Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tesseract

Strange and fascinating things** afoot in Girl Who Lived land this week!

Also: annoying and uncomfortable things.**

**It should be noted that the "things" in question are the same things. 

Pop quiz time: 

Considering all you know about me, in the contest between "fascinating" and "uncomfortable," which one trumps the other?

Take your time. Show your work. Eyes on your own paper.

Okay, pencils down.

DING DING DING!! YOU ARE CORRECT!! "FASCINATING" WINS BY A MILE!!

Because I am constantly on the lookout for interesting subjects to take on in this here blog, because I like you and I want you to have nice things, I really do, and therefore am happy to suffer a little on your behalf, I really am, because AUTHENTICITY and REALITY TV BLOG and MARTYRDOM and OKAY NOT REALLY.

Nah. I mean, you guys are cool and everything, but I really am actually that nerdy.

Hi. Sherlock here. We have met, have we not?
_____

To begin at a very good beginning place, this happened a few weeks ago:

Dr. Q was setting me up for a neurofeedback session and we were talking about the preliminary results (this was before the Q results that kind of rendered everything that came before them child's play), and I told her that her finding of clear markers for ADD was probably the thing that surprised me the most, because I'd never heard anything like that before and thought of that as a life-long condition that I should have known about by now.

She responded by reading me this great quote she had just discovered earlier that day from the book she was currently reading, Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain, by Sebern F. Fisher:
[Following a discussion of disorders in the traumatized brain, from OCD to addiction to personality disorders]
"I no longer see these as distinct disorders or comorbidities but as different manifestations of the same overwrought, dysregulated nervous system. With neurofeedback, we are attempting to tweak the dysrhythmias into rhythmic flow."    
"So in other words," said Dr. Q, "instead of looking at it as an individual diagnosis, you look at the brain as a whole. You've got intense anxiety and depression and hypervigilance constantly fighting for your focus. Of course you're going to have attention problems."

I love this. 

It's amazing, actually, how absolutely true and right that feels-- it snaps into the Universal Canon of Accepted Facts so neatly and perfectly and immediately it's like it's been there all along-- and yet how sort of revolutionary that notion is in Western medicine.

Got a symptom? Get a pill. There is no context.

(ESPECIALLY for ADD-related stuff and kids don't get me started I'll just drop this here and move on but I was a camp nurse for a season and I could tell some stories OMG and isn't this article fascinating and timely)

Ahem. Anyway.

Hearing that quote was a surprising moment of epiphany that unlocked my thinking about what is happening in my brain and body, and in the weeks since has completely reframed the whole game.

Now I'm looking at those test results in a whole new way.

Instead of a list of diagnoses-- which is frightening, intimidating, final-- I'm seeing a list of effects.

Anxiety. Depression. Hyperarousal. Difficulty concentrating, focusing, processing new information or prioritizing stimuli. Sleep disturbances. Migraine. Dissociation. The Fog. These aren't final resting places, but the current and flexible products of an overwrought nervous system; the effects of dysregulation on a brain out of rhythm.  

And that distinction is so very, very important because of this: 

The rhythm, we can change.

ARE changing. 

HAVE changed.

And you won't believe-- I can't believe-- what is happening already.
_____

I've already described what a neurofeedback session is like, and that hasn't changed now that we have the Q results. The only differences happen on Dr. Q's end, in the decisions about where to place the sensors and what frequencies to reward and inhibit. 

My part remains the same: sit in chair, look at screen, watch picture become uncovered, square by square, listen to beeps. 

Every 10 minutes or so, Dr. Q will stop the process and switch to a different set of sensors so that no area of the brain gets too over-worked. We train for about 30 minutes, max.

Seems short, mild, boring, yeah? You wouldn't think much could happen. I wouldn't even think so, and I'm the one doing it.

But the effects so far have been nothing short of astounding.

Before the Q results, we just did a general, calming protocol. And it was generally calming. My sleep was noticeably better from the first day.

I say noticeably better: I mean profoundly better. As in, "I haven't slept deeply enough to dream more than a handful of times in the last five years and now I am sleeping deeply and dreaming constantly and vividly all night, most nights" better.

No joke.

So there was that. There is also the small matter of the DISAPPEARING MIGRAINES.

Like, I've had ZERO non-menstrual migraines since I started neurofeedback, and have had two menstrual cycles with very short, mild, easily-managed migraine-ish symptoms. 

And she hadn't even started the migraine-targeting protocols yet.

Now, for the past two weeks, we've been doing the new, post-Q protocols, and here is where it has really begun to get interesting.

We're starting with the migraines. You may remember the pictures from last week's post that showed the areas of focus for this: the temporal lobes, on the sides of my head above my ears. These structures are also vital in long-term memory-- most notably (ahem) autobiographic memory-- storage and recall. They are also responsible for non-verbal emotional processing. 

(Psst: if you don't know how those two dots connect for me, I have a little homework assignment for you: the first 108 posts of this blog. Start here! Chop chop! It's a light, pleasant read! Won't take but a minute! ;))

Dr. Q has been putting sensors there, and rewarding frequencies other than what those parts of my brain are accustomed to using, which is causing some shifting in the rhythm.

And-- this is how neurofeedback works, remember-- that is naturally going to be the catalyst for a domino effect of some kind, right? These rhythms share a single context, as Sebern F. Fisher notes so eloquently in her book. Everything is connected. So it only follows that the treatment would bring the connections to light.

Case in point: the first few treatments on my temporal lobes have caused me to have very strong, very visceral, physical reactions in my body; the first of which was just odd, but the second of which is clearly, undeniably connected to the months immediately following my car accident.

I've had four of these treatments so far. The first two left me a little too amped up-- enough that I couldn't sleep afterward until nearly 3 am.

So for the third one Dr. Q tried something new. I'm not sure what it was. Something migraine-related, something known to reduce a specific type of pain.

On the way home from that session, I began to have sharp, shooting nerve-like pains in my upper right arm, at the very bottom of the deltoid muscle of my shoulder. Those spread randomly down my arm: elbow, mid-forearm, bicep. Every little while.

The next morning, I woke up with the same kind of pain, but much more severe, just to the inside of my right kneecap.

It hurt enough that it was difficult to rise to a standing position. I could feel it when I walked, but I could walk fine.

I went back to Dr. Q for my second session that week, and we agreed that it seemed likely it was connected to the treatment. She did another one-- I'm not sure it was the same or not-- and that night, I lost all doubt that these symptoms are related.

I went home and found that my arms and legs were... not quite falling asleep, but going cold with lack of circulation at an extreme rate, and I was unable to find a position that would "wake them up" for more than a few minutes. 

This was one of the biggest, most immediate effects of the accident, and something that lingers in a much milder form to this day. I haven't experienced it like this in 22 years, but the feeling is something that is inextricably tied to those early days, for me-- back when I still couldn't see very well, back when I still couldn't move very well, back when I still didn't know how bad it was going to get, how long it was going to last, if things were ever going to get better.

It's a physical feeling, but it's also an autobiographical memory. And an emotional one. 

The smallest of shifts, the first step into the maelstrom in this brain of mine, and we're already here, transported across time and space right to the heart of the matter.

Not wasting any time, I see. Very well, brain. Let's get started, shall we?

I was reminded immediately of the Tesseract from A Wrinkle In Time, which I read rather indifferently as a kid so don't ask me why I have this image on instant recall (oh temporal lobe, you kidder, you!). I was going to try to explain it but when I looked for it on Google images, it was a one-stop shop:


That's how they explain a Tesseract-- a time wrinkle, basically, or their version of time-travel-- in the book. (not to be confused with the geometric term involving cubes which... oh, just google it)

The moral of that particular lesson is that the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line.

Nope: it's neurofeedback. Well, neurofeedback and a loooooooooooot of therapy. Ha ha.

Anyway, back to the holy-shittedness that is happening in my body! Because I'm having trouble expressing how big of a deal this is to me. I think I'm really on to something here, and I think it is ENORMOUS.

I also think this neurofeedback is going to be a hell of a lot more intense and physical and painful than I thought, if this is happening right out of the gate.

But you know me: fascinating trumps pain every time, and this, no matter how irritating, is fucking fascinating.

I mean... you guys! We've officially entered the vault!

This is a piece of my past, and I am reliving it right now as we speak!

Except... holy shit. Right now, I know so much more than my 19-year old self did, don't I? 

I know that the bad part really is over. 

I know that I am safe.

I know that things got better. That things got amazing, and scary, and surprising and sad and wonderful and profound and disappointing and joyous and strange and all the other things that make up a life that's been lived.

I lived. Right now I know... more than I did then, at least... that I lived.

So maybe this is what I will do now. Take these memories out one by one, as neurofeedback brings them up,and re-experience them from my safe vantage point, and as my present convinces my past that everything is all right, the act of doing so will finally convince the present that it's true. 

That sounds a bit convoluted, I know, but after all, the shortest distance between two points is so rarely a straight, simple line.





Saturday, July 12, 2014

The QEEG: The Results Are In!

So. I have test results.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you might want to go back a few posts and read the one about neurofeedback and the QEEG. Go ahead. We'll wait here. 

I've been trying to figure out how to share the results here-- it's all a bit complicated and there's a ton of information.

I think for now I'll just share the most glaring bits (because there were definitely some glaring bits), and a few pictures (because there are pictures!). The report is so thorough and dense that I'm not sure I understand it all yet, myself. But I can tell you about what I do understand, and about how we're beginning to tackle what's going on in there.
_____

I was so curious about what would come up in this test! It wasn't so much about finding new things as it was about discovering the details and intensity of what we already knew was there from the initial testing, so that Dr. Q could design training protocols to address my specific needs. 

I admit that I was hoping, in a weird way, that the migraine and PTSR stuff would show up as severe, just to validate my experience of it. 

Do you know what I mean?

I mean, I consider myself a pretty tough person, when it comes to coping with chronic pain and suffering. I'm no fragile flower. And I've been dealing with the migraines, for example, for a very long time, and have learned to endure a lot of pain and get on with things anyway-- otherwise I'd never get anything done.

I'm not a baby about this stuff, in other words. I'm certainly not one to wilt at the first sign of discomfort. In fact, kind of my whole MO with the PTSR has been to dissociate my brain from my body so that I could march on, unaffected by the discomfort that I might be feeling somewhere, and it's only recently, through this work, that I've been allowing those two to begin to integrate again and allowing myself to feel that discomfort in increasing intensity-- which I am already pretty well-trained to handle.

So if I experience this stuff-- the migraines and the hyper-vigilance and anxiety-- as severe, I'd like to think that it would also be seen, objectively, as severe, as well. By science. You know?

Well.

Let's just say that my experiences were validated. Beyond what I'd expected. Far, far beyond.
_____

Okay, so, like the last test, after they've collected the data from the Q, they compare it to a big database of information that serves as the control group-- the "mean," or what counts for our purposes as the typical, healthy brain.

So your results are plotted on a bell curve, so you can see where you fall compared to most people. The bell curve we used looks like this:

Sorry for the poor quality pic-- I forgot to get scans so I'm taking pictures
with my phone in the coffeehouse. Viva la DIY!
Okay, this part will be important in a minute and will explain why I'm a bit blown away by my results:

For each of your results, you get a number, called a z-score. That center section of the bell curve up there, the section on either side of the mean in the center (called a "standard deviation), accounts for 68% of the population. Dead-on mean has a z-score of 0, and 68% of the population would have a z-score within those single standard deviations, so between -1 and 1.

Within two standard deviations from the mean (out where you begin to see the colored bars on the graph above), you account for about 95% of the population. That means that most people-- 95% of people-- have a z-score between -2 and 2.

Three standard deviations from the mean (a z-score between -3 and 3) account for about 99.7% of the population.

So that means if you have a z-score that's lower than -3 or higher than 3, you fall into about 0.3% of the population in terms of the way your brain is functioning. 

Or, perhaps, put another way, the extremity or severity of your symptoms compared to other people.

I bet you're wondering why I'm bringing that up, eh? O.o

Here is one the graphs that shows the frequency associated with migraine (beta):

The spectrum below the head picture aligns with the bell-curve. 0= mean, etc. White = normal, basically.
The numbers in the table to the left are my z-scores for various points on my skull (EC="eyes closed," EO= "eyes open."). I am over 2 for all of them, so that means I am out there in 5% of the population land... except when I'm even worse than that.
Interestingly, this frequency in this particular part of the brain is also associated with non-verbal emotional processing. That 3.43 score (with my husband's notes pointing at it), is for the large red area on the right side of my head behind my ear-- the part of the temporal lobe that is in charge of this kind of emotional work.

Dissociated me, as we know, is not so good at this; has not been for 23 years. I knew that. I did.

I did not expect to see that I had more trouble with this than 99.7% of the population. My husband and I both stared at that and had it all explained to us (he has a psychology degree from Cornell and was an immense help to me during the delivery of these results-- he knew what he was looking at when I did not), and it still took a while to register.

Holy shit. That seems awfully extreme.

But then again...

A not-so-small part of me is pumping her fist, going, YES!

FINALLY!

I finally have proof that this is real, this thing that I've felt was true and felt ashamed for thinking because it didn't seem possible-- it seemed, somehow, too much to presume that it was really this difficult for me; that I was somehow being selfish by feeling so alienated.

Like I was trying to make myself sound special if I suggested I was having as much trouble as I was.

I've always feared I'd sound like I was exaggerating, or making it up.

Note: this is why dissociation-- and the PTSR response-- came so easily to me. I had a natural tendency to help it right along.

Anyway, now I've got the z-score to prove that I am not making this shit up. It is about as extreme as it gets. And the migraines are no joke either. 

I have not exaggerated a thing.
_____

Next up: the hyper-vigilance.

This is a little bit more complicated, but in broad strokes, it's basically this: they measure the ratio of beta and high beta (the frequencies that indicate thinking activity-- a busy brain) to delta (the slow, calming wave that naturally balances out the beta and quiets the brain). 

This reading will show whether I have enough delta to balance my beta. If I do, I've got a calm, balanced brain. If not, I will tend toward racing thoughts, anxiety, memory and attention problems, and a lot of other stuff, but within the context of my PTSR, this will account for my hyper-vigilance.

This is my fight-or-flight response, triggered and constantly on, buzzing in the background, never at rest.

Ready for this?


The scientific term for this is "Holy Crap."
Also: 
1. The first column of letters & numbers refers to sensor points on the head.
2. I don't know what the difference is between beta and high beta.
3. They do part of the test with your eyes open and part with your eyes closed because comparing consistencies and inconsistencies between the two allows them to determine what readings might indicate a temporary "state" vs. a permanent "trait."

Yeeeeah. Check out that second column of z-scores. A negative number means "Not Enough Delta." All but one score fall below -3.0. One is -3.97. Almost literally off the chart.

This one is intimidating. These scores are serious. 

For one thing, as I mentioned before, people with ratios this imbalanced have a high tendency toward addiction, because they are looking for something-- anything-- to calm their brains.

Makes sense, right?

Here is one area where I am profoundly grateful for a whole lot of things I've done (and haven't done) in my life. Because those scores should strike terror in my heart, and they don't, and I'll tell you why:

First of all, as my long-time readers know, my drug days are well behind me, and I don't miss them. For good reason.

Second of all, alcohol gives me migraines. Boom. Couldn't be a drunk if I wanted to. My head would explode first.

Third of all, because of all the therapy and the research and the work I've done, I have so much context for this. I feel so incredibly lucky to know and understand what is happening to me, unlike so many who struggle with PTSR-- especially with cases as advanced as mine: people who have been fighting against their own brains for half their lives or longer without even knowing it, and who know nothing about the cause and effect of it other than the fact that (fill in the blank) gives them some respite from the pain.

Jesus. That could be me, and I can't tell you how grateful I am that it's not.

So I feel like I'm armed for battle, here. I feel fortified. I also feel very, very aware of the behaviors I've chosen in place of drugs or alcohol to quiet my brain.

Food, for example.

I mean, that one was a no-brainer. There are periods when there is no donut within a 5-mile radius that is safe from me. Emotional eating is a well-known coping mechanism of mine and something I've been discussing with Dr. Oz for a long time.

I'd even beaten it for a while and lost a bunch of weight. When I gained most of it back very quickly during my antidepressant roller coaster a few months ago, those donuts started shaking in their boots again.

They're still nervous. They should be.

But there are other things I do. I read. I surf the internet. I watch movies. In therapy with Dr. Oz, we've always talked about it as "decompressing" or "taking some time, getting some space." 

This is all true, and it does have that effect. I initially called it "shutting down," and Dr. Oz gently corrected my language, saying it was necessary for me to do that, with all my brain was trying to do in addition to the constant demands of raising two preschoolers.

Kind of her, that.

It's still necessary.

However, within this new frame of "Addictive Behavior," I also know that it can become more than just "decompressing" and venture well into "shutting down"-- as in, shutting out everyone and everything and insulating me completely from the entire world-- and that I have to be careful not to indulge that inappropriately or too often.

My husband has certainly pointed this out to me often enough.

It seems harmless, but if it's controlling me, it's not.

Since I've reframed my thinking about these behaviors, I've started to replace them sometimes with ones that are a bit more social. A jigsaw puzzle with my sister instead of sitting on the couch with the Kindle. Still intensely engaging, but not so isolating.

I go on walks with my daughters. They are hilarious and brilliant.

I've been making plans for our garden. And my office. And when my office is done: more writing and creative projects.

And just last night, I decided that I'm going to add "bike ride" into the mix. I'm going to start working exercise into my replacement behaviors. If I do it often enough, who knows? Maybe I'll become addicted to that.

HA HA HA.... well. It will probably never be more fun than reading Sherlock fanfiction, but if I ever want to fit back into all the great clothes I was wearing before the whole unfortunate amitriptyline incident, this seems like a pretty tricky way to get to work on that.
_____

Dr. Q and I have begun the new protocols, and I am already noticing a difference with the migraines. As in, I am not really having them. Or just barely.

I am noticing myself being triggered quite a lot-- I would imagine that any shifting around of the careful construction in there is going to cause some panic, for a while. But I'm confident that with time, my brain will open up some new pathways and try something different.

It has so far. It's really working, you guys. It's seriously amazing.

And until the panic calms down, I'll just be watching Sherlock reruns and doing jigsaw puzzles.

Or walking to the library with my adorable little girls.

Or riding my bike.

To the donut shop.




Saturday, June 28, 2014

Waiting for Q

Short post today-- got caught up in some other writing involving reaching out to a friend of mine.

Two things that might make you-- as they are certainly making me-- think: WHOA. This neurofeedback thing is really doing something!

Why, yes. Yes it is.

The thing I noticed most this week is that it seems to be making me feel the effects of my antidepressant.

Finally.

I seem to be sort of backing into it. I'm still on the 150mg of Effexor, and while it wasn't a negative, it wasn't much of a positive either, but I just could not bring myself to face another med change, so I thought I'd wait to see if any progress with the neurofeedback made a difference.

Indeed it seems to have done, this week.

I'm noticing a bit more focus, a bit more ease in settling into the details of things. I'm noticing a bit more motivation, a bit more industry, a bit more stamina in getting things done. 

Checklists being made, checkmarks piling up, that sort of thing.

I didn't get the results of the QEEG back this week, unfortunately, but I'm hoping that I'll have them by next Thursday. I am excited to see them, although a bit nervous about more surprises within. 

Mostly, though, I'm excited about the targeted work we'll be able to do afterward. This general, calming stuff has been fantastic so far-- I am sleeping deeply enough to dream for the first time in 6 years, and dreaming crazily and vividly all night, every night-- but I'm ready to tackle more than just that.

Time to break out the big guns, as they say. Let's do this.

Aside from that, no new updates. Oh: I finally get to meet with my potential screenwriting partner on Monday about the project I told you about back in November. Well, it will probably end up being more of a visit-visit than a business-visit, just because we have limited time and haven't seen each other for a long time, but we'll get to talk about it face to face for the first time, and that will be cool.

And maybe the ball will start rolling again, and that will be cool.

And maybe I've backed far enough into my antidepressants again that I'm ready to get a bit more done with my grain these days, and that will be cool, too.

At any rate, that's happening and we'll see what comes of it. Update next week.

Hopefully, I'll have a whole lot to update you about when next we speak.

Until then, we're celebrating Pride weekend here in San Francisco, and there's a lot more to be proud about over recent weeks, so we're feeling extra proud of all of the advances that have been made on behalf of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the US.

We've still got a long way to go, but the dominoes are falling faster every day. And we are winning.

Happy Pride, everyone!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Neurofeedback

All right, people, I think I've finally been participating in these shenanigans long enough to be able to explain to you, with at least some degree of clarity, what's going on over here with the neurofeedback thing.

I won't be able to get too fancy about it, which is probably best-- this stuff seems to get pretty fancy pretty quickly and leaves the laymen amongst us behind.

And let's face it, we're pretty much all laymen when it comes to complicated electro-neuroscience, amirite?

For a general overview of what neurofeedback does, I'll quote Dr. Q:
Neurofeedback is an adjunctive mental health treatment that helps optimize or fine-tune the functioning of the central nervous system. While psychotherapy addresses questions of meaning, relational patterns and skills, and facilitates grief and coping with life stressors, neurofeedback can be used to calm a nervous system that has become chronically overaroused through repeated life stressors, or to train the brain to create and sustain more focused attention. Calm, focus, and balance.
Sounds kind of like what I said last time, eh?

Dr. Q talks about how neuroscience goes beyond the understanding of the the brain within the confines of psychology and theories of personality-- it moves into the realm of the arousal model and the electrical activity of the brain: 
The arousal model goes something like this: your CNS or brain works like a brake and gas pedal at the same time. Without good brakes (overaroused), you can’t be calm. Without gas (underaroused), you can’t get going, focus, or sustain attention. There are also patterns of mixed or unstable arousal.
What we have found is that a traumatized brain (whether the trauma occurred through discrete specific events like a car accident, or more subtly throughout development as in chronic emotional abuse or neglect, e.g. a person who grows up with a mentally ill parent) tends to be overaroused. A person feels anxious often, or hypervigilant, and reacts out-of-proportion to stressful events of everyday life. This can really interrupt the functioning of an otherwise bright and capable person!**
Um. Ahem. Sound like anyone you know read know?

So in other words, in case you didn't catch that perfectly-tailored-to-kate-the-girl-who-lived final paragraph, one of the primary functions of neurofeedback is to calm an overaroused brain and restore balance and normal, calm regulated activity.

SIGN ME UP, BABY!
_____

I'll describe a baseline-setting and a typical (as I understand it, so far) neurofeedback session so you can get an idea of how this works. It's really fascinating and my inner Sherlock (and the inner Sherlocks of many I've told already) is extremely excited about all of this business because it's super geek-heavy and intellectually satisfying to sink your teeth into, and yet there's enough surreal craziness to it to make it seem a bit magical, too.

And there are pictures!

Okay, so the first thing that happens is that the doctor needs to get a baseline setting.

This means that they need to measure the current activity in your brain, as it is, so that they can compare it to normal, healthy brain activity and see where the trouble spots are.

On a typical person, this can be accomplished by applying sensors to eight different spots on the scalp and taking a EEG (electroencephalogram) measurement. An EEG measures the voltage fluctuations within the neurons of the brain.

So they hook you up to all these sensors. The sensors look like this:

That is a sensor. That is NOT, however, my hairline. Hmph. As if.     
The sites for the sensors are determined by a head chart that makes sense to the doctor, but, alas, not to me. There are a few, actually, in increasing degrees of detail and complexity, but I'll show you the simplest one, which shows prime placement settings to get good readings for general areas of the brain that will give the doc good information about the function within major brain structures:


Surprisingly, this IS my head. Dr. Q went to place the sensors and she was like, "Wait, have you done this before?"
And I was all, "What do you mean?"
So, in the first session, the doc applies sensors to the eight most primely-located spots of the ones in the chart above (F3, FZ, F4; C3, CZ, C4; and P3, PZ, and P4 among them, as I recall), to gather info from the temporal and frontal lobes where all your higher functions happen, including language, organization, and memory retention; the parietal lobe and the central crossing between the two hemispheres, where all your sensory functions take place; and the occipital lobe, where your visual processing happens.

PTSR point of interest: see those big markers at C3 and C4? My amygdala-- my Lizard Brain-- is just under those. I just learned that, just now. 

Wow. 

That explains something I'll tell you about later.

Anyway, the sensors are applied and the wires go to a router that is attached to the doc's computer.

Here's an important point: no actual electricity is zapped into me during this process.

You might have been wondering about that. You can stop.

All the sensors do is read what's going on. They do not attempt to affect anything.

In fact, they never  do. The thing about neurofeedback-- the thing about biofeedback in general-- is that all it does is provide the patient with information about the body, and the patient uses that information to make changes his or herself.

So no creepy scientist hijinks take place during this or any other post. In case that was what you were here for.

I'll let you know if it comes to that. I am not, shall we say, averse.

So there you are, hooked up. And then you sit there for a while, while the doctor's computer gathers a bunch of information from your brain. 

You can watch while it happens. It looks like so:


Voila.
It measures the voltage in three general ranges: alpha, beta, and theta waves.

I'll be able to explain more about those types of waves in the future. I don't know much about them now, and the more I look up to try to explain what I do know, the more I confuse myself. Suffice it to say that there are waves and they are squiggly and they mean something to some people and those people can tell me things when they see them, and I will tell you that stuff when I hear it.

The important bit is this: the baseline reading from my brain was compared with normal, healthy function from normal, healthy brains, and then certain conclusions were drawn and certain assertions and decisions were made based upon those conclusions.
_____

In a typical session, the doctor compares the baseline reading to normal function and prepares a treatment protocol based upon the particular needs of your particular brain. 

For example, if you show too little beta frequency in your frontal lobe, it is likely that you are having trouble with energy, focus, and getting tasks completed. You are probably experiencing a lot of stress and may be having trouble sleeping and experiencing anxiety as a result.

So the doctor will develop a protocol to work on increasing the beta frequency in your frontal lobe.

How, you might ask?

Well. Check THIS out:

While she's got your frontal lobe sensor spots hooked up to her computer so she can see what they're doing, she might set up a few "reward" and "inhibit" settings for the frequencies in that part of your brain. That means that she'll put a floor and a ceiling on the acceptable healthy frequency range that she'd like to see your brain stay within.

This is all on her computer, remember. Just a little boundary marker around where she'd like to see that squiggly line come in from the sensor.

And then she gives you a computer screen of your own to look at. 

Your computer screen isn't hooked up to any sensors. On the screen is a picture of something pleasant to look at-- I always pick flowers (my other option is "horses and butterflies," which sounds a little too 9-year-old-girl for my taste).

The picture, however, is covered by a blank screen that is divided into squares. As you sit there, relaxed, watching the screen, not doing anything deliberately (this is a completely passive process-- the more you try to "control" it with your conscious mind, the less it works), you begin to hear a steady series of BEEPs, and with each BEEP, a single square is uncovered and a bit of the picture underneath is revealed.

(I couldn't find a good picture of this to show you)

You may have guessed this already: each BEEP and square of picture is your reward for an interval of time staying within the "healthy" frequency as set by the doctor and as detected by the sensors.

The brain, being a pattern-seeking machine, instinctively interprets these BEEPs and picture-parts correctly as the rewards they are and tries to get more of them. Basically, it begins to autocorrect itself, attempting to keep the pattern going and accumulate more of the rewards.

Amazingly, as the brain does this, it begins not only to strengthen its ability to create and stay within that frequency, but the other structures of the brain begin to regulate around that healthier frequency, automatically becoming healthier themselves in the process.
_____

Amazing, right?!

I KNOW!!

So, that's what happens with a typical person.

Ha ha.

Surprise surprise: I am not that person. Turns out I have several enormous red flags of the sort that have caused Doctor Q to
  1. Tell me that she would not have felt comfortable taking my case even a year ago, and would be willing to refer me to people with more experience if I preferred, but that if I didn't mind her seeking supervision on my case now, she would like to accept the challenge, and
  2. Frequently look at me as if I were a delicious, juicy steak.
Migraines, PTSD, and TBI are all particular complicators of neurofeedback, and each condition calls for an extremely careful and delicate touch. 

All three together, and at the extreme levels that mine present, call for some acrobatics that, at times, defy logic and physics-- some protocols are completely at odds with each other. 

So, in order to prevent exacerbating anything or retraumatizing me or making anything worse, Dr. Q has been averse to doing anything beyond very basic calming techniques on me for these first few weeks until we are able to get the results back from a far more detailed EEG that we did this past week.

It's called the "QEEG." (Hence "Dr. Q." See what I did there?)

In this test, we did basically the same thing as the first one, except I was attached at ALL of the sensor sites: 
BINGO!

In this way, Dr. Q (and her mentor, who will be doing the deep analysis of this data) can get the deepest, most detailed reading possible on my brain, broken up into the smallest segments.

Then they'll be able to develop protocols that can target small sections at a time and keep from irritating areas that don't need it and might not be able to sustain it.

Or, at least, that's my simplistic explanation for what's going on. I'm sure there's more to it, including what else they might uncover with this more detailed test.

I know I gave you a big laundry list of things I learned about my brain after the last test, but there were some things I left out of that post just because I was a bit overwhelmed by it all and, frankly, some of it seemed like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

Like the marker that indicated that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and/or a major sleep disorder.

Um. Well. Duh. I guess it's hard to get too riled up over that when your anxiety and hypervigilance has your brain buzzing out of your skull every day of your life. What do they think makes me so tired and sore in the first place?

But I joke.

Actually, that one sort of washed over me in an ironic haze because those were the first things I tried talking to doctors about, way back in the 90s, way back when I first began to notice that something was wrong with me and it didn't make sense, and those were the first things that seemed to fit.

Doctors smiled condescendingly at me and sent me on my hysterical way, back then.

Today, my electricity doesn't lie.

Here's some more stuff my electricity doesn't lie about:

  • My depression is still very high, despite the fact that I am on an antidepressant
  • My anxiety is extremely high. High enough that it could be causing depression in its own right, and probably is
  • My brain has difficulty shifting between states, meaning that I likely often find myself feeling (get this-- this is the exact word she used, I shit you not)-- "foggy"
  • My brain shows signs of extreme sleep deprivation
  • My brain function is very slow in the area of my TBI, which affects the function in the rest of my brain, making it function "inefficiently" as a whole
  • My brain shows clear signs of extreme hyper-arousal, at a level usually seen in veterans recently returned from combat. This, of course, is my PTSR
  • The level of this hyper-arousal is so extreme, in fact, that Dr. Q gently told me I am at very high risk for addiction, because people with levels of constant, relentless activity like this in their brains are typically looking for something--anything-- to calm it. 
Yep. Today, my electricity doesn't lie.

Today, my electricity is dealing up some motherfucking truth, and that motherfucking truth is that EVERY SINGLE THING I HAVE THOUGHT WAS TRUE HAS BEEN TRUE.

And more truth, I suspect, is on the way with the results of that QEEG.

One more thing before I go-- this has been a long post, I know, with a lot of information, but it's been building up and I needed to get this all out here and you know how I like to end on a bright spot and guess what? 

There is one!

One other thing I learned in that first EEG was pretty cool and I didn't get to tell you about it yet.

One thing you do a lot when you're taking these EEGs is close your eyes for a while and then open your eyes for a while. I guess it changes the way the readings come in in some important way or something.

Anyway, there's one particular area-- I forget which-- where they watch how much a certain frequency jumps when you close your eyes. Dr. Q's mentor calls a jump of 150 volts or more "The Artist's Signature." Apparently, he sees a big jump happen there in particularly bright, creative people.

Mine jumped by 280.

So high, in fact, that Dr. Q thought it was TOO high and ran it by him to double-check that it didn't mean something else entirely. I spent a couple of days in limbo, wondering if I was a creative or an axe murderer.

Turns out I needn't have worried. Said Mr. Mentor: I am an "extremely impressive" creative.

Said Dr. Q: "So... imagine, if we can get the rest of this sorted out and free all that creativity! You're going to be a force to be reckoned with!"

And I thought, you know, after all of this, I can honestly think of no better goal than that.

The Girl Who Lived: A Force To Be Reckoned With.

Oooh, oooh, and the sequel: The Girl Who Lived: A Force To Be Reckoned With 2: Electric Boogaloo!

COMING SOON TO A UNIVERSE NEAR YOU!


**Because neurofeedback is so awesome, and because too few people take advantage of it, and because Dr. Q is an excellent practitioner who deserves more business, I am going to give you her real name, which is Silvia Costales, MFT, BCN, and link you to her real website, which is here. Her office is located in Berkeley, CA, but if you are interested in neurofeedback, I strongly encourage you to look for a practitioner in your area.