I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the medical system treats the “mental illness” aspect of brain injury, that is, moods, thinking styles, that sort of thing. I’ve never been put on drugs for depression or concentration problems, but I know others who have, and my neurodoc has talked to me several times about it (which annoys the heck out of me). Back in 2005, I began looking in earnest at other “mental” issues as a way to figure out how to heal my brain injury. And so I looked at ADD to see how to treat my attention problems; I knew about depression from my studies and thought about the various ways it’s treated and is different from brain injury affect to see how to get my affect back (absent or flat affect is not the same as depression but close enough to be instructive); and I opened my mind to learning more about other mental illnesses and how I may apply their lessons to my own issues.
What I learnt:
Medication is the main modality used to treat mental illness: Ritalin, Prozac, Abilify, Clozaril, etc.
Retraining brainwaves is my main modality: beta brainwaves, high alpha, gamma, etc.
More and more, I hear patients being concerned about medications or medicine in pill form, how they are used, and how they are abused by physicians as a way to not see patients regularly. A person I follow tweeted this video by Jonny Benjamin:
Although I disagree with his idea that the pharmaceutical industry is using drugs to numb the masses*, he is bang on in the rest of the video. Side effects or negative effects are a huge issue for most kinds of medications, psychoactive or not, yet too many physicians dismiss these concerns – to their patients’ peril. (Some don’t.) Patients suffering from negative effects will either doctor shop to go off the drugs or stop them on their own; or they will stay on, and gradually the negative effects will become worse than the mental illness. I chronicled my own decision to get off atenolol, without telling my doctor, because of the increasing number of problems that had made my life hellish. We don’t tell our doctors because we know doctors will not listen to us and will argue with us until we feel defeated. We feel we have no choice but to do it on our own.
This got me to thinking about the idea that we can only treat the brain via a neurochemical modality. Physicians have gotten into a rut of thinking that the only way to treat the brain is via chemicals that affect neurotransmitters or other chemical interactions in the brain. The pill is the modality; the ingredients in the pill are the specific action of treatment.
The pill modality leads to both beneficial and negative effects because it’s like a blunderbuss. The chemicals go everywhere in the brain and the body, not just in the injured or malfunctioning area of the brain.
But the brain – our entire body actually – is also an electrical organ. The brain produces brainwaves. While neurotransmitters work locally in the synapses between neurons, brainwaves are generated along the axons of single neurons or as synchronized activity among many neurons. They are still not fully understood, but then neither are neurotransmitters and physicians and pharmaceutical companies have no problem blindly playing with those. Brainwaves can be associated with particular neurotransmitters; hence, my experimentation with gamma enhancement brain biofeedback. In other words, one can potentially increase a desired neurotransmitter, not through direct chemical interaction, but through enhancing a particular brainwave in a particular region of the brain.
In this way of treating, brain biofeedback is the modality; the targetted brainwaves and electrode placements are the specific action of treatment.
There is also an additional modality: direct stimulation of the brain via tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation). The specific action of treatment is the time, current, and location on the scalp.
The brain biofeedback and tDCS modalities have pretty much only beneficial effects (dizziness and an itchy scalp the only brief negative effects AFAIK) because they’re like darts. The only parts of the brain targetted lie directly beneath the tiny electrodes or tDCS sponge.
I have observed the relative merits of these two modalities in my life. I have met people with brain injury who were functioning at a much higher level than me and did so for years. But they were being treated via the pill modality. After I re-started brain biofeedback for gamma enhancement, I flew past them and am now functioning better than they are. This is not fair, that I have been able to do this and that they are not aware of the biofeedback modality or do not have access to it.
We need to challenge our physicians, to kick them out of their rigid mindset that the only action of treatment is chemical or heavy duty electrical like ECT or surgical, so that we can advance the healing of mental illness and brain injury and improve the quality and functionality of our lives.
*It may look like numbing the masses, but I believe it’s more about a rigid mindset that cannot conceive of other ways of treating the human body and doesn’t like being made uncomfortable through being forced to think differently. And for the industries involved, there’s a profit motivation to also turn healthy variability in the human condition into diseases needing pills.