Very Interesting Neurofeedback Today

I had my first "regular" neurofeedback session this afternoon. The therapist, I'll use her initial "J" for convenience, gave me some books to read last week. I read parts of them over the weekend, and determined that I was definitely NOT "ring of fire" type ADD like she first suspected. I had been experiencing troubling rage symptoms when we first met, but they were caused by the kind of generic meds I was on. But I switched meds shortly after that meeting and haven't had any rage since. So the whole rage thing we went over at first was just a red herring, completely a side-effect from the meds. So she changed the protocol she used with me, to go from decreasing Delta and Beta waves, to increasing Alpha waves.

Instead of looking at a screen and trying to make the bars stay green like I did last week, today I did the sets with my eyes closed. I could hear chimes, but there wasn't really any "goal" like there was with the video (keeping the bars green). Today the chimes never stopped, they just went ding, ding, dong, ding, dong, dong, dong, in random patterns, there were several different notes. If I had to guess I'd say five different notes, but I wasn't counting. They sound a lot like wind chimes. They're not five notes in a row or anything, they're tuned like wind chimes. And they don't ring at random times, the tones are evenly spaced in time. But which chime plays seems random. Although it's coordinated with my brain waves somehow.

J couldn't explain how the chimes worked. She just knew there was a LOT of math involved. She just knows how to use the interface part of the protocol and how to interpret the results, not the formulas for programming the chimes. When I mentioned between sets that it seemed that lower chimes played when I had slower brainwaves and higher-pitched chimes played when I had faster brainwaves, she said that my brainwaves were changing too fast for there to be much of a correlation (the chimes probably ring about 2x per second).

The first set I just tried to relax as much as possible, and listen to the chimes. I enjoyed them when there was a variety of tones, so I just settled into that and I guess that was what my brain was working towards subconsciously. When I asked what exactly I was supposed to be thinking about, if anything, J said that I just should relax. But I didn't have to try to clear my mind of thoughts (like is typical during meditation). She said the alpha state is usually involved in imagery, so if I wanted to visualize a relaxing place, I might want to try that.

I've used guided imagery for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) before, so I knew what she was talking about. When I was in NYC I did CBT for a few years, and it did help me quite a bit at the time. I listed to relaxation tapes for 10 minutes per day, and they made me unbelievably calm the rest of the day. Like a marching band with muddy shoes could come traipsing through my beautiful clean apartment banging their drums and making a tremendous noise, but I was so calm I could just sit on the sofa and let them through without getting uptight about it.

So for the next neurofeedback set, I tried it. I tried to visualize being on a beach, then in a hammock, then in the woods, but nothing was really helping me to feel relaxed. But I remembered in one of the books I read this weekend, the author said for one of the visualizing states you could try to just relax and pay attention to what visual your brain comes up with on its own. So I stopped trying to force a vision, and just waited for one.

The one that popped up took me entirely by surprise! I was on the 2nd floor of Tiffany's in NYC, their flagship store on 57th St. The 2nd floor is my favorite, it's got the "statement" jewelry. I visualized looking at the beautiful gems, from the giant South Sea pearls to the rubies and sapphires and diamonds. I even went into the back room where you try on the really expensive stuff, and tried on a diamond tennis bracelet made of 2-carat emerald-cut diamonds. When I was done on that floor, I went down to the first floor and tried on some gold and diamond necklaces from the various collections. Then I left Tiffany's and went to the gemstone dealers in the district. I examined stones on little folded pieces of paper (they store them in paper in little envelopes), then left and checked out the estate jewelry in another shop there in the diamond district.

That was pretty fun. It would not have occurred to me to use jewelry shopping as my relaxing visualization, but that's what my mind came up with on its own. I told J about it, and she thought that was great, and confirmed no one else had come up with that one before. . . But perhaps therapists in Manhattan get that more often. I've spent a lot of time in the big Tiffany's for someone who lives in Crozet, VA.

I only had one set left after that, and I didn't want to try to visualize anymore, I just tried to relax deeply, although I wasn't able to relax as much as I did the first set.

Yet after all three sets I felt a bit buzzed. My body felt energized and tingly, like I used to feel after smoking a cigarette. Very pleasant to have that sensation again, but without having to smoke! I told Terry about it when I got home, and he thought the neurofeedback was encouraging my brain to release dopamine to reward me for using alpha waves. He thinks I only feel this way since it's novel, and once I get used to making the alpha waves the brain will no longer reward me for it. I don't know if I agree or not, I really don't know quite what to make of the experience.

After these sessions, I'm supposed to monitor how I feel for the next several hours since it helps J plan what protocol to use next time (I go back on Wednesday). So here's what I reported:

Today the effects lasted somewhat less than an hour, I wasn't wearing a watch so I don't know exactly. I was definitely spacier than usual, tried to use the keys for the car to start the truck when I left the parking lot (duh!), then ran some errands. My first stop was Pier 1, and I knew I went in to look at rugs, but wound up just wandering around the store looking at random things on the way to and from the rugs. Whatever this protocol did, it was not good for productivity; but I don't care, since I felt so good! I was just grinning like a fool, feeling sort of smug/happy like the cat that ate the canary for no apparent reason. It was kind of fun. By the time I got to Lowe's, I had a hard time choosing some flowers, I walked around and around looking at everything before deciding, but by the time I got to the rugs I was feeling back to normal (good/calm, like when we first started) and ran the rest of my errands uneventfully.

If I were doing neurofeedback purely recreationally, I'd totally go back for this protocol again and again. Although from an economic perspective it's way cheaper just to smoke a few cigarettes. I'd forgotten how pleasant I used to find them-- when I went on the Wellbutrin five years ago, the urge to smoke pretty much went away. Wellbutrin doesn't give me a nice buzz, though, so it's not exactly a substitute. And although it doesn't seem to be cancer-causing, the Wellbutrin does carry risks of seizure and liver damage, so I'd still prefer to get off the meds. My intuition tells me that I've been on them long enough, and I'm in the right place and time in my life to be successful re-training my brain.

I will keep everyone posted-- a lot of people have been curious to see how the neurofeedback works for me, since it's still a somewhat experimental procedure. I say "somewhat" since practitioners have been using this since the 1970s, but it's only recently becoming a little more mainstream.