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For 35 Years I Was Losing The Battle To Depression. Then Came Vns

Jan 4, 2008
I remember walking into the counseling center over three decades ago at the University Of Southern Ms. I told them I was feeling "down" a lot and was certain I had depression. So were they. Hence I did.

After about six or so meetings, I realized nothing was getting better, and decided nothing was wrong except that I was suffering the same pressures and anxiety that everyone else did in life. But it was not to be. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I moved to a big city and got a good high paying job. That is what my other peers did to "beat the blues". Work hard, forget about one's troubles. The trouble was, it didn't work. I was back in therapy. This time with a myriad of pills, more frequent therapy, etc. Nothing was helping, but I kept being applauded for "such improvement". I told them I was not improving but getting worse, not something they seemed to want to hear. But it was the truth. I was barely able to get out of bed, and some days could not.

I moved to L.A. in 1994 thinking that if I could write a blockbuster screenplay, my life would turn around and I would no longer have this monkey on my back. I was now on a new class of drugs called SSRI's (or Prozac) and the doctors told me that if these didn't help, nothing would. The new drug did not help. I felt I was doomed forever to live like this.

Later that year, the Norhtridge Earthquake occured and wiped me out. On top of that, a week later my mother called to tell me she had cancer. She was living in my home town of Hattiesburg, MS. I went home to care for her.

One afternoon in 1997, I was reading New Yorker Magazine and I read an article on something called the Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS). It is a tiny computer chip device about the size of a silver dollar, implanted directly under the skin and wiring running up to the mood centers of the brain, emitting a magnetic impulse that allegedly had amazing effects on depression. Again, I was a bit skeptical but this time there was a big difference. Even though it was not yet on the market for depression, (had been for awhile for epilepsy), in clinical trials, it appeared people who had tried every other modicum of therapy were seeing dramatic improvement with this device. It was made by a small medical device firm in Houston called Cyberonics.

My mission to follow the activities of Cyberonics became obsessive. I knew this was my only hope. It taught me a great lesson in patience. It was not approved for another eight years.

By then, I was diagnosed with TRD (treatment resistant depression) which explained the history of no results. While Cyberonics and the heavy-hitter lobbyists fighting the VNS were slugging it out, I continued to suffer and I would find out about 10 million cases a year similar to mine were suffering (and dying) as well with the same horrid disease called TRD.

Since I continued to "be punished" in my hometown (was very disenfranchised by then), I started to research. My search was focused on towns with low cost of living, high quality of life, and an advanced medical community. I was not finding any of that at home. Surprisingly Hot Springs, Ar became a top choice. The major medical community was in Little Rock, less than an hour away and UALR Medical Campus was considered one of the most advanced in the country (to my surprise). It's name was and is up there with many more familiar names like Sloan-Kettering, M.D. Anderson, and Johns Hopkins.

In September of 2005, I finally heard that VNS therapy had been approved by the FDA for treatment of TRD. To my knowledge, it was the only medical modicum that had been approved for such.

Now the problem was how to "get my name on the list". So I called Cyberonics and they turned me over to a nurse/caseworker, who got right on the case. She found the (very few) surgeons who performed this one hour procedure, and she had to talk my insurance into covering it based on my medical history of years of no results.

On January 25, 2006, almost nine years after I first started following the news of the VNS implant, I received the procedure in Little Rock, Ar. at St. Vincent's Hospital.

I remember waking up and feeling very light. Something had happened, but I was not sure what. I knew almost immediately that I'd gotten the procedure. I asked a nurse if "it was in" and she assured me it was.

For the first time since I was about twelve years old, I felt no depression? I still had some anxiety but it was based on thinking "my mood is about to swing any minute and there is not a damned thing I can do about it". Minutes passed by and then hours. No mood swing. I felt like a child playing in the sandbox in kindergarten My worries and stresses were minimal.

Every month, I continued to go to Little Rock for a computerized non-invasive "tune up"; the doctor merely turns up the frequency another notch. It is at a point now where it is every three months and by the end of the year, the depression will be in total remission.

How is my progress? Amazing. I can remember like yesterday that I could not get out of bed, it was a huge chore to clean my home, studying was a brutal task as was work, and all that changed. I love what I do, I do it well, and do it joyfully. Today I am a cartoonist and etailer and full time student, have a wonderful girlfriend, and all kinds of doors opening that were closed, due to my having a undiagnosed disease, and at that, one that was not only socially-unnacceptable but one that a lot of people do not believe exists.

My faith is back and if others have problems with my disease and recovery, I believe it reflects more on them than on me.

Is VNS a cure? Not quite. But it is the closest thing one can get to for one, at least in my case, and many others of which I've been privvy to as well.

Many friends encouraged me to stay hush-hush about this story, that it might come back to slap me in the face.

My reply is "So what? Let them use it. If one person reads this with TRD and learns about it, and is fortunate enough to receive the implant, people can use it against me all they want. Doesn't matter in the least. Let one person get well from this most dreadful disease and it's all worth telling the story. Really. Well, back to work. If you really want to, you can enjoy the rest of your life. Please do so!
About the Author
Rick London was told for 35 years he had garden-variety depression but the doctors were mistaken. Waiting for VNS to be approved London focused on his top cartoon site cartoon collectibles , and cartoon tees
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