I experienced my first symptom of depression when I was 16. I was on the cheerleading team at my high school in Memphis and about to head to the national championships when I tore a ligament in my knee and had to undergo surgery. Quitting the activity I loved—the one that really defined me—was tough. I stopped seeing my friends and started skipping classes and drinking. I made it to college, but flunked out my freshman year. That summer, I spiraled deeply into depression. I felt like I wasn’t part of anything, that my life had no purpose. I saw a therapist, who put me on Prozac, but it didn’t really help.
On a roller coaster
For the next 20 years, I swung between a shaky contentment and despair. I had a baby boy, Austin, when I was 21, and I felt well enough to return to college and finish nursing school. Then I married, divorced, and entered a bleak period, just lying on the couch and avoiding everyone, including Austin. During those years, I saw many therapists and probably took every medication on the market—Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, and others—but nothing worked. I met my current husband, Rob, in 2009, and I was happy when we married and moved to a suburb just outside Nashville. But I had a miscarriage soon after, and that plunged me back into the depths.
The lowest moment
My life truly fell apart when I got pregnant in December 2010. I developed gestational diabetes and preeclampsia and was ordered to bed. For six months, I just lay there, curtains drawn, blankly watching the Casey Anthony trial, which was depressing in itself. After my son Bowen was born in August 2011, a full-blown postpartum depression leveled me. I wanted nothing to do with the baby and handed him off to the nanny or to Rob. Austin, then 17, was furious with me. “You sleep all day and don’t care about me!” he’d scream. And Rob, who was busy running a medical-device company, had to lift me out of bed to wash my hair or get me to the table to eat. He even threatened to leave, but I didn’t care. I was just numb.
The following April, I was holding 8-month-old Bowen, and he reached out to the nanny with a whimper. It broke my heart, and right then, I decided to try a new treatment my psychiatrist had recommended—transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). It uses electric currents to stimulate cells in the part of the brain that regulates mood. Rob and I had been reluctant: It seemed so extreme, and it was expensive—$12,600—and not covered by our insurance (though some companies do pay for it). But after that devastating moment, I was ready.
Breaking through the fog
Still, I was trembling as the technician at the TMS center placed the magnetic coil against my scalp for the first time last May. Although I’d been assured that the risk of serious side effects was very low, I worried about what the treatment might do to my brain. And would it hurt? But all I felt was a ding, ding, ding vibration, like a woodpecker, for 45 minutes.
In all, I had 30 daily treatments, but by the second week, I could feel my depression lifting. It was really powerful. I started getting up in the morning and showering, even playing with the baby. I felt hopeful for the first time in a very long time.
Since I finished treatment last July, my depression has been in remission. I cook, I clean, and I take yoga—regular stuff I could never do before. I’ve even helped Austin with his college applications. It’s funny—the other day, a new friend asked why I was so happy all the time. I thought about it for a minute and realized, I am happy now. For me, that’s an amazing new feeling.
Contributions by: Carmen Burton, as told to Gretchen Voss, Good Housekeeping Magazine