43. 12th September 2018 – Diary of a Neurofeedback girl – 1

The festivities for the Jewish New Year, are over now and I walked into my first neurofeedback session today hopeful that it truly would be New Year, new me.  I had already spoken to my clinician, – I call her Ms Brain, in-depth over the phone, about my problems and I had sent her some medical reports and even some of these blogs.

I was quite taken aback when we met, because she clearly had read the medical reports and some of my blogs.  Sometimes going to a private doctor seems like going to a lawyer – they don’t do anything above and beyond their required hours.  Ms Brain however is a different kind of beast.  She clearly finds her field very exciting and really wants to help her patients. I was relieved to find that there was no need for her to take a detailed history because she already had all the information she needed – this was a complete relief because all in all I spoken for 945,678 hours (roughly) about my life to 1234 people (roughly) over the years and thus far to no avail.

In this initial appointment I had what is called a Q E E G.  Ms Brain explained to me that like a regular EEG (an electroencephalogram) a Q E E G measures brain activity but afterwards the data is analysed in a different way.  I am used to having EEGs performed on me.  I’ve had many of them over the years  – one-hour EEGs, 24-hour EEGs  three-day EEGs and the gold standard five day Video EEG which I had at the epilepsy hospital when I started this blog.  They all start the same way –  a highly qualified person spends about an hour of their time fumbling through a patients hair to glue on 19 electrodes on their scalp in highly specific places to measure brain activity.

However, the Q E E G business is a lot quicker and less messy.  Ms Brain roughly measured the size of my head (ie large, medium, small) and then got a cap with prepositioned electrodes on it and plonked it (nicely) onto my head.  Job done. Apparently, it is not quite as accurate as a regular EEG but if it was good enough for her, then it was good enough for me. Then I got to do the weird tests.  What is a weird test? The first involved staring at a large blue spot, on a screen, for eight minutes. Have you ever stared at a spot for eight minutes before?  I imagine with other people they would have lots of thoughts whirling round their head during this task and every now and then they would say to themselves – ‘Focus on the spot.  You need to focus.  Stop thinking about other things.’  But for me it was just starring at a spot which provoked no other thoughts whatsoever.  The next task was to close my eyes for eight minutes but not go to sleep. At the end of the tasks Ms Brain asked us (mum was with me of course – she finds our regular outings to all sorts of different medics very interesting) to take a tea break for ten minutes whilst she analysed the data (bear in mind that it would take at least a week to get a report back from a traditional EEG).

When we came back she gave us the results. This is what she said (more or less) ‘What this fancy computer package does is compare the results obtained from your test to average results, taking your age into account.  The results tell me that your brain is completely screwed up.  You Sharon, are living in a daze.  In a normal person there would be a significant difference in the results between eyes open results and the eyes closed.  In your results, I see no difference. Here are some neuroimages of the electrical activity in your brain.  If the area is white, it means that your brain is behaving the way it should behave.  If it’s green, it’s sort of behaving the way it should behave – if it’s yellow – it’s not great but it could be worse.  But yours, yours is red.  Red is not good.  Some areas of your brain are more than four standard deviations from the norm. You don’t want to have a red brain.  People can’t function properly with a red brain.

‘But the good news is,’ she went on, ‘I am quite confident that I will be able to help you. I definitely know that I will be able to make some changes because your brain is so screwed up – I don’t know how much change I will be able to make, but I should be able to make some change. I’ll need to see you quite regularly – if possible twice a week and I might give some homework. I have lots of different techniques at most disposal – will start with magnetic stimulation and neurofeedback and we will see what happens’.

‘Great,’ I thought.  ‘It is oddly comforting that my difficulties can no longer be said to be a figment of my imagination but I can see in a picture. I know that my brain is screwed up.  I can see that in my actions every day. I’ve seen a million doctors and nothing has given me the change that I so desperately desire (even though the diet has helped with mood and energy my cognition still stinks).  But she is confident that she can help.  Onwards and upwards.  Let’s see what happens next.’

 

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1. July 1st 2016 – epilepsy and me

My eight year old daughter, Gabriella, had choreographed a dance routine with her friend for her school show, ‘Year 3’s got talent’.  They had rehearsed at every available opportunity – at break-time, during playdates and at home by themselves.  They had chosen their own music, decided what they were going to wear and how they were going to do their hair.  I was very proud.  I was more than proud. Gabriella had worked together with a friend in a dedicated way to create something original.  But as I sat there waiting for the show to begin I knew that I wasn’t going to view the dance routine in the same way as the other parents.  Throughout the routine I was asking myself, ‘What aspect of the dance should I be looking at?’, ‘How do I tell whether this part of the dance routine is good or not?’, ‘Is it in time?’, ‘Should I be looking at my daughter’s friend now or should I be looking at my daughter?’  I knew that there was nothing I could do to answer these questions. My mind is a permanent fog.  And then before I knew it – quite literally – the dance had finished.  The mother of Gabriella’s friend had already got up and congratulated her daughter with a cuddle.  I was slow on the uptake and another mother congratulated my daughter before me (not that I blame the other mother – I was slow). ‘Thank G-d I am going to hospital,’ I thought, ‘so that the doctors can understand what is happening with my brain’.  The experience of watching the show was simply too painful for me and I desperately wanted to sort it out.

So here I am at the epilepsy hospital so that they can carry out an intensive assessment.  The theory is that I might be having lots of seizures, where I lose consciousness for a second or two, and I am not even aware of them. This is the hidden face of epilepsy.  As I am learning epilepsy isn’t just about having very obvious clonic tonic seizures which look dreadful, and can cause those having one to injury themselves.  It is also about small millisecond seizures that the person having them might not be aware of.  It is also what happens in between seizures – the epileptiform activity and how that impacts on cognitive function.  This epileptiform activity certainly seems to be impacting on mine – for example I mostly don’t process information (eg my three year old had decided to take off her wet nappy – I also saw that next to the nappy was a pool of water but I didn’t connect the two pieces of information – I didn’t think that the water was urine I thought that it was water), and my memory is very poor (eg if my husband talks about our holiday last year I can remember the fact that we went on holiday but the name of the resort or the details of a particularly day trip that we went on escape me).  But when talking to me no-one would know the difficulties I am facing every minute of the day – indeed this is the hidden face of all mental health illnesses because although I am in immense pain no one (apart from you because I have explained it to you) knows.

However, you will be pleased to know that I am doing 100% better than I was last year when I watched my four year old son perform the Gruffalo show at nursery.  My cognitive function was just as impaired then but I didn’t know that this was the problem.  ‘Why does this show feel boring?’ I asked myself.  ‘I just don’t want to be here’ ‘All the other mums seem to really enjoy watching their child in the show – why can’t I?’ ‘Why am I always like this?’ ‘Oh I think I will just go home and kill myself’.

So starting on Monday, I am going to be in a hospital room for five days and I will not be allowed to come out of it.  I will be wearing sensors attached to my head to measure brain activity, using an EEG, and I will be videoed from all angles.  The idea is that doctors will be able to spot on the video when I am having seizures and measure my brain activity at that point.  And, please G-d, on the basis of those results they will be able to make recommendations as to how to treat my epilepsy.

I will try and write a blog every day – I will be seriously bored (but of course the news is always a drama to watch these days, what with Brexit, the British elections, general political turmoil and of course there is always Wimbledon).  But just to let you know that I might not because I might forget to write.

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