What TMS Treatment for Depression is Like

TMS is Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) - a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven't been effective. You can look into more about this treatment and what it does on the Mayo Clinic Website


There are requirements and prerequisites when you are looking into getting TMS treatment. There as to be medical proof that a certain number of medications were tried and failed. Also, it’s important to be in the care of a professional psychologist and/or psychiatrist. Then the general health concern of existing medical conditions and if you are pregnant. 


I put off TMS therapy for three years. Why? I honestly don’t know how to answer that. First of all, it is scary when you look at it. It sounds like something that is done in the movies where mental clinics would put patients through terrifying treatments like wires connected to their half-shaved heads similar to a lobotomy. I heard many voices in my mind from the words of my friends and family that told me over the years that I’m not that bad. That my depression is not that severe. If they could only spend a moment inside my mind, I think they would have other advice to give. I’ve always been a pretty good actress covering my shameful past, my depression, and my real feelings altogether. I used to think that was a talent but it turned out to sabotage me in other people's understanding of what I am going through. 


This year I stumbled into my doctor's office every time numb from antidepressant medications and exhausted with life. I didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t see the point and wanted it to be all over with. Sometimes I would send my doctor messages on my chart telling her that the medication wasn’t working. That I couldn’t sleep, cried uncontrollably, and would go days without wanting to do anything at all. I hated what I have become and over-analyzed everything from my past and why things happened. I wanted to make sense of it all and researched, read, wrote, and thought about it all hours of the day. My mind didn’t get a break for a second and my body was showing the struggle with breakouts on my face, low energy, and paralyzing fatigue. 


When I finally agreed to do TMS therapy, my doctor submitted the referral and I waited about a week to hear from the clinic specialist. After discussing my history and treatments to date, the specialist quickly agreed to TMS therapy and submitted the request to my health insurance for approval. Now, I wanted to take a moment to say how thankful I have a good job that has excellent health insurance benefits. I understand that not everyone has this and I am so grateful. I have been in jobs for most of my life where the health insurance was bad and that caused me to put off or avoid necessary health care for many years. I hope that everyone will have access to mental health care with the best health insurance, but I know that is not the case for many and my heart goes out to you all. Within two weeks, my TMS request was approved by my insurance company and my first treatment was scheduled. 


Now, when you go in for your first treatment, it’ll be a long appointment. They measure your head many times and test areas in your skull that is responsive to the machine. You raise your arm and put your thumb up and the machine will eventually make your thumb twitch.  Then you sit through your first round of treatment. TMS is not a one and done sort of treatment. It’s six to 8 weeks of every single weekday of treatment that last about 30-45 minutes. With the current COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, face masks are required and I check in every day at the front desk to have my temperature scanned on my forehead. Then I take the elevator to the TMS floor and wait to be escorted by a nurse to the room where the TMS machine is. I sit my purse down on the desk and then sit in the chair. The nurse asks for my date of birth before putting a medical wristband on my arm labeling me as a patient. Then she hands me earplugs to insert to protect my ears from the machine noise. A paper adhesive band is placed on my forehead and wraps around as well as straight-up over my head. This secures me to the machine and keeps the alignment of magnetic treatments. I sit back in the headrest and the nurse places the straps into the secured positions. Then the TMS machine is lowered onto my left lobe and a stabilizer cushion is pressed against the right side of my head. The nurse usually asks me if I'm ready to start and I respond yes. That’s when the machine makes a sound that the magnetic pulses are about to start. Then I hear this tapping sound like a woodpecker makes. Sometimes my left eye feels like it twitches and sometimes I swear it feels like it is physically tapping my skull. But there is no contact other than magnetic waves into my brain.  This repetitively happens for thirty-seven minutes.

I like to play games on my cell phone while sitting through the treatment. The nurses are so friendly and try to make small talk while I’m sitting there with my head strapped in. I thought at first that I am depressed people….I don’t want to talk about anything. 

Then they measure your mood every time. Every day they ask the same questions:

  1. Rate your depression & anxiety
  2. Rate your pain 
  3. Did you fall recently?
  4. Do you have suicidal thoughts?
  5. Medication changes

I almost felt bad about saying how terrible I felt but I tried to be as honest as possible. Rate your depression; I’m a 9. Anxiety? 8. Pain? No. Did you recently fall? No. Do you have suicidal thoughts? Yes. Do you feel that you may act on hurting yourself? No. Medication changes? No.

And it’s hard making small talk with the nurses when you are really depressed. You don’t want to talk or hear anything but they are so gracious. I see now that I look forward to seeing them and they started putting candy out for us patients to look forward to. I am thankful for the nursing staff because they have seen me at my worst and still talk to me like I never shied away from a conversation with them like I did so many times in the beginning. Also in the beginning I suffered from terrible migraines. Plus I wanted to sleep all day long. There was a time when I fell asleep in my chair working on a project. It was terrible but I now know that my body was trying to recover from the treatment and also heal itself in ways that I had never begun to heal before.

After twenty treatments (3 weeks) the doctor did a re-evaluation and said that he was not satisfied with the progress I had been making. He decided to re-calibrate the machine to my reactions and also add some pulses to my right skull. This would increase the time of my treatment by 15 minutes. I didn’t care because I was starting to lose all hope in TMS treatment because I saw no change. It has been 7 treatments since and I started to notice a change in me a few days ago. I don’t have the brain fog and my thoughts are much less burdened by thoughts of analysis. I am looking forward to days and I have been doing more around the house than I have all year. This weekend my first order of business was self-care. I gave myself a home pedicure, haircut, hair treatment, hair color, and facial. I needed to be taken care of so badly that I dedicated hours to the task. Teeth-whitening strips are coming today from Amazon and I got a derma roller to work out the acne scars on my face. 


Today I decided to start writing in this blog again to share my journey and helpful tools that I hope will help someone out there who needs it. If you suffer from depression, addiction, or any mental health disease, please know that there is hope. There is a light inside us all that nothing can ever make it completely burn out. But it takes time and lots of help. I start my 5th week of TMS treatment this week and still have three weeks to go. I hope this keeps getting better and I hope to get my smile back. 

Watch this video to hear what the TMS machine sounds like. Trust me- it is painless!!!

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