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Yes, I Would Try This Brain Surgery For My Treatment-Resistant Depression

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

As someone who has spent the better part of 20 years with treatment-resistant depression, I’ve spent countless hours researching the “newest” advances in treatments. For every new medication that came out, I was studying the mechanism of action to see if it was actually any different from the rest. Sadly, most antidepressants fall into one or two categories and they are essentially all doing the same thing. I’ve tried them all, in various combinations, with little or no success. I’ve been in a psychiatric hospital three times because I was severely suicidal. I’ve spent many, many days (and weeks, and months) just dragging myself to the shower and calling that an accomplishment for the day. With treatment-resistant depression, you are always waiting and hoping that something new will arrive. Now, it just might be.

I came across research on deep brain stimulation for depression and had dug into what stage it was at in the clinical testing — I wanted to know when it would be a viable option. It’s not there yet, but it’s promising — and a New York Times article discussed the advancements and potential of this new treatment. It’s essentially an implanted pacemaker for the brain. It’s a big deal — it’s brain surgery. But it’s a new and potentially groundbreaking treatment concept. When I was asked if it was something I would try if it were available, the answer was far easier than you might think. Brain surgery for my depression?

I would do it, in a heartbeat.

Depression robs you of life. It steals your ability to feel positive emotions. It drains you of the energy to survive another day. Every day you wake up drowning in the middle of an ocean with no land in sight and you have to keep swimming, even though you have no reason to think there is hope out there. You can’t see hope — you are blinded by depression. Depression is a broken brain trying to function as best it can with what it has.

If someone offered me a chance to use deep brain stimulation to potentially give me an island to swim to, I would cry at just the thought that perhaps, this time, something will help me.

It’s a drastic procedure — it’s brain surgery in no uncertain terms. But just like any other condition where the brain is “broken,” I know that fixing it may come with risks. I’ve exhausted all the other options, over and over again. I keep swimming, every day, with no land in sight. But how long can someone swim before they have no more strength to keep going? How much would a person risk to reach land? I would swim through shark-infested waters to pull myself up on land. Or in this case, I would have brain surgery to give me back my life.

It’s not a choice I would make in haste, or without out considerable research and understanding — not to mention many long talks with doctors about every little detail. It’s not a choice I would make without talking to my partner and knowing that he is on the same page as me. It’s not a choice I would make if I hadn’t tried everything I could. It is a choice I would make out of hope because depression takes every last bit of hope out of you.

New treatments for depression are always encouraging, and looking into new avenues of treatment shows that science is taking mental health seriously. So while deep brain stimulation may not be available for me any time soon, it does give me hope that there are still possibilities out there. And that hope is just as important as the treatment itself.

Originally published: October 21, 2021
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