Archive for June, 2016

Where I’ve been (emotionally)…

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

I have depression. I’ve always had it. I mean, like, my earliest memories are generally me being sad. In elementary school I’d fantasize about getting hit by cars on the way to school (not to die, just to be hit), so yeah. I’ve always had it.

I began taking meds in high school and they worked for a while. Over the next 18 years, I went on and off various meds with varying success. I’ve done therapy. I’ve made great strides! I even had a few good years in my 20’s off meds, but it turned out I was just ignoring it until it made me very physically ill and I had to go to the doctor and get back on meds.

Cut to more recent years. The meds do less for me and have side effects that make it hard to live the kind of life I want to be living. So now what? I started doing research into alternative neurological options. I found something called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

It sounds like made up nonsense like those magnets that improve your balance or similar gimmicks. They blast your brain with very targeted magnetic waves that stimulate a section of your brain that is often less active in depressed brains. After enough blasting, the neurons wake up and start balancing out your mood. It should last months to years before another treatment is needed and it’s generally just a short treatment period then. It’s got a pretty good success rate in clinical trials, it’s FDA approved, and covered by many insurance companies.

It turned out a friend of mine had done it, and it changed her life. Not an exaggeration. It’s pretty easy to spot where it happened in her life trajectory.

So I contacted SoCal TMS centers and decided to do it. It involves going to a treatment center for up to an hour a day, every weekday, for 2 months. I took a hiatus from acting since I couldn’t shoot during the week, obviously. My day job was cool with me taking a 2 hours lunch every day, which is really making up for all the lunches I generally work through anyway, so I think it evens out.

First TMS session

You can kind of see my eyebrow twitching here. it feels stronger. Also my teeth chatter a little. #TMS

A video posted by Laurel Vail (@laurelvail) on

Oh, did I mention it’s really loud? And I can’t really move my head during the session. I can read though, and they have TVs if you want to watch something. The time passes pretty quick.

Then after 4 weeks I felt better. Like, actually good. And just kept feeling that. It was incredible.

I wrote this for the Center to use on their website and for new patients:

Everyone’s depression is unique to them. I generally gauge mine by how many knives I’m imagining stabbing me at any given time. One knife? Pretty average day. So many I can’t count them or stop thinking about it? Time to call the doctor again.
I’ve been on and off various medications at various doses for about 18 years. They’ve had various levels of effectiveness, less so over time. It becomes a battle with being miserable from side effects or being miserable because I’m not on enough medication. Something had to change.
When I learned about TMS online, I asked my social network if anyone I knew had tried it and one good friend said she had. It was easy to tell when because her life took a dramatic shift upward. I had read the stats (about 72% success), but hearing it from someone I knew was more reassuring. And if it didn’t work, at least my insurance covers most of the cost so I didn’t have a ton to lose.

So here I am, 7 weeks in and it’s night and day. For me it hit the 4th week when I had a good day and then another and another… I’d had a few ok days in the last month, but now it was actually good. People are noticing the change in me. But most importantly I’m noticing the change myself.

Here are some FAQ’s I often get from my friends when I tell them about this:

What does it feel like?

It’s like there is a little woodpecker in my head behind my eye. It goes for a few seconds then takes a long break, then goes again. My left eyebrow twitches a little and my teeth chatter a little.

Does it hurt?

I guess? Sort of? It’s not really happening long enough to bother me. I’d describe the sensation as technically painful, but the amount of time is so slight that it’s over before I really feel uncomfortable. If they turn up the juice, so to speak, it hurts a little more, but it’s still just as short an amount of time in each burst.

Are there side effects?

There were maybe 2-3 times in the beginning where I experienced a slight dissociative episode for less than an hour. Basically my hands felt like they were somehow in the wrong place or that I was a few millimeters out of alignment with my body. This is something I’ve experienced before during bad migraines or other times, so it wasn’t unfamiliar. I also had one migraine. Otherwise I’ve had no side effects that I was aware of.

When did you think it was really working?

After about a week and a half of solid good days in a row. I was cautiously optimistic, but going froward from there I had another week and another. So I can say confidently it’s helped me.

What has changed for you?

Well, pretty early on the self injury thoughts went away. Then the next thing was I’d sometimes have an ok day or two. Then when I had a good day, I kept having good days. Instead of hating everything around me I loved everything around me. Instead of obsessing about my mood and my flaws, I started thinking about literally anything else. I started wanting things again. I started being able to work on my goals again. I went from not being able to bring myself to do anything, from hating myself, from shutting down entirely, to being an emotionally healthy person with dreams and self confidence.

So anyway.

Now that I feel like myself again, I’m ready to work! I’m writing again and working on producing a short this year. It’s very exciting. I’ll try to have more updates as I get back in the rhythm of things.

Feelin' better!