Saturday, July 19, 2014


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.


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.

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