The Benefits of Neurofeedback for the Traumatized Brain

Neurofeedback

Let me begin by saying I am a huge believer in the amazing benefits of neurofeedback for everyone. In fact, if you were around me daily, you would probably hear me griping about why neurofeedback is not done in every doctor and therapist office in the country, and the madness of insurance companies not wanting to pay for this very effective tool for so many ailments.

I was first introduced to neurofeedback this past Summer when I had gone to an “integrative” treatment center for trauma. As someone who was becoming more and more frustrated by the short-comings of talk-therapy alone, I was looking for something that would address the entire mind-body-spirit of my being.

I have experienced severe childhood abuse, which resulted in a lifetime of wrestling with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, and Anxiety.

Many of us would like to believe that once we escaped the childhood abuse, we are free to live a happy life. What most people don’t speak about is the lifelong affects severe childhood abuse has on a person’s brain and physical health, which contributes to the lifetime of struggling with various forms of mental illness as a result.

I have been in treatment for my severe trauma on-and-off for 28 years. I think during that period most people in the field of treating trauma would agree with me that they haven’t always known what they are doing with treating trauma.

Today, so much more research has been done to show more effective ways of treating trauma. For instance, EMDR has solid research behind it as a very effective tool to help many trauma survivors process their trauma faster, which means many people are not stuck with the aftereffects of trauma for their entire life. This is huge, but not always told or offered to trauma survivors. Though, to be fair, trauma survivors are more likely to stumble across EMDR than they are neurofeedback.

If you read a lot about trauma, or are in the field, you should be aware of the cutting-edge trauma experts like Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Dan Siegel, Pat Ogden, and Stephen Porges. There are a lot of other so-called experts out there, but most of them are what I would term “old school,” as they have not embraced the significant importance of addressing the mind-body-spirit when attempting to help people with trauma. They are sticking mainly to talk-therapy only as an approach, and this is a horrible disservice to those who have been traumatized.

I live on the East Coast, and found myself not making any progress with the swamp of trauma symptoms I was stuck in while I was doing extensive talk therapy only. I decided after doing a lot of research to head to California to get help with my trauma symptoms that were so severe I wasn’t able to function in my life. I was desperate as I had been in bed for 17 months, and generally not participating in my life,

After arriving in California, I quickly had an entirely new vocabulary for trauma treatments, and I was open to just about everything. I am tempted to go into all the different therapies here, but I want to stay focused on the neurofeedback. Neurofeedback therapy for trauma survivors was a given for every therapist and good trauma treatment center I looked at on the West Coast.

Ideally, when you begin neurofeedback, you want to get a QEEG or “brain map,” which is a snapshot of your brain and how it functions over a fairly short period of time (for me, it was 40 minutes under different scenarios). This brain map is so valuable because it can be compared to what a normal functioning brain looks like, and it can also be used to show that during the brain mapping period, your brain might look similar to someone who has anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, pain, depression, etc.

In my case, my brain map looked worse than even I expected, so it was a little overwhelming to sit with the results. I had done a brain map of my son who has some attention and sensory issues, so I had an idea what it was supposed to look like.  In layman’s terms. my brain showed a shit-storm of color in areas that should have shown up white, and my brain waves were extremely erratic and all over the place outside the normal range. For someone with complex-PTSD, this validates the daily symptoms we experience.

I learned a very important word called neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and heal itself by forming new neural pathways. This concept is so, so important to think about when looking at healing trauma.

Once my rational brain came back online, I knew I could repair much, if not all, of what was wrong with my brain through neurofeedback.

Through only 15 sessions of neurofeedback, I came out of it with some extremely important results as a trauma survivor. I don’t know how else to put it, but my mind was stronger. I was no longer depressed. I had less anxiety and an easier time going to sleep. Most importantly to my overall healing from trauma, the 15 sessions put me in a place where I could regulate my emotions better, which means I could tolerate talking about the most difficult parts of my trauma, which is something I was not able to do prior to the neurofeedback.

The inability to tolerate difficult or overwhelming emotions is probably the single biggest reason why trauma survivors stay stuck in talk therapy and don’t make the progress they need to move on with their lives. Yet, my experience in the old-school trauma circles that dominate the trauma industry is that there is almost no mention or even knowledge about the benefits of neurofeedback for trauma survivors.

If I look today at all the mainstream trauma treatment centers in the U.S., there is no place that is currently utilizing neurofeedback despite the extensive research that supports its usage. The only places that seem to offer it are the places where your insurance will not pay, and you are expected to pay out-of-pocket $40-50k per month for treatment. That’s the only way to get intensive cutting age trauma treatment at this moment.

The good news is that you can find neurofeedback offered on its own in some outpatient settings. I live in a major city, and there are probably about 14 options listed on a Google search for people to pursue neurofeedback. Typically, if you have severe trauma, you can expect to do 30-40 sessions for the neurofeedback to stick for the rest of your life.

When I returned to my home city on the East Coast, I found an excellent neurofeedback provider, and I am really looking forward to updating you on the continued results I experience to lessen my symptoms and to help my brain function the way it is intended.

neurofeedback_1

My hope is that you take away from this that neurofeedback works for many, many problems people struggle with. Besides the symptoms of trauma, it has been shown to help people with ADHD, Autism, Insomnia, headaches, Anxiety, Depression, and overall improved brain performance, which is why you will hear of Olympic athletes who use neurofeedback to enhance their performance.

Neurofeedback is not new and whacky, There is lots of science to support it. Don’t expect your doctor or therapist to recommend it, because that is not likely to happen. But, if you are feeling stuck or want to get better quicker, it is a no-brainer to take advantage of neurofeedback to help heal your brain.

And if you think your brain is just fine as a trauma survivor, let me mention when I took the brain QEEG, I was feeling relaxed and nothing was bothering me too much. But, what showed up on the QEEG was a huge amount of anxiety that I am so used to experiencing everyday that it did not seem like a big deal and was unnoticed by me. This unnoticed anxiety I am used to living with has already caused me some serious health consequences.

musclebrain

The bottom line, if you have the means to do so, look into neurofeedback and give it a try. It is easy to do, and the results can be life-changing. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a stronger functioning brain, even if you think you have no issues. If you have a severe trauma background, do it. It will save you years of talk therapy time and money, and will give you a better quality of life.

 

 

My Brain After Trauma

Gehirn - Schwingungen 3

Some days, I like to forget about my horrific abuse history and think I am just another ordinary person trying to get by in this world. After all, I can get distracted by the things in life the same way my presumably ordinary neighbors can.

I appreciate the moments when nobody knows my big secret about having Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that people think I am just another neurotic person, similar to themselves. I am a master at hiding my symptoms.

Then there are the moments when the truth slaps me in the face so hard I can barely stand up again.

This week I met with a doctor to go over my results of some cognitive testing and my QEEG, or brain map. I am very interested in alternative or nontraditional therapies in treating my DID, so I am working with a new “Brain Doctor,” in addition to my traditional talk therapy.

I have always known I am sometimes cognitively impaired, and certainly sometimes operating from a “trauma brain.”

Though I had neurofeedback this past Summer for about 15 sessions, the providers I used never shared what was going on with my brain—they shared positive statements about the neurofeedback results they were seeing. Never the baseline.

In my discussion this past week with the new doctor, it was explained as sensitively as it could be, that I am extremely cognitively impaired and my brain waves look like a badass, not good, electrical storm.

I was told calmly and slowly they have seen worse, but it is pretty bad. The doctor is a genuinely good person and an optimist, and believes she can help repair much of my brain problems, even as severe as they are.

Because I had my son go through this process for a different reason, I knew what the brain pictures were supposed to look like. You want the brain to appear white on the paper.

I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of color on every one of my brain images.

I thought I was really calm during the actual test being done, but the results make it look like I am an anxious wreck. I guess my body has simply become used to the free-flowing anxiety from my PTSD, and I only recognize it when it is over the top.

I showed my brain in my best state. Can you imagine if I showed it when I am doing really poorly?

PTSDbrain

Two years ago, I was working in a highly demanding job in which I was quite successful and made a lot of money. Today, I am not working at all.

The one sentence from the doctor that stood out to me was when she gently said “I can see why you are not working, your executive functioning is extremely low.”

A dagger in my heart.

The scribble scrabble brain waves on the page were not something I can deny. I don’t need to be a doctor to know it isn’t normal looking at all.

The mental anguish I feel on a regular basis has just been verified as totally real, and it is as bad as it feels. It is not hidden or made up. Through this QEEG, I let people see the mess of a brain I have. Lots of internal conflict about doing so.

“You’re such an idiot, why did you let people see what it looks like inside.”

My trauma has without a doubt destroyed the way my brain is supposed to function. Maybe I shouldn’t say destroy because my favorite word is all the buzz these days—“neuroplasticity” (when the brain can heal itself), there is hope through neurofeedback and other brain therapies to repair much of the damage.

I always thought I wanted to see what my “DID brain” looked like. At this point, I am feeling it was a mistake, but hopefully some day I will change my mind about it.

It is an overwhelming picture of myself. And, I actually feel shame about my brain. That’s a new one.

This morning I was looking at a job announcement that came to my email, and what followed were the voices in my brain telling me I can’t possibly work given the extremely low level of executive functioning I am at (confirmed by these test results). Sigh.

I always knew the abusers from my past ruined my brain, but I secretly didn’t want it to be true. Parts of me appear to be so severely abused. I didn’t want to believe they could be as badly abused as they felt and claimed. I realize now how much I was clinging to the hope that not all of my story was true.

It is hard to hide from the serious consequences of the severe abuse I endured throughout my life. It is sad when the ability to deny the consequences is gone.

 

Managing my ambivalence about Halloween

Halloween is tricky for me, and frankly, I hate it every time it comes around.

I am a mom to two kids who love Halloween, so I try so very hard to let them experience the fun of Halloween.

My spouse also goes over the top decorating the house with Halloween decorations. I pretend it isn’t there, and my spouse will never understand it.

My kids love Halloween. They love the dressing up, decorating the house, the endless parties, the pumpkin decorating, and of course the trick or treating and conquest of candy that comes with it.

I pretend the best I can for them that I like Halloween. I hate it. Though, in fairness, before I became pre-diabetic, I enjoyed eating their candy.

Halloween is a scary time for me. As someone who was raised to not trust the world, Halloween makes it all the more confusing. I can’t spot the truly dangerous people very easily because Halloween gives people permission to dress up and act scary.

Reality is hard enough for me, and then we have this stupid excuse of a holiday that drags out for a month of celebrating an alternative reality.

When I was a child, Halloween was also a scary and violent time for me. My flashbacks of Halloween are more like a real horror movie. That’s what is running through my head when I walk my children around for trick or treating.

I would prefer to pretend like Halloween doesn’t exist, and let the other adults judge me as “no fun.”

Sadly, for me, Halloween is just something to survive and get through the month.

I try to be happy my children are excited and having so much fun, but in the back of my mind, I am obsessively counting the minutes until it is over.

Understanding Frozen

My therapist seems to think my mind is coming unhinged because I am unable to sit with the idea of how little control I had over all the abuse that happened to me and others during my early childhood.

I admit, logically, the sense of responsibility I have for me and others getting abused doesn’t make sense.

My mind has taken a sharp turn into the land of everything was under my control, and I should have some how stopped it all.

I know the problem lies in that I am taking my adult brain back in time to look at these horrific events as if they are happening now.

My adult brain feels like it is all my fault. Everything.

I don’t know how I got to this place, but I am here.

Just last week I knew these things were not my fault. Today, my brain doesn’t comprehend that belief.

Today, I found myself telling my therapist she just doesn’t understand. Because there were no boundaries between anyone in my family, what was done by my family members is my fault because we share the same blood. I am at least equally guilty for sharing their blood.

I guess it stems back to that old notion of evil. If my family was evil, so must I be.

Regardless, my mind won’t allow me to believe it was not my fault. The atrocities I witnessed, my fault because I froze and did nothing as a child.

I don’t always save myself as an adult, but I do save others. I am that person you can count on. I am that person who will stop a bullet coming at you. I am that person you want in the fox hole with you.

How did I become the adult version of me after growing up frozen in the face of danger?

Frozen. That awful word from my childhood that plagues my being as I wrestle with my past.

I should stop trying to be logical about all this, I suppose.

Parenting with Dissociative Identity Disorder

I am blessed to have two amazing children, ages 6 and 12. My spouse and I adopted both of my children at birth through open adoption (when the birth parents choose who they want to adopt their baby).

Both of my children are happy, healthy, and smart kids. My life wouldn’t be worth living if I didn’t have them in it.

Neither of my children know their mom has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The older child does know that I sometimes gets depressed, and that some bad stuff happened to me when I was a child, which is why I am so protective of her.

If you have seen the television show “United States of Tara,” my life is nothing like that. My parts do not freely and recklessly interact with my children, and there is a reason for that. That show makes me cringe from a parenting perspective, though I know other people with DID disagree with me about it.

Every person with DID has what we would call a system of parts (or some might call them alters or alternate personalities), and every person with DID has a very different system at varying levels of recovery, functioning, and beliefs about the world and how they fit into it. This writing is only about me and my parenting beliefs and choices.

I have been diagnosed with this disorder for 28 years, and I have made incredible progress in creating a system that is less chaotic and more cooperative than when I was first diagnosed.

My system is less chaotic in that I do not switch to another part without any control or knowledge of what is happening. Usually, I switch under extreme stress/triggers, or when in therapy to work on trauma my parts have experienced. I can control which parts of myself are out with my children through the internal cooperation we have with each other in our system.

I also have co-consciousness, which means I am aware of what is happening when another part is out. I may not have control over what the part is saying or doing, but I do know what is happening. Not everyone with DID is lucky enough to have this ability, and I didn’t when I was first diagnosed.

My system is cooperative in that everyone in it knows there are certain rules in place when it comes to the outside children. For starters, we don’t let our outside children see any of the many inside children that live in this body. I knew this would be confusing to my children, so I made this rule early on.

As someone who was terribly abused as a child, it is extremely important to give my children the stable and loving life I never had. And every part inside of me agrees with this goal.

I don’t want to give you the idea that my life is a bed of roses and has no affect on my children. My level of functioning fluctuates, especially more so over the last 3 years. I was out of therapy for many years until a series of traumatic events happened to me, which unfortunately destabilized my DID quite a bit.

I experienced a Major Depressive episode about 1 1/2 years ago, and as a result I spent the better part of 17 months in my bed unless I absolutely had to be at an appointment or one of the functions for my kids. My kids noticed this change, and we talked about it with them giving them limited, and age appropriate detail. We also had the ability to have both of the kids in therapy to deal with any anxiety or other feelings they had about it.

My children have experienced me leaving for weeks at a time when my DID, PTSD, and Depression became too severe and I went to a treatment facility. This caused them a lot of anxiety as they worried whether I was going to go away again because I had to do it several times over the last three years.

My children aren’t aware that I have suicidal thoughts on a very frequent basis. My system of parts who often argue that suicide is the best way out of the pain we experience, will not make a suicide attempt when they are reminded how much this would hurt our outside children.

There was a time over the past 3 years when the intensity of my pain and psychological distress was so great that I did self-harm by cutting into my arm in hidden places. My oldest child accidentally caught a glimpse of a scar on my arm that had the initials of someone who hurt me. I lied about it and told her it was a scar from something else, and she never brought it up again, and my system made the rule that we would never self-harm again in that way. So far, we haven’t.

I go to therapy three times a week to work on the trauma I experienced as a child. Some days I feel the feelings I dissociated as a child, and they are awful, so sometimes the best thing for me to do after therapy is to go to bed to take care of myself.

Some days my PTSD gets triggered so severely I can’t function. This can cause younger parts of myself to be “out” in the body. This is when my spouse and I have to work together closely as a team.

Noises are a major trigger for me when my PTSD is activated. Having two young children doesn’t equal a quiet household. My spouse is really good at trying to shield me from their noise when this happens. Fortunately, my PTSD doesn’t happen to this degree often.

I do have other parts who interact with the children. These are parts of me who are adult, and who most people wouldn’t detect as different, and would just chock it up to me being in a different mood.

Sadly, I have parts of me who don’t claim any relationship or interest in the kids. They stay far away from the kids, and usually don’t pay much attention to what is going on with them. By far away, I mean they don’t come out for anything that has to do with the children.

In some ways, my children are better off because they have me as a parent. They get a super caring parent who understands things from many different perspectives. They also get someone who will fight for them like nobody’s business, and teaches them to fight for other, less fortunate people in this world. They have a strong sense of justice.

I do realize one day I will have to decide whether to tell them my story, and this huge piece of my life as someone with DID. I imagine when they get older I will tell them my story, but it will be super hard for them because they will learn some horrible things about people they love, and would never dream are capable of such horrendous things. That is a challenge for another day.

Parenting is by far the hardest job in the world. I didn’t get to pick my parents, and they caused me great harm. My children didn’t get to choose us as parents, and I hope they will always feel grateful for the love and kindness we have given them as parents.

I believe loving your children unconditionally, and all the time, is the best recipe for happy, healthy kids despite what other issues are part of the picture.

Pounding my PTSD head

Agonizing torture. This is what I experienced today in the name of medical care.

I had a special MRI today, one that would show more advanced pictures of my spine.

I have had MRIs before, and the closed ones are always difficult for me to make it all the way through. But, I manage, somehow.

Today’s MRI was different. They asked me if I had medication before I entered the room, in which I responded “no” because nobody had mentioned it to me.

I approached the room and for some reason it was set up in a hard-core scientific way that made it so no one could mistakenly enter. There were lights all around the door frame, and it was sealed in a let’s keep the zombies out kind of way.

My anxiety level went up.

I entered the room and took one look at the MRI machine and my anxiety went up more seeing it was a closed MRI that was actually closed longer that the last one I had been in with a struggle.

I could feel myself starting to come unglued inside, but fighting with myself that I needed to get this done.

I started dissociating, and laid down on the table, placing my neck in the head device. I was starting to feel a panic attack coming on, which is not something I typically experience.

The true horror of the situation came into being after I resolved to myself that I must do it and can do it. That’s when the technicians places a mask-head cage device over my head so I couldn’t move my head if I wanted to.

I could feel myself crying and panicking all in one. I am thinking to myself this is the worst thing that has happened to me since my horrific childhood abuse. I am thinking I should tell them I have PTSD.

But, I close my eyes and tell them to go ahead. All the while knowing how emotionally damaging this is to me.

The loud noises are crushing my mind and spirit until I am the living dead in this machine/torture chamber. I am so dissociated I can no longer move, think, talk, or do anything for myself. Severe collapse resulting from severe retraumatization.

My living dead status enabled me to make it to the end. I could not move at first as I wasn’t self aware enough to know what was happening. I couldn’t talk to the technicians afterward. They didn’t seem too concerned about my changed mental status.

I finally made it back to my car. Totally wrecked by the experience. Split into many pieces at once. Some believe they drilled into our head during the procedure. Fragmented all over the place.

New trauma. I let it happen for what I thought was the greater good. I think I should have stopped it when I saw that head cage.

My spirit can’t take this type of experience. But what was I to do?

9 hours later and my body and brain are still shaking and crying.

And this is modern medicine.

The storm in my head

I have been overwhelmed with various life events I have experienced this past week. I did my best to “handle it.”

My emotions finally came crashing down on me today.

My head is all mixed up now, but I need to get it stabilized as I am solely responsible for my kids this week, and I have a lot of other stuff on my plate.

Hurricane Irma sent my most dangerous perpetrator right to my doorstep. It was a situation where I could not turn my back on my mom and leave her out to die, even though she would have done that to me without a thought.

If I had turned her away, then I would be a monster like her, I think. But, my compassion and decency always has a price for me.

My internal world is all jumbled up in my head, as it swirls around for who knows how long before it crashes and stabilizes.

I went to therapy today, which didn’t end up helping in the stability department. With the tropical storm we had here, the fire alarm went off in my therapist’s building for 45 minutes to an hour.

I switched into a couple of different younger parts of myself who went right into trauma time with the alarm. They were terrified of the sound, and even more terrified of the idea of leaving. This was a “we need to hide moment,” which for us means we literally want and need to hide in a small space to feel safe.

When the alarm finally stopped, it was still going on in our head just as loud (thank you PTSD). The parts who were out could not be convinced it was safe.

Our therapist decided since we were not willing to go outside the building to avoid the noise, maybe it was a good opportunity to talk about what it was triggering.

I thought about that as I watched from inside my head. The others who had come out were thinking about what she was saying. I started to feel us moving to a scene in which an alarm like the one going off meant something. It became clear it meant something bad.

I could see images of scientists and a laboratory. I could hear people talking in the lab. I could feel the little ones inside filling with terror. I thought about mind control programming. I thought about the bad fire I was in as a young child.

The little ones who were out were holding different emotions. One was holding terror, the other sadness. One was frozen, the other about to cry.

The therapist asked for me to come back as she was concerned it was at the end of our session. I could not. The little ones out front had too strong of a hold for me to get back.

The session was like exposure therapy, which was a lot like torture, but it was not something my therapist could control since the parts who were out were not willing to follow her suggestions of leaving.

She finally managed to coax them out of the building, and we got in the car. I could see a text on my phone from my daughter saying her grandma was leaving, which brought me partially back.

I drove home slowly as to avoid an accident or police stop—I don’t usually drive when I am dissociated like this, but I had to get home to see what was happening.

My mom decided in the hour that I was gone to quickly pack up her car and to get out of there just as quickly as she came. It wasn’t safe for her to drive home, but she never listens to me. They had left items in the house that we could easily retrieve for them, but they needed to go quickly and said don’t worry about it.

It made no sense. They could die on the road with the tropical storm winds and rain that they decided to drive through. I shrugged my shoulders once again that this may be the decision that kills her.

As usual for my family, there is no making sense of anyone’s behavior.

I am relieved to have my house back, but I am edgy as hell with the storm in my head. I have been waiting all afternoon for this moment when my kids go to bed so my head can rest.

One of my insiders sent a text to my therapist saying he hated her. Not sure what that was about, but could feel his anger toward her. Maybe he is mixing up her with my mom? Not sure.

Don’t know the point of this post other than to say the storm in my head demonstrates how my parts are attuned to the weather chaos in the world right now.

I’ll be looking for peace again….