[Republished from TMS NeuroHealth Centers‘ website.]
Greg Harman had been living two completely separate lives; a successful Texas journalist and a struggling major depression patient researching the possibility of subjecting himself to an experimental treatment. Those lives never intertwined, until he decided to quit his job as an editor to join the clinical trials while documenting his experiences on a personal blog that has gathered a large following.
Greg has now decided to make his illness public and not just to his friends, but to his many readers as well. In Greg’s own words, “depression has been a part of me I’ve resented, lamented, and despised for the many ways it has sucked away my ability to live a full life. But it’s a part of me shared by many, many others. And they too feel alone. (…) They’re being condemned to isolation and, in some cases, suicide by the ugly and cruel as much as they are by the ignorant and fearful. It’s conformist bull**** at its worst. To hell with all that.” These courageous words are part of a deeply moving and encouraging article that has been making its rounds in several Texas newspapers and in an equally encouraging post on his personal blog depression-time.com.
Greg’s story is definitely an inspirational one (go check out his blog when you have the time) and his decision to trust magnetic stimulation to treat his depression was what peaked our interest. After reading a couple of his blog posts you feel like you know Greg. His character and charisma is what made us want to chat with him a bit more. We contacted Greg to see if would answer some questions and if we could share those answers with our followers and hopefully give some people the inspiration they need to take the next step. In our interview Greg discusses his experiences with transcranial magnetic stimulation and depression and the response he’s had from friends and complete strangers.
What has been the single most important takeaway from your decision to reveal your depression with your readers/friends/coworkers? Was it what you expected? That decision was an easy one – after I made it. I came to feel I didn’t have a choice, or that the alternative was just not worth it any more. Later I was amazed by how much energy I had been wasting trying to appear “normal.” To appear not sick. In my case, I ended up needing to take a couple weeks off, go into out-patient treatment, I quite simply couldn’t hide that something was going on with me. And I resented the weight of the secret. Ultimately, everyone was pretty fantastic about it. They not only gladly divvied up the extra duties but were tremendously supportive emotionally. After I unloaded my burden, one staffer almost immediately entered my office to share with me trouble they were having in a relationship. People talked about their feelings more freely. It was an interesting process.
In your Stigma Letters blog post you shared with us letters that have been sent to you as a response to your article, I’m sure there’s been many others after those. What’s the one recurring topic in these letters? Family members at their wit’s end. A grandmother who lost her grandson though what sounds like a serious case of negligence in a mental-health facility. A father desperate to do anything for a suffering daughter. People mistreated and punished at their workplaces for admitting to having an illness. It’s misunderstandings, prejudice, and fear. Our culture is thick with all of the above.
Describe magnetic stimulation of the brain to someone who knows nothing about it and how it treats depression: I’ve heard TMS described as being akin to having a woodpecker tapping on your forehead, a mild discomfort, a comforting discomfort, like scratching an itch you haven’t been able to reach forever. The treatment I received is an experimental one that involves wave patterns of electromagnetism across the entire surface of the brain rather than the more focused pulses of TMS. It’s peace and quiet, mostly, and the slightly hypnotic repetition of the device’s mechanics. I would frequently feel fluttering in the nerves around my face, my ears. The sessions were every weekday for several weeks. Over time I noticed my brain speeding up, as if it were being tuned up. I was thinking faster, digesting information more quickly, able to find my center and stay grounded more easily. It felt as if it was less focused on making me happy as it was raising my mental energies, giving me the tools and allowing me to make the decisions about my moods I needed to make.
I noticed you read a lot prior to your sTMS treatment, which one book would you recommend and why? I did read an awful lot. And I wrote intensively every day. In retrospect, I’m not sure I would recommend reading about depression as much as I would recommend dreaming and journaling. The most complementary medicine I experienced during my recovery was riding my bike, my dreams, and my periods of writing. The lessons I learned were all lessons any of us can hear if we are willing to listen. Actually, now that I think about it, Jonathan Zuess’ Wisdom of Depression wasn’t a perfect book for me, but it has excellent information about dreams and their relationship to the body’s natural healing ability. So I definitely recommend that section.
You’ve experienced the ups and downs of depression, for all of those reading your article and getting to know your story, what would you like them to learn from it? Forgiveness is everything. Kindness to the self is desperately needed every minute of the day to recover. Depressed people hurt, they suffer, and a lot of that suffering is about real things. We’ve been judged because of our illness. We’ve been misunderstood. We’ve been angry with ourselves, hated ourselves, because of our chemistry and the blocks it’s placed in our lives. It’s hard to accept an illness like that. Incredibly hard. I’m not there yet. In fact, the better I feel the more I find myself growing impatient with myself. Just as I used to. I push too hard. I’m inflexible. I’m ugly to myself. That way madness truly does lie. Slow down. Love and accept yourself. It’s a decision you have to make a thousand times a day, but I’m pretty sure healing can’t come without it.
Top image is a detail of “Hunting of the Snark” by Henry Holiday for Lewis Carroll.