ABOUT COLLEEN CASEY
A life-long sufferer of Major Depressive Disorder, Colleen had tried psychotherapy and many medications, all with no reprieve. Finally after TMS Therapy did she find relief from her condition, and has been active in the community ever since.
Colleen is a Verified Contributor to TMS+You. Most times she can be found on our Forum responding to user inquiries and chatting with other members. She also helps us respond to direct patient inquiries through the ASK A QUESTION feature.
Recently Colleen sat down with us to tell her story of battling depression and how she finally found relief with TMS Therapy. Please find her story below and if you have any questions, you can reach our team – including Colleen – through this site at any time.
Colleen Casey has struggled with depression her entire life. She has a vivid memory of being a six year old girl walking down a road in the wintertime praying hysterically that a car would hit her and that she would die. Colleen considers this the first manifestation of her deeply rooted depression and it would only get more serious in her later life. In her late twenties a therapist would inform Colleen that she was clinically depressed.
This diagnosis would start her down a path of medications and psychotherapy that lasted over three decades and brought little reprieve. It wasn’t until her doctor recommended TMS Therapy that a reluctant Colleen would seek this new treatment and she would finally find relief from her lifetime of depression. Today, she is living a completely new life with vitality and vigor.
TMS+You recently had the chance to sit down with Colleen and ask her about her struggle with depression and how TMS Therapy has helped change her life.
TMS +YOU (TY)
Colleen, thank you for being with us today and for taking the time to do this interview
Colleen Casey (CC)
Well I got on your site this morning and looked up a little bit about the site and it seems like it’s people who really care, and that’s so important to me because this is such an important issue, a life changing issue, so I guess we have a mutual admiration.
Thank you, and I’m glad you brought up the TMS+You website. I want to talk about that later, but I’d like to talk about this lifetime of depression you experienced first. Tell us about your growing up and what led you to this depression
I came from a very violent background; a very abusive background. A lot of alcohol was used, a lot of prescription pills were used, so the dysfunction in the environment really enhanced the predisposition to depression. By the time I was 6 enough dysfunction and violence and abuse had taken place that I was quite distraught; I was very confused and very depressed.
I was second oldest of ten children and really fit into the mother role. I love children, I learned how to take care of children at a very early age. Basically as my mother succumbed to her depression and addictions to prescription medication and alcohol, I became the mother figure in the household.
When that happened it gave me a coping skill. I had to be strong for my brothers and sisters and this forced me to negate how bad things were for me. So this purpose carried me through life and helped me avoid dealing with my own depression and the lethargy that comes with depression.
The abuse never stopped in Colleen’s house. And as she embodied the mother-role towards her siblings Colleen started denying herself the chance to work through her own depression.
The abuse became so sever that in high school she became totally concentrated on simply surviving her household environment, and failed a year and was held back. Colleen also used her natural love of learning as a coping skill and despite being held back a year, actually excelled in high school, and eventually left home for college.
So you left for college, did you get help in college or did things get worse?
By the time I left for college I was very depressed, but I didn’t realize yet that I was depressed. I didn’t know what depression was. I didn’t know it had a name
I had a good social life [in college], which helped. So you’re talking about all things that released positive feelings in the brain, so it counteracted the depression, but not all of it. I had some really difficult moments in college. And I was very alone because I didn’t understand why I was okay and then I was sad and then I was okay. I certainly couldn’t explain that to anyone else, and I was ashamed to. I was very ashamed of this perspective that I didn’t know what was going on with me, and how could I be so ungrateful that I had this opportunity to be in college. I was having a good time in college, I had a family to go home to. How could I not be grateful?
When were you finally diagnosed with depression?
After college I got married and as is sort of customary, we marry what we’re familiar with. And that’s not to say anything negative other than [my marriage] was not a healthy environment for me. But of course I didn’t realize that. I just saw all the problems, and all the despair as my fault.
So I got very very sad. My son had just been born and it had sparked a lot of different reactions that I didn’t understand. So I went to therapy to talk about my relationship with other family members. I didn’t really understand what was going on. It was at that point that I was diagnosed with depression. My therapist educated me on it, he explained to me what depression did.
I imagine you started getting help at this point. What did your treatment regiment look like?
The first couple of years I went, I did not go on medication – it wasn’t as prevalent at that time. Then I moved and restarted therapy and got on a regiment of medications and the medications at the beginning had minimal effects. It brought me up to just where it took the edge off, between not functioning at all and functioning.
I wasn’t happy. I was tired all of the time. Sometimes I was sick from the medications. I would go on medications, but never to the point where I’d make a lot of progress in therapy other than maintenance. It was a matter of surviving and that’s how I proceeded for several years.
With the medications, did you find any relief from your depression?
At one point I started having migraines because the flashbacks were coming. I was having 5 or 6 migraines a week. Then I was put on codeine for the migraines by an old-school doctor. We weren’t concerned about addiction, we were concerned with managing pain. Consequently there were several years that I became addicted to the codeine.
I ended up at the hospital in a rehab for 6 weeks for depression and for drug addiction. I went through that treatment and it was very successful and I never went back to using those drugs again.
Meanwhile we’re changing medications [for depression] constantly. Over this time period I was on thirty six medications. You go on combinations of medications because one doesn’t work or they find that another medication might have a positive effect on a certain mood so they start mixing medications.
So during this time, I just maintained as best as I could but was constantly disappointing my children.
I imagine this was a very hard toll on your family. Talk a little bit more about that.
Every time I went on a medication I’d say, “Okay, maybe this one will work; okay, maybe that one will work.” And every single time they stopped working or didn’t work very well, my kids became very disappointed. They began to lose faith in me, and that was really crushing.
At the same time, my depression was effecting my family too. My son was very involved with Boy Scouts. He was there working on badges, and going to all the meetings and dinners. My thinking told me that I could not go to those things. At that point I was very over weight, I was very sad and not worthy to be there; and he may be embarrassed of me. Now he was a 6,7,8 year old child. Children that age want their parents there. There is not a way that he would have been embarrassed. There were a lot of heavy women (Laughs). But my thinking told me that I was not worthy to go. And in a 6 year period I went to maybe two or three of his events in Boy Scouts. I missed all of that. All of his accomplishments.
You talked about growing up in an emotionally distant household. But you seem like a very open person. Over the decades of treatment, did you ever talk openly about your depression with your parents and siblings
First of all, no. Back in the day, people didn’t talk about [mental illness]. But when my daughter was born, I started having flashbacks of the abuse [I suffered at home as a child] and the things that never made sense at the time started to make sense then. I went to my parents and I said, “I need to know if this really happened,” and it divided the family. It took fifteen minutes and the family was divided and I haven’t seen many of my brothers and sisters since then, and this just tore the family apart.
But for my children’s sake I had to. I had to say, “Is this really what happened because I need to assess whether or not my children should be in this environment.” Do you leave your children with their grandparents? This was the type of questions I had to ask myself
And they denied everything. So at that point if there is 100 percent denial and the reaction is that violent as it became, then to me, I had to make a decision that this is not a good environment for my children to be in. And so I had to make a break from the Family.
Attempting to have a conversation about depression immediately ostracized Colleen from her parents and most of her siblings. In the fallout of initially addressing her parents, the ensuing divide crystallized to the point where she was not allowed to attend funerals for her family members.
So your struggles through treatment and your not getting any support from your extended family and your husband and kids are watching you go through all this, they’re getting dejected. This isn’t sounding like things are going well.
What really set a downward slope was when one of my brothers committed suicide. As a child who was in the mothering role, that mourning process was more at the parent level than the sibling level. And I took that very hard. Then four years later I had a second brother that committed suicide with his wife.
At that point I really began to go downhill.
As I would learn later, the more medications you are on and the longer you are on them, the less effective they become. And that was happening to me at this time. The medications were no longer working, I was becoming actively suicidal, and there didn’t seem to be any reprieve from a pharmacological standpoint that was going to help me.
I started to become self-abusive, which was a turning point for me because my despair was so deep that I didn’t know what else to do. I was stunned to find myself one night sitting in my closet and cutting myself. Cutting releases endorphin in the brain and it made me feel good. I had found a way to make me feel better. I was in an addictive mindset at this point. Soon a scratch doesn’t do it so you have to cut deeper and more places on your body in order to achieve that same high. I was in that desperation and my thinking had become so dysfunctional that I couldn’t make sense of a whole lot of things in terms of my own life and my own perspective on things, and I was really beginning to shut down.
I was in such despair that I walked into a hospital and I said, “I’m going to kill myself if I’m not admitted to a hospital.” So I went in for ten days and they tried to change medication combos that didn’t work. The hospital stay was very unproductive just because there was nothing more they could do for me.
Decades of looking for relief from your depression and nothing. How did you come across TMS Therapy?
I was seeing my therapist routinely, but it was just getting worse and worse.
By the end of 2010 we had tried 6 different kinds of medications and combinations in a three month period, and nothing was working. It was at that point that my doctor told me he was bringing TMS into his practice. He had done all the research and he had traveled to other doctor offices to see if this was a viable way to treat patients and he asked me if I was interested. So we talked about it over several sessions, although at that point I was not absorbing a whole lot. I was just desperate.
He explained TMS to me. He answered all the questions I had. He said, “It does not work for everybody, there is no guarantee this will work. I can present this to you, but you need to go home and make a decision about what you want to do. But this is what I can offer at this point.”
When I went home I was terrified. I was terrified not to have the TMS, I was terrified to have the TMS. The idea of something tapping on my brain when it was already dysfunctional scared me to death. It just left me realizing that there are no other medications left; this is the only option at this point, else-wise I’m going to be dead or I’m going to be in the hospital for the rest of my life. I knew those were my two options.
I succumbed to the desire to get better because I do believe that the seed inside of me that wanted to get better kicked my survival instinct into gear and it was at that point I said, “Yes, I’ll do the treatment.”
Tell us about the actual TMS Therapy. What was the process like for you?
I was terrified because I like to learn, and I was terrified something was going to happen to my brain. I found it extraordinarily difficult to deal with the fact that someone was going to tamper with my brain. At that time too, when I got on the net to research, there wasn’t as much as there is today because it was such a newly approved treatment.
So I started with the treatments. The treatments I found, were quite comfortable to be honest. The first day was probably the toughest and if I had to label ‘tough,’ I’d say maybe a 5 on the pain scale for me. And then my scalp got adjusted very quickly to the sensation and to the tapping and became much less bothersome very quickly.
The first two weeks were sorta okay. I did write almost every day so I could record my feelings and what was going on, but I think I was just in sheer fear. The second two weeks I went through The Dip, and I went through it real well. But I was severely depressed when I started and now I got more depressed. And it’s a very frightening experience to get even more depressed. Because it was so new and there wasn’t a lot of people out there talking about TMS, you don’t have the person next door that you can talk to and ask, “Well, what was your experience?” Some of those experiences you go through, you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not normal with TMS yet. This Dip created absolute havoc with my sanity.
I became much more scared and much more reserved. At the end of the second week of this I wanted to stop the treatment totally. My doctor had done so much research that he was so convicted about TMS and I had a depth of trust with him from being with him for so many years , that I sorta turned over all my fears to him and said, “Okay, if you believe in this then I will continue it.” But at the time I didn’t believe I would get better.
So there was the Dip and also the placement [of the device]. I look back now and laugh but it wasn’t funny at the time, it was actually quite terrifying. The way the coils were placed on my head affects the brain that deals with memories and I started having memories of my childhood abuse. At that point I thought I was going to have to live with 24-hour-a-day memories of my childhood abuse, and that became extremely scary to me and put me in a state of deeper suicidal ideation.
But all of this subsided as the treatment subsided. I got through the Dip and the memories. I cried a lot, I won’t say I didn’t. Is it tough? It’s a medical treatment. What medical treatment is pleasant? But you ask yourself, “How much are you willing to go through to get to another state of life other than depression?”
I didn’t know whether it was going to work or not, but in that I got hope. And there you go – Hope. I got some hope, even though I’m saying “This isn’t going to work, and nothing’s going to convince me.” I didn’t know for sure what the outcome was and that opened the door to continue that drive innate in all of us.
When did you notice things getting better, what was that moment like?
At four weeks the memories had pretty much subsided, and the Dip was starting to get better, but in a way that I was still depressed. So for me getting better meant, “Oh, my score isn’t ‘severe depression++, it’s only ‘severe depression’ now.” To me that wasn’t getting better. To me that was being relieved from the depth of this, but I’m still in this depression.
My TMS coordinator [at this time] told my doctor, “I think things are starting to turn around with Colleen.” I’m on an emotional roller coaster saying to my doctor, “Well, I’m glad you’re listening to my TMS coordinator and not me.” (Laughs) I was really angry at the time, but as is sometimes the case, the TMS coordinator will see the improvement before anyone else.
Meanwhile, I’m filling out depression scales every week to monitor the depth of the depression. My scores were beginning to improve a little bit, but you weren’t going to convince me that it was working. I was so afraid after so many years of trial and error that I was going to be let down again, and I couldn’t [emotionally] go there.
When treatments ended it was a sad experience from a relationship standpoint because you’ve been working with these people for five days a week, for six weeks. They’ve been your support system. They’ve been with you when you’ve cried, when you laugh, when you’re scared, etc.
I wasn’t feeling anything or recognizing anything personally when treatments were over, but I filled out scales for three consecutive weeks after that, and my depression was improving and improving and finally my doctor said to me, “Colleen, it’s on the paper. You are getting better.” (Laughs) So I finally succumbed to the truth and the reality, and said, “Okay. Even though I’m scared that this is going to reverse itself, I am feeling better.”
It took about nine months for me [to see the full effect of TMS]. All of a sudden I start laughing and joking around. I’ll never forget the moment I was driving to [my therapist’s] office one day in July, and it’s a very beautiful drive in the Catskill Mountains. Everything looked much more colorful to me, more than ever before. The greens looked greener; the pinks looked pinker, and it was a very profound moment because I was seeing the world much more colorfully and much more positively. It was an awakening.
After a literal lifetime of Major Depression, Colleen didn’t know how to not be depressed, which played a role in her not realizing just how much she was getting better. For Colleen, she would have to learn, for the first time, how to live life not being depressed. Learning these coping skills would represent the final step for her recovery.
That is really amazing to see that your story has such a happy ending. What can you say life has been like for you after TMS Therapy?
I only knew life from a depressive-thinking model. I was terrified to even acknowledge that I was not depressed, and I was a child in a world I had never been in before.
I made so many mistakes because I didn’t know how to behave as a non-depressed person. I said things and did things and then said to myself, “What did I just say; what did I just do?” [My brain was] a machine that was just now starting to work normally whereas it had been dysfunctional fifty, sixty years. I didn’t know what normal was and honestly I had to learn.
It is very much like living two completely different lives. Being not depressed is very different from being depressed. My thinking is different, my processing is different. All of a sudden, my brain started thinking clearly. It’s not tainted with this negative thinking so you see things like you’ve never seen them before, and the balance between emotion and logic is much more intact. It’s a nice scale that I had working. But I wasn’t adjusted to that type of thinking and it took me off guard.
I’m at a place where a lot of non-depressed people are. But I also think that I benefited from all my years of therapies. I’ve had to learn a lot of [coping skills] just to survive depression and now I can use all of that I wouldn’t have been privy to had I not been depressed. Now I feel like I can take risks, and that my whole world doesn’t depend on what other people think of me. It really depends on what I think of myself because there in lies the power. Whether you think things negative or think things positive, if you own it you have the power to do better or change something you’re not proud of about you.
People reading this might be interested in knowing that you are an active participant in TMS+You. You help with the forum, and provide valuable insights into the content on the site. What value do you think TMS+You has for other people considering this treatment and for people suffering from depression?
This is a breakthrough site, which will advance the efforts to de-myth the illness of depression, breakdown societal shame, encourage conversation, and offer accurate information and direction to those dealing this illness in any capacity. TMS+You creates an environment of ‘sharing without shame’ as many of the feelings that are experienced by those living or dealing with a depressed person can create an aura of guilt, shame and isolation. It will aid those who spend time to explore the offering and I’m excited at this becoming a rich resource of ideas and suggestions that will evolve in posts and responses creating a supportive community.
Colleen, thank you again for your time
And thank you again for having me.
Colleen’s story of suffering depression is epic and filled with many trials and a happy ending compliments of TMS. For many others out there, they are living stories very similar to this one but with no relief in site. If you or a loved one is in need of help with your depression, please consider talking to your therapist about TMS or contacting one of the TMS doctors in our provider locator. There is help out there for you, so please take that first step today.
If you want to learn more about this site, or any information on it, including this article, please feel free to contact us directly through the site.
If you’d like to see more from Colleen then be sure to check out this story from NBC’s local WNYT