A Remarkable Journey

Posted: March 1, 2011
A Remarkable Journey

Cindy Warren was diagnosed with depression in 1999 after she attempted suicide. She had seen a therapist off-and-on before then, but her official diagnosis began a journey of failed treatments that seemed only to make her feel worse.

Over the course of 1999-2005, Cindy was hospitalized five times. She had trouble getting out of bed, didn't communicate with her friends and avoided social events. Her once active lifestyle had stopped. "If I worked really hard I could put a smile on my face. It was difficult," Cindy said.

Cindy tried various medications, in-patient therapy, outpatient therapy. Nothing helped. Cindy began electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in 2002. For the next three years, she underwent 100 ECT treatments. ECT helped a little, Cindy recalled, but only for a few days or a week at most. The treatments were "wreaking havoc" on her memory. Cindy couldn't drive because she would get lost. She couldn't unload the dishwasher because she didn't remember where the dishes went in the cupboards. And her depression was getting worse. The serious memory loss made it difficult for her to carry on normal conversations. She couldn't remember the details of her friends' lives, so meaningful conversations were distressing.

In 2005, Cindy found the help she had been searching for. The Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute was doing a study on depression treatments. After being accepted into the study, Cindy underwent deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery in late November, 2005. "From that moment on, my recovery has been miraculous," Cindy said.

DBS is a depression treatment pioneered by NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Helen Mayberg, M.D. Dr. Mayberg's initial work to test the feasibility and practical application of DBS was supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant.

"When I was in the surgery, I knew it was working," Cindy said. She was awake for part of the procedure. "I would go from crying and saying that I want to die to laughing, feeling happy and wanting to get off the table and call all my friends.

"I thought, 'Wow, I really don't have control over this,'" she said. "That's when I had a lot of hope. From that moment on it's been miraculous."

As part of her recovery, Cindy continues to see a therapist. She experiences a range of healthy emotions: "I feel sadness and great happiness. I lead a normal life - as normal as anyone's life can be."

Cindy believes research plays a big role in improving the lives of people with mental illness because there are endless possibilities of better treatments on the horizon. That's why she supports NARSAD. "I don't think DBS is a cure-all," Cindy said. "I don't think anything can be. I think there are lots of different reasons for depression, which plays into what treatment you need. Research is imperative to finding out what works and what doesn't. One thing doesn't cure all people."

Cindy's journey has been remarkable. With continuing advances and breakthroughs from NARSAD Grants, we look forward to sharing more stories like hers.