Back in early November, I began a process known as neurofeedback. This process, which I undertook partially out of curiosity and partly to see whether it would allow me to transition off of antidepressants I’ve been on since my late teens, is a non-invasive , side-effect free form of brain training. In short, a practitioner applies electrodes to the top of the skull, listens in on brainwave activity, and, using a computer interface (in my case I watched old sitcoms), attempts to train the brain toward more efficient ways of working.
I watched Bewitched. When my brain waves behaved in more desirable, more regulated ways, the screen would get brighter. When any of my brain waves faltered and moved at too high or too low a frequency, the screen would darken. My brain would have to figure out ways to behave in the desired way. All of this happened at a subconscious level. I could not will the screen to get brighter.
It’s a bit like exercise for the brain.
I did not have any expectations, really, for how this would work. Or if it would. I read as much as I could about it prior to going in, and some of the information looked a little too good to be true. “Expect miracles,” one site proclaimed, and as soon as I saw that, I thought, “Hm.” Not sure.
And frankly, when I had my initial brain mapping (they map your brainwaves before you get started), I became doubly skeptical. The doctor who went over this with me asked me questions like, “Did you suffer brain trauma when you were younger? Are you possibly autistic? Do you have trouble understanding and reacting to visual cues?”
None of these things apply to me. At least I don’t think so. But there were other things that did seem to apply. My math skills, it said, were “off the charts.” That’s true. People don’t know this about me because I’m a writer, but I am a math whiz. Always have been.
Still, I went forward with it.
The first two or three sessions, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe I had paid money to watch Bewitched episodes. But I stayed with it.
It was right about my birthday, right around November 11th, when I noticed something unusual: I was feeling really, really good! Uncommonly clear.
Chuck and I spent my birthday out in Sedona with the dogs, exploring shops and taking nature walks. It was an exceedingly nice day. Chuck noticed that I was particularly vibrant and mentioned something about it. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I just went with it. Might it be a coincidence? Could it be the brain training? I wasn’t sure.
It continued. For about two weeks, I went through a period of joy that I have truly never experienced before, ever. I was smiling more than usual; I was very present in my relationships with other people, deeply connected with others; I was funny, and fun, and a bit more outgoing than usual. I took it with me to Florida, where I had a few days to visit my dad and some friends, and I was just ON. And I took it to Atlanta. I went to a conference, and I felt magnetic.
When I look back on this period, I think what disappeared for me was anxiety. For once, I was not worried about the many things that consume me on a daily basis about whether I was messing anything up, or if anyone was upset with me, or anything like that.
Chuck, who is a major skeptic, took major notice of the changes. He decided he’d try it, too. One of the things that neurofeedback is supposed to help with is sleep irregularities. Since I’ve known him, Chuck has woken up pretty much every day around 4am. It’s just what he does. It impacts him, because he feels tired all the time.
For a couple weeks, Chuck felt as I had, if not more. He wondered if he, too, were paying to watch a sitcom he didn’t particularly even like.
Then, on Christmas morning, I woke up and looked at my clock. It was 7:30am. I rolled over. There, snoring away, was Chuck.
I have never, ever, ever seen him sleep in. Ever. I worried momentarily that he was dead.
Nope. Just slept in. He agreed it was noteworthy.
Now, it’s not all roses. Chuck’s sleep pattern has been uneven since then. I went through a couple weeks after Thanksgiving when my mood wasn’t so great. But I think in both cases, we’d both agree it’s better. While I struggled with my mood, the bottom never fell out; I never got depressed. Chuck, too, has been noticing significant improvement in his own mood.
In fact, I would dare say that this short period has been among the best for Chuck and me as a couple in our 13 years together. We are both doing well at the same time, which is delightful. As I said, it’s not perfect. But it’s darned good!
I don’t know what to make of this all. After today, I don’t expect to do any more brain training. I did 20 sessions at considerable expense, and my hope is that it is, as advertised, permanent. I was told that if I suffer a significant event–a death, God forbid, or some such trauma–that I should come in for some more sessions.
In the end I have not stopped taking my antidepressants. I saw my psychiatrist and we talked about it and he noted my improvement. He likened the neurofeedback to “brain exercise,” which is, I think, a good analogy. He said that if I’m still feeling good in six months, we’ll re-visit the antidepressant matter.
But on a day-to-day basis, I must say it feels like I’ve improved. A lot. And I think if you are searching for something that might help you deal with your brain, this may be a good way to go. I did my training at East Valley Naturopathic Doctors in Gilbert, Arizona. I highly recommend them.