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Charlotte Livingston had her BMW i8 decked out in a candy cane pattern to celebrate the holiday season.
Tishan Baldeo, Photographer
By Mark Pavilons
Charlotte Livingston is on a mission and this “rebel” has a new cause, one that can impact many people from all walks of life.
Charlotte and her husband George planning to presenting an improved compact version of a proven medical treatment.
Livingston's strength and focus masks her inner turmoil. She's been living with depression all of her life and while it's been a heck of a challenge, there is some hope on the horizon.
Livingston, 59, has undergone Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) to treat her depression. It's been a rigorous, sometimes painful ordeal, but one that is starting to pay dividends.
She was turned down for participation in clinical trials in Toronto because she opted not to try different types of anti-depressants. She was on prescription medication for almost 25 years and after questioning their efficacy, she decided to rid her body of the medication.
TMS is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven't been effective and has demonstrated up to a 70% success rate in private clinical settings.
Her husband, an accomplished engineer and scientist, created an improved version of the device used in clinical settings. Charlotte underwent the treatment in the comfort of her own home, but initially felt like a bit of a guinea pig. She admitted to being very nervous and eased into the treatment, under the watchful eye and constant support of her husband.
Rapidly changing magnetic pulses cause neurons to change their firing pattern within the brain. By changing the firing pattern of neurons in brain circuits involved in a disorder such as depression, the dysfunctional brain patterns can change. The brain activity changes are thought to be a mechanism through which treatment occurs.
The protocol is six weeks of five days a week for 37 minutes per day. The treatment is delivered through a magnetic coil with a pulse charge.
After five weeks, Livingston began noticing the changes, subtle at first, and then more noticeable.
RTMS has been in use since 1985 and is currently used in Quebec and Saskatchewan, covered by their provincial health care systems. It's available across the U.S. at private clinics.
“We have to get this treatment in Ontario,” she said.
In the U.S., private clinics have been up and running since around 2009, shortly after the FDA approved the machines that deliver this treatment. The top four providers of health insurance in the U.S. cover the $13,000 cost of the 6-week treatment.
Since 1985, research has been conducted with TMS to understand and treat a number of neurological conditions (i.e. migraine, Parkinson's disease, tinnitus) and psychiatric conditions (i.e. depression and auditory hallucinations in individuals with schizophrenia). Most recently, researchers have been focusing on the use of repetitive TMS pulses (rTMS) as a treatment option for major depressive disorder, auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia, cognitive disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And that's where the couple hopes to change the landscape of treatment options. A patent is pending on the new device and hopes are it will soon ease delivery of treatment to those who need it most.
George recognized Charlotte's skill as an advocate and encouraged her to lead the charge in this regard.
“I want to talk about it and give people hope,” she said.
Her awareness campaign began just recently, when she penned a letter to the prime minster, his wife and ministers. She's calling on the federal government to “give relief of depression and anxiety to as many Canadians as we can. It is time to compliment the clinical trials at CAMH under Dr. Daskalakis and also the trials done at Toronto Western Hospital under Dr Downar for rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).”
Livingston pointed out this time of the year is particularly hard for many people throughout Canada and the world.
She's starting to volunteer with CMHA in Newmarket and Aurora, and she's been accepted into the speaker's bureau for outreach under CMHA and hopes to be given opportunities to speak in 2018.
Livingston is not alone in her often quiet suffering.
Mood disorders are very real illnesses that can have serious and sometimes fatal results. They affect the entire body and not just the mind. Their physical symptoms can range from fatigue to stomach complaints or muscle and joint pain. Many people never realize that they are suffering from depression.
Mood disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the general population. According to Statistics Canada's 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health, 5.4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over reported symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder in the previous 12 months, including 4.7% for major depression and 1.5% for bipolar disorder.
Further, almost one in 8 adults (12.6%) identified symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder at some point during their lifetime, including 11.3% for depression and 2.6% for bipolar disorder.
Livingston talks openly about her life-long challenges with depression. She remembers troubles at home when she was eight and her father suffered from manic depression. At 16, a back injury prevented her from pursuing her dream of becoming a ballet dancer. At 24, she suffered a bout of postpartum depression after the home birth of her second son.
Decades ago, mental health care was pretty sparse. There were a few, ineffective treatments along the way, and there were always the anti-depressants, prescribed readily by physicians.
In 2013, she weaned herself off of pharmaceuticals. She pointed out she became very ill throughout the first part of 2014, ridding her body of the drugs.
Charlotte turned to body building and nutrition in the spring of 2014. She even competed on stage at the age of 57 with UFE in Hamilton at Halloween Mayhem in 2015.
Living with depression, however, impacts every aspect of your life and family.
Now, she's cautiously optimistic and has found some renewed passion for life and the holidays. In fact, “Mrs. Claus” has traded in her reindeer for some serious, turbo-charged horsepower.
Charlotte, who once volunteered as Mrs. Claus, has put on the red suit once again to help spread some joy during the Christmas season. She debuted her new look at Schomberg's A Main Street Christmas parade.
Charlotte has long had a passion for speed and enjoys both cars and motorcycles. Currently, her “pride and joy” is her BMW i8 hybrid. The newly wrapped car is quite festive and it's the fuel in her personal tank.
The car is her hook and an invitation to start the conversation about depression among strangers and passers-by.
At the moment, Charlotte “couldn't be happier,” words she couldn't even utter a year ago.
The holidays are a time for renewed hope and togetherness. Charlotte Livingston is in control of her life again. With her behind the wheel, look for some breakthroughs in rTMS treatment in the coming years.
Excerpt: Charlotte Livingston is on a mission and this “rebel” has a new cause, one that can impact many people from all walks of life. Charlotte and her husband George planning to presenting an improved compact version of a proven medical treatment.
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