Saturday, May 31, 2014

Episode Whatever: A New Hope

I forgot to tell you last week, but I think I have mentioned it at some point here before (although I can't remember when), that I was planning to try neurofeedback.

Dr. Oz recommended it to me quite a while ago as a non-chemical treatment for anxiety. She said that her own anxiety was virtually cured by neurofeedback and she couldn't recommend it highly enough.

Since then, I've heard rave reviews about it from others, including my biofeedback doc and my GP.

As it has been a 2-night-per-week time commitment, and something I had to wait to begin once I'd reached a stable point with my antidepressants-- meaning, not during a ramp-up or ramp-down or any of the other nonsense I've been constantly involved in for the past who-knows-how-many-months-- and since it is, not to put too fine a point on it, quite expensive and it remains to be seen whether our insurance will pick up a dime of it....

Well. It's taken a while to get it all together.

And if you bought all of that, it's so cute how you think I'm, like, a real grown-up. 

It also took, you know, A PHONE CALL.

By FAR the hardest part, for me.

But anyway, it all finally got arranged, and I started this week, thinking that I was going in there to find a way to get at this anxiety, because the antidepressant isn't doing it, and I really can't face another med-switch, and I also don't think I should be planning to take benzos for the rest of my life (the heavy, long-term use of which now having been positively linked with Alzheimer's, thanks so much).

It turns out, there is A LOT that neurofeedback might be able to help me with.

Migraine. Information processing. PTSD. Attention and focus. Depression. Anxiety. And maybe most of all: sleep.

I need to say right now that I am not at all ready to speak articulately about neurofeedback yet. 

To be honest, I am not even ready to speak inarticulately about it. It's very difficult to understand and explain and I have to do some reading before I can tell you about what I'm doing and what I'm learning and what is going on and what I think I might be able to do with this.


I will tell you this: some fairly intensive preliminary scans have been done of my brain waves, and I'm going to have a very detailed one done in the next month or so, and I've already learned some things that are at once extremely validating and extremely disturbing.

  • I've learned that the doctor could see, in my brain function, activity that backs up everything I've thought and written about here about my inability to focus, about my depression and migraine and my anxiety and how extreme they are (verdict: very), and also the buzzing hyper-vigilance of my triggered PTSD state and how extreme that is (quote: "at a level we usually see in combat veterans").

  • I've learned more about my hyper-vigilance stuff that is frightening and also (oh, Sherlock) pretty fascinating that I will tell you about when I can explain it better. It probably deserves its own blog post anyway. Let's just say I've got lots of new topics to discuss
  • I've also learned that I have clear markers for ADD. Who knew?

The other thing I learned was... well, I can't say it was a surprise, because it wasn't. I diagnosed it myself when I started writing this blog. But it was a whole other thing to hear it like this and to hear that not only was I right, but it's still there, still affecting the way my brain works:

  • I learned that there is clear evidence in my brain function of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from my car accident.

I'm not really sure what to do with that one. 

I can feel myself moving up to the idea, touching it briefly, and then backing away. Nope.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Too much, too big, too... nope.

Before I go any further, I'll remind you that back in 1991, they didn't diagnose TBIs the way they do now. They simply didn't know what to look for. The '90s are now known as "The Decade of The Brain," because that was when neuroscience took a huge leap and they developed, among many other amazing things, the standards and guidelines for identifying, classifying, and treating TBIs.

But in '91, that hadn't happened yet.

Mine was also most likely a mild TBI, from what I've seen in my research, although my head trauma falls into the severe category and my periods of unconsciousness could indicate a moderate TBI classification. 

What all of that adds up to, to me is 1) it had a high likelihood of being misdiagnosed anyway, as mild TBIs often are, even now, and 2) under the conditions of my accident, man, did I get lucky.

Yeah, this is bringing up the accident a bit, in a way I haven't thought about it in a while.

Juicy posts coming this summer, people!

Anyway. To pick up the dangling thread.

I was my usual emotionally neutral self in the doctor's office. 

(Actually, I was pretty freaking Sherlocky, because this stuff is pretty freaking cool, and there are sensors attached all over my head, and I'm watching my brain waves on a computer screen, and a really cool doctor is talking total geek-speak to me, and I'm taking notes because in my triggered state my brain sure as hell isn't recording any decent memories for me so I can tell my husband about any of this awesome stuff when I get home, so it was all sciencey and interesting and confusing and cool.)

She... "Dr. Q," we'll call her... Dr. Q told me about the TBI thing, and that my brain is operating inefficiently. It's processing information slowly. 

One of the things neurofeedback will attempt to do is fix that.

That's good. That's a good thing.

I just nodded. Because that's cool and good and interesting. 

And in the back of my mind, I thought, At some point, if there's an emotional hit from this, it might be a big one. Because that... was kind of big and devastating news, actually.

Okay, I'm talking about this. I'm talking about this a little now, I guess.

The fact that the TBI is still there, or evidence of it, or whatever it is-- I am not going to say for sure because I don't know the parameters of it yet-- is... mmmmmm.... nope, nope, nope.

Palms sweating, jaw clenching, brain trying to get me to stop writing blog and go look at Facebook for a while. Okay. Not going to talk about that part.


I know that a lot of the inefficiency is caused by everything that's going on with the PTSD, and that it is cumulative-- it hasn't always been this way. In fact, it hasn't even been the way it is now for all that long.

I don't think. It couldn't have been. 

Because, as I remind myself, I have lived a life that is at odds with my fears of imagined impairment (omg omg omg), even if there has been some (has there been?). There may have been a little. I lived that life anyway: 

I graduated magna cum laude from a prestigious university with a TBI. 

I maintained a 4.0 GPA through grad school with a TBI. 

I earned an MA and an MFA with a TBI. 

I was a college professor with a TBI.

I travelled to Europe several times with a TBI. 

I had a successful career coaching college students to success with a TBI. 

I was an excellent manager with a TBI. 

I met and married my miraculous husband with a TBI. 

I had two glorious children with a TBI.

I became a writer with a TBI.

Right. I've ended up talking about this WAY more than I expected. As you can see, I've got a lot on my mind. 

That "big emotional hit" I was anticipating? Yeah... it's appears to be arriving. 

I'm reeling over a lot of things having to do with this neurofeedback.

First: it feels a whole lot like the final piece to the puzzle.

Second: all these years, I've had so much shame over the fact that so many things have felt so much harder than it seems like they should have, and to my utter shock, I may have just been given the reason why that might actually have been true, and it is both validating and horrifying.

Third: all these years, even though I've had so much shame over the fact that so many things felt so much harder than they should have, I've pretty much done most of them anyway, and to the standard I expect of myself, and to my utter shock, I've just been given the reason why I might have thrown in the towel instead, and I can't quite get my mind around how or why I didn't.

And that's just plain validating, full stop, is what that is. And I don't really know what to do with that, either.

Or this:

Maybe I have a touch of Tenacity Disorder, after all. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tenacity Disorder

My friend, who I spoke about last week, is one of the most remarkably determined, perseverant people I have ever known. 

In common parlance, this is known as a "BADASS."

She told me recently that the ability to just keep going, even when you don't want to, is a gift that hiking gave her.

She started hiking when we were teenagers, and since then has hiked to the top of Mount San Gorgonio in Southern California (nearly 12,000 feet high, the tallest peak in SoCal and part of the mountain range where we grew up) five times, as well as many other significant hikes.

"Every single time, I reach a point where I think, there's no way I'm gonna make it," she said. "And that's the point where you just have to forget about the big picture, and look down and put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. And that's what gets you to the top."

Now, what I know about this particular woman is that nothing has ever kept her from getting to the top of anything she wanted to get to the top of, long before hiking came into the picture. She was born with the gift of knowing how to look down and put one foot in front of the other when that was what was called for, and she has done it despite astonishing odds and has created a remarkable life because of it.

Those kinds of folks rarely know they are those kinds of folks. They're too busy being awesome to realize they're the awesome ones everybody's trying to be like.

So when I pointed out to her that, well, hiking didn't so much give her that gift as give her a great metaphor for her really simple and powerful (not to mention effective) life-long worldview, she thought about it for a bit and had to agree.

"Tenacity disorder," she announced. "That's what I have. There's a new one for the DSM."

"Most of us would pay a pretty penny to catch that," I said. "Maybe you should learn how to bottle and sell it. You could make a fortune!"

"It's the wisdom to apply it to the right things that may be the crucial missing element," my wise friend replied, wisely. "But I could probably upcharge for that add-on."

There are certainly worse lessons to have to learn.

Her point in telling me the hiking story was to say that she was wishing for that sort of metaphorical reference for someone else in her life right now who needs it. Someone who could use a visceral, muscle-memory reminder that if you just look down and put one foot in front of the other and forget the rest, you will get there. Just keep going. One step, then another, then another after that. You will get there. One step at a time, you can't help but get there. The destination will be here before you know it if you just. Keep. Walking.

It was so hopeful, this message of simple perseverance from a woman whose life is proof that such things can produce very good results indeed. So inspiring and accessible and true.

And it reminded me that it's the message I need most right now, myself. And that I even have a muscle-memory example of my own to refer to when I try to borrow some of her amazing tenacity and bring it into my own life and get things moving at a bit of a brisker pace around here.

The Effexor does not have a turbo button, as it turns out. I may have to, you know, get up off the couch on my own. :/

I've been thinking about this a lot lately anyway, as I do when plans for exercise start coming back into the mix.


And not just running.

Running a half-marathon.

It's my sister's fault. Two of my sisters' faults, actually. They got me interested in running, got me to give it a try, got me to prove to myself and the world that I could do it, and then they continued on and became running badasses and now run half marathons like they're going out of style.

And somewhere in there, I went from thinking no way in hell will I ever to holy shit what if I did?!

I've been kicking this goal around in the back of my head for a long time now, and I think it's time to break it out and get it going. Put myself back on a running plan, and get myself moving again.

In truth, running was actually what brought me to blogging, the first time around. I am not sure this blog would be what it is if it weren't for my fledgling running venture and my first 5k, and the Facebook posts and blog that sprung up around that whole thing.

It even talks about my accident a bit, and plants the seed for this work, which began a year later.

It was a pretty good read, if I do say so myself. If you want to...


So there's me for this week: trying to catch me a case of Tenacity Disorder. I'll let you know how it goes. Also trying to get started with the running. That will be a slow beginning, literally if not figuratively. I'll let you know about that, too. Even post the plan I use.

Because if I can run, anyone can. You can do it with me! We can all run a half-marathon together.

I hear there's a simple trick to making it: look down, let everything else fall away, and just put one foot in front of the other. 

Sooner or later, you can't help but get to where you going if you just keep taking all your steps in the right direction.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk, Migraining the Migraine

A very dear friend has been going through an extremely difficult family crisis lately, and I've been doing my best to support her and her kids through some unimaginably rough days.

I'm so glad I'm able to be here for her. 

It's a complicated situation, close to my heart in so many ways. I can empathize with it on every level. And helping her is helping me, and I am grateful for that, as well.

I'm being pushed back into a real, outside-world, adult role with this, outside of my own sphere, outside of my own head, for the first time in a long time. I was a caretaker too, once, excellent in a crisis. I know how to do this. It feels good to feel powerful, protective instincts kick in and to act on them.

And so much of what her family is going through is reminding me of things I still have to watch in myself; things I still have to work on to get where I want to go.

I'm sorry, I'm being deliberately vague because I don't want to reveal any identifying or intimate details of someone else's story. 

Suffice it to say: Stuff is happening; it is relevant; I am taking from it every lesson I can while offering all the support I can muster.

My friend deserves my best efforts, and if she happens to impart inadvertent words of wisdom along the way that can make my efforts even better, Imma take those in and put them to work, too.

So... that's what I've been doing this week. This has all coincided with my monthly migraine, which has turned out to be an absolute RAGER that refuses to respond to medication; I think because I'm triggered like crazy from all the aforementioned empathizing.

So now I have that. It started Wednesday night. I had a bit of a reprieve on Thursday afternoon. But aside from that, it's been steady since then, 24/7, and it's been awful. This is day three.

Migraines that don't respond to meds always freak me out. There are few feelings more helpless than this, especially when the pain starts ratcheting up, because who knows where it will stop?

At the moment, I'm on Imitrex, excedrin, aleve, lorazepam, and effexor. And a shower. And coffee. Yesterday, I tried none of those for a while, then one at a time. None worked alone. 

So today, I tried them all at once. All together, they've finally, in the last couple of hours, brought what was about a 9 down to about a 5.

I tried high-CBD pot yesterday, too; the kind that doesn't make you feel high but just kills the pain. I think the heating element on our vaporizer is compromised, so I didn't get much, but it didn't work anyway.

But a migraine at pain level 5, with moments of 4 or even 3... THAT I can work with. That's sort of child's play for me at this point in my life. Which SUCKS, I heartily admit, but after 48 straight hours of 9, I'll fucking take it, you know?

On the non-drug front, I've tried rolling out my back on the foam roller, and having my husband massage my granite-hard shoulders and neck tendons. I've tried ice on my back and neck. I've tried correcting my posture. I've tried sleep-- even Ambien. I've tried hot water. An actual, professional massage is more likely to make the migraine worse than better, so I'll skip that, but I think I'll give Rise Bodyworks a call and see if Dr. John is around tonight for some Active Release Torture. I mean Therapy.

Only the Evil Genius can help me now.

Last night I walked in on my husband telling my sister that he's been so proud of me lately during all this stuff going on with my friend, because he's been asking me every day to talk about my feelings about it, and I've been... actually stopping and talking about them.

It's a strange thing, because even as I'm doing it, even as I know what I'm saying is true-- these are my feelings, and I am feeling them-- I also still feel like I am talking about someone else. There is still a great disconnect between having the feelings and experiencing the having of the feelings and then talking about the experience of having the feelings.

But I'm doing all three, even if at least one or two of them still feel pretty artificial. There were some authentic, in-the-moment emotions the other day with my friend, and that was true, so it's happening for real, even if talking about it later doesn't feel quite the same.

PROGRESS, people. I am not an automaton! This is good, because in my darker moments I find myself terrified that my friend and her children are depending on me and all I have to offer them is this facsimile of a person that I've constructed over the years, not a real flesh-and-blood human being with actual feelings like everyone else. 

But no. I have a heart and soul that still work just fine, underneath all this Sherlockian defense. And my husband is totally pushing me to remember that, every day.

Good man, that guy.  Have I mentioned that here before?

Once or twice?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Everything Can't Be An Epiphany All The Time

I get epiphany-impatient. I am hungry for enlightenment. I want Big Change.

Unfortunately, I think the next series of Big Changes will happen through exercise.

So. That'll be coming right up, then.


My vicious cycle with exercise is that I have back and neck problems which have led to abdominal weakness which have led to worse back and neck problems which have led to worse abdominal weakness which has led to difficulty exercising without injuring myself which has led to a general lack of conditioning and flexibility which has led to embarrassment and shame over said lack which has led to a lot of hiding and couching which has led to back and neck problems.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Introverted me, as you might imagine, harbors an unholy dread of the group exercise class.

But then again, introverted me also harbored an unholy dread of the private training session and I managed to hold down a few months of wonderful Pilates sessions with the amazing Kiko at Rise Bodyworks (home of our favorite Active Release Therapy maniac, Dr. John Beall) last year.

But it's still excruciating-- excruciating!--  to get myself going on this, obvious benefits aside. Basically, I just don't want to be seen-- by anyone, including myself-- being flabby and awkward and uncoordinated and sweaty and fat and gross and stiff and weak and...

... all of the things I'd never, ever think about another woman if I saw her doing her best to work out despite any limitation she might have.

Right. Yeah, I know. Still. She is not me. I have much harsher standards for me.

But if I force myself out of catastrophic thinking for a minute, I have to admit that this is probably true for most people. We are worried about what others might think of us, but we are far less judgmental of them than they fear in circumstances like these.

Especially at a place like Rise, where everyone is so incredibly kind and welcoming and supportive and encouraging. It's not like a regular gym there, although many people do go there purely for the exercise. It's a therapeutic environment, so the vibe there is one of healing and growth.

I love them there. It's like a warm, hilarious little family.


But group classes are scary! And I am embarrassed! And people! And all the sweaty!




It's excruciating! I DO NOT LIKE TO EXCRUCIATE!


Then again, if I hurt myself, John is right there to pop me back into shape, I guess.


My husband's employer will even reimburse us for the membership.


God damn it.




Sometimes, these epiphanies just SUCK.