Last year, I started surfing the net about Spect Brain Imaging. Dr. Daniel Amen is the name I had been turned on to and I began listening to his many lectures on-line. Since then, I have spoken to a couple of critics of his work. Overall, the feeling is that he claims brain imaging can do more than it actually does, but there is merit to the concept.
My interest was twofold. One, my son plays hockey and is a defenseman. He takes a lot of hard hits and is a tough player. Dr. Amen works a great deal with NFL players and has done a ton of research on concussions and the effects on the brain. Secondly, being a psychiatrist, he showed some fascinating brain scans related to depression, ADHD and other conditions.
As a mom, I want to know. As a mental health counselor, I want to know. And as a person that has had several decades of struggling with depression, I want to know.
Turns out there is one psychiatrist in western NY that does Spect imaging. I waited several months and finally got in. An MRI and Spect image together seem to offer the greatest combination of information, so I complied. Last week I got the results.
“Impression: Abnormal Resting Brain Bicisate Spect Due to:
There is diffuse frontal cortical hypoperfusion with pericallosal medial frontal sparing, most consistent with long-standing or refractory depression.”
What the heck does that mean? As the local skeptics suspected, the results didn’t do much of anything to change the course of treatment for me, which is why there is question as to its usefulness. However, it did something less tangible for me, but still quite important.
People who don’t struggle with depression often have difficulty understanding it. For people like me who have a good family, an excellent support system, and a host of other “blessings” in my life, understanding how I could be depressed sometimes is almost impossible. And for people like me who are self-critical, there is a huge level of guilt that comes with the depression because I am fully aware of all the gifts in my life. Feeling depression seems wrong and ungrateful.
I’ve tried absolutely everything over the years. I couldn’t even list all of the medications that I’ve gone through. Counseling, of course. Psychiatrists. Acupuncture. Spiritual Direction. Daily affirmations. Gratitude journals. Vitamin D. I can’t even remember all of the latest and greatest hopes and remedies to help cure depression that I have tried.
Now I’ve “tried” brain imaging. I actually found it to be validating. I can now articulate in another way what is going on with me, especially when talking to the people I run into that think I should be able to change how I feel if only I would really try. My brain indicates refractory depression. When I asked what that meant, I was told, “resistant to treatment.” The doctor said that is perfectly consistent with how I describe my life. Medications help me manage, but I’ve never been free from depression.
Currently, we know about Serotonin and Dopamine. There is research happening that looks at entirely different types of issues. There is some success, but we aren’t close to having anything on the market yet. So until then, I will keep managing the best I can. But I also can now articulate what I have always known in my heart: My wiring doesn’t respond to the typical treatments. It just doesn’t. No amount of willing or wanting or self-discipline will alter that.
I will work on dropping the guilt from the list of emotions that come along with the struggle. THAT is useful.