The unexpected results of dTMS
Of all the things I did not expect to deal with in my strange new post-depression life, learning to be myself again is the most unexpected and unsettling. The fog of depression has blinded me for years, if not decades. During my time in the dark, I learned to hate every aspect of my personhood.
The sound of my voice made me shrivel with self-loathing. Looking in the mirror was next to impossible, and when I managed it, I struggled to make eye contact with my reflection. Dressing was painful, so I wore the same clothes every day. Baggy to hide my relentless weight gain, adding to the long list of things that fueled my self-disgust. I refused to be in pictures, so I became the one behind the camera. If they forced me to be in a picture, I tried to hide behind as many people as I could. Pictures where I was the sole subject were repulsive.
Impostor syndrome tormented me. Every setback was proof that I was a fraud, while disregarding all evidence to the contrary. Convinced that it was only a matter of time before people denounced me and drove me from my classroom and community, I did everything I could think of to hide what was happening. I feared my unmasking would be the shame of all who knew me. I withdrew into myself and my classroom, never leaving it to talk to colleagues. An entire school day could pass without talking to another adult. When people would comment that they never saw me anymore, I’d make light of it by saying something about hiding, but it was not a joke. It was the truth.
I forgot how to laugh, something I’d done often before sinking into the darkness. In the before, everything amused me and I smiled or smirked all the time, often playing the jester who loved to make others laugh, though I never craved the spotlight. Depression turned me into a mere shadow of the person I’d been in college, and I was fading further and further into oblivion. Depression had me out of phase with reality, balanced on a knife’s edge, just waiting for the final push to send me into the abyss.
As recently as three months ago, I felt the same way. Then I started Deep Brain Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Within 10 minutes of the first treatment, the darkness faded like a morning fog before the rising sun. It was that immediate and that dramatic. It was beautiful.
I was a different person, but it was not just dramatic, it was also traumatic. TMS restored my former self to full consciousness and control of my mind and body. By the end of my second treatment, all symptoms of my drug resistant depression faded. Left trapped in a body ravaged by years of neglect and forced to face the damage depression had done to those closest to me, I faced a new fight to reclaim my life.
At first, there was euphoria. I told my wife on the way home from the second treatment that “I was back”, not understanding how that would affect every aspect of what our lives had become. The clarity I possessed as I looked out at the world was startling. Everything was in high definition. I had stepped out of total darkness into the bright light of the summer sun. I didn’t realize that once my eyes adjusted to my new truth, it would leave me to pick up the pieces of my life. All I knew or cared about was that it was over.
One of the first indications I had of my new reality was the way my best friend, my wife, the person who had always been at the center of my universe, acted around me. Over the years of my illness, she had learned to speak to me differently than I remembered. Our relationship was no longer between adults. She had become my caretaker. The way she responded when she thought I was upset shocked me. She did everything she could to ensure that I remained calm in the same way she had when our boys were little and had become upset over some small thing.
The changes went even deeper. Her tone and body language were careful and guarded. Like she expected me to lash out at her at any moment. She had learned to fear me and I had been unaware of this slow but steady disintegration of our relationship. My memories of the years of illness were already fading like dreams even as my memory of the life I’d led before depression became crystal clear. Her learned behavior resulted from the abuse I must have subjected her to while ill. I was horrified and still am.
In the first week after my treatments started, I was so focused on the fact that I “was back” and I missed the signs of damage. The sound of my laughter while we did the dinner dishes together startled us both. What was once a common part of our lives was now something that made us both jump.
I’d forgotten how to love my wife. I’d stopped doing all the little things that made the “me” side of our equation work and yet I had demanded more and more from her to maintain the balance. She was not used to my casual touch. I’d become a predator, only seeking contact when I wanted intimacy, but giving little in return. You may think I’m being harsh, but this is not the voice of depression talking in my voice. This new understanding results from my clarity. I can see what I had become because my transition back to myself caught the “me” depression had created red handed. I saw the horror up close.
It’s now been over two months since I concluded my last treatment and I am well along the path of repairing the relationship with my wife and children. I have much work to do beyond that immediate scope. My wife and I have had many personal conversations about the reality of my prolonged illness and its impact on our quality of life. Because we have both been open and honest, much of the damage is behind us. Some will take years to repair.
TMS saved my life. I know this for a fact. I had a foot in the grave in May, 2022. By the end of June, I was free of every symptom of depression. I’m still free of symptoms. Every aspect of my life has improved. I’m a different person and it’s possible that I’m in the best mental shape of my life. I’m still on meds, I’m still in talk therapy, and I will be for life. My journey is not over and never will be, but now I have this powerful weapon in my fight that I know works wonders. TMS has given me something I never had. It’s given me hope for a future free of pain and suffering. It’s given me back my life.