Tuesday, February 11, 2014

For Nearly 30 Years My Major Depression & Anxiety Was Winning The War Then Something Happened

Looking back, it is difficult to believe that it has been nearly twenty five years since I first walked
into a psychologist's office to see if there might be something wrong with me. I felt very different and out of sorts. I was in my twenties. It was at the counseling center at my local university in southern Ms.

After about six or so meetings, I realized nothing was getting better, and decided nothing was
wrong except that I was suffering the same pressures and anxiety that everyone else did in life. But it was not to be. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Then I decided that if I could land a decent job with a great salary, all my maladies would suddenly
disappear I landed a job as chief writer and editor at a major network in Washington, D.C. At age
thirty six. By age thirty seven, I had read enough about depression to know I had it. I immediately
took action and visited a local psychologist who brought a psychiatrist aboard to try a combination of talk and medicine therapy. Year after year I religiously attended my therapy meeting and took my
myriad of pills, combinations of pills, changing pills, increasing dosages of pills, etc. Nothing worked
yet the medical community continued to applaud me for doing so much better. I begged to them that
nothing had changed (I knew how I felt inside my body a lot more than they did), but they insisted
the changes were so subtle, I would surely notice if I stopped taking my medicines and discontinued
therapy. I did just that. No difference whatsoever. By then, I could barely work much less get out
of bed. I made myself do it. I still don't know how, but felt I needed to.

By 1994, I had moved to the west coast to pursue screen writing as I theorized that if I could just
land one box office hit, happiness would land upon me and my (by then) severe depression and anxiety
would be conquered. Anyone with any sense knows the outcome of that loser's game. And I lost.
After taking a number of seminars and workshops on screen writing, and even writing several full-
length motion pictures, I fell yet into a deeper depression. I went back into therapy and continued
on the newer SSRI drugs, which the medical community told me were "nearly foolproof". I am
glad they mentioned the keyword "nearly" as they were anything but. I remained a fool, thinking
I would find an answer in a pill. It had not worked in the past, why would it now? But they assured
me this new Prozac and family of similar meds worked when nothing else did.

Then my mother, living alone in Mississippi fell ill. I returned home to care for her. This served
to give me a purpose, as she had cared for me as a child, and I felt okay on some days.

One afternoon in 1997, I was reading New Yorker Magazine and I read an article on something
called the Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS). It is a tiny computer chip device about the size of a silver
dollar, implanted directly under the skin and wiring running up to the mood centers of the brain,
emitting a magnetic impulse that allegedly had amazing effects on depression. Again, I was a bit
skeptical but this time there was a big difference. Even though it was not yet on the market for depression, (had been for awhile for epilepsy), in clinical trials, it appeared people who had tried
every other modicum of therapy were seeing dramatic improvement with this device. It was made
by a small medical device firm in Houston called Cyberonics.

I started getting more and more curious and spent a great many hours on the Internet following the
studies. It came close to FDA approval several times, but the powerful AMA and pharmaceutical
lobbyists continued to "find fault" in the studies and kept it off.

By then, I was diagnosed with TRD (treatment resistant depression) which explained the history
of no results. While Cyberonics and the heavy-hitter lobbyists fighting the VNS were slugging it out, I
continued to suffer and I would find out about 10 million cases a year similar to mine were suffering (and dying) as well with the same horrid disease called TRD.

Since I continued to "be punished" in my hometown (was very disenfranchised by then), I started
to research. My search was focused on towns with low cost of living, high quality of life, and an advanced medical community. I was not finding any of that at home. Surprisingly Hot Springs, Ar
became a top choice. The major medical community was in Little Rock, less than an hour away and UALR Medical Campus was considered one of the most advanced in the country (to my surprise). It's name was and is up there with many more familiar names like Sloan-Kettering, M.D. Anderson, and Johns Hopkins.

I moved to Hot Springs in 1999. I continued to research the updates every day on VNS therapy,
went back to school as an adult student, worked on my cartoon project, and opened several e-stores.

In September of 2005, I finally heard that VNS therapy had been approved by the FDA for
treatment of TRD. To my knowledge, it was the only medical modicum that had been approved
for such.

Now the problem was how to "get my name on the list". So I called Cyberonics and they
turned me over to a nurse/caseworker, who got right on the case. She found the (very few)
surgeons who performed this one hour procedure, and she had to talk my insurance into
covering it based on my medical history of years of no results.

On January 25, 2006, almost nine years after I first started following the news of the VNS
implant, I received the procedure in Little Rock, Ar.

I remember waking up and feeling very light. Something had happened, but I was not sure
what. I knew almost immediately that I'd gotten the procedure. I asked a nurse if "it was in" and
she assured me it was.

For the first time since I was about twelve years old, I felt no depression? I still had some
anxiety but it was based on thinking "my mood is about to swing any minute and there is not a
damned thing I can do about it". Minutes passed by and then hours. No mood swing. I felt like
a child playing in the sandbox in kindergarten My worries and stresses were minimal.

Then it got worse. There was a pain in my neck and my voice was very horse and my heart was racing. I went back to Little Rock. The ear, nose, and throat surgeon had accidentally turned up the
device to a higher level than is recommended; not dangerously so, but to a point where some people
experience side effects. I was one of them, but they turned it back down immediately and I was
fine again.

Every month, I continued to go to Little Rock for a computerized non-invasive "tune up"; the
doctor merely turns up the frequency another notch. It is at a point now where it is every three
months and by the end of the year, the depression will be in total remission.

How is my progress? Amazing. I can remember like yesterday that I could not get out of bed,
it was a huge chore to clean my home, studying was a brutal task as was work, and all that changed.

I love what I do, I do it well, and do it joyfully.

My faith has been renewed in both a higher power, people, and the medical community. It had been
long-gone for a good many years.

Is the depression cured? Heaven's no. But today, I can easily call it "temporary blues", the type any person could get.

Many friends and associates suggested I not reveal this story, that people might use it against me.

My reply is "So what? Let them use it. If one person reads this with TRD and learns about it, and
is fortunate enough to receive the implant, people can use it against me all they want. Doesn't matter in the least. Let one person get well from this most dreadful disease and it's all worth telling the story.

Really. Well, back to work. Have a great day!

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