Saturday, March 28, 2015

Goodbye, Effexor: A Conscious Uncoupling

I was just looking back through my posts over the past few months to try to find the one where I told you the really awesome neurofeedback developments I've experienced, and I couldn't find it.

Well, duh: it's because I haven't written it yet.

Behold, true believers! I've got some pretty astonishing news!

You may recall how neurofeedback works, and what it showed me about my own brain, last May and June when I first began. I've linked those early posts here in this paragraph for you to go back and reread them if you like-- I recommend the refresher. I needed it myself, because WHOA, have things changed since then!

A couple of months ago, we did a little 5-point test, sort of a mini-Q, where several points on the brain are monitored at once to see how they compare to a general database of healthy brain function.

Just a little progress report, you know?

Okay, this was a limited test, but the circumstances were a repeat of the first time I took it, so the results can be compared to those, too. And the results were pretty profound: 

  • My ability to switch between states, which Dr. Q said before I seemed to really struggle with and which probably left me constantly feeling "foggy," (ah, if only she knew!)?   NORMAL!
  • Those markers for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and/or a major sleep disorder?   GONE!
  • My general inefficiency and slowness of processing, caused by the old rerouting from the TBI and the hypervigilance and general misuse of resources?   MUCH IMPROVED! (not quite in the normal range yet, but much closer than before!)
  • Get this: My anxiety? My "At levels I've only seen in veterans recently returned from combat" anxiety?   GONE! (Not "Better." Not "Low Normal Range." Smack-dab in the center of "Just-Like-Everybody-Else NORMAL.")
  • And finally: my depression: Barely any movement at all.

First, a little celebration!

I'm sleeping better than I have in years. I virtually stopped taking lorazepam within 2 months after I began seeing Dr. Q, even though my PTSR was still in full effect. I am thinking more clearly, operating more effectively, and just generally feeling better in every way.

I don't think I can overstate the impact neurofeedback has had on my life. It feels like exactly the perfect component for me, and exactly the right time in my recovery. I really do feel like it is working to sort out and put in place all the pieces I've worked loose in my work with Dr. Oz.

Especially now, since the release

As I think you'll agree, if you've been reading along for any length of time, I was absolutely primed for this therapy, and it really is working accordingly. My ducks were in a motherfucking row, and boy, is it paying off! I can literally feel things falling into place sometimes.

It's amazing. Neurofeedback is amazing. 

And you know what else? Painstakingly setting up the dominoes so that you can finally watch them fall is pretty freaking amazing, too.



I think, if you'll peruse the list of test results above, that you'll notice that one of these things is not like the others.

Yup. The depression. Hasn't moved much at all.

I actually think this is because of my antidepressant. I think it has, in fact, been doing its job of keeping that part of my brain operating in a stable and consistent way.

The problem with that is that the rest of my brain has been stepping up its game in a dramatic, dynamic way.

I am now able to feel this discrepancy. I have been feeling over-medicated.

My antidepressant has been bringing me down.

So, last month, I began to ramp down from my 150mg of Effexor.

I began to notice an improvement almost immediately. Effexor has a very short half-life, which means you get almost instant feedback from it, which is a rare thing with antidepressants. This will become important in a moment, so remember this detail.

The extended-release version of the drug that I take comes in 75mg capsules. That's it. So any ramping down is going to involve big, jarring jumps or painstaking capsule-opening and bead-counting (because why should pharmaceutical companies make it easy for you to get off their meds? They don't want you to get off their meds!).

This wouldn't be a problem if ramping down were as easy as one's GP tells one it should be: "Just drop to 75mg for a week, starting tomorrow, and then stop after that. If you have any discomfort going from 75mg to nothing, try going to 75mg every other day for a week, and then stop. But you shouldn't have any problems."

I've found, though, that the laymen know best when it comes to these things. Discontinuation symptoms are wildly underreported (understandable, in a system designed to keep us on these meds, not get us off them). So when I ran into trouble with my ramp-down, I turned to the forums for help.

Oh. The trouble: I did have some discomfort going from 150mg to 75mg-- it took me about 2 weeks to stop feeling spacey and half-asleep-- so there was no way I was going cold turkey. 

I followed my doc's advice and went to 75mg every other day, there apparently being no smaller increment available to me (they say there's a 37.5mg capsule, but I've never seen one). 

The first two days I skipped, I definitely felt it-- "brain zaps," a little jittery and spacey, but otherwise fine. No emotional fallout whatsoever, nothing I couldn't manage. Then it evened out and I felt fine.

Not just fine. I felt better. Less was definitely more, where Effexor was concerned. The less I took, the better I felt. 

After a couple of weeks of that, I decided to go to 75mg every third day. 

The first time I skipped that second day, I was vigilant all morning, watching for symptoms. I felt fine, mentally, which was good. By noon, I felt a bit shaky, but still fine.

By 2pm, the zaps had started. By 3, I could barely keep my eyes open. was disoriented and confused. I was agitated. I kept falling asleep. And my body hurt, but in a way that's hard to describe. 

In a "there is something seriously, dangerously wrong" sort of way.

In a "my body is attempting to function without a vital element" sort of way.

In a "this must be what dying feels like" sort of way.

In a "this isn't something to push through; this is unsustainable" sort of way.

I lasted as long as I could. And then I took a pill. I have small children to care for. I can't mess around with my brain like that.

My husband, during this frightening little episode, had gotten online and found the forums and begun to research how the hell to get off this shit.

The people there: they've been around the block a few times. In their comment signatures, they list their medications and their ramp-down protocols. Some of them have taken 10 years to ramp down from extensive quantities of psychotropic medications.

It's not our world, this world of meds.

From the forums, I learned some basic rules of thumb:

1. Reduce your dose by 10% per month, as a general guideline.

2. Do not ramp down by skipping days between larger doses-- it's like playing ping-pong with your brain.

3. Open up capsules and count beads if you can't get them in smaller increments from the pharmacist, or get a scale and weigh your dosages yourself.

4. Let your own body's reactions be your guide. It will tell you if you can be more aggressive or need to be more conservative with your reductions.

Ah. Okay.

So, no more skipping. Cool. Especially with a drug like Effexor, with such a short half-life, this makes sense. So I went back to a daily dose, but since I'd already reduced below 75mg/day, I resumed at 50mg/day.

I did this by opening up some capsules and counting the teeny little beads inside. I ordered a big bag of empty gelatin capsules, grabbed some black cardstock out of my collection to make the little guys easier to see, got some tweezers, and went to work.

THIS, my friends, is a huge fucking pain in the ass. 

I thought it would be no big deal. I was wrong. They are full of static electricity, for one thing, so the stick together and jump all over the place. Plus, they are round and tiny and they roll everywhere. They are hard to contain. And I have a lot of pills to make.

It's just tedious.

So I got a scale.

Still tedious, but it takes a lot less time now.

I was on 50mg for nearly 2 weeks, giving myself time to recover from the "episode," as I think of it now. During this time, I made a little ramp-down calendar, in which I cut my dose by 10% every 3 weeks (feeling aggressive, me!), just to see how long it would take.

You wanna know? You wanna know how long it would take me to reduce from 50mg, if I were to reduce my dose by 10% every 3 weeks, starting from right now?


Yeah. Hell no.

Over the last week, my husband and I both noticed that I was feeling out of sorts: withdrawn, agitated, maybe a bit anxious. He thought I'd seemed that way since the "episode," in fact.

In neuro this past Tuesday, I was telling Dr. Q about it when it suddenly occurred to me what might be causing it: my antidepressant.

I'd been taking 75mg every other day before the episode, which equates to 37.5mg/day, and since the episode, I've been taking 50mg/day. I've actually increased my dose, when in the weeks before the episode I'd seen very clearly that the less I took of it, the better I felt.

So Tuesday night, I said "fuck it" to the 10% rule and to the "per month" rule, and I cut my dose to 40mg.


From this, I've learned a thing or two for myself:

1. My body can handle aggressive moves. It just needs a consistent dose.

2. The less I take, the better I feel = I need to get this stuff gone ASAP

3. I'm going to try cutting 40mg to 30mg next week (there has been no noticeable "adjustment" period here, so I think 2 weeks is fine. I'll extend it if I feel it. I'm letting my body be my guide, and my body is saying LET'S DO THIS!), because I think I can handle another aggressive cut. I won't know unless I try. And if it feels wrong, I can back off and bring it back up to 35mg. I know how to do this now.

So. I'm not going to jump the gun, because I know what that feels like, but I'm also not going to languish away forever if I can get this stuff out of my system more quickly. I want to get moving on this, because I want to give neurofeedback a chance to work its magic on my brain when it is NOT under the influence of antidepressants to see what kind of movement it's able to affect then.

I swear, I can already feel it having more of an impact as the dosage goes lower.

And guess what? At the end of all of this, I'm going to have a full Q again, so we can see the deep impact of this treatment, and I-- and you-- will be able to see the results of the work on my brain.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Switch: Flipped?

I'd been planning to tell you about how I'm ramping down my antidepressant-- turns out it's a far longer, more tedious, and hazard-prone process this time around than anticipated, so there are anecdotes to relate (and a whole shit-ton of new resources to share, OMG)-- but then SOMETHING HUGE HAPPENED so Imma tell you that instead.

My daughters (5-year old twins) have been sick lately-- they got pretty nasty colds a few weeks ago that lingered, and then last week started coughing and feeling poorly again. They have mild asthma as a result of their premature birth and we've been easing up on their daily inhaler medication, hoping they've begun to outgrow it. But when the respiratory illnesses come around, it's always a little nerve-wracking, because they are prone to pneumonia.

Well. Sure enough. One of them ended up developing both an ear infection AND pneumonia. And I forgot to ask the doctor for chewable antibiotic tablets, instead of the liquid, which my kids flat out refuse to take. And then when I called at closing time to have her switch it, the kind she ordered were out of stock and the replacements were a different dosage and the pharmacy wouldn't make the switch without authorization, so we ended up having to take home the liquid.

Which my kid wouldn't finish, even in a smoothie.

Fast forward to the next morning. The kid with the pneumonia is acting fine, but her sister, whose lungs are clear, has nevertheless developed a horrible, deep cough overnight and is red-faced and hacking all morning.

Pneumonia girl rejects morning smoothie. She's now down 2 doses of antibiotics. I begin trying to get people together for a trip to the pharmacy to right this wrong. We reject getting dressed and opt for nightgowns and shoes. All systems go.

And then.

NON-pneumonia girl, who has been coughing virtually non-stop, suddenly grabs me in panic during a coughing fit, gags, and throws up all over the couch.

She and I spend the next 45 minutes in the bathroom, during which time she is convinced she is going to die and I try to calm and soothe her and tell her that she can breathe, that her coughing just made her choke, that she is doing fine, that I'm there with her and everything will be okay, that she is not, in fact, going to "barf forever," etcetera. Over and over.

Meanwhile, in another part of my brain, l'm gauging the potential for her twin to either join us in the bathroom or need further medical intervention because she has freaking PNEUMONIA and I haven't started her on her meds yet.

Finally, I give up on the idea of dragging these people out of the house and call my friend UltraViolet (yes, that is her Superhero name, and it is well-deserved), who runs to the pharmacy and grabs the meds for me, done and done.

So I get everything cleaned up, everyone talked down off the ledge and/or medicated, get them nebulized and fed and listened to them whine and let them crawl all over me for a while, and then put them to bed for a nap just as my husband is getting home for lunch.

I gave him the lowdown of the day, he went upstairs for a minute, and when he came back, I was sitting on the floor, tidying up. He looked at me and stopped dead in the middle of the room.

"Look at you," he said. "You're not triggered right now!"

I froze. Holy shit.

I did a quick inventory:

  • Off-gassing? No. 
  • Prickling along the hairline (something I've noticed goes along with full-throttle adrenaline charge, in me): Maybe 10% of usual. 
  • Need to shut down, disengage, stuff my face with insulating junk food? No! Look at me! I'm CLEANING! (although a donut wouldn't hurt right about now, let's be honest. Baby steps.)
  • The Fog rolling in to swallow the details of the morning? Clear skies, as far as the eye can see!

I stared back at him. "I am not triggered right now."

Normally, a stressful morning like that, full of worry and stress and chaos and whining and barf, for god's sake, would have triggered the living hell out of me.

I'm a person who gets triggered by needing to make a simple phone call, remember. A morning like this would have required a 16-hour shut-down to recover.

And I could feel it-- don't get me wrong, I could feel the reaction in there, a tiny one, trying to find purchase, but it was as if the edges inside were suddenly almost smooth, and there was nowhere left to bite.

And so it was dissipating. Maybe like it does in normal people; I'm hardly qualified to know. But there I was, not sitting on the couch and staring into my computer screen. 

There I was, after the morning I'd had, being a normal person.

My husband's grin was incandescent. "Look at you," he said again. "Look at you."


We talked about it some more later that night. 

"A year ago," he said, "or even a few months ago, you would have been completely different after a day like this. You wouldn't have been smiling, you would have been irritable, you wouldn't have been talking, you would have been buried in candy or some kind of comfort eating. You would probably have a migraine."

All true. I've been triggered worse for far less.

But that night, I laughed. "To be honest, I've been sitting here thinking I want to go get some ice cream. That one's going to be a harder habit to break."

He gave me a wry smile. "Well, two out of three ain't bad."

"I haven't gone, though," I said. "I'm still here."

He reached out and grabbed my hand. "You're still right here," he said.


I'm going to say this out loud now. 

It's the thing I've been hoping I'd be able to say since I started writing this blog, although if I'm honest I don't know if I ever really believed I'd get the chance.

But I'm going to say it. Type it. Whatever.

Here goes:

I think I flipped the switch.

I think I turned off my fight-or-flight response.

You guys: I THINK I DID IT!


It isn't quite the fairytale ending I'd imagined, I have to say. Or an ending at all, really.

As it turns out, turning off the response doesn't immediately solve every problem, end every struggle, or bring this journey to a close.

What keeps coming to mind is the image of a person who was once very obese but then lost a lot of weight, and now has far too much skin hanging on a suddenly-much-smaller frame.

My body is used to housing parts that are no longer there, and running on systems that no longer operate. Not everything that comes from that is automatic-- there are a lot of learned responses that follow that I still need to work on unlearning, for one thing.

But all that will come.

Because this thing that I've done... I've really done it. 

I've spent the last four-and-a-half years slowly and systematically setting up the conditions under which this transformation could take place, and it has.

And that means I have the systems in place for what happens next.

I've learned what is happening to me, and why and how, and with the help of Dr. Oz and my dear husband and my wonderful family and friends and you and this blog, I've learned how to recognize the changes when they happen and take next steps when it's time.

And now, with Dr. Q and neurofeedback, I've got my brain working from the inside to help get things put back in order as I clear space.

I've just cleared a lot of space.

I can feel the knot unwinding. That relentless, spinning ball of filament wires is finally slowing down.

The landscape is finally, irrevocably changed.

Throughout all this work, so many of the things I've learned and changes I've made have been perspective shifts; intellectually understood and incorporated as fully as possible, despite the fact that there has usually been little to no "agreement" from my instincts.

I think I've probably put a more positive face on it in this blog that it has earned in real life, simply because you're getting this stuff straight from my intellect, here, so you're dealing with the part of me who totally gets it and can successfully navigate all the theoretical nuance.

In practice, I've been much less consistent and aware, because that's where my lizard brain takes over and runs the show. But I've been trying to fight that, all this time, and trying to override what I feel to be true (or what my body knows to be true) with what my intellect knows to be true, and it's been disheartening at times.

I've mentioned it here, I know: that sometimes, despite all the work I'd done, I still felt so far away from resolution; like nothing inside had really changed at all.

That's because it hadn't. Not really.

That fight-or-flight response was still on, so as much as I was learning the whys and hows of it, and learning how to work with and through it, I was really only learning how to act upon a process that remained constantly in motion. Things were not changing from within so much as my understanding of things within was changing, and from there I was able to act.

And mostly, to act as if.

Here's how this week's event was different:

This week is the first time the change has come from my body first.

This week was the first time it has been clear to me that it is not just my perspective on my instincts that has changed, but my instincts themselves.


I have so much more to say about this; so much more to do with this, but I rather think this is enough revelation for one blog post. I'll save something for next week.

Until then, I'll still be reeling a bit from everything I've discovered over the last couple of weeks. And asking myself the question I've been asking for a while now, and in light of recent events, has become undeniable:

I've done what I set out to do. 

It is possible to do what I set out to do. 

I've done it.

And if I can do it, so can others.

How can I help?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Release, Redux

I'm reading over my post from last week and I'm wishing there were a way to bring you inside the experience of that release with me, because I'm afraid my description of it didn't do it enough justice.

I just had to get it out on the screen last week, I think, describe it to you so you knew the basics. Now I'm a little more able to talk about the implications of it all.

It was so surreal, you guys, so completely unlike anything I've ever felt before, that I had to repeat the story out loud to myself and others several times right after it happened or I knew I'd never believe it later. 

As I told you in that blog post. Crazy as a ghost story, that release was.

My body was clenching and atrophying and animalizing (is that a word?) of its own accord, without my permission-- teeth baring, muscles tensing, limbs pulling in and reverting to primitive protective states. It was like...

It was like watching myself go full-caveman. That's what it was like. 

My conscious, intellectual brain was fully online, observing myself, but it had been neatly disengaged from the process taking place at the moment, thank you very much, and my primitive caveman brain stepped in, rubbed her palms together (she has palms), cracked her knuckles (knuckles too... draggy ones, probably), and said, "It's go time. Let's do this."

She is very articulate, my inner caveman. As one might expect.

And that caveman... she just... took over. Didn't let Sherlock get involved for once. For that moment in time, isn't wasn't about hitting invisible brake pedals or turning invisible steering wheels or rehashing invisible injustices or about anger or shame or even about fear.

It was about pulling in the limbs; protecting the vital organs; shielding the face, the teeth, the eyes; it was about bracing the body, holding steady the shell of the self; it was about letting go of the rational and delving deep into the primal.

It was what happens when fight and flight have been thought through (each given their several-thousandths-of-a-second's due) and discarded as not going to work in this case, I'm afraid. 

It was all that was left to do.

And it was simple, really: survive. 

Survive this.

Cover up your softest parts, salvage what you can, and survive it.

The caveman finally got to finish sending her message. 


And then, because of all the work I've done, and because I was well and truly ready, and because it was time, or long past time, or long, long, long past time, depending on your point of view:

It's over, the caveman said. We're safe now.


And like the smoothly-ticking machine it still is, my sympathetic nervous system, built for survival and goddamn good at it, calmly went into shut-down mode for the first time in 23 years, 11 months, 10 days, 18 hours, and 53 minutes.

The deep, unparalleled, unprecedented release of tension that followed began as a trickle at my crown and cascaded in a waterfall over my body, and over the following ten seconds, I went from feeling the most painfully clenched and rigid I'd ever felt in my life (and that is saying something, people) to feeling like a pool of warm, melting, quivering jelly, unable even to lift myself from the couch.

If I'd had time to think about it, it might have been terrifying, it was so sudden and so complete in its reversal; sure and silent as a stroke. As tight as my facial muscles had been the moment before, that's how relaxed they suddenly became: the sensation of melting was almost literal.

My arms were still held aloft, but my hands drooped, I remember. My fingers, my palms, and then my wrists just lost their structure and dropped; my arms, I guess, remained held up by my shoulders, which were naturally taking a bit longer to get the message through every heavily-fortified layer of ballast and buttress that has propped them up for half my life.

They scarcely knew how to stand down.

My abdomen let go like a harshly-stressed dam bursting, and air rang through my open lungs in joyous peals and shouts.

My thighs softened and dropped; my toes touched the floor and slid forward; my legs sprawled out, shaking, unable even to find dignity in the pose.

And the shock of it! Absolute, blank confusion at feeling the titanium rods that have been my trapezius muscles dissolve into (relatively) soft, pliable tissue in an instant. Utter disbelief that my body could be so completely co-opted without my consent. Every sensation as unexpected and foreign as if it came from an external source. 

And then: 


And justlikethat, the moment, the fight... at long, long last... was over.


That captures it a bit better, I think. The... for lack of a better word... the majesty of it. And like I said before, it was so surreal that I might even have convinced myself that I'd made the whole thing up, if it weren't for a few pretty clear, pretty strong, (pretty amazing) signs that things have changed around these here parts.

Better ones, that I didn't tell you about last week!

1. I have skipped not one, but TWO migraines since that night. One was my regular, monthly, menstrual-cycle-related migraine. (This is a Very Big Deal. But as I have learned, I am Not Counting Chickens).

The other migraine I skipped-- and this will be notable for long-time readers of this blog-- was the one I conspicuously did not have after I got an AWESOME MASSAGE last weekend! 

As you may remember, I haven't been able to get massages for years-- like, 10 years or more; I don't remember, it's been so long-- because they trigger migraines. But my migraines, and so many other physical and mental issues, have been exacerbated by my extreme body tension over the years (clearly), so massages weren't a luxury for me, but a therapeutic necessity that I couldn't tolerate. 

Until now! 

Well. One down. One extremely painful, sore-for-days-afterward, infinitely satisfying massage in the bag. We'll see how the next one goes. But things are definitely looking up.

AND: the masseuse didn't make ONE reference to "rocks," "steel," or "wood!" She was the first masseuse I've had in over a decade who didn't react with incredulity at the rigid-and-resistant state of my body! She was actually able to dig in, find trouble spots, and work them out! 

So, there was that. Here's the other cool thing:

2. Remember the off-gassing?

I also called it cold fire, and showed you a demonstration of it in that video with the polar bear, which mirrored my release experience. According to Dr. Oz, and confirmed by my own experience and supported by what you can observe yourself in the video in the link above, it's the feeling you get when trauma energy (not "energy" in a woo-woo, hippie, Bay Area sort of way, but in a literal, muscles-charged, adrenaline-surging sort of way) begins to be released spontaneously by your muscles and "evaporates" through your skin.

That feeling of being cold during an adrenaline crash? That's a form of off-gassing. This feels a little different than that but is the same kind of thing. 

It happens because your body is constantly creating that energy to fuel your muscles to flee-- the fight-or-flight response is constantly "on," but the stored energy has nowhere to go because you don't actually need it, and you've finally moved to a state where your body is allowing that energy to escape rather than turning it against itself.

As you know, if you've been reading for a while, I've been experiencing off-gassing for almost 3 1/2 years, since my first breakthrough with Dr. Oz. It was the first sign that I'd begun to shift the trajectory of this trauma toward recovery.

It's getting late in the day here, so I'm going to have to leave you with this bombshell, but it's a great one, and I'll be back next week to tell you about some more major developments in my life in recent weeks... but anyway, guess what's happened with the off-gassing since the night of the release?

Guess what proves to me a) that it was, and b) that it was what I thought it was, and c) that what has happened really is what I think has happened?

Since the release, the off-gassing doesn't happen anymore. The switch appears to have been turned off. My body has stopped-- has it? has it finally stopped?-- it appears to have stopped (!!) churning out ghosts. 

The cold fire, you guys. 

It's gone.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Release


I'll save the general business and notes and updates for the end. We have stuff to talk about. Let's jump right in, shall we?

Back in August, I posted this video, of a polar bear going through a real-time experience of Peter Levine's trauma theory. The bear becomes frightened and goes into fight-or-flight mode, collapses and shakes to release the trauma energy, and then all the tension leaves his body and he completely relaxes and restores himself in recovery.

I really must require you to go and watch it right now. Rewatch it, even if you already saw it back in August. 

Go now. I'll wait.


Okay. Back? Okay.

So, over the past many months, I've been attending neurofeedback sessions twice a week, adjusting levels and making steady progress. Things have been getting clearer, sleep has been better, anxiety has dropped to zero. 

Honestly: Dr. Q and the neurofeedback have been an unparalleled success. More on that in another post-- you won't believe the amazing things that have happened with that work, you guys. And even though today's post is about something else, I don't think there's any way it would have happened if it hadn't been for all the neurofeedback I've been doing. I really think it cleared the last bit of the way for The Big Breakthrough.

And it really was The Big Breakthrough.

In fact, the whole thing began with what felt like a neurofeedback mistake. Dr. Q and I had been experimenting with rewarding higher and higher levels across the sensory-motor band of my brain, which my brain normally seemed to like very much. One Friday morning, Dr. Q leapt ahead a few levels and tried the highest setting yet, to see how my brain would respond.

I went home that day feeling energized, but had trouble falling asleep that night because my body was literally wound so tightly that I couldn't relax my muscles enough to sleep. My shoulders were clenched nearly to me ears. My legs were so tense they were practically levitating off the bed. My mind felt calm, but my body was too tense and tight to sleep. I finally managed to drop off at around 3am.

The next day was horrible. I was anxious, short-tempered, overwhelmed. Something was definitely off. I'd made plans with the #GirlArmy for the afternoon that I ended up cancelling just to preserve my own sanity. I couldn't stand the idea of being around other people. I let my girls watch movies all afternoon so I wouldn't snap at them and just tried to keep myself calm. My body was still tense beyond belief.

Sunday, I woke up feeling fine. Normal. Neutral. No longer anxious and snappish, no longer overwhelmed. My body was still shockingly tense, but my anxious mood seemed to have passed and I felt like myself again, to my relief.

Monday, however, I woke up feeling like something had shifted in the opposite direction. I felt motivated, charged, inspired. I realized then that I was experiencing some sort of cascading effect from the neurofeedback-- that something was shifting, and it was big, and rather than happening immediately during the session, it was happening over several days-- making me think it was something more permanent.

It's hard to explain this. The neurofeedback is sort of like strength training for the brain. The brain, being a muscle and being elastic, has habits that it follows and which it can be trained to break and reform-- those habits involving the brain's basic rate and style of functioning. My neuro work has allowed my brain to speed up significantly, and connections are a lot more efficient than they were, making its operation a lot more healthy.

But this shift I'm trying to describe now is of a softer type-- a personal type. I think this was me, shifting the way I was using my newly-more-efficient brain, if that makes sense. It's like I was  deciding to start using some of the new shortcuts instead of persisting in taking the long way round. It felt like, over those few days, I was giving up just a bit of the overwhelm.

It was uncomfortable to do.

It was worth it.

So I felt better, that Monday. Noticeably so. And Tuesday, when I went back to neuro and had another treatment. There was still a profound tension in my body that was completely at odds with the lightness of my thoughts. I still wasn't able to sleep until 2am because I couldn't get my body to relax, but mentally, I felt good.

Physically, I was as taut as a bowstring.

This brings us to Wednesday. Five days into this odd new shift.

I went to see Dr. Oz that night feeling a bit scattered. I didn't really have anything specific to talk about. I told her about what was going on with neurofeedback, and then we sort of jumped all over the place for the rest of the session. I remember that it was a particularly scattered talk that night, jumping from topic to topic with no real direction. 

Finally, near the end of the session, I mentioned how tense I'd been since Friday, and how it had even been keeping me up at night.

Here's where it got interesting.

"I noticed," Dr. Oz said. "I can see it in the way you're sitting. Would you like to try a grounding exercise?"


"Sure," I said.

"Okay, just place your feet firmly on the floor," said Dr. Oz, her voice soft and soothing. "Sit back and relax. focus on feeling your feet inside your shoes, your feet on the floor. Feel the bottoms of your feet. What do they feel like? Are they warm or cool? Dry or sticky? How do the bottoms of your feet feel in your shoes on the floor?"

I should say now (again) that I hate this kind of stuff with a passion. I hate it because it is so very hard for me to be the kind of person who feels the bottoms of her feet in her shoes on the floor. At the very best, I can be the kind of person who observes herself trying to feel the bottoms of her feet in her shoes on the floor, which is extremely mortifying, because let's face it, that shit is embarrassing.

Well, it is to me. Because very little isn't.

So I'm sitting there, shoulders tensed to earlobes, feeling my damn feet in my damn shoes on the damn floor, and then I'm supposed to describe it in real time, another one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE THINGS. So so far, this exercise is totally the worst and I'm already all tense and now I'm having to describe things out loud.

"What do your feet feel like?" said Dr. Oz, implacable.

Me: "Um. Warm. And. Um. I'm not wearing socks. So. Sticky." Because this should not just be uncomfortable and mortifying, but also gross, apparently.

"Okay. Warm and sticky." She said that. Dr. Oz repeated warm and sticky because I am sitting here watching myself do a grounding exercise so let's all repeat gross things about my feet to each other yay.

"Now concentrate on feeling the insides of your toes," said Dr. Oz. "What does it feel like inside of your skin? Some people say that it feels tingly, or like liquid..."

"It's... buzzing," I said. Okay, that was true. It was buzzing in there, and maybe I could recover from the whole sticky fiasco with this. 

"Okay, buzzing. Now move up to your ankles. What does it feel like inside of your ankles?"

With painstaking slowness, Dr. Oz moved up my body, part by part, piece by piece, having me focus my attention at each point and describe what it felt like from the inside out. My eyes were closed, and I was concentrating, and by the time we reached my thighs I noticed something else going on.

"My legs are clenching up," I said. It was true-- and not in the way they usually did. Usually, when we did these exercises, my ankles would tighten and my toes would come up off the floor as if my feet were on invisible car pedals. This time, my thighs were clenched and my heels were rising, toes pointed, as if my muscles were atrophying. 

"That's all right," said Dr. Oz. "Just notice it, and keep moving."

But I couldn't keep from trying to relax, so I opened my eyes and looked down at my thighs-- which were rising up off the couch by now, as if I were  slowly rolling into the fetal position-- and tried to relax them, but it was the strangest thing.  I couldn't tell if I was sending them a message to relax or to tighten further. I couldn't tell if I was sending them a message at all. It was very clear-- once again-- that there was no communication happening between my brain and my legs. 

I was looking at them, and knowing what I wanted them to do, but it was as if all the roads from my brain to my legs had been closed, and no messages were being carried through.

"I'm trying to relax them and I can't," I said. My hands had also balled into fists by now and my shoulders were as high as they could go, and it was getting weird, this tension.

"Don't worry about trying to do anything about it right now," Dr. Oz told me. "Just notice it, but don't let it bother you."

She kept me moving, now to my abdomen. I noticed at this point that my face was beginning to clench. Like, my lips were curling away from my teeth. My scalp was pulling my eyebrows upward. My nose was wrinkling and trembling, as if I were baring my teeth and growling like an animal.

Dr. Oz just kept calmly on, moving my focus slowly upward, having me describe what it felt like inside my skin: the tightness in my abdomen. The tingling in my arms. The tension in my back and shoulders and neck.

When we got to my head, we stopped. "Is there a movement that goes along with this?" Dr. Oz asked. "Do you want to kick or push out, or move in any way?"

"No," I said quickly, because I always say no, because I HATE THESE THINGS, have I mentioned? 

At this point, I had my eyes squeezed shut, my teeth bared, my nose scrunched up, my scalp pulled back, my shoulders pulled up to my ears, my hands in fists, my thighs pulled halfway to my abdomen and  my toes pointed to the floor-- a freaky, fetal, feral pose I couldn't reproduce if I tried. 

But then...

"Wait..." I said. "My arms want to come up... like... this." I raised my arms from the elbow, palms outward, hands in front of my shoulders.

"Okay." We waited. "Anything else?"

"Um." I thought for a minute. "My head wants to go back... like this." I tilted my head backward and turned it slightly to the right, until it was nearly resting against the back of the couch. Oh my god, I thought, I'm in the car, I've let go of the wheel and I'm turning away from the oncoming headlights and holding up my hands and pulling in my limbs to protect myself. My body is doing what it never got the chance to do.

And about 5 seconds later, starting from a point at the crown of my head, I felt a trickle of the most incredible, deep utter release of tension that cascaded down over my brow and through my face, melting every muscle it touched.

It ran down my arms to my hands, which dropped limply to my sides. My shoulders softened and slumped back into the sofa. The cascade flowed down my legs, turning them to quivering jelly. My knees fell sideways and my legs sprawled across the floor. My abdomen released and I drew the deepest, most uncomplicated breath I've drawn in...

I honestly don't know. 18 years? More?

I just lay there for a few seconds, shocked. My body had just gone rogue and done something absolutely unprecedented. And completely beyond my control. And TOTALLY AWESOME.

I blinked at the ceiling, and then opened my mouth to ask Dr. Oz what, in fact, had just occurred.

What came out was a yell.


Dr. Oz, bless her, was calm and earnest. "Your body just needed to complete that motion," she told me, "in order to complete the fight-or-flight cycle. It needed to finish the movement so you could have that release. Do you remember the video of the polar bear? That's what just happened to you."

"I know that. I mean, I know that. I know it happens. I know that's what we've been trying to make happen all this time. I just didn't know it could just... I mean I didn't know it would... feel like that, I guess, that it would just happen out of nowhere  like that." 

"You were ready," said Dr. Oz. "I could see it in your body. I could see it coming."

I couldn't believe it.

"Was that it, then?! Was that all of it?!"

Dr. Oz nodded, and then shrugged. "Maybe. It often is. There may be a little left, but that was a huge release. So yeah. That might have been it."

It was another 10 minutes before I could stand, the muscle tension was so absent from my legs. I bid Dr. Oz a shaky farewell and went home to holy shit to myself for a couple of hours before I went to bed.

That night, I slept like the dead.

It's been several weeks since this event happened, and while everything in my brain and life didn't magically snap into place afterward, as I secretly hoped, I can say that it has had an enormous impact and I am still only at the beginning of discovering how much has changed as a result.

First, I've had a lot more back and neck trouble, because-- ironically-- it appears that my body has been held upright by sheer tension for the past 20 years, and a marked lack of it has necessitated a new set of muscles to be toned up. No joke.

Second, I've noticed that everything is just a little bit sharper, a little bit clearer, a little bit easier. The neuro is working better. Everything is just... better.

Third, I'm noticing my old personality asserting itself a bit more. My old silliness, my old playfulness, my old assertiveness. My old Self. Just a little. There is still plenty of habit to overcome in this regard, I'm sure. But I've noticed, and so has my husband. There's a change. There's an awakening. 

There's a rebirth, of sorts.

So we'll see. I'll have more to report in the weeks to come. I already have more to report, in fact. My husband is officially back from his travels and we get to keep him from here on out, so I'll be rebuilding my writing practice again, and you'll be hearing from me more often from now on.

Which is good, because it just got amazing over here.

I've missed you. I've missed me. Welcome back!