Sep 222009

One day I walked into my psychologist’s office, sat in the chair across from him at his desk, looked up and into his eyes, and before he could mask them, I knew. I knew. I knew. I knew. He could no longer help me. The medical model had long since discharged me after helping me with the basics. The insurance company was more interested in throwing thousands of dollars at licensed doctors to say I’m a liar than in helping me. And now the only one left to give me back my mind had reached his limit.

The dark cloud that sat around my head, obscuring my perspective of the world, keeping me from being in the world, seemed to be a permanent part of me now. I was very, very angry. That’s pretty much all I could feel as an emotion in my usual state of no emotion. That and irritation. The anger too was the only thing to fire up my brain enough to use it. And that’s what I did. I spent another 5 months searching for help somewhere, somehow, on Google 5 minutes, sometimes 15 minutes, a day before I conked out from exhaustion. And I did it all over again the next day, probably the very same search term with the very same results, and I didn’t know it. This could not be my fate, was the desperate thought that drove me.

One day, I turned on my computer, launched Firefox, looked at the Google search box and thought. Hard. For years now, I had often thought that my brain injury felt like ADD. Maybe instead of searching for brain injury help, I should search for ADD. I don’t know if this was the first day I stopped doing the insane thing of searching for brain injury treatment and expecting to find it when I hadn’t before, and started searching for ADD treatments. But that day I did; I found my answer: the ADD Centre.

I wrote down the phone number, sat next to the phone with notebook and pencil at hand, and dialled. (All my phones have spiral-bound notebooks next to them with a pencil, a tip I learnt when still in rehab for being able to follow and later look up conversations so I at least sounded like I remembered stuff.) To my utter shock, the medical doctor who co-runs the clinic answered, not the voice mail machine. I learnt later that him answering was a rare thing. But he was exactly the right person for me to speak to. That was my first clue I was on the right track.

He told me that they had not treated many with closed head injuries like me. Their primary clients were those with ADD. But they had had some success with brain injuries like mine, and he was very interested in seeing what they could do for me. It took all my effort to focus on the conversation, yet I felt even more that this was the opportunity I was looking for. And when he told me that a Saudi family suddenly having to cancel meant they had an opening for an assessment only 3 weeks hence, I knew that I had hit pay dirt. I believed that God had finally made an opening for me to get help. About damn time too.

The ADD Centre is why I’m here now. I don’t mean physically, I mean able to write, able to blog, able to engage with people on Flickr and Twitter, able to take photographs again. Unlike the medical model (or even the psychologist) who teach compensating strategies and whose methods only temporarily boost brain performance, the ADD Centre’s protocols actually treat the brain. They stimulate it, teach it, get those snoozy areas to work again.

This approach is radical.

Brain injuries seem to be the one type of injury not treated, beyond immediate surgical repair that is. Instead, doctors and therapists teach you to compensate for it. In contrast, the ADD Centre went in the natural direction, the direction of healing. Like any great medical explorer, they took their expertise in one brain dysfunction and applied it to another kind of brain problem and ended up saving my life.

I don’t think I could have lived the rest of my life with that dark cotton batting round my head, with no curiosity, with no ability to make a decision, with no emotion except when my brain suddenly took off on a roller coaster, dragging me with it, before hitting the flats again. I couldn’t have lived with attentional abilities so impaired that I thought listening to someone for 15 straight minutes was a bit much. One was more like it. I couldn’t stand the fact that reading was something I’d come to fear, me who can’t remember a time I didn’t read. I was so slow, frozen molasses moved faster than my brain thought. And worst of all, despite having relearnt how to write, I still could not finish my book. Writing is much more than the simple act of writing.

Though beyond exhausted, I knew I had found my salvation at the end of the assessment. Their assessment comprises several tests, the biggest one a 19-point EEG, a much more comprehensive overall look at the brain than the kind of tests the doctors and therapists had done. These ones got to the heart of the matter. The computer analyses the EEG readings — one program even creates a 3D model of the brain that looks just like an MRI — and then they devise a treatment plan for brain biofeedback. (Can you believe that it was my first comprehensive non-sleep-study EEG. No doc had thought to do one on me before, just scans.) It is a long process, their way, but brain healing is not swift, even when stimulated. They assessed me several times. And every time, the objective tests showed remarkable improvement. It wasn’t just me being optimistic. It took about 2 months before I started noticing any improvement, and as usual it was in my speech first. And then my emotions woke up. And then I lost my fear of reading (though reading remains problematic — they weren’t sure they’d be able to help that at all, but they were able to tell me why I was having issues, unlike all the docs and medical therapists — but then that’s why EEGs are so good).

I underwent 2 years of brain biofeedback, with a summer off in between. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. Basically you play games on the computer with your brain, not your hands, with the idea being you want to stimulate certain brain waves in certain parts of the brain. Or you want to normalize coherence between the different sections of the brain. They worked on many parts of my brain since, being in a car crash with 3 impacts, I had diffuse injuries. After each session, I’d drag myself home, suck back an uncharacteristic-for-me can of pop (straight glucose to my brain), and sit unmoving in front of the TV for hours, I was so tired. But it was worth it. Still, after 2 years, though I needed more treatment, I ran out of steam and money. That was 2 years ago. I still have functional issues. I look and sound compis mentis, but it is an invisible problem for a reason. I suppose it’s like the difference between the knowledge exams of university and competency exams for a trade license. You may sound like you know what you’re doing, but having knowledge or smarts doesn’t mean you can do.

But things are not static. As they had predicted, their brain biofeedback has stimulated spontaneous healing at an accelerated rate. Constant change like that makes life a bit difficult to navigate and predict. But I gotta tell you, it is awesome!

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