing the high school proficiency test, her mother was relieved, yet still felt grief over saying goodbye to her daughter. 

Alice “began again” in a place where no one knew her or her struggles with mental health and from the outside, it was impossible to know that Alice was wrestling inwardly. Alice stumbled along until she was prescribed a newly approved medication for depression in 1988. Prozac. 

Prozac was a “god send” for Alice and worked well for many years. Until it didn’t. In fact, her depression and anxiety only increased. Alice continued to wander through life at a constant 85% and wondered if she would ever feel whole again.  

The constant rollercoaster of seeking relief is exhausting, but Alice has faithfully pursued a cure, regardless of the obstacles or the shortcomings of other treatments. 

After years of futilely treating her unipolar depression with lifestyle changes and medications, Alice is hopeful that her experience with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) treatments will prove successful.

On Alice’s first day of TMS, she walked into the clinic scared and apprehensive, but after the unknown was confronted, she was ready to tackle the rest of her treatments. She explained that the treatment is painless and described the pulses that are administered to her forehead as a woodpecker pecking at a tree. Several consecutive taps were administered to the left side for about 20 minutes. Then her right side was tapped for 10 minutes. During the tapping on the right side, she fell asleep. After the first day’s treatment Alice didn’t feel dizzy nor did she have a headache, and she was fine to drive home. 

Alice received treatment Monday through Friday once a day and sometimes would have a mild headache that was easily fixed by ibuprofen. Alice couldn’t tell if the treatments had helped much with her depression, but was able to participate in daily life without feeling “so down”. She continues to do all the things that keep her well: exercising, eating healthy foods, going to counseling, and getting the proper rest and looks forward to another week of treatments.

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